As the market has grown for helpdesk tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), customer and employee expectations for support-on-demand have responded in kind.
In 2020 and beyond, there’s no room for an average support experience.
This ever-increasing demand for better support solutions was the genesis of this comparison piece. With so many features to consider from these two popular systems, it can be difficult (even for seasoned support pros) to separate fact from fluff and find a solution that will best suit an organization’s needs.
That said, comparing two of the biggest players in the helpdesk software space isn’t without its challenges. Both Freshdesk and Zendesk offer a wide array of features that are constantly evolving. To address this, we approached this comparison from the perspective of a potential customer by learning enough about each feature to understand where one program outperformed the other, and vice versa.
While both solutions boast affordable features and quick deployment, Freshdesk looks to be better suited for smaller teams in the SMB space, while Zendesk seems to be aimed at enterprise-class operations.
Where Freshdesk’s suite of software solutions for marketing, sales, support, and more make it easy for employees wearing multiple hats to keep tabs on everything, Zendesk’s robust selection of application integrations and robust data collection makes complex processes easier to optimize for enterprise-level orgs.
Self-described as a “service-first CRM company that builds software designed to improve customer relationships,” Zendesk traces its roots back to a loft apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark. From those humble beginnings, co-founders Mikkel Svane, Alexander Aghassipour, Morten Primdahl, and Alex Aghassipour grew the company from a scrappy startup to a $2 billion publicly traded business in just over a decade.
Initially, Zendesk focused almost exclusively on customer support and all the digital interactions that occur throughout a customer’s lifecycle. In recent years, the company has grown to include related tools such as sales, marketing, call center, and analytics solutions to its offerings.
Inspired by a frustrating customer support experience with a television manufacturer in 2010, Freshdesk co-founders Girish Mathrubootham and Shan Krishnasamy wanted to create a superior alternative to the traditional helpdesk model. Similarly to Zendesk, Freshdesk has experienced rapid growth in the last decade. From raising $1 million in the initial financing round in 2011 to a $1.5 billion valuation just seven years later, it appears Freshdesk’s approach of affordable, clever solutions is working well.
According to G2, Freshdesk and Zendesk compete directly within a few SaaS categories, including:
- Customer Self-Service
- Social Self-Service
However, that’s where the similarities end (at least on the surface). Though they could be argued as semantics, Zendesk and Freshdesk are positioned as vendors in disparate SaaS categories, including:
|G Suite Communication Tools G Suite for SalesIT Service Management (ITSM) Tools||Shared Inbox Live ChatConversational Customer Engagement|
For the purpose of keeping this article to sub-encyclopedia length, we elected to compare eight of the most popular helpdesk software solutions—giving you an easily digested synopsis of how the two stack up. If you’re interested in learning more about a particular helpdesk solution that isn’t listed, click here.
Knowledge base management.
Cleverly branded as Guide, Zendesk’s knowledge base management system combines stored institutional and tacit knowledge (via live agents). As support staff answer questions, Zendesk allows their responses to be converted into articles, otherwise known as exchanges. Once an agent saves a response as an article, Zendesk’s AI can automatically deliver the information to users who ask similar questions in the future.
Beyond live support, Zendesk’s knowledge base also features a chatbot they’ve named, Answer Bot. As one would expect, Answer Bot is designed to handle level-0 tickets like FAQs.
- Pros: Its Guide is often praised for its customizability and enterprise-friendly pricing.
- Cons: Some users find the need for customization overwhelming—leaving too much work for the end-user.
Though it isn’t branded like its counterparts at Zendesk, Freshdesk’s helpdesk system also features knowledge base management functionality. According to its website, the process for adding knowledge within Freshdesk is slightly more labor-intensive than other options on the market.
Agents can write and manually sort solution articles for common inquiries—which can then be made available via the auto-suggest feature. Not to be confused with a chatbot, auto-suggest simply allows users to select a related solution article before submitting a ticket.
- Pros: Its solution articles allow agents to create evergreen content around FAQs.
- Cons: Ticket deflection isn’t a priority—most knowledge base inquiries will likely require human intervention.
As of this writing, Zendesk’s helpdesk suite doesn’t specifically list document mining as a feature. While companies using the platform can add Google Documents to a knowledge base through the article importation function, it doesn’t appear that Answer Bot, Zendesk’s chatbot, can mine said documents to answer questions directly.
Instead, Zendesk’s AI simply recommends what it perceives to be related documents for agents and users to read on their own.
- Pros: Existing knowledge held within Google Documents can be added to the knowledge base.
- Cons: Functionality is limited—support agents and users are required to scan recommended documents for the information they need.
Surprisingly, Freshdesk doesn’t offer AI-driven document mining either. For teams looking to import existing knowledge into their helpdesk, Freshdesk requires you to contact its support team via email and assist with a manual CSV upload.
It should be noted that once knowledge has been imported to Freshdesk’s knowledge base, the documents aren’t automatically provided to users. Agents must manually turn on the article suggestion feature for any kind of automation to occur. However, the documents themselves must still be searched by the end-user for the desired information.
- Pros: Existing knowledge can be added to the helpdesk via a CSV import.
- Cons: Far more labor-intensive than Zendesk, and still requires the end-user to dig for the information they’re really after.
Powered by AI, Capacity’s mining functionality turns your team’s documents into dynamic conversations. Once a document is uploaded to the cloud drive, Capacity begins adding the information held within to your question-and-answer exchanges for internal and external users alike.
Through chat, Capacity delivers helpful knowledge to customers and teammates alike—pulled directly from your uploaded docs. This not only eliminates unnecessary tickets for your support team, it dramatically improves the end-user experience.
Want to limit access to certain info? Capacity’s permission structure makes security intuitive—automatically adjusting employee’s clearance based on their profiles in existing apps.
Zendesk’s App Marketplace allows a wide range of disparate software applications to connect to its helpdesk tools. From CRM programs to email marketing platforms and more, App Marketplace appears to be a robust ecosystem for businesses concerned with system integration.
- Pros: Dozens of popular apps are already available within the App Marketplace, making helpdesk deployment easier for most organizations.
- Cons: Custom API development doesn’t appear quite as simple. Since Zendesk lacks a developer portal, connecting software that isn’t listed in the App Marketplace could be labor-intensive.
Similarly, Freshdesk has also invested heavily in application integration with regard to their helpdesk solutions. Called the App Gallery, Freshdesk’s selection of easily integrated programs rivals Zendesks.
However, Freshdesk has thoughtfully built out a developer portal—encouraging customers to bring unlisted systems into the fold via SDK and API docs, and more.
- Pros: Between existing programs and a robust developer portal, Freshdesk isn’t leaving many software programs out in the cold with regard to integration.
- Cons: Information is the name of the game, not automation. In keeping with the theme of empowered support agents, Freshdesk’s connected apps don’t appear to be searchable by any kind of AI bot. This leaves users to retrieve and decipher information manually.
Zendesk’s aptly named Customer Portal Software is designed to serve as a hub for users to monitor and track their support tickets. Additionally, customers can use the portal to create new tickets by using predefined fields to help narrow down the purpose of their request.
For internal teams, Customer Portal Software offers a bit more transparency between users—allowing teammates to review each other’s questions. Ideally, this prevents submitting multiple requests to the support team.
- Pros: Customer Portal Software helps customers stay informed on ticket status, track content updates, and more from a single touchpoint.
- Cons: Despite being positioned as a self-service portal, the emphasis with this tool is on connecting support teams and customers, not empowering customers to find their own answers.
Alternatively, Freshdesk’s self-service portal does the title a bit more justice—emphasizing a combination of answer bots, articles, forums, and ticket creation. Though the path from level-0 support to speaking with an agent isn’t well defined, Freshdesk does seem to leverage more self-service options than its competitor.
It’s worth noting that the forum structure may be a bit odd to younger users, as that communication medium has all but died in the wake of social media.
- Pros: More options for users to find their own answers without having to submit a ticket and wait for support.
- Cons: If a bot can’t immediately locate the relevant information in the knowledge base, the process becomes very manual. Users will need to search for documents and forum posts from past tickets to avoid submitting a ticket.
Ushering a new level of self-service, Capacity empowers teams and customers alike with natural language processing (NLP). Meaning, users can submit questions using their natural dialect—no industry jargon required. Through NLP, Capacity understands the intent and context of your words and mines your apps, docs, and knowledge base for instant answers.
Better still, Capacity’s guided conversation technology helps users find the knowledge they might not have thought to ask for. Through a series of clarifying follow-ups, Capacity guides users down a path to the information they’re truly after.
Ticket escalation process.
Somewhat buried within Zendesk’s helpdesk ecosystem, Escalation Triggers are a series of rules support teams can customize to determine when a ticket is escalated from level-0 (automated) to level-1 (human intervention). Though seemingly more user-friendly than Freshdesk’s Supervisor system, Escalation Triggers may require some trial-and-error upon deployment.
- Pros: Ticket escalation and alerts can be modified to suit the needs of the business.
- Cons: Initial setup will likely require some testing, which can be frustrating for customers and support staff alike.
Using a tool called Supervisor, Freshdesk’s helpdesk system allows its customers to set up ticket reminders and escalations through a series of if-this-then-that (IFTTT) selections. Once set, tickets will be escalated from level-0 to level-1 with agent reminders according to the predetermined criteria.
- Pros: Dozens of adjustable criteria allow companies to customize ticket escalation as they see fit.
- Cons: The IFTTT structure means setting up alerts and escalation patterns could feel pretty intimidating for anyone not well-versed in helpdesk software.
Through the seamless integration of several AI-based technologies, Capacity makes ticket alerts and escalation intuitive for both parties. When an inquiry can’t be satisfied via your knowledge base, human-in-the-loop (HITL) takes over—instantly transferring the conversation to the dedicated staff.
When a question calls for an in-depth response, Capacity’s Expert Finder technology reroutes the conversation through a dynamic knowledge graph to an internal SME who can help. Best of all, both HITL and Expert Finder functions use machine learning to document the responses given—saving the provided information for any future inquiries.
Included in its Essential, Team, Professional, and Enterprise plans, Zendesk allows agents to view the event, update, and notification history of a given ticket. However, to get the event history of a ticket, it must be manually selected as an option within the ticket history menu. For easier viewing, Zendesk also offers a free Ticket History app for its helpdesk software.
- Pros: Agents can review up to 120 days of history for any ticket. This includes any event, update, and notification.
- Cons: Without the Ticket History app installed, some users may find this functionality clunky and unintuitive.
Interestingly, Freshdesk takes a different approach to ticket history. After 120 days of inactivity, tickets are automatically archived, and cannot be reopened by agents, admins, or customers. After being archived, agents can still view the entire history of a ticket—but no further modifications can be made.
- Pros: Automatic archiving eliminates stale or forgotten tickets from counting against the support team’s KPIs.
- Cons: Once archived, tickets cannot be reopened—period.
Zendesk has made it a point to leave no communication channel untouched—and it shows. In addition to typical helpdesk options like mobile- and web-chat, email, Facebook, and Twitter, Zendesk supports SMS text, application integrations for Slack and Microsoft Teams, as well as unlisted systems via a mobile SDK and API.
- Pros: Robust support across a range of communication platforms for customers and teams alike.
- Cons: Certain application integrations are only available in higher-priced plans—so it’s important to do your homework before committing.
Surprisingly, Freshdesk’s ability to integrate into multiple channels is somewhat limited. Beyond the typical integrations of email, chat (web-based and mobile), and Facebook, workplace systems aren’t quite so seamless.
Microsoft Teams, for example, can only be integrated with Freshdesk’s top four helpdesk plans, and even then, it only pings agents with notifications from the helpdesk.
- Pros: Seamless communication within the usual customer-facing channels.
- Cons: Communication with the helpdesk through popular workplace messaging systems is somewhat limited.
From chat portals embedded in your site and mobile app to Slack and Microsoft Teams, Capacity empowers support teams with communication and automation. While other helpdesk solutions connect messaging systems, Capacity can take action on behalf of service pros.
Right from a support team’s preferred communication medium, agents can update tickets, customer information, and more right through the co-pilot console. This “action bot” approach liberates experienced teammates to focus on higher ROI activities and less on repetition.
Zendesk’s help center is designed to be a hub for its entire suite of products. Regarding its helpdesk solutions, Zendesk recommends following a specific workflow when addressing problems. Simply put, users can review articles, community contributions, and/or request to chat with an agent.
- Pros: Multiple options for troubleshooting and fixing an issue.
- Cons: It’s not made immediately clear what is the best route to take to handle specific situations, which could be confusing.
Freshdesk offers an extensive support page that hosts a FAQ repository, a knowledge base of solutions, a community forum, and training videos. On the home page, there is a search bar with quick-search functionality that enables users to ask questions and get options that might answer their questions. If users can’t find their answer, Freshdesk lists an 800 number for those interested in making a last-ditch effort.
- Pros: An easy-to-use search tab for quick access to information.
- Cons: The search tab is not enabled with AI or NLP, so users still have to scroll through multiple options to find an answer, and if the user misspells a word, the search bar won’t provide answers.
Once a customer receives hands-on support and onboarding from our Client Success Team and all apps and files are connected to Capacity, we also offer a support center similar to that of Freshdesk. The main difference lies in the fact that Capacity’s search tool is built with NLP algorithms to understand what users are asking even if there is a spelling error or contextual difference. If there are further questions, customers can get answers from a human-in-the-loop or live agent.
When it comes to comparing these helpdesk tools, it’s clear that both are stable and well known in the industry for offering customer self-service, social self-service, and helpdesk benefits.
Where one stands out, the other is not far behind it and vice versa. Ultimately, choosing between these two tools is a matter of preference on behalf of your organization. Here’s a quick look at the pros of both tools:
- Its knowledge management system is often praised for its customizability and enterprise-friendly pricing.
- Existing knowledge held within Google Documents can be added to the knowledge base.
- Dozens of popular apps are already available within the App Marketplace, making helpdesk deployment easier for most organizations.
- Customer Portal Software helps customers stay informed on ticket status, track content updates, and more from a single touchpoint.
- Ticket escalation and alerts can be modified to suit the needs of the business.
- Agents can review up to 120 days of history for any ticket. This includes any event, update, and notification.
- Robust support across a range of communication platforms for customers and teams alike.
- Multiple options for troubleshooting and fixing an issue.
- Its solution articles allow agents to create evergreen content around FAQs.
- Existing knowledge can be added to the helpdesk via a CSV import.
- Between existing programs and a robust developer portal, Freshdesk isn’t leaving many software programs out in the cold with regard to integration.
- More options for users to find their own answers without having to submit a ticket and wait for support.
- Dozens of adjustable criteria allow companies to customize ticket escalation as they see fit.
- Automatic archiving eliminates stale or forgotten tickets from counting against the support team’s KPIs.
- Seamless communication within the usual customer-facing channels.
- An easy-to-use search tab for quick access to information.
If you are looking for a tool that offers more insight into what your users (internal or external) want, and you want to actually help your team eliminate work that these tools support, check out alternatives—like Capacity. It offers all the necessary features that come with Zendesk and Freshdesk while taking a modern approach to helpdesk software.
Capacity also comes with features like:
- AI-Native: Teach your helpdesk to answer frequently asked questions. With every question, your knowledge base should continue to grow.
- CloudDrive and LiveDocs: Never manually search for the information you need again. Store relevant docs, spreadsheets, and FAQs that your team needs and access it by asking the AI to locate it for you.
- Conversations: Intuitively and effectively choose your own path with guided conversations. Triage questions based on responses.
- Dev Platform: Connect to all of your organization’s apps, including the proprietary apps that your company developed in-house.
- Live Chat: Jump into a conversation directly with an internal or external user.
- Workflow Builder: Streamline everyday processes and boost productivity.