Illustration of a support agent wearing a headset and sitting at a computer. Abstract shapes swirl around his head to depict the use of an AI-powered helpdesk.

Helpdesk Software Buyer’s Guide

Finding the right helpdesk for your organization can prove a difficult process. The right platform can revolutionize your internal and external support. The wrong platform can take a significant bite out of your organization’s bottom line.

Whether you need to determine when you’ll receive a package or you have questions regarding a return, almost everyone has interacted with a helpdesk. As the name implies, they are designed to assist. With advancements in technology, consumers ask organizations for help through various channels: Email, social media, instant messaging, web portals, phone, and more. While an omnichannel experience addresses contemporary customer demands, issues can also get lost in the mix. Fortunately, helpdesk solutions are available.

The most basic helpdesk premise is software, customer service software, or IT service management software (ITSM) that helps organizations automate end-user service management. These end-users may be customers who have purchased a product or service or an internal employee in need of assistance.

Invariably, many businesses use some form of helpdesk software for customer support, IT support, and employee support. A helpdesk solution is no longer a “nice-to-have” platform; it is a necessity. Not only can a helpdesk platform improve productivity, but it can also enhance the customer experience and track key metrics. Further, a helpdesk platform is beneficial not just for customers but for internal employees as well. For instance, implementing an HR helpdesk can help address commonly asked questions many employees have while freeing up the HR team to focus on more complex cases.

Unquestionably, email and spreadsheets can only go so far. It’s too time-consuming to search through an inbox, trying to find the last interaction with an end-user. To improve both productivity and customer engagement, you need a helpdesk platform. However, choosing the right solution involves a different process depending on your needs.

With such a daunting proposition, where do you begin? Careful consideration of the following matters will make your evaluation process markedly less painful. This buyer’s guide will cover how to determine the best fit for your organization, what questions to ask, and how to evaluate your chosen solution.

A short introduction to helpdesk platforms.

Helpdesk solutions consist of tools and technology that facilitate the efficient management, organization, and resolution of support ticket requests. The definitive objective is to improve the experience for the target audience. As a result, helpdesks only manage customer-initiated requests. They do not directly resolve or manage customer marketing, product updates, and customer outreach.

There is a difference in scope and focus between helpdesk vs. tech support software or service desk software. Where customer service solutions can focus on a wide range of features, a helpdesk is focused on enabling quick resolutions for support issues.

So then, it helps to remember what a helpdesk is designed to do. Ticketing software is similar but focuses on the documentation of:

  • Initial intake of a request
  • Assignment of that issue to a team member
  • Ongoing tracking until the issue is resolved

Are there different types of helpdesk? People can initiate various kinds of requests. As such, there are also other types of helpdesks. Generally, helpdesks are categorized into the following:

IT support helpdesk: An IT service desk is designed to address issues faced by members of the organization. For instance, someone may need help resetting their password, or a server may require maintenance.

Customer service helpdesk: Customer service helpdesks are solutions created with the customer in mind. It can assist with questions, issues, or problems with a company’s products or services.

Helpdesk for other functions: Employees will also have questions and issues throughout the workplace. Therefore, helpdesk can benefit departments such as marketing, legal, HR, and finance. For instance, HR can have helpdesks to help answer questions on employee benefits or onboarding.

Type of experience.

Picture the perfect customer experience from your customer’s point of view. Do they prefer to send emails, or do they prefer to peruse your website for a knowledge base? Do they enjoy using multiple channels for support, or are they married to a particular mode of communication?

What does “great customer service” mean to your organization? When you’re ready to start shopping for a helpdesk, you may forget why you need a helpdesk in the first place. It’s essential to keep in mind that there is no such thing as the “best” helpdesk platform because every organization will have varying needs. The right helpdesk for your company is a platform that ensures your team can address customer needs successfully and improve the customer experience.

If you don’t know what type of customer support you want to offer, consider answering the questions below:

What do your customers expect? Your target audience probably has a set of unique requirements. What are their personas? Are they comfortable using self-service portals? What are their demographics? How quickly do they expect an answer? What channels do they prefer for communication? Are they satisfied with your current levels of support?

How would you rate your current relationship with your customers? Do your customers feel their issues and concerns are understood? Do they have a good option for expressing their concerns?

How would you like to engage with your customers? Automation can offer practical and hands-off support. As such, automation will provide essential support for formal inquiries. There are times when your customers will expect a hands-on approach with an expert team member. Further, there are times when customers will need to speak directly with a manager.

Depending on how you think your customers want to engage, you can determine what type of helpdesk solution aligns with your needs. Unquestionably, the best platform allows you to offer automation and hands-on approaches.

What is the ideal customer experience for your clients? Think of interactions from your customer’s perspective. Do they prefer visiting a webpage to get help, conversing with a chatbot, or making a phone call? Would they like multiple channels? Are they interested in helping themselves via self-service tools? Do they want a real-time chat?

What would you improve about your current customer service? Is it time to rethink your customer service approach? Is your current model working? Is it improving customer retention? Perhaps you have an excellent opportunity to review your customer service policy.

To illustrate, many companies use their support inbox for contacts, inquiries, messages, and more. As the company grows, they need to consider transitioning to a more efficient method for handling support. A helpdesk platform is the right solution for separating support messages from every other type inquiries.

Examine your existing customer service tasks  and ask the following:

  • Is this still the most effective way to solve issues?
  • Is this approach crucial to our customer experience, or could we get the same result using another method?
  • How has our team grown since the last time we reviewed our tools?

Once you have a clear picture of the customer service you want to provide, create metrics to measure against help desk features. Whatever help desk platform you select, it needs to help deliver the type of service you have identified.

Don’t search for perfection.

We are providing this guide because we understand that finding the right helpdesk doesn’t happen overnight. Yet, by investing time, research, and energy, you can ensure your investment makes sense.

Begin with your customer service team. How would you want your support team to interact with your helpdesk? This is critical because your support team will use the platform consistently and rely on it for much of their daily activities. A helpdesk acts as the first line of defense for customer retention, so you want to make sure you get it right. Having a clear, user-friendly, and interactive platform will increase support team engagement while saving them time to focus on your clients.

From the beginning, defer to your support team. They are the primary department that will use the helpdesk. Of course, you also want to collect input from other groups. However, the customer support team is the front line. You want both a birds-eye and ground-level view of their processes.

Take a look at a “day in the life” without any tools. Then, look at it using your current tools and determine where a helpdesk solution can fill in the gaps and enhance the customer experience. From this perspective, ask your customer support team what they would like in a helpdesk platform. While you may receive some unrealistic requests, it’s crucial to take all suggestions to round out a list of important features.

What about ease of use? How long will it take your support team to acclimate to the new helpdesk? Naturally, every new platform brings with it a learning curve. However, with an intuitive UI, it will take less time to learn. The transition will be smoother, and your team can be up and running more quickly. Your support team will use the helpdesk daily, give them something that makes their jobs more accessible and more effective.

As you can see, there are two sides to every helpdesk: The customer support team and the customers themselves. Collecting input from both sides can help with making an informed buying decision.

Other questions to answer:

  • What issues does my current helpdesk present?
  • How can I improve my current helpdesk?
  • Does my helpdesk offer practical user functionality?

Does it meet your budget? What is your organization’s baseline? Before making your final decision, perform an in-depth cost-benefit analysis. Examine your current expenses to see where you can make room and create a budget for a helpdesk. Then, determine your organization’s break-even point. Research every plan type, from basic to premium. How many end-users will utilize the platform compared to how many will use it within a year? Also, look at bundling services to reduce duplicate tools and features.

It’s vital to know what you want and need to ensure you are not distracted by all the bells and whistles of various helpdesk platforms.

Understand the knowledge base.

Some helpdesk platforms come with the option to create a knowledge base and distribute online. The knowledge base can help both customers and employees by offering access to relevant data without contacting the desk to answer commonly-asked questions. For example, a knowledge base is useful for surges in traffic.

It’s also helpful to consider who accesses the helpdesk most often. If your customer support team needs it to answer questions and comments, it should be designed for your industry. If the knowledge base is for your customers, it should provide broad information instead of in-depth industry knowledge.

Your needs.

Every organization’s support needs are unique. It’s imperative that you define yours and which of them deserve more attention than others. For example, if your team is relatively small, you might opt to stay away from a helpdesk that is heavily dependent on human intervention. Instead, you’ll be looking for a tool that achieves a higher degree of automation at an excellent introductory price.

A helpdesk solution should streamline your customer support processes. How the helpdesk achieves this end depends on its tools and features. Yet, the next step is to create a list of important features and “nice-to-haves.” Ask your support team for feedback on this exercise. Place every answer under two categories:

Critical features —  If certain features are missing, you can’t meet your customer experience goals, and your support team becomes less productive.

Nice-to-have — If the helpdesk had specific tools, it would be fantastic, and we might use those in particular scenarios. However, if a solution omitted them, it would not impact the customer experience.

Keep this list around as you start comparison shopping. Measure every solution against your critical features list and nice-to-have list. Of course, it’s crucial to satisfy your core requirements. Every helpdesk platform will have a unique set of functions and features. You have to decide which combination is the best fit for your company. On the other hand, there are non-negotiable features that we will discuss later in this guide.

Customers become increasingly frustrated when they are left with unresolved issues. They don’t want to wait 48 hours for a customer service agent to get back to them; they want answers now. As such, a sound ticketing system is an essential function of a helpdesk platform. If you can monitor and track exactly what is going on with a particular problem, you can address client issues effectively. But, this can only happen with a good ticketing system.

Ask if the helpdesk is equipped with an effective ticketing system before making a decision. The goal of having a helpdesk is to provide relevant information to employees and customers with easy access.

It helps to have clearly-defined SLAs so that every team member understands how to manage every type of issue. Support tickets should also come with clear and understandable communications. Search for efficient tracking and escalation. It has to be a system that makes follow-up predictable and consistent. The solution should fit your needs.

Does it provide internal collaboration by looping in other departments? Does the helpdesk offer reports on how the support team responds to issues? Does it report on customer ratings and reviews? Does it connect to third-party review sources?  Don’t stop looking until you find the best fit for your business.

What other tools need to connect to your helpdesk? You probably already utilize various digital tools for internal and customer-facing activities:

  • Online analytics
  • CRM
  • Email service providers
  • Internal communication tools
  • E-commerce or payment processing

It’s vital to ensure your helpdesk platform integrates with the tools you use. With seamless integration, you can receive accurate data from various inputs at all times.

On the other hand, the issue with an unintegrated platform is it may create more problems than it solves. To illustrate, it may cause redundancies and disparate processes, increasing the time it takes to resolve a customer issue. It’s similar to having several team members all respond to a single ticket. When the objective is to streamline customer service, all tools and resources need to get on the same page.

Decisions, decisions.

The time will come when you’ll need to separate the essentials from the “nice to haves.” Make a list of your helpdesk imperatives. Which features are necessary to ensure your company can offer its standard of customer service? Additionally, what are some of the non-essential features that don’t serve an immediate need? Try to make your essentials list as short as possible—the shorter the essentials list, the easier the task of refining your choices will be.

Abstract image of a paper listing helpesk essentials and nice-to-haves

Some features may look good on a list but are poorly deployed and rarely used. Focus on your core requirements to reduce the amount of time it takes for testing. Ask your team these questions to determine your essentials shortlist:

Does this feature need to be built into the help desk, or could we integrate with a third-party tool that would perform the function better?

  • Are there regulatory requirements we need to meet?
  • Will this feature offer value to our customers? To our team?
  • What are the technical requirements?
  • Would we connect it to other services? Is it possible?

From your essentials list, exclude functions that do not cover your required features directly. Next, create your evaluation team to move the buying process forward.

Don’t forget about security.

Is your organization’s and customer’s data secure? The platform should come with data encryption. In the digital age, security is a priority. Your customers trust your company with their information. If your systems breach that trust, it will hamper customer acquisition, retention, and business reputation.

Illustration of a cloud storage security

The evaluation team.

Identify the major stakeholders for your future helpdesk solution. These are your org members who will either use the software or be directly affected by its features.

  • A junior support team member
  • A helpdesk power user
  • A manager or senior-level executive to champion the project

With these diverse perspectives informing your strategy, you can confidently determine which helpdesk is the right fit.

Collaborating and brainstorming with team members who have different needs and backgrounds offers a more effective way to determine if a helpdesk solution is the best fit for your organization. Try to get your evaluation team to research the same tool concurrently instead of each team member examining a different platform individually. You want group feedback as they review the solution together.

Testing and trials.

Naturally, you want to ensure that your selected helpdesk software will integrate with your current platforms. But, more importantly, it should withstand the formidable pressures and tests your company regularly experiences. Pay attention to the user experience, load times, and the interfaces’ intuitiveness.

At times, it isn’t easy to test and trial a helpdesk solution before full implementation. Why? Because you aren’t going to use the platform the same way you would when interacting with customers at total volume.

How would you picture your customers engaging with your helpdesk platform? Take some of your typical customer issues as examples and role-play a support conversation from the client’s perspective. What does the customer see on their end? Is the interface straightforward and intuitive? Does it have a customer-facing portal?

Compare each tool against the customer experience you want to create. Since your support team will use the helpdesk all day, every day, figure out how long it takes to load and navigate. How quickly can your support team locate the correct answers?

In the best case, the helpdesk platform you select should provide a frictionless experience for your support team. The less time they spend searching for answers or waiting for the software to load, the more time they have to support your customers. In addition, they are less frustrated because they don’t have to worry about fighting or fixing tools.

What about ease of setup? How long will it take to deploy the new helpdesk fully? You want a platform that will have your team up and running quickly. Increasingly, consumers have greater demands and less patience.

Image of an hourglass on a computer screen surrounded by checkmarks and cross marks

Test every feature from creating workflows to training to registering users. You probably can’t guess how long it might take for complete implementation, but you want to ensure the system doesn’t implode when it is fully operational. Using the system in a natural environment is the ultimate test. Make sure to add time to your implementation deadline as unexpected situations will undoubtedly come up, and you don’t want to rush deployment.

What about resources? What do you need to configure your new platform? IT personnel? What are the networking and equipment requirements? What will you need for installation, setup, testing, training, and troubleshooting? Would you integrate your helpdesk with your CRM? Are integrations crucial or nice-to-have? If the integration requires IT expertise and heavy coding, it may not be worth the time and resources. However, if the platform has an excellent customer success team to guide you through the process and do the heavy lifting, that is a huge advantage.

Extensibility.

You want a system that can scale with your company, that will continue to serve your needs as your organization grows. It must be able to handle increased future customer support volume or potential peaks during certain times of the year. The last thing you want is to be forced to pivot in the middle of a growth spurt.

As your business scales, will the helpdesk continue to work as intended? What happens when you have larger support volumes, such as during busier periods during the year? Are you willing to pay higher fees and install more complex software for something you may only use during certain seasons? At the same time, you don’t want to go shopping for a new helpdesk a year from now.

Reporting and analytics.

You’re going to want to measure the success of your customer service team and customer retention rates. The right helpdesk software should offer customized reporting on the KPIs that matter most to your organization.

Think carefully about the customer service metrics you use and why they are essential. Ask the helpdesk vendor if their solution can match those results.

How well can you drill down into support team metrics? Can you link tickets to each other to create advanced searches while identifying trends? Can you use the data also to build searches that help with training opportunities or webinar topics? Are the reports easily exportable? Will you get a smooth transfer of information when needed?

Additionally, think about your customer support team’s need for an efficient internal and external messaging system. Everyone should be on the same page. Customers grow frustrated when they have to explain their issues over and over again to various agents. Customers expect the support team to pick up where they left off, and if they don’t, something is wrong. A helpdesk platform that promotes message collaboration ensures information is stored and accessed from one place. Further, it helps the customer support team communicate relevant information to clients around timelines and other data.

Abstraction of Capacity analytics

Reliability.

What’s the uptime? A helpdesk that crashes during high volume is of little value. Not only will your company lose revenue, but it could significantly damage your support team’s morale. What happens if your support team loses support? Where do you go when your helpdesk has an outage? What will you do with a confusing feature? How do you get help when a process is inefficient?

Every platform will experience issues at one time or another. The difference-maker is how well those issues are managed. Send sample requests to your helpdesk vendor to see how quickly and practical the responses are. If you can’t help your customers because the helpdesk platform is down, it helps to have an informed vendor who can assist rapidly.

Of course, the best helpdesk is one with the shortest learning curve, deploys quickly, and addresses your unique objectives. If your support team cannot get acclimated immediately, it can spell trouble later down the road. As you initiate the trial period, collect as much feedback and usage data as you can.

Even if you aren’t using the tool at its total capacity, this starter set of data will give you an idea of the potential value the helpdesk can bring to your company. You also want to make sure you cover all these bases:

  • Examined different platforms from a variety of perspectives and angles
  • Viewed demos of each of your essential functions in action
  • Experienced hands-on tools that align with your objectives

You’re almost ready to make a decision. You have your data reports and feedback prepared. Well, that’s virtually all that’s left, but you need to…

Get executive buy-in for a helpdesk solution.

A critical success factor for helpdesk approval and implementation is getting buy-in from your organization’s executives. Include your findings to show stakeholders what type of value and return on investment they can expect.

CIO: IT professionals will understand the ins and outs of selecting new technologies, the issues that can occur, and how expensive some deployments are. Many times, when a new solution is implemented, new problems are also created. Demonstrate the IT issues the platform can resolve and whether it will make jobs easier for the IT department. A helpdesk platform can automate numerous workflows to reduce the number of requests sent to the IT team.


CFO: The head financial expert in your company is concerned with upfront and ongoing costs. They also want to know how a helpdesk impacts the bottom line and when they can expect a return on investment. Please prepare a cost analysis for your shortlist of helpdesk systems, and explain how the solution will benefit the company financially. Discuss the technology focusing on two particular areas: Data and asset management.

Helpdesk software can provide insightful information on assets while also offering an analysis on incoming issues, resolution times, and inquiries per customer to resolve problems proactively vs. reactively. CFOs can use this information that helps with issues such as budget, hardware, and software risks.

CEO: The leader of the company will look at the big picture. How will a new helpdesk solution improve the business overall and increase your competitive advantage? On the one hand, a helpdesk can augment the customer experience to enhance engagement, trust, loyalty, satisfaction, and retention. The support team and managers can benefit from the automation making their jobs easier along with statistical and trend reports to identify and proactively resolve issues. In these examples, helpdesk performs as a strategic asset.

Implementation.

Once you have made a decision, it’s vital to have a transition plan. There isn’t any doubt that moving to a new helpdesk solution can make for a large investment in both time and resources. Since the cost can be great, it’s vital to take enough time to make a thoughtful decision.

Here are a few questions that will help you formulate your implementation and rollout plans:

  • Will there be critical integrations?
  • Do you need to import your knowledge base?
  • Do you have to update your contact forms?
  • Will your team need training?
  • Do you need to recreate (or rethink) workflows and automated filters with the new helpdesk?
  • Are there integrations to move or reconnect?

Remember to evaluate your decision. Once the implementation is complete, take time to examine your decision. This process involves revisiting everything you have read in this guide so far to determine the following:

  • Does the helpdesk live up to your expectations?
  • Can your service team overcome their initial pain points?
  • Has it positively impacted your team’s productivity and your company’s profitability?

Quantify the answers to these questions to attain a robust evaluation. Remember to include these stakeholders when collecting implementation input:

  • Support team leads
  • Support staff
  • Customers who have engaged with your service team

Other areas to focus on include:

Communication — Does the platform allow your team to communicate quickly and effectively?

Omnichannel — Does it offer support for email, social, chat, and more?

Customizable — Can you configure the platform to align with your brand? Is it an extension of your company culture?

Personable — Does it allow your support team to offer a human touch?

Complexity — Does it offer all the features and tools you need? Is it easy to use?

Cost — Is the price worth it? What is the ROI?

While some of your answers may surprise you, the best outcome is most of your responses will skew positively.

Continue narrowing your focus to identify the most critical factors when figuring out if you want to continue using your new helpdesk solution. You want a platform that provides the same value over an extended period. In essence, you want a platform that will grow with your business.

Contact Capacity to help your team do its best work.