by Cassandra Balentine
Customer experience is a core—and growing—part of every organization’s overall business strategy. Help desk offerings are available to provide a seamless and positive experience for customers.
For the software industry, the right help desk software reduces ticket resolution time and simplifies ticket management. “It helps reduce—or even eliminate—reliance on email so you never lose a customer email again, and can also help with improved product releases and better management of feature requests and bug fixes,” says Robert C. Johnson, CEO, TeamSupport. “More importantly, it can help you better understand your customers and start managing them proactively, rather than just reacting to email requests.”
In a world where customer support is exponentially important to a businesses’ reputation, help desk support aids companies in improving the customer experience. Here, we outline core functionality, recent and future trends, and highlight available offerings and integration with other business software.
Help desk software provides organizations with many benefits, including collaboration, organization, streamlined and self-service support features, reduced costs, and reporting and tracking—all enabling a trend towards faster reaction to potential customer issues.
Customers experience access to a 24/7 knowledge base and self-service tools, and an overall improved customer experience that they have come to expect.
At its most basic level, help desk solutions enable companies to provide information and support to customers. Johnson explains that help desk systems assist help desk agents to address customer service issues, track and manage product and feature requests, and share knowledge. “The end goal is to increase productivity and improve the customer experience. Help desk software is really just a tool, and while many companies become caught up in features, the primary focus should always be on customer support, not just ticket management. As we like to say, it’s called customer support—not ticket support.”
Help desk software typically handles inbound customer support requests from a range of channels, including email, phone, chat, and Web through one platform that converts all requests into an organized system, which is often ticket-based. “A help desk platform should offer a knowledge base, integrate into existing software, and offer social integration,” describes Stephanie Hamilton, public relations manager, HappyFox.
“This trend is validated by a growing number of companies moving from on premise to the cloud, while the larger number of traditional businesses and small- and medium-sized enterprises are attracted to the simplicity of cloud technology and are starting to acquire software for their support and customer management,” she says.
Colin Earl, CEO, Agiloft, notes that while a small company with one support person may not need help desk software, large companies often handle more complexity. “For example, the need to reassess open issues when an employee leaves or goes on vacation, monitor both staff productivity and customer satisfaction, and automatically escalate issues if there is a danger that the customer’s SLA is not being met,” he offers.
As players in a very disruptive industry, help desk software vendors must quickly adapt to the latest trends to anticipate demand.
“The market for customer support solutions has matured greatly in the last several years, primarily because of the growing realization at high levels in organizations that customer support is critical to attaining revenue growth,” says Johnson. He cites a recent Customers 2020 report from consulting firm Walker Information, Inc., which says that by 2020, customer satisfaction will be more important to brand differentiation than both price and product. “The technology for support customers has evolved to manage multiple, inbound channels of communication, integration with diverse business systems, and tight collaboration between internal and external stakeholders.”
Agiloft’s Earl suggests that from a vendor perspective, companies realize that the help desk does not operate in isolation and are demanding solutions that include integrated applications (app) for closely related functions such as contract management, relationship management, app management, and asset management.
From a customer perspective, makes that demand for faster service has increased along with users’ technical skills, necessitating a move toward self-service portals and multi-channel support. “The increasing importance of self-service portals has made knowledge management capabilities more critical for help desk solutions. And when they can’t find the answers themselves, customers have come to demand the ability to contact the help desk however they wish, whether through email, mobile access, Web forms, etc.—making multi-channel support a must-have feature for help desk software,” he suggests.
Customer support software will continue to evolve. “Expect to see a deeper understanding and focus on how customers are using the product, supported through in-depth analytics and monitoring, to proactively offer solutions before problems occur. This is especially important in the B2B customer support base, and all these technologies that we are continually improving within our system,” says TeamSupport’s Johnson.
Like many technologies, Ben Puzzuoli, chairman of the board, Cayzu, sees a shift to the cloud for help desk solutions, as well as a move to support mobility and social media.
Shankar Ganesh, head of public relations, Freshdesk, suggests that customer support was a reactive role in the past. However, this is changing. “Today, customers expect businesses to be there, even before they have a problem. They reach out to businesses more than just directly—via email and phone; they want to talk to the world when they have an extreme experience with customer support—over social media; or want to talk between themselves to share ideas and feedback—via community forums, etc.,” he says.
HappyFox’s Hamilton agrees that timeliness and real-time help and support have become a major evolution in help desk software in the past few years. Social media has also played an important role, providing customers with more ways to submit feedback. “Social customer support offers every company the chance to respond quickly and efficiently,” she says.
Mobility will play an important role in the future of help desk software. “Providing an exceptional experience for users on the go will become extremely important because the touch screen is increasingly becoming the primary—if not the first—point of interaction for consumers with small and big businesses alike. Consumers don’t like to switch between channels when they want to reach support, so it became imperative for businesses to provide stellar, in-app support,” says Ganesh.
“In the next few years, customer support will include better ways of customer engagement via social and mobile, deeper integration with third-party apps, and finally, proactive and personalized support,” predicts Hamilton.
We can expect the future to bring even more technical savvy end users, and organizations realize the cost savings of self service, so as previously discussed, Earl sees this as an even more essential and comprehensive factor in the future of help desk solutions. “Also, as more enterprise-level organizations move their help desk to the cloud, there will be increased demand for higher levels of security,” he notes.
Cayzu’s Puzzuoli sees more automation through artificial intelligence on the horizon. “I can see that in the future, help desk software will watch and learn how agents respond to tickets and after a short period of time, start being able to suggest answers to the agents when a support request first comes in,” he explains. “The agent could then modify/approve the answer before sending it out.”
He also sees increased integration with mobile phones for the end user. “Most help desk solutions—ours included—have mobile apps for agents. I see new apps being developed for the end users to get better support from the companies using the help desk software,” says Puzzuoli, adding that they are already experimenting with ideas.
Finally, he expects SMS to translate to tickets. “With the rise of mobile phones, more users will want to simply text in support requests using SMS. Help desk software needs to be more SMS friendly for this to happen.”
Organizations within the software industry that implement a help desk solution can expect a range of benefits.
Agiloft’s Earl notes that this includes reduced costs, especially when related to self-service aspects, by allowing users to help themselves through a custom-branded, self-service portal available 24/7.
Additionally, he points to improved consistency and quality of support with workflow automation that guides support technicians through the correct process and automates emails and other back-end actions and the ability to demonstrate compliance with SLAs, HIPPA, and Sarbanes Oxley requirements.
Advantages specific to the software industry include integration with bug tracking systems, such as Jira, says Hamilton. Additional benefits include faster ticket resolution, improved efficiency in handling tickets, self-service for end users, reports and analytics that help with understanding the current status and plan for scaling, and centralized queries from various channels to prove a unified customer experience.
For the software industry, help desk software aids in customer service management, allowing providers to become more engaged with customers and resolve problems faster, says Puzzuoli. He adds that it also helps in the marketing/sales side, helping to drive more traffic with SEO-optimized, knowledge-based items, and the ability to provide 24/7 service support, which is a benefit for sales.
Help Desk Solutions
Several vendors offer help desk solutions for organizations of all types and sizes. Here are highlights from a few.
Agiloft specializes in automating help desk processes that are too complex for competing vendors, according to Earl. “Because it is built on a highly adaptable platform, Agiloft allows a deep and rapid customization of every aspect of the system, without the need to write custom code, and without the high costs usually associated with custom solutions,” he adds.
It is this flexibility that Earl says gives Agiloft the confidence to provide an unconditional satisfaction guarantee that covers both software and implementation services. “Sophisticated help desk systems, especially for B2B companies, are very complex and it is almost impossible for the customer to specify exactly what they need before having a chance to use it,” he explains. “Re-configuring systems that require custom coding can be expensive and time consuming. Such systems often run over budget or fail, so other vendors cannot afford to offer a satisfaction guarantee. But with Agiloft, deep configuration changes are just a matter of a few mouse clicks in the browser,” he assures.
Agiloft’s Service Desk Suite includes everything needed for an integrated system, including internal help desk, external customer support, change management, asset management, and an alternative ITIL-based version of the service desk. Customers can extend the system beyond these core functions to offer fully integrated client and vendor contract management, time keeping, project and task management, workflow, and even repair tracking—with no additional cost per module.
BMC Software, Inc. offers its Track-It! help desk solution. The software includes help desk, work order ticket tracking, incident and problem management, knowledge management, service level management, asset management, change management, software license management, mobile device access, and end user self-service. Track-It! Help Desk delivers the strength of IT service management best practices with the simplicity of smooth installation and quick configuration to provide instant return on investment.
Cayzu Help Desk is a cloud-based customer support help desk software built to make a successful customer support experience. It allows organizations to manage support requests from a single, cloud-based portal, no matter if they are coming in from phone, email, social media, or mobile. Cayzu enables team collaboration while handling multiple products, brands, and automated workflow. It differentiates itself with a built-in, multi-product/brand support, mobile apps for agents, and a simple bundle plan. Its aim is to bring enterprise features to the small- to mid-sized business market.
Freshdesk helps businesses deliver customer support through cloud-based customer support software solutions that enable companies of all sizes to interact with customers through email, phone calls, Web sites, forums, and social media channels. The solution is equipped with robust, multi-channel capabilities, integrated game mechanics to supercharge agent productivity, smart automations, self-service portals, as well as community forums.
HappyFox offers a solution that prints tickets, forwards or clones them in addition to creating private replies and custom fields. “We also offer responsive and timely support, help desk setup support, and user training—all at no additional cost,” comments Hamilton. “And, it can be up and running in only hours.”
TeamSupport’s help desk solution targets B2B software and technology companies. Johnson explains that support in a software environment is different from B2C in that B2B support requests are typically much longer and more complicated than in B2C. “If there is a problem with a company’s software they cannot operate, customers get frustrated and they can potentially lose money. Our software offers a robust customer database with features like the Customer Distress Index and Customer Alerts that help organizations manage customers at a company level.”
The solution is also collaborative, which allows entire teams—including customer support, sales, development, and management—to work together to solve customer issues faster and more effectively.
Additionally, TeamSupport offers product and inventory features specially designed for software and technology support teams. The product database allows agents to know what products a customer is using so they can provide better support. It also allows customer self-service options to be tailed to that particular customer so in the portal, knowledge base, etc., they only see information relevant to them. “You can associate customer issues with specific products and even versions, which gives great visibility into what products or modules need additional development resources,” says Johnson.
The company also offers integration with Jira and other developmental tools to enable tight integration between customer support and product development teams.
Salesforce.com offers its desk.com solution, which is an all-in-one customer support app. Features include a universal inbox, case management, productivity tools, support center, business insights, as well as mobile and integration capabilities.
ServiceNow offers a portfolio of cloud-based products designed to automate and manage enterprise services. Its products are built on a single cloud platform that consists of one user interface, one code base, and one data model.
ZenDesk offers a customer service platform, which streamlines support tools like ticket views, triggers, and automations. The solution also enables an online, 24/7 self-support center for customers. Within the help center, users build a knowledge base, community, and customer portal.
Strategic alliances between software vendors is a common practice, and it is important to improving the functionally of software as well as provide a better, overall customer experience. Help desk solutions are no different.
Agiloft is built on open-source technology such as JBoss and MySQL and comes with pre-built integration with a range of common apps such as Google Single Sign-on; Microsoft Active Directory, Outlook, Word and Excel; Salesforce; and Intuit Quickbooks. It also collaborates with DocuSign to enable customers to securely send, e-sign, and store vendor and supplier contracts, SLAs, and other important documents. A robust set of APIs enables quick and easy integration with other systems.
Cayzu’s Puzzuoli says partnerships and integrations are key to any successful product, especially help desk solutions. “When it comes down to it, there are only so many hours in a day, and to the old saying, jack of all trades is a master of none. Meaning, if you try to do everything for everyone, you do it poorly.”
This is why Cayzu heavily invests in integrations to make its solution more powerful with less work. Integrations include social media sites, Facebook and Twitter, which allow its clients to monitor and answer customer questions and complaints; customer relationship management systems (CRM), like Salesforce, SugarCRM, ZOHO, and Highrise, which allow both support and sales to be in sync; Survey Monkey, enabling the gathering of customer feedback; and Skype and live chat, to allow for real-time communication that is tracked as a help ticket. These are just a few integration examples.
Freshdesk features out-of-the-box integrations with a range of other business technologies, including more than 40 CRM systems, invoicing tools, as well as ecommerce solutions.
According to Ganesh, Freshdesk tightly integrates with Google Apps including Analytics, Contacts, Calendar, and Gmail. “These integrations enable a slew of additional capabilities into the help desk; giving businesses plenty of flexibility to work with the tools they choose when they’re supporting customers.”
Being a Google Enterprise Technology Partner gives Freshdesk access to APIs and technical support from them. Besides allowing the platform to integrate deeply with Google’s suite of products, it also recently introduced integrations with Drive and Hangouts.
Freshdesk is also an Amazon Technology Partner, which gives the software as a service-based company premium reseller access and positioning, among other things, adds Ganesh.
HappyFox’s Hamilton says integrations with other platforms are part of the solution it offers its customers to make it work best for them. “For that reason, we integrate with Salesforce, Google Apps, Facebook, Jira, and SurveyMonkey, to name a few.”
In addition, HappyFox offers Helpstack, which is an open source mobile help platform that allows developers to design and engineer their apps with a real-time knowledge base.
TeamSupport offers powerful integration with leading CRM and product development systems. “To integrate with software development teams, TeamSupport integrates with Jira and allows tickets to be associated directly with Jira products. This enables very tight communication and collaboration between support and development groups, and ensures that the customer is never left in the dark,” says Johnson.
Similarly, he explains that native integrations with CRM systems provide the sales team with the knowledge and ability to know exactly what is going on with their customers. “Both customer data and case/ticket information can be synced bi-directionally so that any update to the record in one system will automatically update in the other.”
Customer is King
Technology enables organizations to be responsive to customer needs, but also allows customers to be vocal about issues.
Help desk solutions help make responding to customer challenges as easy and seamless as possible. These solutions are essential in a time where almost every consumer expects technology to perform at their fingertips. If there is a problem, they want an immediate resolution. By not meeting this demand, business is at risk. SW
Dec2014, Software Magazine