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Fool-Proof Guide: How to Choose the Right Helpdesk Solution for Your Business

by Robbie Richards · Apr 5 2017

As if getting customers weren't hard enough, you also need a solid system in place to help maintain the relationship. Which is why choosing a help desk software to support customer queries and complaints is a decision you can't afford to take lightly.

But how do you choose the right help desk software when every provider claims to be the best, and offers a laundry list of shiny features and benefits to prove it?

Confession: it's not an easy decision.

Even seasoned help desk pros have a hard time sorting out the benefits from the bullshit some software solutions try to hock.

If you've got seven minutes, this fool-proof guide should tell you everything you need to know about how to choose the right help desk solution for your business.

Questions to ask before pulling the purchase trigger

Don’t even think about shopping around before you hash out your goals. If you don’t know what you want out of your help desk software before you start browsing, you’ll have a much harder time narrowing the field later. (Not to mention it helps you avoid the “shiny feature syndrome.”)

Start by answering these questions:

Ease of setup

How long will it take to fully implement the new software?

You want to get up and running quickly, but it doesn't happen overnight.

Creating workflows, registering users, training employees, testing every single feature ad nauseum to make sure the whole system won’t implode when cases start mounting - however long you estimate it will take to implement, you’re wrong.

Make sure you add some time to whatever number you come up with - you can’t rush these things.

What resources will it require to configure - IT personnel, networking requirements, equipment, etc?

The cost of the software itself is only the beginning. Prepare to foot the bill for additional payroll expenses stemming from installation, setup, testing, training, and troubleshooting.

Should your help desk integrate with your CRM or other important systems?

Integrations are hot topics, and with the explosion in new tech and SaaS developments it’s becoming easier to connect different platforms.

But is it crucial to your operation, or just nice to have?

A full-fledged integration could potentially save you time and enhance the customer experience in other areas. But that integration could come at a higher cost than a standalone option, especially if it requires heavy coding and IT expertise.

Customer Experience

How do you envision the ideal customer experience?

In a perfect world, your customers wouldn’t have problems to contact you about. But all companies - yes, even yours - falls short at some point.

Try to envision your support process from the customer’s standpoint - how would you want it to flow? Now, compare that ideal experience to how things really are: where are the gaps?

What gaps has your current help desk created in serving your customers, and how can you seal those rifts?

If support tickets regularly fall through the cracks, or manual entry leads to a high percentage of errors, you should investigate potential solutions to these issues.

Remember, shopping for the right helpdesk software is your chance to start fresh, not transfer your problems from one system to another.

How do your customers expect to be served?

Do they prefer to talk to a live agent via phone or chat? Do they prefer email? Do they seek out support across social media channels? Are they comfortable using a self-service tool to submit their questions? Do customers expect a follow-up email or text with their case number and details?

What kind of resolution time do your customers expect?

If customers call, do they expect their problem to get resolved before they hang up? Do you guarantee a callback within an hour after a customer submits an online form? Is it your goal to shorten your response time for every customer? Do you have SLAs to honor?

No matter how long it currently takes you to resolve an issue, you should choose a help desk that can maintain or increase your service speed. The last thing you want to do is invest in a complicated system that bloats and adds time to your resolution process.

Staff Ease of Use

How long will it take to acclimate users to the new help desk?

True, with every new system comes a learning curve. But the more intuitive the UI, the less time it will take for employees to feel confident using it, and the smoother the transition will be.

What tools does your support staff need to help customers quickly and efficiently?

Your customer support team will be using the help desk daily to provide a positive customer experience. Get their input on key tools that makes the process easier and more effective.

There are two sides to every help desk, and it’s important to consider both of them when choosing a solution. Getting direct input from both your customers and support staff can help answer some of the above questions.

When in doubt, adopt these two points as your fact-finding mantra:

Drafting this basic landscape of customer and user functionality can provide an essential shopping tool on how to choose the right helpdesk solution.

This way, you’re more likely to stick to what you absolutely need without getting distracted by features your eventual salesperson thinks you need.

Bucket features before shopping

The next step is to create your list of essential features, and “nice-to-haves”.

A good exercise is to ask your customer support team to write down all the tasks they can think of, and then place them in one of two buckets:

  1. Essential features - if the helpdesk solution does not do X, Y and we will not be able to operate efficiently and deliver a great experience for our customers.

  2. Nice-to-have - if the helpdesk does X, Y and Z it would be really cool, and we might use those features to improve the customer experience. But, if we didn;t have them, the staff and customer relationship would not suffer.

Keep this list handy when you're comparing different solutions to see how each one stacks up against your needs. Also, it's a good idea to keep your must-haves list short and sweet to give you best opportunity of satisfying all your core requirements.

Here are some suggestions to jumpstart your lists:

You can probably think of other ideas to add to your lists. Come up with as many ideas as you can, but only place the most essential ones on your "must-have" list. This can help you know how to choose the right help desk software based strictly off need and take out the guesswork.

How to Evaluate Help Desk Features

With both lists in hand, you can start to triage your help desk needs and wants by answering the following questions:

The goal here is to know the precise role each feature will play in your overall help desk strategy. After enough soul searching, you may find it easier to eliminate some options you once considered valid.

How to Prioritize Help Desk Solutions

After you've drafted your help desk blueprint, start shopping around for a solution that measures up. Compare your lists to the features and functions each vendor offers, and move on from the ones that can't fulfill your basic requirements.

Keep a shortlist of the possible solutions you want to explore further. Once you discover a few viable options, recruit some help from your support team and take a few choices for a test drive.

When choosing your test team, it's important to get a variety of opinions across all levels. Start with an entry-level representative, senior representative, and a supervisor or manager. You can always add more people if you need more input, but ensuring each level is well represented can give you insight into all aspects of how your help desk needs to function.

It's also worth noting that you will not get the full experience with a trial version, but you can get a good idea of the look and feel for each UI, gauge the intuitiveness, and understand how each one functions.

If you want to know how to choose the right help desk software based on your trial plays, refer back to your original goals and the following key points as you evaluate each testing phase:

Customer Experience

The only way to understand the customer journey is to experience it for yourself. Test the help desk in the same ways a customer would: search the online resource center, initiate a live chat, fill out a contact form, send the emails a customer would receive, or perform any other action a customer might take.

Document what those actions look like, how easy the process is, and if that journey aligns with your original vision for an ideal customer experience.

User Experience

Without a good UI for your support staff, it's hard to create a solid customer experience. Walk through possible help desk scenarios and take note as to what users of all levels must go through to provide customers with a good experience.

Navigation, download time, and the ability to save or tag information impact your users and the customers they serve, so be sure those types of minor details won't end up being major hangups later.

Ease of Setup

Take note on what needs to happen on each user's level to get the help desk fully operational. You might not do a full setup during a trial, but at least you'll have an idea as to what type of battle you'll face if a solution makes the final cut.

Reporting and Tracking

Reports are an essential part of accurately measuring performance, but trial software versions typically don't have enough data to generate a clear snapshot. Instead, you can see what reporting features are available, and what possibilities exist to customize those reports to your specifications.

It helps to know your KPIs beforehand so you'll have a better idea of what to look for.

Some common KPIs our clients track:


If you expect to grow, think about how each solution can scale with your company over time. You don't want to choose a solution you will outgrow in a couple years' time.

On the other hand, you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for software you don’t actually need. It’s a fine line.

There are a few factors that could influence your help desk software's scalability:

Bonus Tip

Never underestimate the power of testing. Once you do decide on a solution, test every feature before you transition the system to your users. Even the most minor crop-ups, like a skipped email or search error, can have a negative impact on your customer experience.

Don't just take our word for it...

While compiling this guide we reached out to dozens of startup founders and customer support professionals to see which features they considered most important when selecting a helpdesk software for their business.

Here are a couple of the responses:


Thomas Coleman

Customer Success Manager at Membersuite, Inc.


1) Reportability

2) Seamless third-party tool integrations

I need the ability to push and pull information on tickets to 3rd party tools such as jira. The Support team and the Engineering/Dev teams use different types of tools. I need to be able to integrate them well and have smooth transfer of information.

3) The ability for Internal/External messages

This is a key factor in keeping all internal employees on the same page. It promotes collaboration on the ticket for remote employees and keeps all information in one place. It also helps customer-facing resources to communicate properly to clients in regards to setting timeline expectations and additional information.


Austin Blair

Customer Success Manager at Buildfire


The first thing in deciding a HelpDesk software would be to evaluate the features that are needed and the price point that is associated with those features. For Example the support for an enterprise level client vs a small business client is completely different and you need features that would accompany both.

Next item to consider, does the software integrate with our current business process? Would using this software alter our business model?

Lastly, consider how this is going to work with your customers and how they are going to be served. What are the customer expectations for support? Do they need email support, live support, one-on-one phone support, tracking, metrics to measure success, ect.

The end goal of the Helpdesk is to help your customers and if the software does not help the customer, then the software has failed.

Finishing up

While moving to a new help desk is an investment in your support team and company, there's no aspect more important than how it impacts your customers. A lot of companies approach the help desk hunt with a laundry list of desired features, most of which fall in the “nice-to-have” bucket. This is not only inefficient, it often results in a solution that outweighs your needs. Your shopping list should only contain “essential” features.

When in doubt, think like a customer. It might make all the difference.