Internet access drives the modern economy. Where true global reach of products and services was once a distant goal of industry leaders, it is now commonplace. As the Internet continues to saturate the everyday life of more and more people, this trend will only accelerate exponentially. But with growing productivity, you get growing customer support needs. Can your support staff handle an influx of callers on top of what they’re already dealing with?
Of course, a handful of support professionals cannot provide support to millions of customers. However, as the Internet has reinvented the way we do business, it has also reinvented support. Instead of requiring direct contact, many customers are realizing the benefits of online help desks. These services are provided over the Internet, often free of charge, and assist customers with whatever support issues they are having. This movement to provide service on the Internet is a part of a larger movement called cloud computing, and both help desks and cloud computing have demonstrated business benefits in non-traditional means.
The help desk software industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the computer software industry. As companies of all sizes across the globe continue to realize the importance of cultivating long-lasting relationships with their clients through increasingly technical media, this industry is poised to grow well beyond the hundreds of help desk software solutions that are already in existence.
For small and large companies alike, choosing the right software solution is the key to providing outstanding customer service and support. In many cases, help desk software also provides internal team members with an effective way to communicate with one another about internal and external issues, while also allowing them to measure their effectiveness when responding to various types of client issues.
For many companies, the process of selecting help desk software is a major cause of stress and the final decision often comes after many months of deliberation. Usually, this is due to the wide variations in available features across products and the lack of a clear understanding of which features will best suit the company’s needs. However, this process can be made much easier by gaining an understanding of the help desk industry and how each solution approaches the task of creating a transparent flow of information between both staff members and clients.
What is help desk software?
Help desk software is any software application that is used to provide customers with technical information on a product or service, while also supplying them with a connection to a support representative. The goal of this software is to increase a company’s efficiency and their productivity when using technology by providing workers and clients with timely answers to their questions and pertinent information that can aid them in solving their problems.
Essentially, a help desk is a very large and complex database consisting of customer information, call reports, information regarding hardware and/or software, problems and solutions logs, and service level agreements. Most help desk software, however, goes a step further by providing company representatives with a means to communicate electronically with their clients and colleagues.
Help desk software, when implemented correctly, can streamline the support process, leading to lower resolution times and increased customer satisfaction, which in turn boosts customer retention. There are several benefits to deploying a centralized help desk:
1. Support agents have access to a central knowledge base containing all of the company’s product and customer information.
2. Agents can search the entire knowledge base, including articles and previous support tickets, for an answer by typing in relevant keywords or phrases.
3. Clients can seek answers to their questions without contacting an agent by searching the knowledge base.
4. Tickets can easily be created by both customers and support representatives through the help desk’s ticketing system.
5. When creating a support ticket, a customer can automatically be prompted to fill in required information regarding their request to expedite the support process.
6. Emails will be routed through the help desk first, so agents will not have to worry about support requests mistakenly being marked as spam.
7. Automated responses can be emailed to clients as soon as a request is received.
8. Support tickets can automatically be created from emails.
9. Support tickets can easily be created during a customer call by utilizing the software’s search and auto-population features.
10. Support issues can automatically or manually be assigned to an agent, decreasing or eliminating agent collision.
11. Agents can easily view all of their open, closed, and pending support requests.
12. Clients are able to provide instant feedback regarding their satisfaction with the support process.
13. Agents can monitor their performance ratings and can also track their average response and resolution times.
14. Agents can easily track what the hottest support issues are, allowing them to create new knowledge base articles that target clients’ needs.
15. Clients can rate knowledge base articles, allowing agents to improve confusing or unhelpful support articles.
Organizations typically rely on help desk software to improve the efficiency of their agents, whether it’s during a support call or through an email, by giving them access to a centralized database of highly organized company and client information. The help desk also records and tracks all support issues, allowing agents to quickly track every support issue that needs to be resolved and pull from a growing database of pre-recorded responses, leading to lower resolution times and increasing customer satisfaction. Many companies find that increased efficiency actually leads to regular cost savings, since the number of additional employees needed for support can be minimized.
Types of help desk software
Today’s help desk software solutions are available in two forms: cloud-based and self-hosted. Cloud-based systems are hosted on servers outside of an organization and are located entirely online. These applications are typically ready to use as soon as the service has been purchased and a company account has been created. They do, however, require customization, such as branding and optional user interface design, for example. Self-hosted systems, on the other hand, are hosted on a company’s servers and must be installed on each computer in the organization.
Self-hosted systems are decreasing in popularity due to the cloud. In comparison to cloud-based solutions, self-hosted systems generally cost more to set up, require more deployment time, are more difficult to manage, and offer less scalability, meaning that they may not be able to meet the needs of an organization as it grows. For small organizations or companies with lower annual revenues, most self-hosted systems are financially unfeasible.
Cloud-based software is typically more flexible than self-hosted software, so it can support a growing company’s needs. These solutions also tend to offer frequent product updates, ongoing access to professional support, and users are able to log into the system from anywhere at any time with full access to all of the software’s features, which makes this solution particularly attractive to companies with employees who travel or are located in multiple locations. Cloud-based systems are typically far less expensive than competing self-hosted systems and generally require less deployment time.
Features of Help Desk Software Solutions
Each help desk solution will contain its own set of unique features and add-ons. The following list is a summary of the most popular features that are typically included with help desk software applications:
Web-based Interface – This graphical user interface is accessible via all or most Internet browsers for both clients and support team members. It provides users with a direct line to product information and support services.
Single Sign On Authentication (SSO) – SSO gives users the ability to log into the help desk using the same login ID and password that is used for logging into the protected areas of a company’s website. When a user logs into the company site, they will automatically be logged into the help desk.
Customization – Import third party widgets and custom code to add new help desk functions that better meet the needs of an organization and its customers.
Multiple Languages – Configure the help desk to display in any language. Some software solutions also allow the help desk to choose which language is displayed to which customers based upon their location or user settings.
Knowledge Base – This powerful self-service feature allows users to independently find answers to their questions without contacting a support representative. The knowledge base can be used to store instruction manuals, webinars, frequently asked questions, and popular news items that may affect users as they continue to use a company’s products and services.
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Editor – The WYSIWYG allows support representatives to easily create knowledge base articles and news items without any HTML coding knowledge.
Content Restrictions – Control what clients see to ensure that they are given access to the information that is relevant to their needs. This feature also allows support agents to create restricted areas that are only accessible to other agents, which is useful for storing private information.
Community Forums – Forums allow customers to openly communicate with one another about product issues, requests, and any other general comments they may have. In some cases, forums give customers the ability to answer each other’s questions, which can increase the support team’s productivity by reducing the amount of time spent answering customer questions. Additionally, forums provide companies with the ability to monitor new product requests and assess the popularity of each of those requests, helping a company’s products and services move forward and better meet client needs.
Forum Moderation – Support agents can moderate topics and decide when a topic should be closed off from further discussion. They may also have the ability to remove offensive comments and flag hot topics.
Voting – Customers can express exactly what they think about the level of service support agents provide and how well published help topics meet their needs. Voting results are usually displayed in an averaged numerical format and are typically used to rate each support agent’s performance.
Advanced Search Tools – These tools allow users to search across multiple sections of the help desk at once in order to help them find the right answers right when they need them. For example, by typing in a question or keyword into the search tool, a user can quickly be connected to answers that have been pulled from the knowledge base, user forums, and their previous support requests.
Tagging – Tags allow yet another level of organization for support tickets and help desk topics. Assigning appropriate tags to topics allows users to quickly search for and locate the relevant answers to their questions.
Electronic Communication Tools – Most, if not all, systems allow users to leave text-based messages for support agents. However, some systems go further by adding instant messaging, video chat, and integration with Twitter.
Multi-channel Request Support – For companies that utilize multiple points of contact, such as email and Twitter, all communications can be routed through the help desk first, allowing tickets to automatically be created without the need to monitor multiple channels.
Customized Ticket Fields – Getting the right information from users is essential to providing a timely resolution to an issue. Customized ticket fields allow agents to specify what information must be provided by the user upfront in order to help solve their requests quickly and effectively.
Automated Responses – As soon as a support request is received, the help desk will send the requester and support staff members an automated response that has been predefined by support staff. These responses allow clients to know that their requests have been received and provide support agents with an up-to-date window into current support issues. Additionally, automated responses can be set to recur on daily, weekly, or monthly intervals, allowing agents to be continuously reminded of hot issues and clients to be aware that an agent is awaiting their response.
Issue/Ticket Tracking – Customers and support agents can track the evolution of any and every support ticket from its creation to its resolution. Every communication is logged, and both open and closed tickets can be viewed by the support team and clients for an unlimited or specified period of time.
Views – Many software solutions come packed with default views which allow support representatives to organize and view the tickets in the help desk according to predefined criteria. For example, tickets can be viewed according their priority, status (open or closed), assigned agent, or the requester. Additional views can also be created by support agents to streamline the support process.
Ticket Merging – Clients often submit the same request multiple times or very similar requests within a short space of time. Ticket merging gives agents the ability to merge similar requests into a single ticket which allows agents to focus on unique issues more efficiently.
Grouping – Members of an organization as well as its clients can be organized according to logical groups. This is especially useful for larger organization with complex support teams that allocate requests based upon the type of request that has been received.
Workflows – Workflows can be set up on both the organizational and individual levels to assign, route, and manage support tickets. Tickets can automatically be assigned to agents based upon their content or the requester. Additionally, certain issues can automatically or manually be escalated to superiors based on customer and support agent feedback.
Spam Management – Any messages that appear to be spam, such as automated out of office replies, will automatically be routed to a quarantine area within the system. Some help desk software also allows the organization to specify whether messages from unknown users are automatically quarantined.
Web-based Remote Support – Support staff can quickly and easily access, view, and repair remote devices without requiring the end-user to install any software on their machines. Additionally, remote devices can be accessed with the user’s permission even if the user is not available to participate in the support call. This service can greatly reduce the amount of time necessary for resolving an issue.
Analytics – Real-time reporting can be used to assess the support team’s performance by displaying their overall resolution times, customer satisfaction levels, and their response times. Reports can also be customized to display data on a number of other tracked items including group performance and ticket type.
Sandbox Environment – Test the help desk and any newly added features prior to pushing them live for end-users. Experiment with message and ticket assignment rules as well as other workflows without affecting the client-facing production area.
Mobile Optimization – The ability to view the help desk via a smart phone is essential to providing quick and effective support for many clients. Some help desk software companies are also releasing mobile apps, which allow agents to have full access to all of the help desk’s functions right from the palms of their hands.