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The best help desk software and customer support apps

By Luke Strauss · May 10, 2023
Hero image with the logos of the best customer support software

I'll be frank—there are too many help desk tools out there. Many of them are practically carbon copies of one another with a fresh interface slapped on them. So if you're dealing with decision fatigue as you sort through platforms that can help your team turn a raging customer into a loyal one, you aren't alone.

I spent weeks researching and testing dozens of help desk tools to uncover the apps that are most worthy of your consideration. Below, I unpack nine of the apps that shone through the noise, each in its own unique way. Check out the best help desk software of 2023 below.

The 9 best help desk apps

  • Zendesk for Service for customization

  • Help Scout for team collaboration

  • Intercom for a premium experience

  • Zoho Desk for AI features

  • Freshdesk for ticket management

  • Re:amaze for eCommerce companies

  • HubSpot Service Hub for CRM integration

  • Hiver for consolidated email app integration

  • HelpCrunch for solid automation on a budget

What makes great help desk software?

How we evaluate and test apps

Our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. Unless explicitly stated, we spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

If your customer support team is overworked, or it seems like you spend more time fielding customer complaints than improving your product or service, it's time to invest in some new tools. But you need to know what you're looking for to be sure the customer support software you choose will actually help you and not just complicate your process even more.

As I researched and tested help desk services, these are the criteria I was most focused on:

  • Checking off the "basics." Granted, my definition of "the basics" might be stricter than most. Every app on this list offers ticketing, a shared inbox tool, self-service features (such as a knowledge base or help center), and a live chat tool. We're living in the 2020s—while live chat may have been a "premium" feature several years ago, it's a must-have to be considered a great customer service app now.

  • Automation features. There are several ways help desk software can integrate automation. On the simplest end, we have macros (canned replies you can save and repeatedly use). On the more advanced end, we have AI-powered reply assistants. Somewhere in between, there's customizable bots and automated workflows. The apps on my list all stood out with their automation features, though some shone brighter than others.

  • Quality of reporting and analytics. Good help desk software offers analytics and reporting features that help you identify high-level trends and optimize your processes. Great ones give you a microscope to dig into more niche, granular data and enable you to customize reports and dashboards to share with stakeholders. I ensured every app contained some type of reporting, prioritizing those with more advanced features.

  • Collaborative features. Collaboration tools help agents complete tickets quickly and efficiently—with each other's help. I checked each customer service tool for shared inboxes, file sharing, internal knowledge bases, and other features that help agents collaborate without butting heads.

  • Integrations. Your customer support tool needs to be able to talk to the other tools you use at your company. After all, the best customer service doesn't happen in a vacuum—it's connected to all the moving parts of your business.

  • Value for price. For all the apps featured here, the price is justifiable for the features offered and the target customer base.

These criteria—and my experience testing the apps—helped me narrow it down to nine apps that are best for a holistic help desk experience.

Best help desk software for customization

Zendesk for Service (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot showing Zendesk's chat feature.

As soon as I started testing Zendesk for Service, I felt pretty confident it would make the list. And not just because it's a household name when it comes to customer service—its user-friendly interface and clear, fun tutorial process said, "I make my users' lives as easy as possible." Diving into its features only validated my hunch.

Of all its impressive features, the one that stood out to me was its advanced and granular reporting options. While Zendesk Explore took several minutes to initially load for me, once it did, I was blown away by the comprehensiveness of its reporting features. In addition to standard help desk metrics like average first response time and tickets created per day, Zendesk offers visual reports on metrics from every channel, including chatbot efficacy and how the quantity of ticket escalations has changed over time.

The platform's advanced features don't end there, though. Of all the self-service tools I tested (whether they were named knowledge bases, help desks, or something else), Zendesk's was the most customizable. I could change the look and feel with pre-built themes, added elements, and editing options. It almost felt like I was creating a blog on a website builder.

I was also impressed at the level of customization its chatbot offers. If users have complex questions, they can chat with live agents and custom automated bots at the same time. You can also add third-party tools into your chatbot for banking, eCommerce, and even gaming to provide a more personalized CX. Best of all, help for Zendesk is available in 40+ languages, and its built-in guided tour with videos helped me navigate the comprehensive set of tools.

Zendesk is also designed for you to help your customers across platforms—email, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, phone, SMS, WhatsApp, and more—and it's frequently updated to support new networks. I could easily follow conversations across channels, without having to leave my browser. This means customers can connect anytime, anywhere, on any channel, and get the same level of service from me.

I'll be honest—it's pretty expensive. But between the call center, the customizations for the knowledge base, chatbot, and reporting, the pricing is absolutely justified. And if these features still aren't enough for you, Zendesk Marketplace has over 1,300 apps to integrate with, or you can always build your own Zendesk apps.

Zendesk also integrates with Zapier, so you can do things like create new Zendesk tickets from form submissions or add new Zendesk tickets meeting certain criteria to your project management app. The workflows below are some examples, but you can connect thousands of apps, regardless of your tech stack.

Create Zendesk tickets from new Typeform entries

Create Zendesk tickets from new Typeform entries
  • Typeform logo
  • Zendesk logo
Typeform + Zendesk

Zendesk price: From $49/month/agent, billed annually, for the Suite Team plan; from $19/agent/month, billed annually, for the Support Team Plan

Take a look at how Zendesk stacks up to similar apps in our showdowns: Zendesk vs. Freshdesk, Zendesk vs. Intercom, Zendesk vs. Jira, Zendesk vs. Salesforce, and Zendesk vs. Zoho Desk. Plus, discover more ways to automate Zendesk.

Best help desk software for team collaboration

Help Scout (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of Help Scout's mailbox.

Help Scout is all about easily managing email communications with customers. The service offers a variety of advanced email inbox features that make it easy to stay organized and respond quickly to customer inquiries. Create custom email templates, automatically CC or BCC multiple email addresses, set up automatic follow-ups, add a note to an email, and even set up reminders. You can also use Help Scout to track who opens your emails and when, so you can gauge the effectiveness of your communications. 

I was most impressed with Help Scout's collaboration features. You can assign conversations to entire teams and even give those teams access to specific mailboxes where specific types of tickets come in. Teams can then collaborate on tickets—no more working alone. The platform also offers an internal knowledge base (known as private collections), which agents can reference to stay on track with customer support procedures. 

If you need stellar collaboration features with a shared inbox that's clean and crisp—if minimal—this software has you covered. You can connect Help Scout to Zapier to turn tickets into tasks, share new tickets with your team wherever they spend their time, and more. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Help Scout price: From $20/user/month, billed annually, for the Standard plan

Best help desk software for a premium experience

Intercom (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of Intercom's interface.

If you're like me, when you hear the word "premium," you immediately think "expensive." While Intercom certainly isn't the cheapest help desk tool on the market with its custom pricing model, it's earned its place as a premium option.

For one, its inbox blows many competitors out of the water when it comes to both user-friendliness and advanced functionality. From one shortcut button, I could access macros, custom triggers, tags, languages (including French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish), and even emojis and GIFs. Plus, the sidebar offers all the customer and ticket details I could ask for.

Intercom's inbox even integrates AI, enabling it to generate summaries of customer conversations and assist agents with their replies. For example, it can expand upon or rephrase an agent's response to a customer, making it more formal or more friendly as needed.

The platform's premium features don't end there. I found the process of creating custom bots to be really intuitive and flexible. You can add images, video clips, and more to your bot messages and create advanced paths depending on the user's actions. They can even trigger workflows with conditions and actions (both of which Intercom has a lot of).

All of these premium features, on top of a solid knowledge base, custom reports, and a large collection of integrations, make Intercom a stellar choice for your help desk software, as long as your company can afford it.

And when you connect Intercom to Zapier, you can have new users automatically populate in your CRM or email marketing lists, among thousands of other automation possibilities.

Intercom price: Custom

Best help desk software for AI features

Zoho Desk (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of a ticket in Zoho Desk.

If you're looking for a more affordable solution than Intercom that still offers some "ahead-of-its-time" features, turn to Zoho Desk—Zoho's customer service solution in its cloud software suite.

While I personally found the interface to feel a bit cluttered and outdated, especially compared to solutions that could win an award for user-friendliness like Zendesk and Intercom, Zoho Desk's offerings make up for this.

Its AI features made it most deserving of a place on this list—I even felt that it beat out Intercom's. Zoho's AI-powered virtual assistant (named Zia) can intuitively generate tags for customer tickets, suggest knowledge base content that would best answer a user's question, analyze customer emotions based on their words and behaviors, and call attention to tickets with out-of-the-ordinary content.

I was also really impressed with Zoho Desk's collaboration features. My favorite was the team feed, where agents can update each other and share news and comments—it felt just like using a Slack channel. There's also an agent collision detector to prevent multiple agents from unknowingly working on the same case.

You can connect Zoho Desk to Zapier, so you can add new contacts as subscribers, send live chat conversations to Zoho Desk, and more. Here are just a couple examples to get you started.

Zoho Desk price: From $14/user/month, billed annually, for the Standard plan

Best help desk software for ticket management

Freshdesk (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of a ticket in Freshdesk.

Try to use help desk software that's terrible at ticketing, and you'll really appreciate the ones that do it well. For an app with a pretty generous free plan, Freshworks' help desk software Freshdesk gives a lot of paid help desk programs a run for their money with its powerful ticket management features.

It really shines when it comes to ticket assignment—you can assign tickets based on an agent's skillset and workload, or just distribute tickets evenly across your team. No more taking time out of your agents' day to ask about their bandwidth before dishing out tickets.

Freshdesk unifies all of its support channels (including WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, email, and more) via Freshchat, keeping tickets and conversations in one place. With built-in time tracking, entire teams can also track how long they spend with customers and work toward improving resolution times.

The app can also turn responses to customers into knowledge base articles, making it super easy to build a help center without manually building out a new Q&A page.

Freshdesk also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it with your scheduling tools and any other apps you use to keep track of appointments, jobs, and technicians.

Freshdesk price: Free plan available for 10 agents/month; from $15/agent/month for the Growth plan

Best help desk software for eCommerce companies

Re:amaze (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of support chat in Re:amaze.

Email isn't always the quickest way for your customers to get their problems solved—Re:amaze (by GoDaddy) can help them get answers right inside your app. When you build your help docs in Re:amaze, you can take advantage of its drag-and-drop-style editor, then embed your content into your website or app, right alongside Re:amaze's chat widget. Whenever a customer gets in touch, you'll see their account inside your app, with all the data on their past purchases and support tickets, so you never have to ask for extra info. 

I appreciated the shared status page for agents and customers. The customer support app lets you know when there's a shortage or technical difficulty—considerate for both parties.

The platform also has some valuable team features. For motivation, there's a leaderboard view showing how well agents are doing in relation to one another. Plus, you can see when team members are viewing or replying to customer conversations, avoiding agent clashes.

Re:amaze integrates with eCommerce platforms and also offers a chatbot and live chat option. You can also connect Re:amaze to Zapier to enhance your other communication platforms. Here are a couple examples.

Re:amaze price: From $27.55/user/month, billed annually, for the Basic plan

Best help desk software for CRM integration

HubSpot Service Hub (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of Hubspot's inbox.

If you use HubSpot for anything else—sales, marketing, or operations—HubSpot Service Hub will give you a complete picture of every interaction a customer has had with your company, across all departments. You'll have an inbox shared by Support, Marketing, and Sales, which will make your customer experience feel seamless and allow you to provide personalized customer support at every touchpoint.

Confused about HubSpot's various hubs? Here's a rundown.

HubSpot has all the standard features you'd expect from a customer support app—and met all the criteria I laid out above—but it definitely took me some time to maneuver around the app comfortably. I not only had to learn how to work in the support app, but I needed to be familiar with sales and marketing terminology, too. Of course, if you're already using HubSpot, this shouldn't be an issue. Service Hub is built on the HubSpot CRM platform, so if you have a working knowledge of the CRM, then you'll get the most out of it.

Overall, Service Hub will deliver incredibly rich profiles for you—which means a better experience for your customers. And you can connect HubSpot to Zapier to automatically find, create, or update a ticket when trigger events happen in the other apps you use most.

HubSpot Service Hub price: From $20/month for two users, billed monthly, for the Starter plan

Best help desk software for consolidated email app integration

Hiver (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of Hiver's interface.

Hiver was certainly the most unique app I had the pleasure of researching and testing—if you could even call it an app. Don't get me wrong—it exceeds all the criteria of great help desk software. I hesitate to call it an app because it's actually just a browser extension that integrates and merges with your Gmail account.

Nearly every browser extension I've ever downloaded has had its glitches, whether those be blank pages that require me to clear my cache or important data going *poof*. But I was thoroughly impressed with how seamlessly Hiver and Gmail came together.

With Hiver, my shared inboxes and views were located in their own category under my Gmail inboxes, a notifications inbox housing my mentions and to-dos appeared on my top bar, and I could access everything—live chat, analytics, and my knowledge base—all from my Gmail account. Everything worked great. And if something were to go wrong? Hiver offers 24/7 chat and email support to help you resolve bugs.

The biggest issue I could foresee with Hiver is a very cluttered Gmail. Since shared inbox tags are all located in the same area as general Gmail tags, emails could come piling in with eight different tags, causing decision fatigue and confusion. For this reason, I feel this solution would work best for teams that can dedicate an entire inbox to customer service work, leaving all other communication to another inbox.

Hiver also integrates with Zapier, though it does gatekeep that integration for subscribers to its $39/user/month Pro plan. If you do subscribe to this plan, you can connect Hiver to Zapier to receive notifications of shared inbox activity via your favorite communication apps or automatically add customer data to your CRMs.

Hiver price: From $15/user/month, billed annually, for the Lite plan

Best help desk software for solid automation on a budget

HelpCrunch (Web, iOS, Android)

Screenshot of HelpCrunch's chat inbox.

HelpCrunch was a pleasant surprise among low-priced help desk software options. It included everything great help desk software should, including a customizable knowledge base (with a language translation feature in the Pro plan), practical inbox features like customizing what information shows on tickets before you open them, and reporting features (though I found these to be relatively basic).

But where HelpCrunch really stands out is its automation features. The platform enables you to create your own custom inboxes for tickets, with specific rules that automatically route specific tickets to those inboxes. For example, you can have all emails tagged "feature request" flow into an inbox dedicated to these requests, keeping your shared inboxes nice and tidy.

The platform also allows you to create auto messages that will send in different ways depending on the rules you set. For example, these can take the form of a follow-up sent to a customer or lead after a certain amount of time. These messages can include custom attributes, so they speak to individuals by name, providing a personalized experience.

HelpCrunch also offers chatbots you can customize, either using pre-existing templates or building your own flow from scratch. This can save your team time and energy by assisting customers with complaints that don't require agent intervention.

Overall, I was impressed with HelpCrunch. That said, it almost didn't make this list because I found load times to be quite long, and I ran into some frustrating glitches like screen freezes as I tested the app's features. If these get patched (or you can overlook them), it's a great budget option with some solid and unique features.

Plus, you can connect HelpCrunch to Zapier to pull contacts from your CRM into HelpCrunch or the other way around—among many other options.

HelpCrunch price: From $12/user/month, billed annually, for the Basic plan

Automate your help desk solution

Great help desk software can make customer service infinitely more efficient, making both your agents' and your customers' lives easier. If that software integrates with Zapier, you can automate your customer support team even further.

Related reading:

This article was originally published in December 2015 by Matthew Guay, and has also had contributions from Maria Bell. The most recent update was in May 2023.

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