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9 min read

Zendesk vs. Intercom: Which is better?

By Bryce Emley · February 10, 2023
Hero image with the Zendesk and Intercom logos

Saying that effectively supporting customers is important for running a business is like saying that effectively frying eggs is important for making an omelet.

If you know enough about Zendesk and Intercom that you want to compare them, I don't need to convince you that software for customer-centric tasks like ticketing, issue resolution, automation, and messaging is vital for growing your business. But is one easily better than the other?

I tested both options (using Zendesk's Suite Professional trial and Intercom's Support trial) and found clearly defined differences between the two. Here's what you need to know about Zendesk vs. Intercom as customer support and relationship management tools.

Zendesk vs. Intercom at a glance

Both Zendesk and Intercom offer baseline customer relationship solutions like live chat, help desk, and a knowledge base. They're also both high-end products with great UX, solid customer support, and moderate pricing. I'd say the main differences are about focus:

  • At its core, Zendesk is better positioned for customer support than Intercom.

  • Intercom's features give users a wider range of sales and marketing features.

Zendesk

Intercom

Ticketing

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Zendesk excels at ticketing, with easy collaboration, workflows, and triggers

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Intercom is comparable to Zendesk for ticketing but has more automation features

Messaging

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ All-in-one omnichannel dashboard is sleek, simple, and responsive

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Very similar omnichannel messaging dashboard to Zendesk's with slightly less functionality

Help center

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Easily create and group resources and customize to fit branding

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Help center content is also easy to create but not quite as customizable

Chatbots

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Chatbots are simple to deploy and fairly effective

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Chatbots have more advanced features and customizability without sacrificing simplicity

Automation

⭐⭐⭐ Automation features are fairly limited out of the box

⭐⭐⭐⭐ More automation features than Zendesk

CRM utility

⭐⭐⭐ Not as effective as a pure CRM, but users can enroll in Sell if they want a strong CRM

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Could work as a standalone CRM without needing a separate service, but may require a supplemental product for some users

Reporting

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Zendesk Explore offers robust reporting capabilities

⭐⭐⭐ Reporting is pretty average but should be sufficient for most users

Pricing

⭐⭐⭐⭐ The lowest tier is still strong, but the highest tier brings lots of extra features: Suite Team ($49 per agent per month), Suite Growth ($79 per agent per month), and Suite Professional ($99 per agent per month). Also offers Suite Enterprise ($150 per agent per month) and a $215 per agent per month package.

⭐⭐⭐ Pricing isn't very transparent. Website only shows pricing for Starter ($74 per month for two seats and up to 1,000 people reached per month, billed annually). For "most businesses," there are three tiers: Support, Engage, and Convert.

Zendesk is angled more for managing customer support, while Intercom is better for managing customer relationships

Zendesk is among the industry's best ticketing and customer support software, and most of its additional functionality is icing on the proverbial cake. Intercom, on the other hand, is designed to be more of a complete solution for sales, marketing, and customer relationship nurturing. You can use it for customer support, but that's not its core strength.

Understanding these fundamental differences should go a long way in helping you pick between the two, but does that mean you can't use one platform to do what the other does better? Nope! These are both still very versatile products, so don't think you have to get too siloed into a single use case. 

Keeping this general theme in mind, I'll dive deeper into how each software's features compare, so you can decide which use case might best fit your needs.

Zendesk has a slight edge when it comes to ticketing, but Intercom's automation makes up for it

Though Zendesk now considers itself to be a "service-first CRM company," since its founding in 2007, their bread and butter offering has leaned much more heavily toward the "service" part of that equation. 

The highlight of Zendesk's ticketing software is its omnichannel-ality (omnichannality?). Whether agents are facing customers via chat, email, social media, or good old-fashioned phone, they can keep it all confined to a single, easy-to-navigate dashboard. That not only saves them the headache of having to constantly switch between dashboards while streamlining resolution processes—it also leads to better customer and agent experience overall.

What's really nice about this is that even within a ticket, you can switch between communication modes without changing views. So if an agent needs to switch from chat to phone to email (or vice versa) with a customer, it's all on the same ticketing page. There's even on-the-spot translation built right in, which is extremely helpful.

The side conversations feature is also pretty clutch. 

Using this, agents can chat across teams within a ticket via email, Slack, or Zendesk's ticketing system. This packs all resolution information into a single ticket, so there's no extra searching or backtracking needed to bring a ticket through to resolution, even if it involves multiple agents.

Zendesk also packs some pretty potent tools into their platform, so you can empower your agents to do what they do with less repetition. Agents can use basic automation (like auto-closing tickets or setting auto-responses), apply list organization to stay on top of their tasks, or set up triggers to keep tickets moving automatically.

Triggers should prove especially useful for agents, allowing them to do things like automate notifications for actions like ticket assignments, ticket closing/reopening, or new ticket creation. Their template triggers are fairly limited with only seven options, but they do enable users to create new custom triggers, which can be a game-changer for agents with more complex workflows.

Intercom, on the other hand, was built for business messaging, so communication is one of their strong suits. Combine that with their prowess in automation and sales solutions, and you've got a really strong product that can handle myriad customer relationship needs.

Like Zendesk, Intercom also has that coveted omnichannel-ality (omnichannel-ness?) for streamlined messaging across platforms. If a customer emails an agent through your support address, the agent's response automatically routes right back to the customer's email. If they switch over to WhatsApp to continue messaging, your agent still sees the conversation in the same feed, and their response appears in WhatsApp.

Like Zendesk, Intercom has plenty of basic automation and organizational tools like list segmentation, targeted messaging, and the ability to use events to set up triggers to help agents improve their workflows. But they also add features like automatic meeting booking (in the Convert package), and their custom inbox rules and workflows just feel a little more, well, custom. I'll dive into their chatbots more later, but their bot automation features are also stronger.

Overall, I actually liked Zendesk's user experience better than Intercom's in terms of its messaging dashboard. Intercom has a dark mode that I think many people will appreciate, and I wouldn't say it's lacking in any way. But I like that Zendesk just feels slightly cleaner, has easy online/away toggling, more visual customer journey notes, and a handy widget for exploring the knowledge base on the fly.

Zendesk's help center tools are slightly better, but Intercom's chatbot is more robust

Zendesk's help center tools should also come in handy for helping customers help themselves—something Zendesk claims eight out of 10 customers would rather do than contact support. To that end, you can import themes or apply your own custom themes to brand your help center the way you want it. From there, you can include FAQs, announcements, and article guides and then save them into pre-set lists for your customers to explore. You can even moderate user content to leverage your customer community.

If you need live chat, Zendesk's messenger is extremely easy to design and implement. Once you select your colors, the software generates code you can hand over to your dev team to add to your site. Answer Bot does pretty much what you expect answer bots to do: generating canned responses and relaying relevant articles for basic customer queries. If they need an agent, they get sent along with a new ticket.

Intercom's chatbot feels a little more robust than Zendesk's (though it's worth noting that some features are only available at the Engage and Convert tiers). You can set office hours, live chat with logged-in users via their user profiles, and set up a chatbot. Customization is more nuanced than Zendesk's, but it's still really straightforward to implement. You can opt for code via JavaScript or Rails or even integrate directly with the likes of Google Tag Manager, WordPress, or Shopify.

Their bot automation is also a major highlight. Broken down into custom, resolution, and task bots, these can go a long way in taking repetitive tasks off agents' plates. The implementation is really straightforward, allowing agents to easily program bots to automate tasks like customer routing, requesting contact information, suggesting help articles, collecting additional issue information, sharing typical response times, and more.

Intercom's help center tools are pretty similar to Zendesk's. You can create articles, share them internally, group them for users, and assign them as responses for bots—all pretty standard fare. Intercom can even integrate with Zendesk and other sources to import past help center content. I just found Zendesk's help center to be slightly better integrated into their workflows and more customizable.

Zendesk has more all-in-one potential with additional CRM, but Intercom comes closer to being a standalone CRM out of the box

This may be a little unfair to Intercom since we're talking about a separate service here, but if you prefer to keep your software consolidated, this could turn the needle for you.

You could technically consider Intercom a CRM, but it's really more of a customer-focused communication product. It isn't as adept at purer sales tasks like lead management, list engagement, advanced reporting, forecasting, and workflow management as you'd expect a more complete CRM to be. Intercom does just enough that smaller businesses could use it as a standalone CRM or supplement it with a simpler CRM at a lower pricing tier, but bigger companies may not be satisfied with Intercom alone.

You could say something similar for Zendesk's standard service offering, so it's at least good to know they have Zendesk Sell, a capable CRM option to supplement it. You can use Zendesk Sell to track tasks, streamline workflows, improve engagement, nurture leads, and much more. 

You can even improve efficiency and transparency by setting up task sequences, defining sales triggers, and strategizing with advanced forecasting and reporting tools. Starting at $19 per user per month, it's also on the cheaper end of the spectrum compared to high-end CRMs like ActiveCampaign and HubSpot.

One place Intercom really shines as a standalone CRM is its data utility. As with just about any customer support software, you can easily view standard user data within the messenger related to customer journey—things like recent pages viewed, activity, or contact information. 

That's all well and good, but Intercom's custom data helps you take advantage of countless other metrics to deploy targeted marketing campaigns. By customizing data parameters, you can create custom funnels. You can also easily segment lists based on metrics like activity, how long they've been active, or how many purchases they've made. Use this information to send out automatic reminders, send list-specific emails, or prioritize high-potential users for premium offerings.

Zendesk's Explore offers exceptional reporting features, but Intercom should still be adequate for most users

Powered by Explore, Zendesk's reporting capabilities are pretty impressive. Right out of the gate, you've got dozens of pre-set report options on everything from satisfaction ratings and time in status to abandoned calls and Answer Bot resolutions. You can even save custom dashboards for a more tailored reporting experience.

If you want to build a customer report, you can take your pick of datasets by searching for them directly or browsing by support, guide, chat, talk, or Answer Bot. Once you've chosen your dataset, the available metrics are very extensive—as are the visualization types. You can go beyond the usual bars and pies and dig into your data via bubbles, gauges, treemaps, funnels, and even word clouds. If you need it, forecasting is built right into the reports. (I should note that custom dashboards, reporting, and analytics are available only at the Suite Professional tier.)

For their part, Intercom has good basic reporting capabilities. Their reports are attractive, dynamic, and integrated right out of the box. You can even finagle some forecasting by sourcing every agent's assigned leads.

For standard reporting like response times, leads generated by source, bot performance, messages sent, and email deliverability, you'll easily find all the metrics you need. Beyond that, you can create custom reports that combine all of the stats listed above (and many more) and present them as counts, columns, lines, or tables.

Zendesk vs. Intercom: FAQ

What is the difference between Intercom and Zendesk?

Zendesk is billed more as a customer support and ticketing solution, while Intercom includes more native CRM functionality. Intercom isn't quite as strong as Zendesk in comparison to some of Zendesk's customer support strengths, but it has more features for sales and lead nurturing.

Does Zendesk integrate with Intercom?

Zendesk can integrate with Intercom, and vice versa. You can integrate via app or pull existing content from one platform to the other. You can also connect them using Zapier. Learn more about how to connect Zendesk and Intercom to all your other apps:

  • Popular ways to automate Intercom

  • How to streamline your Zendesk tickets, automatically

Does Intercom have ticketing?

Intercom does have a ticketing dashboard that has omnichannel functionality, much like Zendesk.

Which offers more customization, Intercom or Zendesk?

Intercom has more customization features for features like bots, themes, triggers, and funnels. Zendesk, however, has more robust custom reporting capabilities.

Zendesk vs. Intercom: Which is best for you?

Is it as simple as knowing whether you want software strictly for customer support (like Zendesk) or for some blend of customer relationship management and sales support (like Intercom)? It might be.

Intercom has a wider range of uses out of the box than Zendesk, though by adding Zendesk Sell, you could more than make up for it. Both options are well designed, easy to use, and share some pretty key functionality like behavioral triggers and omnichannel-ality (omnichannel-centricity?). But with perks like more advanced chatbots, automation, and lead management capabilities, Intercom could have an edge for many users.

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

Related reading:

  • The best live chat apps

  • 7 ways to automate Zendesk

  • The best help desk software

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