All online businesses – big and small – need to have some kind of system in place for managing customer support.
Problem is, like a lot of other things these days, there are about a thousand different options for doing so. Lots of different support desks out there, and it is hard to determine which way to go with it all.
I’ve tried my share of them, and I just recently switched over to a new one. So, I thought I would take a few minutes and give a run-through of the options I’ve tried. If it saves you some time, then awesome. 🙂
Customer Support Requirements
When evaluating any software options out there, it all has to start with getting real about what your requirements are.
For customer support, the two big questions to start with are:
- What kind of volume are you expecting?
- Will you be working with another person, such as a virtual assistant?
If you will be working with another person – or believe you will be at some point – then I recommend you get a support system which can assign tickets to different people. Pretty much every option does that.
Aside from that, I believe it is also important that your readers and customers are not confused by the system. It needs to be easy. It needs to not make them think. It shouldn’t require them to log in, create an account, or jump through any hoops.
My First Solution: Email
This is where most people start, and I’m no different. If you’re first starting out and you don’t have any kind of staff yet, then you can simply set up an email account and allow people to email you directly.
At a bare minimum, I’d recommend you set up a Gmail account for this. You can use your own personal Gmail account if you’d like, but I’d set up a forwarding address to point to it rather than have people email your Gmail directly. You can simply set up an email address which forwards to your Gmail account. Then, in your Gmail account, set it up so that you can send FROM that support email address.
Why Gmail? Because they have awesome spam filtering. Speaking of which…
You might want to use a contact form of some kind. Having your email address directly visible on your site will lead to spam. A contact form will help shelter you from that. I recommend Gravity Forms for all of your form needs on Wordpress. It simply blows away every other option.
Now, even though email is the most obvious way to start, you should be aware of the limitations.
You’ll have no record of past conversations with any person. An even bigger issue is that working with another person using standard email is VERY difficult. If your VA has to have you chime in on something, then they’ll have to forward the email to you. It leads conversations into being disjointed and spread around. Much better would be the ability to simply assign a ticket to somebody.
That’s where a real support desk comes in.
My Second Solution: Self-Hosted Support Desk
When I decided to move on from straight email, I went to a self-hosted support desk, installed right on my own server.
There are also paid options out there which don’t come with a monthly fee. One popular option is Kayako. This company has changed quite a bit since I first bought their eSupport software many years ago. Now they are plugging a hosted solution for a monthly fee. However, they do still have a downloadable option for a one-time fee. The price has increased quite a bit since the days I bought it, but the software is extremely full featured.
ZenDesk is probably the most popular customer help desk option out there these days. They offer all the features you’d come to expect from a full-featured help desk.
For me, the biggest draw to ZenDesk is that it integrates with so many other applications so easily. Because of the popularity of ZenDesk, it is very well supported and a lot of other popular web apps can integrate with ZenDesk. ZenDesk also has a very nice mobile app so you can handle support on the go.
My problem with ZenDesk is that I believe it is bloated. I think it sends the customer through unnecessary hoops. I know much of that is controllable via settings, but most people have their support desks set up to introduce hoops. I also believe that the support desk interface itself is, again, bloated.
Aside from my own opinion, it is hard to go wrong with ZenDesk. They have a Starter plan which would work for most of my audience, and it is only $20/year for 3 staff. Just be prepared for a little bit of a learning curve.
Later, I landed on a much newer solution called GrooveHQ. These guys are pretty new to the scene, and they only just started charging money a few months ago. Before that, it was on private beta and that’s where I was using it for awhile.
What I like about GrooveHQ is that it is much more email focused. It doesn’t have the bloat that ZenDesk has because it is more focused on email. What this means is that your readers and customers don’t have to jump through any hoops to deal with support. From their perspective, it is just sending an email.
Internally, Groove allows you to assign tickets between staff, organize different departments and inboxes, etc. If you and your VA need to discuss a ticket privately, it can be done via internal notes. Those notes go back-and-forth within the system, but are not sent to the customer. This makes it SO much easier to have two or more people dealing with customers, as is typical if you have a VA. They also have email rules so you can route tickets based on different factors.
GrooveHQ has a nice clean interface. They have a mobile app which is pretty nice, although not as slick as what ZenDesk has.
GrooveHQ is also a new, small company. And, I like that. The guys care. The CEO regular interacts directly with clients. I much prefer that as compared to a big company where you’re just a number.
I like GrooveHQ quite a bit, but I just recently moved away from it. Why, you may ask?
Pricing. We were fortunate to be able to use Groove for free during their beta period. It is totally understandable that they need to charge for this, however when they introduced their pricing, I thought it was rather high. For me and my VA to handle basic support emails, I’m paying $50/month. That’s just too high considering I was using it for email support only. They are priced at $25/month/user, which I actually think is pretty fair considering the features. Thing is, I wasn’t using many of their features. So, for my business, it was overpriced.
If you want to pair email support with more powerful ticket routing, a knowledgebase, social integration, etc., then Groove might make a lot of sense for your business.
But, I went looking around again…
I found HelpScout and signed up for a trial account. And, just an hour before this post is published, I submitted payment information to make the move permanent.
HelpScout is simple and straightforward. In fact, it is even more to-the-point than GrooveHQ is, and I thought Groove was pretty simple. Like Groove, HelpScout is fully email based. You can manage multiple email addresses from HelpScout. In fact, even besides customer support needs, HelpScout might even be a good option for allowing your VA to handle your own personal email account. HelpScout is essentially an email client with collaboration baked in.
HelpScout has more built-in app integrations. It is also supported by Zapier, which allows integration with a LOT of different web apps out there. I also like that they have an auto-BCC option on outgoing emails, so we can keep a full contact record in our Office AutoPilot CRM.
If you only have one mailbox, you can use HelpScout for free. For multiple boxes, it costs $15/month/user. This is far more competitive than GrooveHQ, and I’ll only be paying $30/month rather than $50. Considering email support with some basic integrations was all that I really needed, it made HelpScout a better option for my business.
This is my own journey through help desk software.
If you’ve used different options, I’d love to hear about them below. Your comments can help make this post more useful for others who come across it in the future.