A Help Desk Software Comparison

A Help Desk Software Comparison

Thinking about customer support software and help desk tools? We've got some thoughts on the 5 biggest players in help desk software plus a little bit on why we think Keeping might be the right fit for a small business.

April 5, 2021

9 mins read

The help desk software space is vast, and there are hundreds of tools to choose from. So which is the best help desk software? We’re here to offer some information on the 5 biggest players in the space. And at the end, we provide a little information on why we think Keeping is the best choice for most growing businesses that are upgrading from a simple shared Gmail account.

This post on help desk software comparison has NO affiliate links – take a read and make up your own mind, but we don’t get paid if you choose a particular tool. We’ve tried to do this in a fun an interesting way so you can really get a feel for how each tool is different. The truth is, there really isn’t any single “best help desk software” solution.

If you take away anything from this cheeky post, it’s that you (probably) don’t need a complicated help desk solution to deliver great customer service. Read on to find out why!

What help desk features do you need?

Before you jump in and try a tool, we urge you to think about the various features and functionality in all of these help desk solutions. How your chosen help desk software connects to your existing workflow is key. Ultimately, you want a help desk platform that streamlines your business, not overcomplicate it.  We’ve written an extensive post on how to choose customer service software if you want to really dive in.

The Basics

All of the help desk software on this list provides the basic key features: ticket managementprioritization, and the ability to respond to customer requests. Any ticketing system should provide some level of ticket management. Most also some sort of  knowledge base and canned answer system to easily reference common questions (and answers), and mobile apps are essential for any help desk tool. Finally, make sure that your chosen tool has the right level of notifications.


Being able to create rules to automatically process customer support requests based on rules that you set can be a huge time saver.  You can create custom routing rules to send tickets to specific team members based on the content of the message.

You need this feature in your customer service software if you deal with a relatively high volume of customer support requests and get a lot of the same questions over and over again.

Metrics & Reporting

The best help desk software will provide metrics and reporting on first response time, ticket volume, and other metrics to measure your agents’ performance. Some help desk software can also help you measure customer satisfaction.

Unless you have a really large customer support team, most companies can get by with the basics here.

Self Service Portal

Some companies, particularly those with an IT help desk, need a self service portal where your end-users can go to create a ticket or check on the status of an existing ticket.  This is very common in customer support software that is specifically designed for an it support service desk.

Self Service portals can feel impersonal and cold, so we don’t recommend them when dealing with external customers.


Some support software allow you to integrate your support tickets with other tools.  For instance, it can be helpful to easily connect a support ticket to your project management software (like Jira).  Another use case would be syncing customer data to your crm software.

Integrations can be a huge time saver if you already use existing tools.  Check and see if your chosen help desk software can integrate with the tools you already use.

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base allows you to save (and share) answers to common questions (faqs).  You can also use your knowledge base to create canned answers and templates so responding to common questions is super fast. Many customer queries or customer issues are the same, so a knowledge base can really help streamline those questions.

This is a critical feature that we recommend for nearly any company.

Omnichannel Support

Social Media, SMS, Phone… the list of channels where a customer can reach you is long.  If you receive the bulk of your customer support requests via facebook, twitter, or from phone calls, then you want to consider a tool that works multi-channel (or ominchannel).  Each of these communication channels has it’s own quirks.

Omnichannel support is expensive, so choose this feature only if you really need it.

Chat Widget

Do you want your customers to be able to connect with your support agents in real-time? A help desk that includes a chat widget is what you need.  Many chat widgets also come with chatbots to automate some of the easier requests.

Beware of a chat widget if you don’t have the employees to staff it.  Once customers know they can get near instant support from you, it can become a real burden to deliver it!

Customer Satisfaction

Being able to measure customer satisfaction is important for some companies.  Some of the tools below allow your customers to rate their experience via some sort of star or “How did we do?” type query.

While this may seem like a good idea, many customers are annoyed by these types of questions and it can feel impersonal.  You may not need this!

Help desk software comparison: the biggies

Below are the big software solutions in the help desk space.  Some have been around for decades and are not very user-friendly.

Zendesk – The Death Star


There’s no doubt about it – if you need the help desk equivalent of a planet-cracking super laser, then Zendesk is for you.  Zendesk is a publicly traded company, with over 3,500 employees firmly focused on dominating the help desk universe.  This isn’t necessarily bad, but in order to maintain this massive organization and deliver big profits to their shareholders, it means that YOU, dear customer, are going to be squeezed.

If you need the help desk equivalent of a planet-cracking super laser, then Zendesk is for you.

That aside, there are some benefits to having an imperial army behind you. Zendesk, Inc, is building a full suite of business tools, including a sales oriented CRM.  Much like Freshdesk or Zoho Desk (below), Zendesk would prefer that you buy all of your business tools from them. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, although be careful about platform lock-in.

Who is it for?

Zendesk is increasingly aiming at large enterprises, as evidenced by their pricing page. Their entry-level tier starts at $49/mo per user when you lock in to an annual plan. They *do* have some lower priced options, but they tend to hide them so make sure you dig around the pricing page a bit. Zendesk is good for large companies and complicated multi-tiered organizations.

Freshdesk – The Lumbergh


Do you wear a phone headset all day? TPS reports due again? Then Freshdesk might be the tool for you! Freshdesk has 3,600 employees (including 760 sales reps that carry a quota) and was founded in 2010 in Chennai, India, as a Zendesk alternative. Much like Zendesk and Zoho Desk, Freshdesk has expanded beyond the help desk category and is building a complex platform of business tools.

Freshservice is Freshdesk’s tool for it teams.  Check it out if you need service level agreements, and api, and a robust ITSM platform with lots of automation features targeted toward IT.

Freshdesk and Zendesk are battling for the same customer and from the outside they offer very similar features.  In fact, it’s very difficult to recommend one over the other.  Zendesk may win out for larger organizations with complex reporting needs, where Freshdesk has a slightly more intuitive feel.

Who is it for?

Freshdesk is perfect for dedicated customer service representatives in large organizations. If your job title has the words “Customer Support” in it, and you need lots of features and are willing to pay for it, Freshdesk could be a great solution for you.

Intercom – Mr. Burns

Mr Burns

Intercom pioneered the ubiquitous chat widget that is now available on every website.  Intercom bills itself as a “business messaging” platform, which means it does a lot more than just handle your customer support emails.  We’re going to go out on a limb and say that chat based customer support is a bad idea.  While offering instant customer support seems like a good idea at first, it quickly leads to burned out employees and cranky customers (who expect an immediate response to every question).

Ultimately, though, Intercom and Mr. Burns are peas-in-a-pod because it can get *VERY* expensive, quickly.  In addition to a never ending list of pricey add-ons, Intercom also charges $50/mo for every 1,000 “contacts” in your customer database.  This is *great* for Intercom, because (guess what!), this number never goes down and after a few years this could be costing you hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars a month!  Mr Burns would be proud, indeed!

Who is it for?

If live chat via support is a must for your business (perhaps because you are selling pacemakers or bomb defusing kits?), then Intercom might be a good choice – they are the market leader here.  They also have a lot of features that go beyond customer support if you need more marketing and sales oriented options – just be careful of that price tag!

Zoho Desk – The Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle cockpit

Founded in 1996 and also based in Chennai, India , Zoho has been around a long time.  And much like the now-retired Space Shuttle, Zoho Desk is a complicated piece of software.  If you like switches, dials, and tons of options to cover every possible way you could use a help desk, then Zoho Desk might be for you!

Zoho shines when integrated with their other products (which includes a long list, such as a project management tool, CRM, invoicing, and more), so if you are interested in an All-In-One office solution, the Zoho Suite is worth a look.

Who is it for?

Mid sized enterprises that want an all-in-one solution to cover a variety of business needs, but aren’t ready for the more expensive Enterprise-only solutions (like SAP). Zoho Desk works best when paired with Zoho CRM.

Gorgias – The eCommerce Treadmill


If you are doing customer support for a high volume eCommerce store, then you need a tool dedicated to the job.  Gorgias was founded five years ago to do one thing and do one thing well – customer support for eCommerce.

Customer Support for eCommerce is special.  You tend to get a lot of the same questions over and over again (eg, “Where is my order?” or “I want to return this.”), and customer support representatives need deep integration with their online ordering system.  Gorgias does this well, but it comes with a billing model that is a bit unusual.  Instead of paying per agent (like almost every other help desk), your bill is calculated off of your support ticket volume.  This can make it a little harder to predict costs, but you can add as many agents as you like without adding seats.

Who is it for?

High volume eCommerce brands that need deep integrations with their billing and sales platform.

Keeping – The Underdog


As you can tell from the website you are reading this on, we’re not going to claim to be 100% objective here.  But we promise to shoot straight and tell you where Keeping shines (and where it can’t compete with the tools above).

We built Keeping for teams that are doing more than just customer service.  If you are a growing business, it’s likely that your whole team gets involved in customer support requests.  The last thing you need is another Chrome tab to keep open all day.  That’s why we built Keeping, which brings your customer support requests TO you in your personal or work Gmail account.

Keeping covers all of the “must haves” for a help desk and shared inbox – you can assign a status, priority, or team member to a support request, or use an automation to do this automatically. Knowledge Base? Check. Collision detection? Yup.  Reports on first response time? Got that, too. All of the collaboration tools that most small businesses need.

But Keeping isn’t the Space Shuttle. AI-powered chatbot? Nope.  Phone integration? No. CSAT surveys? Not yet.

We think Keeping is the right tool for *most* growing businesses that aren’t yet staffed with a dedicated customer service team.  And if you ever outgrow Keeping, there’s no lock-in and we make it super easy to transition to another tool.

Who is it for?

Keeping is built for growing teams that need to get a handle on customer support but aren’t ready for a big enterprise tool like Zendesk, or teams that are currently sharing a Gmail inbox to answer customer support requests and are ready for a (massive) upgrade. Give us a try, there’s no credit card required and you can be up in running in about 10 minutes!

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