Running a help desk can prove expensive. You need to have someone available to man it, you need to get the software and have a server to run it on. Fortunately, web-based help desk software makes support service provision affordable.

We cover each tool below in detail, but in case you are short of time, here is our list of the five best web help desks:

  1. SolarWinds Service Desk (FREE TRIAL) This online help desk platform also offers higher plans that add on IT asset management functions.
  2. Zendesk A very popular web help desk system that uses a knowledge-base as a front end to filter out support calls.
  3. Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk A free, ad-supported help desk system.
  4. Zoho Desk A help ticketing system with chat facility, forum framework, and knowledgebase platform.
  5. Freshdesk  A team management system with ticketing, chat channels, forums, and knowledgebase facilities.

Help Desk systems delivered on the Software-as-a-Service model charge by subscription on a per-agent basis. That means a single operator gets access to just as much functionality as a big corporate support team. Web help desks really level the playing field. They cut out the need to waste time maintaining even more software and let you get on with supporting your users and customers.

We have a list of great web help desk software that will really assist you to serve your users better. Not only do they include ticketing and note-taking systems, but also chat interfaces, self-service portals and knowledgebase platforms.

The best web help desks

You can read more about these systems in the following sections.

1. SolarWinds Service Desk (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds Service Desk

SolarWinds Service Desk goes beyond the requirements for a Help Desk system because it includes change management and system monitoring functions as well. The utility was designed to integrate ITIL processes, which are implemented as workflows and checklists. Service Desk came first in an industrywide comparison report where it won an award, download the report here.

The service is charged for on a per agent/per device basis, so it is suitable for organizations of all sizes – the sole trader gets exactly the same list of features as the corporate IT support team.

If you just need Help Desk software, the cheapest of the three Service Desk packages would suit you. The main elements of this module are a ticketing system, a self-service portal, and a knowledgebase framework.

The ticketing system of Service Desk enables team managers to track the performance of individual agents and assess average problem processing times. The reporting and analysis module of the package gives you SLA goal achievement statistics and spots recurring problems. With the frequency of problems documented you can decide to update the knowledge-base guides to avert users from making the same mistakes again or identify system shortfalls than need to be rectified.

Higher plans include change management and project management features that will enable you to evolve your IT system to improve performance and eradicate consistent faults. These processes are all built following ITIL guidelines.

The highest plan is called Professional and you can get a 30-day free trial of this plan. After the trial period, you can switch down to one of the cheaper packages if you don’t need all of the features of the Professional deal.

SolarWinds Service Desk Start 30-day FREE Trial

2. Zendesk

Zendesk ticket-view

Zendesk is a very widely used help desk platform that is accessed online. The tool includes a chat facility to promote live communication between users and support staff. All contact, be it by chat, phone, or email, is logged into the ticketing system. The ticketing system generates an account with a tracking page for each user reporting a problem. The account page links on through to a knowledgebase.

The interlinked knowledgebase can be positioned before help desk access on the user journey in order to filter out calls to expertise in order to solve frequently encountered problems. The Zendesk platform also includes a self-service portal and an optional community forum. All of the elements in the package can be customized to integrate your corporate graphics and add, resequence, or exclude service elements according to your support strategy.

The ticketing system enables team managers to reroute problems towards topic experts and even allows for shared tasks to be recorded. The analytical and reporting features of the problem management system will help you identify system errors that should be closed down through infrastructure improvement, or frequent trivial problems that should be addressed by the knowledgebase.

Zendesk is accessible to businesses of all sizes because its subscription rate is levied per agent per month. This is a great option for startups because it doesn’t require any expensive upfront software or server purchases.  You can get a 30-day free trial of Zendesk, so try out the higher of the two available packages, which is called the Enterprise edition.

3. Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk

spiceworks help-desk

Spiceworks produces a range of IT support software including network monitoring systems and a help desk platform. The Spiceworks Help Desk system is available online, where it is called Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk.

This is an excellent and feature-rich support system. The Cloud edition is not quite as comprehensive as the on-premises version. However, working with the online service has the advantages of giving you access from anywhere in the world on any device and you are saved the bother of having to maintain the software or buy in hardware to host it. Spiceworks produces apps for Android and iOS to make it easier for you to access your account from mobile devices.

An amazing feature of Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk is that it is completely free to use. This is not a trial period or a cut-down version – there is no paid version of the Help Desk utility. You even get support from the provider if you have difficulty getting the system to work for your circumstances. One drawback, however, is that the service is funded through advertising. If you can put up with the presence of an advert panel in the dashboard, then you will be very happy with the facilities of Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk.

The standard system includes a ticketing system and problem processing and forwarding workflows. The Help Desk system also offers a knowledge-base platform.

If you decide to switch to the on-premises version, you can install the Spiceworks Help Desk software on Windows. The installed version is customizable and can be expanded by plug-ins. Many business software producers create plug-ins for Spiceworks to enable their applications to integrate with the Help Desk system. Some users also produce their own customizations and make them available to others for free through the user community forum. These plug-ins make the Help Desk system very flexible. The cost savings created by Cloud Help Desk and the on-premises Spiceworks Help Desk are very appealing to startups and small businesses.

4. Zoho Desk

Zoho Desk screenshot

Zoho Desk includes self-help tools and AI processes to reduce the amount of work that your human operators need to do in order to support your user community. An optional user forum is another facility that you can deploy in order to reduce demand on your professional support team.

The dashboard for each agent groups open tasks in time bands, which are defined by the team manager. This enables agents to switch between tickets of equal urgency and clearly understand deadlines. Problem resolution is guided by scripts, which ensure that operators don’t overlook important data gathering or system checking steps. Tickets can be shared and communication between team members collaborating on a solution is facilitated by a chat utility.

The online access and collaboration features in the tool mean that your team can be very widely distributed, or even home-based. Both the operator and manager dashboards can also be accessed from mobile devices running Android or iOS.

Management utilities include monitoring and analytical features. A number of team management procedures, such as the registering of team member availability and the allocation of tasks, can be automated.

Zoho Desk integrates easily with other Zoho products, including Zoho CRM, Zoho Books, and Zoho Bug Tracker. The system is free to use if you only have three agents in your support team. There are two paid plans, with the higher package including more automation and reporting options. You can get a 15-day free trial of either of the paid plans.

5. Freshdesk

Freshdesk screenshot

Freshdesk is part of a stable of sales and HR support software produced by Freshworks. This help desk platform is accessed online so you don’t need to install any software in order to use it. The platform is very strong on self-help channels, delivering FAQ pages, a knowledge-base, and user forums to enable your users to find solutions themselves before contacting the Help Desk.

You can deliver solutions to user problems by getting your support agents to provide answers through the forum. If users still need to get in touch, you can make email, phone, chat, and web form channels available for communication. Solutions can be provided by automated bots to further reduce the demand on your human agents.

Tickets can be resolved by a group of specialists through the Freshdesk Team Huddle platform. This is a chat facility that enables managers to allocate several technicians to the same ticket. Chats attached to a ticket are only accessible to allocated staff. An Agent Collision Detection system automatically roots out duplicated support calls and merges tickets. It is even possible to allocate tickets from separate users as a grouped ticket if the problems that they report seem similar.

Management utilities include SLA tracking and agent performance monitoring. Ticket allocation can be set automatically or performed manually. Performance reports can be scheduled to run periodically and can be sent out automatically to the management team by email.

Freshdesk is charged for on a subscription system. There are five plan levels, with the lowest package, Sprout, being free to use even though there is no limit on the number of agents that you can add to the account. The four paid plans are all available for a 21-day free trial.

Selecting an online help desk system

The ease of starting up with a cloud-based help desk system makes this option very popular with startups and small businesses. The fact that there are very low upfront costs because of the subscription pricing model used by these services also makes online platforms very appealing to businesses with little money to spare.

Even businesses with big IT budgets are drawn to web help desks because the flexibility these systems deliver makes it very easy to expand support services at will and contract the number of agents in the future without risking overprovisioning software licenses. The accessibility of cloud-based help desk platforms adds another attraction to businesses that employ specialists from all over the world. The ability to provide the help desk dashboard to home-based agents also cuts out the cost of providing office space and utilities.

The logic of deploying web help desk software instead of on-premises systems is easy to see and it is likely that the demand for web-based service desk platforms will continue to increase.