I know how time-consuming it can be to find the right help desk ticketing solution for your environment. We’ve spent hours researching this topic, creating demo accounts, and comparing functionality and pricing. I’m happy to have the chance to share some of my notes, to help save you time with the same process.

For anyone not familiar with online help desk trouble ticketing, it is a task management system that enables users to assign tickets, each of which represent an incident, question or task, and to monitor the progress and completion of each ticket. It’s a great way to stop people from tapping you on the shoulder every time they have an issue, since you can redirect them to log a ticket or “bug” through the system instead.

Open Source Help Desk Solutions

Bugzilla The name says it all. We’ve been using Bugzilla for the last ten years. It’s the most popular and widely-used bug system out there. With a huge array of features and options for customization, Bugzilla does everything but whip up your morning latte. That said, as an IT service provider, we’ve had customers complain about the UI and the overall complexity. And, I have to see their point. Bugzilla was created by developers for developers, to track their software bugs.  This is a good open source app for a really techie team, and not for your average user.

We’ve seen some decline in users filling out Bugzilla support tickets, due to the time-consuming nature of creating bugs. As a result, we have switched some of our accounts to less complicated ticketing systems such Zendesk, which is easy to use but comes with a price tag. Ultimately, Bugzilla is one of our favorite solutions, though.

OSTicket offers a simpler open source option than Bugzilla. With OSTicket, you have the flexibility of being able to install on your own hardware or your own web server. If you’re aiming for full control of your help desk ticket system, including security and backup, then download and install it on your local or hosted web server.  For those looking for a fully-managed and hosted solution, where installation and updates are handled by the hosting company, then the OST hosting partners should be the preferred choice.

Paid-Subscription Help Desk Solutions

 Vision Help Desk These guys give superb support; they even give you a way to add them to your IM for support via chat. The app does all the stuff you need: the admin site/page is packed with lots of features that every Sysadmin or IT Manager is looking for. That said, we’ve been spoiled by the web 2.0 and I have to say the interface is lacking. Tiny icons and many clicks complicate the experience. However, the client side is basic and simple, and the price is reasonable. So, for a business on a tight budget, for whom the UI isn’t a deal breaker, this could be a good solutions. Plus, you have the option to buy software and bypass the monthly subscription cost.

HelpSpot has excellent and smart features. I consider it the best tool for IT admins. I Love the API capability, and the reporting dashboard section.Pricing starts at $199/per user (for your own license/mix & match). Also offered as a hosted solution with recommended partner Hosting Engine. On the downside, HelpSpot’s UIis not friendly. The left hand hierarchical navigation under “Workspaces” reminds me of Outlook, and needs some improvement. Given the chance, I would give HelpSpot a facelift.

Tender Support

Tender Support One of my favorites! Everything you need in a help desk solution is there. They really seem to be on top of their game when it comes to simple and important/needed features. Overall, Tender Support integrates beautifully with your website and has a clean customer portal interface. Though the terminology is different from some of the competition (they use “Start Discussion” vs. “New Ticket”), I thought it was original.

One of the things that stands out is the feature “Organize Customer Discussions.” This option is very helpful in terms of sorting past tickets, facilitating a truly seamless experience. Also, the feature “Companies” allows the Admin to organize a group of users under a single company name, granting them access to one another’s discussions and allowing for a shared support environment between the user and the Company. Tender Support’s pricing is much lower than Zendesk, starting at $24.00 per month for 3 support staff. I really wish they offered custom branding on the basic plan!

**Note that Tender Support offers a free version for open source projects.

 Zendesk

Zendesk could be called the BMW of help desk. These guys knew exactly what the market needed, when they brought their SAAS solution to the table. In the old days,Bugzilla was the one-and-only web-based ticketing option, until Zendesk filled the usability gap with great visual elements, automation, and branding. They jumped on the market at the right time and place. They’re located in the SOMA neighborhood, and I’ve enjoyed watching their success as I’ve served clients in the area.

With Zendesk, the learning curve is small, and you can get up and running in a matter of a few minutes. Also, the UI is fantastic. The Regular Plan is really classy and professional, and can be fully branded for your company. Great iPhone and iPad apps also come with the deal. Their blog Zengage also has lots of tips and topics of interest, and the forums page is helpful and accessible.

On the down side, I could argue that a few features are missing. My experience has been that you need a way to close tickets properly, whether or not they’re solved. Maybe I’ve been imprinted by Bugzilla, but with Zendesk I find myself missing ways to close tickets with terms such as “will not fix” and “work around.”  Zendesk has their own philosophy of doing things,  and their simplicity can be a breath of fresh air or limiting—depending on your style. Under the status drop down, Zendesk only provides the categories of “Solved,”“Pending,”or”Open.” So, if you get a ticket from a user that doesn’t apply to the IT department, or can’t be fixed, your only option is to mark it as “solved.” Which, if you’re the type of IT Manager who likes to run reports, might effect your report stats and cause you to see a little red.

Another, potentially serious drawback for some businesses is that Zendesk only offers a local backup in XML format, and that is provided only to Pro version subscribers. So, for companies attempting to move their data to a different help desk system, there may be some issues along the way. Note: we haven’t tested this process yet, so we aren’t sure if the downloaded data is usable in a different system. This is an important point to keep in mind, in the event your SAAS solution goes out of business. For some, the necessity of retrieving past trouble tickets may not be relevant, but this becomes an issue for financial service businesses, or others who need strict documentation and may face auditing.

And, unfortunately, the price for Zendesk is high for a small business–especially if you plan to assign bugs to all your staff.  The plans include Starter, Regular, and Plus and are priced from $9-$59/month, per agent, depending on included features. When you calculate the costs for long-term usage, the advantages may not outweigh the price.

Freshdesk

Freshdesk.com, which is still in Beta mode, claims to be a cheaper solution than Zendesk. If their business motive is to steal some of the Zendesk market, then it would make sense to come up with a better pricing schema–rather than just knocking a few dollars from the Zendesk plans. I would like to see the whole pricing schema change, and not just in terms of dollars per seat. Why not offer plans for bundled users, in quantities of, say 10, 20, and 40 (ie. bulk shopping), so the entire company staff can benefit from the software? What’s nice about Bugzilla, since it’s open source and free, is that you can add your entire staff and assign bugs to everyone–instead of having to keep costs down and assign 2 seats for the “IT Guys,” which can be the case for Freshdesk and others.

FreshDesk

Overall, I think that online help desk trouble ticketing options are losing out on a customer pool and a market opportunity, due to the fact their prices are so high—and calculated on a per-user basis. In an attempt to keep costs down, companies assign SaaS-based trouble ticketing systems only to their IT departments, and yet there are many opportunities for this technology. Ticketing can be a powerful tool for any department—from marketing and sales to QA and development, on up.

Finally, we have not had the chance to review the following help desk solutions:

Hesk.com, Kayako.com and ResponseQue.com. We plan to revisit this topic in the future, but if anyone from the community has experience with these, we invite you to post a comment with your opinion.

LimeTech Solutions provides IT consulting services and technical support to startups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. You can get in touch anytime for a free consultation with a LimeTech IT expert.

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