A guide to the best service desk software
Last updated November 21, 2023
Seamless, omnichannel service for customers is expected. So why would service for your employees be any different?
The answer: it shouldn’t be.
Fast, helpful, contextually relevant service means your organization runs more efficiently. Your employees get the information and resources they need to do their job right. And your service agents don’t have to burn themselves out managing a massive workload.
But great internal service doesn’t happen without the very best service desk software.
So to choose and implement the best software for your service desk, we’ll cover everything you need to know about service desk software. And if you feel like skipping around the page, you can do so by clicking through the table of contents below.
What is a service desk?
A service desk is the software internal support teams use to organize, manage, and respond to questions and issues from employees. Generally, service desks are based on a ticketing system in which the client submits a ticket containing the details of their request. In response to the ticket submission, the ticketing system routes the ticket—based on workflow rules—to the appropriate resource.
Different service desks expand upon the basic ticketing system in a variety of ways, with automations, analytics software, knowledge bases, and more. Service desks also vary in terms of the channels and mediums of communication they offer; some are solely email-based while others incorporate live chat, voice calls, social media, and more.
Put simply, a service desk is the software that helps your organization efficiently share its internal information and support resources with the people who need that information to do their jobs better.
Who uses service desk software?
Any internal-facing departments, such as HR, payroll, or IT, that help other employees do their job use service desk software. For example, a human resources team may use a service desk to onboard new hires. Through the software, the HR team can (often automatically) share important onboarding documents, collect employee information and signatures, facilitate training, and much more.
What are the different types of service desks?
Many different types of organizations use service desk software and each of these organizations has unique needs. So naturally, there are different types of service desk software. The five types we’ll focus on here are:
Open source and closed source
Open-source service desk software is written with code that’s publicly available. Any organization can copy, delete, or otherwise modify the code that makes the open-source service desk work. For some organizations, this is advantageous because they have skilled programmers who can modify the software code to their company’s liking.
Closed-source service desks are the opposite. The code underlying the software is proprietary so there’s no customizing other than the customization options the software has coded in. Only developers of the software employed by the organization that sells the software can change the code. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, though, because APIs, 3rd-party app integrations, plugins, and SDKs make some closed-source customization possible.
On-premise and cloud-based service desk software
As with open and closed-source service desk software, on-premise and cloud-based service desks function the same. The difference is in the manner in which they’re delivered, which itself has implications that affect the organization.
If you purchase on-premise service desk software, that means your company will be hosting the software on servers that it owns. The term “on-premises” refers to the location of where the software is hosted: on your premises. In contrast, cloud-based service desk software is hosted in the cloud. More specifically, it’s hosted on the servers of some third party who owns and is responsible for managing the server equipment and environment.
For the most part, organizations are increasingly moving to cloud service desk software. Cloud-based software in general is less costly and resource-intensive since the third party deals with maintaining the server, updating the software, and acquiring the server space. Usually, the only reason a modern organization opts for on-premise service desk software is that they have strict data security policies and need to have complete control of their own servers.
Enterprise service desks
Very large organizations, or enterprises, tend to have more complicated needs. Unlike smaller businesses, enterprises will generally need guidance and support from the software vendor to ensure the service desk is implemented correctly. They may also require more involved customizations. Because of these needs, and others, most service desk software sellers provide an enterprise version of their service desk.
Along with more involved support, enterprise service desks will typically have much larger user and data limits. They may also be priced differently since a contract for an enterprise service desk can be worth several thousand dollars per month.
What are the key benefits of a service desk?
The key benefits of the best service desk software center around a more efficient exchange of information. These benefits include:
Increased transparency in internal communication
As an organization grows, internal communications naturally become more opaque. Left unchecked, this often leads to frustration for employees who don’t know who to ask or where to go to get the information they need to do their job. Service desk software helps mitigate this problem by centralizing an employee’s access to the information they need.
Rather than attempting to figure out what department to contact, employees can simply submit a service desk ticket and get routed to the appropriate person. On the other side, service agents have full visibility into ticket submissions and histories through their shared inbox.
More efficient, less costly service fulfillment
The best service desk software reduces costs by requiring fewer of the employees using the system to request help as well as the employees providing the help. Service desks reduce service costs for agents with features like workflow-based rules, automations, pre-filled ticket information, smart ticket routing, chatbots, and more.
Also, service desks make communication and coordination between service agents more efficient, which helps them provide better service. At the same time, service desk software
reduces costs for employees because they reduce the time it takes for employees to find accurate information.
Ongoing organizational improvement
The best service desk software implementation is not a set it and forget it proposition. Through smart tracking, transparent reporting, and insightful analytics, service desk software helps you collect, analyze, and share actionable insights with service agents, managers, and executives. In this way, a good service desk helps facilitate continuous improvement of your internal service operation.
Not only that, through demand forecasting, analytics can help your managers make data-driven staffing decisions to ensure the organization is using its existing resources as efficiently as possible.
What are the responsibilities of a service desk management system?
The service desk management system is what service desk managers rely on to help them oversee the daily activity of their service desk operations. The overarching responsibility of this system is to help managers ensure business teams and their customers are receiving the support they need to do their jobs. Service desk management systems typically include features that help managers ensure tickets are sufficiently addressed.
These types of features may include:
Staff scheduling tools
Asset and vendor management
Since service desk managers act as the go-between for the service desk and other managers or executives of the business, they help inform business decisions that may impact the service operation.
Best practices for service desk software
Create a service desk catalog
A service desk catalog is a roadmap, designed with the desk’s customers in mind, that includes the information users need to request service. Your service catalog should be clearly written and provide simple instructions. Of course, what’s in your catalog will vary depending on how your service desk is structured, but a few key items to include in your catalog are:
Catalog item name
Issue tracking process
Point of contact for questions
Cost of service
Security and access permissions
Offer a knowledge base
More often than not, your users will need solutions to common, simple issues that don’t require a live agent. So a knowledge base or portal that users can serve themselves with is vital. Not only does the knowledge base help users find the information they need without waiting for an agent, but it also reduces the workload on your agents which allows them to deal with more complex issues. Plus, even when your agents are offline, self-service options provide users with a place to go to resolve issues.
Build an end-to-end issue tracking workflow
Transparency is a key component of effective communication in any scenario. And it’s especially important when it comes to providing excellent internal support. Service desk staff and customers both must have easy visibility of their issue as it progresses towards resolution. This helps agents pick up and hand off tickets when they need to and it reduces frustration for the customer since they always know what’s going on.
Cultivate a culture of service
Even the best service desk software can’t solve a problematic culture. So help train your service desk managers to ensure that their agents are providing customers with everything they need to accomplish their tasks. With the right approach, the service desk will come to be known as a place where problems get solved, rather than the place to direct blame and point fingers.
What are some current trends related to service desk software?
Change is the only constant and the world around service desk software is no different. The following trends are changing the way companies purchase, deploy, and manage their service desks:
Pressure on productivity at the enterprise level
Improving productivity is always a priority but it’s especially so in large enterprises. And IT has an outsized impact on a complex organization’s ability to get work done efficiently. This is because efficiency boils down to two main components: procedures and tools. And it’s on IT to select, deploy, and manage these tools and procedures.
Mass migration to the cloud
Business success always depended on an organization’s ability to focus its resources on initiatives with the greatest return on investment. With the rise of cloud-based software, organizations can now choose to outsource their software maintenance burden to a third party and focus on their core business. And many are choosing to do just that. As a result, most businesses show a clear preference for cloud-based software, whether it’s a service desk or a CRM.
The rise of corporate social media
Service help desks have traditionally relied on a ticket-based system to manage requests for support. But, for many employees, social media is increasingly a large part of their online experience. And that’s starting to extend to the corporate world where social media tools like Yammer are providing a new place for employees to connect. In many cases, employees also use these tools to look for assistance or complain about an issue. This makes corporate social media an important channel for collecting feedback, monitoring issues, and responding to requests for help.
Top 15 service desk software systems
JIRA Service Management
Salesforce Service Cloud
ServiceNow IT Service Management
GoToAssist Service Desk
Solarwinds Service Desk
ManageEngine Servicedesk Plus
Though you may know it as a robust help desk solution, Zendesk also doubles as a comprehensive service desk software. And Zendesk takes great pride in not claiming any kind of ITIL compliance. Of course, we are ITIL natives and we wouldn’t dream of building a service desk management system that didn’t empower service teams adhering to ITIL principles.
But products that claim they provide support to all ITIL processes are breaking one of the key principles of good product design: you can’t be good at everything. The ITIL processes may very well be a tightly connected family, but that doesn’t mean that one tool fits all family members.
Nor should it—ITIL is a set of best practices. They’re guidelines, not hard and fast rules. It’s up to you, your team, and your service desk software implementation to execute an ITIL-based service operation that works for your organization.
A different approach to service desk
Tailor your ITIL implementation for a perfect fit. Zendesk Support threads the needle between supporting ITIL processes without adding the typical complexity of a so-called ITIL compliant tool. This ensures you, and your agents, can put your focus where it counts: on delivering superior service.
And with our flexibility and analytics, you have a system that truly facilitates continuous improvement—the core ITIL tenet.
Enjoy the benefits
Zendesk’s service desk software puts multi-channel ticketing and employee self-service portals in a single place. Using Zendesk, service agents can meet, and help, their customers wherever they are: on social media, live chat, email, over the phone, and more. Plus IT teams can efficiently track problems, trouble tickets, changes, and assets while still bringing great service to their best customers—other employees.
A timely solution
Zendesk's powerful service desk software helps service teams:
Manage incidents, events, problems, and service requests easily
Solve common user problems faster with predefined responses called macros
Tag issues to report, categorize, and track problems across tickets
Keep track of phones, computers, monitors, and more by integrating with common IT asset management tools
Key features of Zendesk include:
2. Help Scout
While Help Scout’s service desk software boasts a feature set full enough for internal service teams of 500 agents or more, it can also work for small businesses. With all of the service desk features you’d expect, from native knowledge bases and robust reporting to ticket management and plenty of integrations, Help Scout is a solid service desk option.
You can try it for yourself with a free 14-day trial and then revert to its Standard ($20 per month per user) or Plus plan ($35 per user per month). For their Company plan, which is designed for large enterprises, you’ll need to use their website to request a quote. As a bonus, Help Scout offers a discount for startups and environmentally and socially focused companies.
Key features of Help Scout (paid plan)
3rd-party and native integrations
JIRA Service Management is Atlassian’s flagship solution, a service desk software product that’s cloud-based and designed for Dev, IT, HR, legal, and other internal support teams. Among its many sophisticated features are conversational ticketing, automation, self-service, incident management, and native knowledge base integrations. However to access the knowledge base integration, a Confluence subscription is required.
JIRA has become popular for its balanced blend of sophistication and performance coupled with simplicity that allows teams to set up quickly, continuously adapt, and provide great service. You can try JIRA with their free plan for up to three agents or ten users. Alternatively, the JIRA Standard or Premium plan is available for you to try with a 7-day free trial.
Key features of JIRA (paid plan)
Tracking and reporting
Asset and SLA management
API and SDKs
Vision Helpdesk’s service desk software enables your service agents to plan, structure, and deliver their service. The system is designed to automate as many service desk functions as possible—including (but not limited to) change, security, and service-level management.
Vision Helpdesk is cloud-based and industry-agnostic, meaning any service team can use it to great effect. And one thing that’s especially unique about Vision is its gamification feature, designed to help incentivize your service agents to meet their targets.
Key features of Vision Helpdesk (paid plan)
Knowledge base management
API and native app integrations
You may be familiar with Salesforce’s CRM, but it turns out they also offer a robust service desk software solution. Among other features, the Salesforce Service Cloud equips your service team with native productivity tools, an omnichannel dashboard, and a centralized view of customer interactions and case details.
If you’re already a Salesforce user, the Service Cloud will fit in seamlessly with any other Salesforce systems you’re using. And while there’s no free version, you can do a free trial of this service desk software for a full 30 days to decide if it’s right for your team.
Key features of Salesforce Service Cloud (paid plan)
Service desk analytics
Online training and on-demand webinars
APIs, SDKs, native, and 3rd party integrations
The best service desk leverages the tools your employees already use in creative ways. And because of how flexible it is, Slack is one of the easiest service desk tools you can use to complement your implementation. With the right apps, integrations, and workflows, you can even use Slack as a substitute for your service desk software.
But even if you’re not going so far as replacing your service desk with Slack, you can still use it to organize communication, manage tickets, document responses to your knowledge base, answer questions automatically, and more. To integrate Slack with your service desk, you can try it for free with limited features or do a free trial of one of their paid plans.
Key features of Slack (Pro plan)
Unlimited message history
Unlimited app integrations
Voice and video calls
Custom user groups
Freshservice helps service teams streamline ticket resolution and internal collaboration with a clean, simple interface and flexible pricing that scales with your organization. With a focus on minimizing downtime and increasing agent efficiency, Freshservice provides four different plans.
Among other useful benefits, Freshservice eliminates time-consuming, repetitive tasks with powerful automation, integrates service onto a single dashboard, and improves time-to-value with its no-code platform and expert onboarding services.
Key features of Freshservice (Starter plan)
Native app integrations
If you’re looking for asset management integrated with your service desk, SysAid is a top choice. The software’s functions are provided in separate modules which enables you to, for example, only use the asset management module and add on the service desk later. SysAid also features a distinct, visual dashboard where you can easily see a customizable view of your network.
Perhaps the biggest knock on SysAid is that it does not include a mobile app. And while you can try SysAid for free, there is no free version. And while SysAid’s website doesn’t publish pricing, PCMag notes that the software starts at $1211 for 500 assets and five users per year.
Key features of SysAid (paid plan)
Asset and network dashboard
Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) integration
HTML5 mobile browser client
ServiceNow is undoubtedly an enterprise-oriented platform, with all the features your team will need to run an efficient service desk. You can track asset depreciation, pull a wide variety of reports, integrate with remote desktop support products, and much more. In terms of features, the only thing missing from ServiceNow is an on-premises plan. Though if you’re okay with managed hosting, that won’t be an issue.
As you might expect, with ServiceNow’s full set features also comes a high price tag and a significant learning curve, particularly for a small business. You’ll need to contact ServiceNow for a custom quote but PCMag notes that when they trialled the software, it cost $10,200 per license per year for the Express version.
Key features of ServiceNow IT Service Management
Asset and cost management
Surveys and assessments
The Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk is built especially for IT teams who need software that facilitates smoother operations of their IT help desk. Spiceworks’ cloud-based software is easy to set up, maintain, and configure with alerts, custom ticket fields, and ticket routing. Included with this service desk are useful reports, remote support sessions, and a convenient mobile app.
Also, since it’s part of the Spiceworks ecosystem of software, this service desk also includes device tracking via Inventory online. And if all that wasn’t enough, Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk is available for free.
Key features of Spiceworks (free plan)
Custom ticket attributes and rules
Secure remote support
The GoToAssist Service Desk is meant to be a simple way to get up and running with a service desk that enables your agents to implement ITIL best practices. When fully implemented, GoToAssist delivers an attractive portal through which your customers can find the resources they need.
With GoToAssist’s service desk software, you can create and manage cases via email, automate workflows with custom rules. Plus, when things go wrong, GoToAssist’s configuration management gives agents visibility into people’s machines and locations so they can quickly diagnose and solve problems. You can purchase this service desk on a monthly or annual plan at $49 or $39 per agent.
Key features of GoToAssist (paid plan)
Ticketing and incident management
For service desk software designed for IT teams, you can’t go wrong with SolarWinds Service Desk. This solution helps enterprises establish IT governance and keep users happy. IT Teams use it to control their inventory, detect compliance risks, organize contract and license documents, and—above all—provide exceptional service.
SolarWinds service desk software is delivered as a SaaS solution and works for any size company. Out of the box, it provides automations, asset management, remote access, ticketing, knowledge base management, and more. You start a 30-day free trial of SolarWinds and after that their pricing starts at $19 per month per technician.
Key features of SolarWinds Service Desk (paid plan)
Centralized web-based interface
Rules-based ticket automations
Hardware and software asset management
Built-in knowledge base
Reporting and monitoring
Providing great service to your employees is one thing. Providing that great service at scale is another. And that’s where Rezo, an automation platform powered by AI, comes in. Rezo integrates with your service desk software to analyze service conversations and deliver smart automations. Whichever service channels you use—email, voice, chat, WhatsApp, or all of the above—Rezo can integrate with it.
For all its power and sophistication, Rezo is surprisingly easy to use. Its no-code platform means even non-technical teams can make and manage their own bots. Rezo doesn’t publish its pricing information, but you can schedule a demo with their team through the Rezo website.
Key features of Rezo (paid plan)
Natural language processing
No-code bot builder
If your company is like most, your employees, partners, and customers use many different systems. This creates challenges in ensuring all issues that flow through your service desk software are synced where they should be. In a nutshell, this is the problem that Exalate solves.
Exalate is a comprehensive, flexible synchronization tool that is a great complement to any service desk. Basic synchronization use cases are available right when you install Exalate and you can customize for specific use cases with Exalate’s scripting engine. One common way to save time with Exalate is to use it to sync all your service desk’s ticket information such as title, comments, description, etc. You can sign up for a free plan from Exalate for basic use cases but you’ll need a premium plan for more advanced service desk features.
Key features of Exalate (Premium plan)
Real-time one and two-way syncs
Unlimited custom field support
1-hour onboarding call
ManageEngine is the IT management division of Zoho Corporation and it provides a broad range of IT solutions for businesses of all sizes. ManageEngine’s service desk software supports ITSM workflows, intelligent automations, native integrations, sophisticated reporting, no-code customizations, and more.
You can purchase ManageEngine’s Servicedesk Plus with one of three plans: Standard, Professional, and Enterprise. The Standard plan is a basic service desk with features like self-service, incident management, and SLA management. But the more advanced plans support asset management and a full-fledged ITSM suite.
Key features of ManageEngine Servicedesk Plus (standard plan)
Cloud or on-premises deployment
Help desk reporting
Knowledge base and self-service
Summary of the best service desk systems
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How to choose the right service desk for your company?
A service help desk collects tickets when someone calls you, texts your support number, writes a comment on your Facebook wall, emails you directly, and more. It takes all of those interactions and organizes them in a central location. This lets your agents do what they do best without wasting time switching programs or searching through email chains. You can also use the same type of software to run an IT service desk to make sure your employees are heard and their issues get resolved.
When you shop around for a service desk, it’s a good idea to consider things like:
Budget: Find a plan that fits your budget and your needs. By shopping only on price, you may end up with a cheap service desk system that’s lacking in features. Consider the hours it will take your team to set up the program and adopt its features in the overall cost as well.
Channel support: How many channels do your customers use to get in touch? At a minimum, the system you select should sync all the channels you currently use in one inbox. It’s also useful to have access to more channels in case you want to expand in the future.
Number of agents: Is there a cap on the number of agents you can have? Or, does the program have certain tiers that require a minimum number of agents?
Scalability: A scalable system can future-proof your customer service department and allow you to easily add more agents and channels. In other words, you shouldn’t have to purchase a new service desk system when it’s time to grow.
Language support: A good system will support a wide range of languages and also let you handle multiple languages at the same time.
Self-service portal: The software should make it easy to create a library of answers to frequently asked questions and also make it easy for customers to find them.
Frequently asked questions on service desk software
Give service desk software a try
Our service desk software is designed with people, and the relationships between those people, in mind. That means arming your internal service agents with customizable messages, custom views of incoming queries, convenient automations, and more. It also means encouraging collaboration between team members and ensuring one agent isn't the sole bearer of knowledge and context behind a customer's concern.
The result of all this? A seamless experience for your customers.
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The benefits of service desk software are almost unlimited. Learn more about how it can help you give your customers the best IT support: