Find the Best Zendesk Alternatives for Helpdesks and IT Ticketing Solutions
A complete guide to internal helpdesks and IT ticketing solutions that are strong alternatives to Zendesk.
A complete guide to internal helpdesks and IT ticketing solutions that are strong alternatives to Zendesk.
If you’re currently searching for your next ticketing and IT operations system it’s likely that Zendesk is on your shortlist to consider. Zendesk offers support, sales and customer engagement software through a modern, “consumer-like” ticketing experience.
So what are the best alternatives to consider? This guide will walk you through ticketing solutions specifically catered to IT that help everyone in the company be more productive. No matter if you’re a company of 5 agents or 5000+, this guide will help you quickly get a clear picture of your best ticketing options to meet your needs going forward.
Let’s start out by answering: why do companies choose Zendesk in the first place?
Zendesk is a customer service and support platform aiming to reduce resolution time of support issues, allowing companies to boost ROI thanks to freed up staff and increased customer satisfaction.
They offer both service desk and CRM products applied across external-facing customer service operations as well as internal-facing employee support. Founded in 2007 in Copenhagen, Zendesk has grown into a Silicon Valley success story now publicly-traded and with a customer base of over 150K worldwide.
Zendesk’s primary users are customer service agents, marketing and sales teams as well as IT responsible for fielding numerous requests for support. And if you’re using Zendesk already, you may already know it holds up as a help desk so long as you’re willing to sacrifice some ITIL best practices and turn to third party app integrations for key features like change management.
But many IT teams find themselves running up against constraints that chip away at productivity when it comes to the more nuanced realities of ticketing and operations in their day to day. So whether you’re a large enterprise, SMB or startup, you may be wondering what alternatives to Zendesk are out there to solidify your IT service desk with more than a consumer-like experience can offer.
Products center around the Zendesk platform, offered as Support or Sales package options or bundled into a “sales-and-service” offering. Support offerings are divided into three levels: basic Support, Support Suite or Custom-Built with more features available at the higher tiers including tracking and prioritizing requests, knowledge base for “smart” self-service, and live chat/messaging/voice to unify omnichannel operations. The Sales Suite offers the “Sunshine” CRM, analytics and reporting and community forums for external-facing customer operations. Their unifying thread is an integrated, connected view of the customer/user to deliver consistent support across omnichannel operations.
Here are some key features that initially attract many customers to Zendesk:
Omnichannel, Customer-Centric Support
Zendesk allows for continuous interactions across channels through a single set of tools and processes that work the same on email, chat, phone, and social. This means users receive a consistent experience with support no matter how they reach out, and if switching channels (ie a chat inquiry requires a phone call) agents don’t lose context or time with repeated questions to resolve the issue.
Zendesk’s UI aims to save agents from searching for information that delays service time, providing a single, dynamic help desk interface with everything they could ever need accessible from one place. User information about the person is pulled up automatically to personalize service, and agents quickly navigate to supporting applications without switching windows.
Zendesk offers codeless options to get started with implementations in under a day that work right out of the box, or can be configured further with an open and flexible design to connect data sources and pull in customer data automatically.
Zendesk offers automation features including an AI-based answer bot to answer questions and resolve tickets before an agent gets to them. Answers can be easily turned into an article with Zendesk Guide for other agents to surface later, with auto-suggestion prompts for updates to keep content fresh.
Zendesk aims to deliver a familiar, friendlier user experience reminiscent of consumer-style applications for both agent and customer alike. Their modern colorful look and feel attracts those intent on avoiding any “intimidating” look and feel of traditional ticketing systems.
Zendesk’s app marketplace of 900+ integrations allows teams to further customize their installation based on tools they already use – including Slack, and Change Management/Asset Management add-ons for IT. An open standards design/open API system allows further customization to fit distinct needs without the need for teams to learn a new coding language.
Overall, Zendesk’s benefits are clear for customer service and marketing teams, but upon closer inspection many IT teams find that their needs are not fully accounted for.
For IT teams, Zendesk has a number of limitations that keep it from being the perfect ticketing and operations solution. The top seven biggest drawbacks are:
While some ticketing solutions offer core IT functionality like asset and change management natively within the product, Zendesk doesn’t. As PCMag called out in their review, “Don’t look to Zendesk Support to handle projects, code and system changes, or assets, even using one of its many add-on products.” At best these capabilities are only possible via the third-party integrations through the app store. For IT teams relying on these processes day to day it may be necessary to thoroughly vet these add-ons that aren’t built into the product by design. The same can be said for organizations heavily reliant on Slack, which also requires an add-on to function.
Unlike other ticketing solutions, Zendesk was not built around the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) guidelines – the industry standard for IT Service Management best practices (ITSM). So you won’t find Zendesk anywhere on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Service Management (ITSM) and Forrester summed the tool up overall as: “good for less-complex transactions.” Generally speaking Zendesk leaves the impression that IT use cases are more of an afterthought as compared to the real focus around external-customer service-driven needs.
The top complaint from Zendesk customer reviews is the user experience and confusing interface. The feature-overloaded UI is complicated, makes it easy to lose track of issues and increases the overall learning curve of the system–further straining IT teams under constant pressure to move fast. Pain points include tickets arriving in a group inbox, what happens to a response can be confusing, easy to reply to more people than intended, returning too many search results, UI icons lacking clear labels, and user profiles lacking enough context for quick action. One reviewer even summed it up as: “I can honestly tell you it’s the most complicated UI out there.”
Zendesk’s per-agent, module-based pricing structure is expensive and out of reach for many budget-conscious enterprises and smaller businesses/startups. While starting prices are just $5 for the most basic packages, the Professional pricing begins at $89 per user per month and $149 for Enterprise, making it expensive to deploy across many users and teams. And what isn’t immediately clear to most companies are “hidden costs” of additional modules with the best, higher-tier features only available at the most expensive plans. Self-service and knowledge base features are not available at the basic tier for instance.The degree of Zendesk support that its customers are entitled to also varies by plan (ironic perhaps for a “customer service” focused firm?) making it incumbent upon teams to budget for how much interaction and hands-on support they may require for their particular deployment.
Zendesk’s tagging and routing involve a complicated process often requiring manual intervention by staff to route to a sub-team or individual, sort by country/team etc. Users cite issues with the right people not getting assigned, no one answering, and tickets getting lost.
One risk cited by customers is that it’s all too easy to lose track of tickets. Due to tickets arriving into a group inbox with blurry lines around accountability, and a confusing experience of what happens immediately after a response, this injects uncertainty into a process intended to enforce clarity and security of who is handling which exact ticket and when. Zendesk’s tagging and routing also involve a complicated process often requiring manual intervention by staff to route to a sub-team or individual, sort by country/team adding to the hassle. Users cite issues with the right people not getting assigned, or even no one answering at all.
If there’s a two-letter acronym that sums up Zendek’s future focus it would seem to be CX–but not IT. Today, on balance the products are heavily oriented towards external customer-facing support needs. And recent Zendesk investments and acquisitions all focus on the CX side of their business (i.e Base for Salesforce integrations etc) with little activity on the IT side, suggesting this continues to be the top priority for the company’s future.
Zendesk issues experienced by mid-market and enterprise companies:
For enterprise and mid-market companies, Zendesk poses some significant challenges. These fall into two main categories:
Fundamentally Zendesk is not built to enterprise-grade IT standards using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) compliant best practices that many larger organizations and their CIO’s/CTO’s expect as table stakes. The lack of native change and asset management features (instead supplemented by add-ons that PCMag reviewers and others have noted to be unreliable at times), and the implications for information security, privacy and IP protection that goes along with this, raises questions about its viability as the best solution of choice for sophisticated IT operational needs.
Zendesk’s pricing structure and per-agent model make it a less-than-cost-effective solution for enterprise and mid-market companies that need to scale across a large number of agents. Furthermore, with many people using the tool also comes the need to train all those people–not helped by the confusing and complex UI that compounds the likelihood that re-training will be needed before long. Add to that the likelihood of offshore IT support teams across many timezones and the need for simple solutions with a minimal learning curve becomes all the more important.
So where should enterprise and mid-market companies turn for a more robust ticketing alternative? Let’s start by examining atSpoke.
atSpoke is a modern workplace operations platform built to ITIL standards that helps businesses scale by giving every employee what they need to be their most productive. The product is purpose built to work with a company’s existing SaaS toolset, allowing IT teams (as well as HR and Operations) to get more done fluidly right where they work and resolve requests faster within one central command center, backed by intuitive ticketing, a dynamic knowledge base, and end-to-end machine learning.
atSpoke allows for 5x faster ticket resolution and resolves 40% of tickets automatically through AI-driven workflows and conversational interfaces. IT agents are freed up while employees get convenient and immediate self-help in the tools they already use with conversational omnichannel experiences that allow organizations to unlock their workforce’s productivity and move work forward faster.
atSpoke outpaces other ticketing systems thanks to:
Starting with an employee reaching out with a question phrased in a completely natural way (whether through web, chat or email), atSpoke auto-answers with a personalized response based on that person’s profile for any routine question already addressed in the integrated Knowledge Base. This deflects routine questions via AI to preserve IT staff resources without sacrificing a relevant, personalized touch. atSpoke then automatically updates Knowledge Base content as questions are answered, applying machine learning to know the answers for next time – scaling IT support further across the business. For complex questions that do require human intervention, atSpoke automatically escalates, routes and tags the best available IT expert at that moment – further prioritizing the most efficient service with not just who knows the answer, but is freed up to do so ASAP.
For IT agents, the experience is designed to deliver a true centralized “Command Center” feel without a cluttered UI. Thanks to the insight-oriented, modern and well-organized design, agents move quickly and fluidly through tickets that are personalized with full context from disparate systems (ie user profiles, assets and user responses) with access points to integrated tools to trigger events in other systems (asset management, change management, SSO etc) – getting everything done in one place at full-paced momentum as they work. All tickets remain organized and synched in real-time across email, chat, and web reducing the need for context switching that slows productivity. How intuitive is the UI? Enough that no training is required for new staff, all AI requires zero out of the box set up and gets better from day 1, and configurable APIs allow for deep customization as needed.
As far as pricing, atSpoke offers multiple tiers and an enterprise package catering to large company needs. Whether your IT budget is large or small, it’s worth noting that of all solutions analyzed here with the exception of Spiceworks which is free (see limitation summary below) atSpoke’s starter plan of just $5 per user a month and enterprise plans are the most affordable option, period.
Unlike Zendesk, atSpoke offers transparent pricing structures including an enterprise-level plan designed to deliver cost efficiencies for large organizations. Instead of per-agent pricing that becomes cost-prohibitive when deployed across teams, atSpoke works on a per-employee model that allows for greater ROI when scaling across the enterprise. All pricing is clear and up-front, not hidden behind obscure “modules” for legal and finance team to decide when it comes time to sign the contract. Additionally, all functionality is available with the enterprise plan vs feature by feature. By comparison, Zendesk’s self-service and the knowledge base that are only available at a higher-priced tier, along with multiple ticket forms only offered as an add-on. Lastly, support contracts are all-inclusive vs separate upcharges.
More information: www.atspoke.com
ServiceNow offers service management software under the NOW platform targeting enterprise users across IT, HR, customer and field service. Their product focuses on scaling service and ticketing operations quickly by leveraging AI capabilities to “bridge the gap between traditional IT and modern business needs” through ITSM, business management, asset management, DevOps, security/compliance. While offering a robust solution, the feature-laden product may be under-utilized by IT teams for the heavy price tag, with long integration timeframes to implement at scale posing barriers to rapid deployment. A less-than-intuitive UX can also mean a steeper learning curve and ramp up time across teams.
More Information: www.servicenow.com
Jira Service Desk is an ITSM help desk ticketing software from Atlassian geared specifically for enterprise IT teams (many of whom already use sister product Jira) and officially ITIL-certified. While highly capable and extremely configurable, the complex UI and manual procedures can be intimidating and frustrating to end users – posing a barrier to usage and high training needs. The cumbersome nature of the tool often requires full-time staff to manage the instance. The ticketing process is still relatively manual, with Atlassian only recently moving to shore up conversational ticketing and AI capabilities through acquisitions. In May 2020, Jira Service Desk acquired the conversational ticketing solution Halp, which allows users to submit requests through Slack.
More Information: www.atlassian.com/software/jira/service-desk
Freshservice is the enterprise-IT service desk software, under the Freshworks portfolio of CRM and customer service products. (See below for sister product Freshdesk aimed at smaller companies). The product caters specifically to large IT organizations with complex workflows offering a robust feature set across the full scope of ITSM needs. The density of features however overloads the UI, leaving users confused and often causing more work for IT staff to course correct errors as a result. AI functionality (“Freddy”) is geared towards IT staff only for reporting use cases vs enabling self-service. Automation features (rules-based) have been reported as prone to breaking, with IT staff often need to “teach” it how to do things which can defeat the time-saving benefits.
More Information: https://freshservice.com/
While you might know Spiceworks as an IT professional industry association, they also offer free software for the IT helpdesk integrated with sister product Inventory for asset management and monitoring infrastructure in the Connectivity Dashboard. The helpdesk product focuses on ticket and task management, with self-service, Active Directory integration, configurable roles and team collaboration options all available free with no admin or ticket number limit. Be warned that “Free” does mean dealing with in-product ads said to be invasive to the UX, and more sophisticated enterprise users are cautioned to fully vet that all needs are met with this solution–because migrating off of Spiceworks later basically requires going back to square 1.
More Information: www.spiceworks.com
BMC Helix (formerly BMC Remedy) is an ITSM solution for enterprise companies. Aligned with ITIL best practices out of the box, the product offers service management with AI and machine learning to deliver intuitive, consumer-like experiences across channels through integrated Digital Helix workspace for conversational support across Slack, chat, SMS and Skype. The product focuses on predictive service to create and resolve incidents faster through intelligent, context-aware, and proactive incident matching.They also offer lifecycle management features on the Knowledge Base to keep content fresh. However redundant, mandatory multi-step fields and “click happy” requirements to file and close tickets are known to frustrate users looking for a faster way to progress through tasks with less friction at each step.
More Information: www.bmc.com/it-solutions/remedy-itsm.html
Issues that SMBs and startups experience with Zendesk
Small-medium size businesses and startups run up against a different set of challenges with Zendesk in two key areas:
Barriers to friction-free productivity
For starters, leaner IT teams are typically under-staffed with some totaling just 1-2 people to support the entire business. In this environment, the notion of losing track of tickets like Zendesk reviewers have commented is simply not an option, nor is battling with confusing UI’s across routine support tasks.
Startup success and failure can hang in the balance when it comes to even small diversions from full productivity, as CBInsights notes: “Getting sidetracked by distracting projects, personal issues, and/or general loss of focus was mentioned in 13% of stories as a contributor to failure.” Against these odds no delays to productivity can be tolerated – meaning Zendesk has room for improvement here for IT teams to truly work seamlessly across each and every task as they race to get their people up to full speed.
Barriers to scaling up as you grow
In addition to being understaffed, budgets for IT investments are scarce and need to be carefully allocated. Especially when funded by VC money, startups aren’t inclined to allocate precious dollars towards IT at the expense of other revenue-generating functions like product development, sales and marketing. Any tools that are invested in must offer air-tight capabilities across the full scope of IT functions. This means that when starting out, Zendesk’s pricing structure (that reserves many features for the highest-priced tiers) makes it out of scope for some budget-conscious small businesses. And as the business expands in the future, the module-based pricing and hidden costs, as well as better support reserved for the highest tiers, makes it difficult to scale up with growth.
So what solutions are out there for startups? In addition to the above solutions like atSpoke that cater to startup and enterprise alike in feature and pricing, see below for four additional options to consider.
Freshdesk is a service desk solution under the Freshworks family of products, aimed at smaller companies with external-facing customer service oriented use cases vs its enterprise IT sister product Freshservice (covered above). Focused on omnichannel, bot-based self-service for customers to streamline and automate repetitive inquiries with unique features like a “thank you detector” to help agents quickly skip past lower-priority inbound emails. However the lack of change, asset, and project management features could be a dealbreaker for certain IT teams.
More Information: https://freshdesk.com
Zoho Desk offers an IT help desk and service solution catered to small business teams. With a relatively thorough IT feature set available at a startup-friendly price point that includes self service, automation, and a “Zia” AI assistant to proactively triages support tickets, analyze customer sentiments, and spot anomalies in ticket traffic along with VoIP the system can meet some needs for smaller teams. However the lack of asset, change, and problem management features even in the “enterprise” tier product may rule it out for IT teams intent on building their system around ITIL practices.
More Information: https://www.zoho.com/desk/
HelpScout provides support software solutions in the Zendesk model aimed at startups supporting external customer inquiries. Beyond its lack of alignment to ITIL best practices, you won’t hear them use the term “help desk ticketing system” or even ticketing at all except when forced to draw comparisons to explain what their offering actually is. Help Scout instead deliberately positions themselves as “not ticketing” in favor of viewing all interactions as “conversations” that should be personalized and handled collaboratively. The product centers around shared inboxes to deliver personalized experiences informed by user profiles for context. Automation through if/then logic and collaboration features for IT teams include private notes, saved replies, collision detection and tagging to categorize items for automation and reporting. Overall, for startup IT managers that actually need a ticketing solution at the end of the day, this “non-ticketing” outlook may go against the grain a bit too much to get the job done effectively.
More Information: https://www.helpscout.com/
Kayako offers customer service and help desk software aimed at startups. SImilar to Help Scout, their concept centers on shared inboxes and conversations vs the IT ticketing paradigm to enable unified customer service. They do embrace the term “ticketing” but emphasize personalization by consolidating all agent-customer conversations across live chat, email and social with context to immediately respond. Like Help Scout and Zendesk, this is another non-ITIL customer service solution retrofit to IT use cases vs designed for them from the ground up. Some IT teams may find this only goes so far to meet their day to day needs.
More Information: https://www.kayako.com/
Because IT traditional ticketing systems lack native AI capabilities and natural language processing, start-ups like Aisera and Moveworks have created solutions to layer on top of Zendesk and other ticketing systems to expedite workflows. These tools automate certain repetitive software-based tasks and are purchased in addition to a traditional ticketing system.
Aisera is an AI-driven service solution for IT, HR, customer service, sales, facilities, and operations teams. Heavily focused on AI, Aisera labels their offering “AISM” or AI Service Management bringing NLP/NLU and conversational RPA to detect intent and automate support through AI consumer-like experiences that plug directly into existing company systems of record and offer predictive service. However IT teams may be cautioned by reports that the product feature is still playing catch-up to close the gaps in what is offered out of the box, and certain customers publicly investing in more than Aisera alone to meet their ticketing needs.
More Information: https://aisera.com/
Moveworks offers AI-driven IT service solutions for both startups and large enterprises. Through AI software pre-trained on 75M IT tickets to refine its ML/NLU capabilities, the Moveworks bot aims to completely automate IT service auto-resolving issues without human intervention. Features include understanding conversational requests with no scripting/training required up front, automated routing and predictive service capabilities to proactively contact a user when locked out of an account. However the standard 8-week deployment timeframe may rule Moveworks out for fast-moving startups that can’t wait this long, in addition to enterprise-grade pricing available only on request. And with certain flagship customers publicly providing testimonials for competitive solutions (such as Aisera) some companies may find that Moveworks does not meet all of IT needs for an AI add-on solution.
More Information: www.moveworks.com/
And that completes our whirlwind tour! As you can see, while Zendesk is a well-known and heavily-utilized tool, it isn’t the solution of choice for all IT ticketing and operations teams. Exploring options that leverage deeper best practices specifically designed for IT teams can unlock net new levels of productivity for agents, and all the people they support.