Email is ubiquitous in professional life. We use it to communicate with coworkers, to give status updates on projects to large groups, to plan meetings and gatherings, and for a slew of other things. For those working in customer support, it can often be the primary mode of communication with customers.
There are good reasons email has remained a helpful tool for customer support: It can be used asynchronously, it’s low cost when compared to other traditional support methods like phone support, and over 4 billion people in the world have access to it.
Even though email seems ready-made for customer support, standard email clients like Gmail and Outlook aren’t. In order to create the best experience for both agents and customers, you need access to a specialized tool. That tool is email support software.
What is email support software?
Email support software is a tool used to organize, manage, and respond to customer requests sent via email. They usually include features that help with agent collaboration and performance tracking. Some even include options to automate certain tasks to improve overall team productivity.
Key features to look for in email support software
If you’re new to email support software, you may not be exactly sure what you’re looking for. Without a point to start from, beginning your search may be rather difficult. To help you on your way, here’s a list of key features any worthwhile email support software should have:
Collaboration: As those working in the field know, customer support is a team sport. Look for tools that include features like internal notes and assignment capabilities.
Automation: Manual tasks take up a lot of time that could be better spent helping customers. Seek out tools that let you automate things like conversation sorting and tagging.
Organization: Getting the right people on the right requests means better, quicker answers for customers and less hassle for agents. Tools that let you create multiple inboxes for different teams, and even specialties, can save a lot of time and headaches for everyone involved.
Ease of use: Remember, there are two groups you need to consider when thinking about ongoing ease of use: customers and agents. Make sure the experience is good for both for the best results.
Analytics: Many email support tools have some reporting features. Having those insights into team and individual performance can help you improve dramatically. Look for tools that have dashboards ready out-of-the-box to get those insights even faster.
The 9 best email support software platforms
Though many email support software share some similar features, some tools are better suited to certain use cases than others. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of tools that cover a wide range of uses so you’re more informed and better able to pick the right solution for your team.
1. Help Scout
Best for customer-focused teams.
Help Scout has been in the customer support business for over a decade. Though Help Scout now offers a complete support solution, it initially started out as email support software. Even though these offerings have expanded, email support remains a core competency.
Help Scout’s shared inbox tool gives you access to collaboration features like private notes and @mentions to get input from others, and it provides additional context for customer requests. Customer profiles give agents even more insight into who they're interacting with and any issues the customer has had in the past, reducing back-and-forth conversations and speeding up response times.
You also get access to a number of productivity tools like saved replies to answer routine requests quickly and workflows to automate a number of manual tasks like conversation sorting and assigning. There’s also collision detection, which shows when an agent is actively working on a request to help eliminate duplicate work.
The pre-built reports dashboard shows where your team’s doing best and areas where you can improve. You’re also able to include CSAT and NPS surveys to get a complete picture of your performance.
Finally, Help Scout’s simple setup lets you get up and running in just a couple of hours, and the intuitive interface means you can be a power user by the end of day one. If you ever have any questions, Help Scout’s world-class support team is available 24/6 to assist.
Price: Starting at $20/user per month.
Best for teams utilizing many different channels.
LiveAgent is a customer support platform that had an initial focus on live channels, specifically live chat. Along with their chat offering, they now also have a ticketing solution, which is the tool one would use to manage email interactions.
They have a somewhat standard feature set for the most part; however, they do have a couple of items that make them unique, like the ability to create different SLAs by channel and a slew of integrations if you need to interact with customers from a number of different platforms. However, some basic features like performance reporting are limited to their higher-cost plans.
Price: Starting at $15/agent per month.
Best for IT teams.
ServiceNow is a tool that empowers teams to manage all aspects of IT support. One aspect of their offering is their email support tool. The layout is similar to a Kanban board, and agents are able to update the status of an issue directly within the task.
As a fix or resolution progresses, they can continually update the ticket to increase transparency and allow for others to collaborate on the issue. There are also a number of other tools, like a self-service portal. If you’re looking for an IT solution, ServiceNow is a great option.
Price: Contact ServiceNow for pricing.
Best for project management.
HappyFox is a mix of a shared inbox and a project management tool. You get access to lots of shared inbox features like internal notes, conversation routing, agent collision detection, and satisfaction surveys (though the last two features are only offered on their higher-cost plans).
One thing that makes their product unique is the ability to view conversations in a number of different views. There’s a standard inbox view similar to a normal email client, a Kanban board view, and a card view. Being able to visualize conversations differently may be very useful for some teams.
Price: Starting at $29/agent per month.
Best for large teams.
If you work in customer support, chances are you’ve heard of Zendesk. Zendesk offers a number of different tools, one being a shared inbox product. Zendesk’s shared inbox lets your team organize and respond to customer emails as well as implement basic automations.
You also get access to reports to understand how your team is performing and where they can improve. You can also take advantage of any number of Zendesk’s prebuilt automations to enhance your support efforts. They do offer a slew of other features, though those are limited to their higher-cost plans, and some report the setup time is quite long.
Price: Starting at $19/agent per month.
Best for teams wanting a free tool.
Freshdesk has a very similar offering to Zendesk. They offer a shared inbox with organization capabilities, like assigning different priority levels to different customer conversations. You’re also able to add internal notes for collaboration and see how your team’s performing with their reports dashboard.
However, Freshdesk has one primary differentiator: They offer a free plan. To be candid, it’s not the most robust offering, but it’s certainly an improvement over using a standard email client like Gmail to handle support requests.
Price: Free plan available. Basic plans starting at $15/agent per month.
7. HubSpot Service Hub
Best for teams using other HubSpot products.
Though many know HubSpot for their sales and marketing tools, they also have a solution for customer support called Service Hub. Service Hub includes a shared inbox where agents can respond to customer requests.
Service Hub offers pretty standard features like basic task automation, tagging, and reporting capabilities. Service Hub is most powerful if you’re already using another HubSpot product, as it integrates seamlessly with their other products, allowing you to have a more complete picture of the customer you’re talking to.
Price: Free plan available. Premium plans start at $45/month.
8. Salesforce Service Cloud
Best for sales-focused teams.
At this point, Salesforce is quite ubiquitous in the tech world. As the name of their company would suggest, they’re most known for their sales products, like their CRM. However, they’ve offered support solutions for a number of years. The current iteration is called Salesforce Service Cloud.
They offer tools to automate some basic tasks to improve agent productivity, as well as the ability for agents to customize customer views to have access to the most pertinent information. They also have some other interesting features like video chat support. However, the true power of the tool comes when combined with other Salesforce products. If you’re not a current Salesforce user, there’s probably another tool on the market more competitively priced.
Price: Starting at $25/user per month.
9. Zoho Desk
Best for teams using other Zoho products.
Similar to others on this list, Zoho is best known for its CRM. However, they’ve been making a support solution for years now called Zoho Desk.
With Zoho Desk, you get access to some more standard features like internal notes and some automations to improve productivity. Further, if you have seasonal staff, they have an option to add lite users for a reduced cost. And if you’re using any other Zoho products, they integrate seamlessly, helping you get a complete picture of your customers in every phase.
Price: Free plan available. Paid plans starting at $14/agent per month.
How to choose the right email support software for your team
Knowing all the options isn’t going to get you very far unless you know what you’re looking for. If you’re struggling to lock down your exact needs, we have three questions you can answer to make the picture a little clearer.
Who’s using it? Knowing which teams and roles will be using the software can make it easier to pin down which features are most important. Once you know who your stakeholders are, do a brief survey to get a pulse on their needs and wants. That information should help narrow the field.
What’s your budget? The plain and simple fact is that most of us have budgets we have to work within. If something’s outside your budget, then it’s easy to remove it as a contender. Also, remember that monthly costs are just one cost to consider. Very complex tools may require additional resources to set up or onboard staff. Be sure you’re accounting for those costs, too.
Are there any deal breakers? Some things are nice to have, but others are necessary. Make a list of what those “need to haves” are, and make sure you check any potential tool against that list.
Set up trials for any tools you’re seriously considering. You don’t want to overload yourself, so try to limit it to two or three options. Be sure to have stakeholders from each group test out the tool to ensure it works equally well for everyone involved.
We can safely say that email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially for those of us working in customer support. Though email isn’t a perfect support channel, it does have a lot of advantages, and using email support software can help mitigate any number of challenges inherent to it.
Consider your options thoughtfully, understand your key needs, and test out the top contenders. If you take the time, we’re certain you’ll find the right solution.