The right technology can help you build out a great customer experience. When help desks do their job, they make it easier to prioritize people: your support team and your customers.

Many new companies use free help desk software for a no-cost bump up from a shared email inbox to a more sophisticated system.

But does it actually help?

Selecting the best customer service software for your team depends on a lot of factors, including your growth rate and the number of customers you help daily.

We’ll take you through the pros and cons of free ticketing systems, so you can make a decision that contributes to a standout customer experience.

The benefits of free help desk software

Free help desk software brings big benefits to small teams as they build out their processes and protocols. Without upfront costs, you can upgrade to a system that offers more capabilities than a contact form and a shared email account.

Free software also gives you the option to a test a new system over the long term without committing to a financial investment. You may be impressed by some of the new options help desk software offers, such as the ability to assign tickets to agents, a birds-eye view into your team’s performance and a better shared user experience. All these internal wins can make it easier for you to build an exceptional customer experience, too.

As tempting as it is, however, to assume an upgrade correlates to positive change, the shift doesn’t always ensure big benefits. If you’re leaning toward a free help desk, play around with its capabilities. Test its effectiveness in helping your team thrill your customers. The right tool will always make it easier for your team to do their jobs — and easier for your customers to enjoy your products or services.

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From your initial search to final purchase and setup, this (unbiased) resource will help make choosing any help desk easier.

The cons of a free help desk

You’ve heard the phrase “buyer beware,” but it turns out non-paying users need to be extra aware.

When you’re considering any free tool, first research why the tool is free. Who created it, and what do they get out of you using their tool without paying? Can you be sure they’ll be around in a year’s time? Will they constantly bombard you and your team with ads and sales messages, pressuring you to upgrade? What is the experience like on your customer’s end?

Free help desk software may seem like a no-brainer, but the experience doesn’t always live up to the expectations of users or customers.

At Help Scout, we couldn’t land on a “freemium” model that met our standards. We wanted to give everyone in our community more: the best features, stellar support and an intuitive product that evolves with technology. That’s why we phased out our free option: the integrity of the experience didn’t live up to our expectations.

Companies that offer a free version of their product often set limitations of one kind or another to keep costs down for non-paying users. This can mean no workflows, a single mailbox or only a handful of saved replies. Imagine your team builds out a deeper library of saved replies, but then you’re boxed out of saving them in your help desk. (Cue the constant copy and pasting from a Google doc.) In facing these limitations, users have to create complicated external workarounds that are impossible to scale. Not only can consistency and accountability deteriorate, but team members can also get frustrated because their workflows are a mess.

Freemium plans might also limit the support available to you, or you may wait longer for responses from a team supporting free products. If you’re in the middle of a work emergency and your software isn’t working, you’re last in line for help. It’s not uncommon to feel forced into an upgrade and pay anyway just to avoid a customer service nightmare. Those reactive purchases only reinforce workflows that may not be the best fit. After all, you chose them because they were free, not because they met your specific needs.

When your team bumps against these limitations time and time again, it can trickle down to your reputation with customers. Make sure to research the details before you commit to a non-paying tool. If you don’t, you may soon find your free help desk software isn’t cutting it, and that switching help desks (not just plans) requires another selection, migration and training process.

Three possible paths for your customer support team

There are three possible paths that can help your team offer customers consistent and efficient support:

1. Start with a simple inbox

Not every team needs to ramp up with a free ticketing system. If you’re rocking a team of one, consider a simple Gmail account to solve customers’ problems. People can email support@yourcompany.com, and you respond to each as they reach out. Be aware, though, that as your support team or company grows, a shared email inbox can become more complicated. You’ll eventually need an upgrade!

You’ll know your company has outgrown an inbox when things keep slipping through the cracks. Maybe customers start to follow up on requests they’ve never heard back about, multiple team members respond to the same message or you don’t know who replied to an email. With inboxes, it’s impossible to collaborate on complex issues or to benefit from reporting. You want to make sure you can track and measure customer service metrics.

2. Experiment with free help desk software

If you’re managing a small, nimble team, try to find free help desk software that works for you. Test your processes and get your team comfortable with the tool’s capabilities. Eventually, you may need to pay for expanded features — especially if you’re struggling with technical issues and support isn’t available to non-paying customers.

When you choose a freemium tool, you want to think ahead. Are you locking your team into a tool with a paid version isn’t as good of a fit for your company as another help desk? You want to offer lasting customer service, so imagine that you’re selecting your first choice for the long haul. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, you’ll have to shift to a new tool and build out new processes.

3. Choose a basic, low-cost plan

Many tools offer affordable plans that can scale with the size of your business. We recommend you start with a low-cost help desk software, which empowers you with full customer support and all the features of a paid product. Your team can build processes within a customer service software that scales, without requiring that you bump over to another product and start from scratch. As your team grows, you can move up to a Plus plan with enterprise-level features, which enable collaboration on a bigger scale.

Setting a solid foundation

The best thing about customer support is that it’s all about helping others. If you can meet the needs of team members and your customers every day with a shared inbox or a free ticketing system, that’s the tool for you! But if you want your company to grow, set the foundation with a solution that will help you meet the needs of customers now while scaling with you into the future.

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Elizabeth Wellington

Elizabeth Wellington

Liz writes about business, creativity and making meaningful work. Say hello on Twitter or through her website.