Over the years, the ways students, parents, alumni, and other stakeholders interact with schools has changed. One of the biggest shifts is the channels they communicate through.
Tools like email and chat offer a level of convenience that most have become accustomed to, and in order to keep up with the expectations of the modern world, most schools need to invest in new technologies.
One of the tools every school should consider investing in is a help desk, so we've put together this list of the best help desk software for schools to help you make the right choice for your department's needs.
What is help desk software?
Help desk software is a tool used to organize, manage, and respond to questions and support requests. Help desks can be used for both external requests from students and parents and internal requests from coworkers. They typically include a variety of tools like shared email, a knowledge base, and live chat.
Why schools should invest in a help desk
Navigating the education landscape isn’t always an easy task. Students, parents, alumni, and others have lots of questions, and answering those questions quickly and efficiently is a task made much simpler when your school’s support staff has a dedicated tool to do so.
A help desk lets you organize, manage, and respond to any number of requests coming your way. Further, most give you access to additional tools like analytics to better understand trends and team performance — both of which can help you further improve.
The 9 best help desk software for schools
Below is a list of the nine best help desk software for schools. You’ll notice there is some feature overlap, but we’ve tried to focus on a few key features for each option that make it unique in the marketplace and thus better suited for certain needs.
1. Help Scout
Best school help desk for all around student communication.
Help Scout is a complete customer communication platform that helps you deliver an outstanding experience for everyone you interact with. When you sign up, you get access to a curated set of easy-to-use tools that empower your team to communicate across a variety of channels.
The shared inbox includes features like private notes and @mentions to make team collaboration a breeze, and collision detection reduces duplicate work by showing when an agent is already actively working on a case.
With workflows, you’re able to automate routine tasks like sorting and assigning incoming requests based on parameters you set.
If you want to empower students, parents, alumni, and others to find answers on their own, you can create powerful self-service resources like FAQ pages or a knowledge base with Docs. The WYSIWYG editor makes content creation simple, and Docs-specific reports show what articles are excelling, which ones could use some help, and which areas you should consider covering in the future.
Help Scout also comes loaded with pre-built performance dashboards. Reports help you better understand individual and team performance, and you can also create custom views to focus on the metrics most important to you.
If you ever have any questions you need answered, our world-class support team is ready to assist you 24 hours a day, six days a week.
Tools for alumni services departments
Graduates still need support from time to time. Alumni are essentially unpaid brand ambassadors, and they are important to any school's ecosystem.
Customer profiles in Help Scout help you stay informed about exactly who you’re talking to. You can add custom fields to include things like the year they graduated, organizations they belonged to, and even what they’re up to post-graduation to deliver a personalized experience.
Satisfaction surveys can be a good tool for recent grads to better understand their experience with your school. With insights from that information, you can continually improve and better serve your alumni population for years to come.
Tools for admissions departments
Since admissions departments tend to be one of the first points of contact for students, they tend to end up fielding a lot of questions — some related to admissions and others not so much.
Help Scout's @mentions feature lets admissions staff get input from others without adding additional strain for students. If there is something that needs to go to a different department entirely, internal notes let you add additional context to make things go smoothly. You’re also able to assign conversations directly to other teams, making email forwarding a thing of the past.
Tools for IT departments
When you work in IT support, some issues are too urgent to wait. For those cases you can utilize Help Scout's live chat feature to offer support in real time.
tIf someone reaches out when your IT team isn't online, you can let them search through help documentation straight from the live chat widget. If they don’t find the answers they need, they can submit an email request from the same window.
Tools for housing and residential life
Though no two days are alike when working in housing and residential life, a lot of the questions you answer tend to be. With Help Scout's saved replies, you’re able to create pre-written responses to field routine requests quickly and easily, saving time and energy for everyone involved.
If you want to go a step further, you could even create a housing FAQ page using Docs. With that resource, students, parents, and others are able to find answers on their own time. Sometimes the best experience someone can have is not needing to reach out for help in the first place.
Tools for registrars
The registrar’s office is kind of the center of the universe for a lot of student life. As it’s such a multifaceted department, keeping things organized can get a bit chaotic. Using workflows, you’re able to automate a lot of tasks like sorting and assigning tickets.
If there’s a particularly complex case, you’re able to see the entire conversation as one easy-to-read thread. In a way, it acts as an unofficial record of your interactions with a certain student, making it easy to go back and retrieve details if necessary.
Tools for students
Help Scout doesn’t just make it easier for your support staff to assist students; it also lets you streamline support access for your school’s community.
Use our mobile SDKs to create native access to email and live chat support and provide access to your knowledge base from within your school’s mobile apps. Send push notifications directly to students’ phones when you’ve responded to their requests, instantly giving them the information they need.
Price: Starting at $20/user per month.
Best school help desk for IT support departments.
HappyFox is a customer support tool that offers a few different solutions for providing support. Their primary offering is their help desk product that lets teams manage incoming requests from email, phone, and social channels. It also includes a knowledge base builder to create self-service resources like FAQ pages.
When you sign up, you get access to a lot of standard features like ticket assignment capabilities and team reporting. However, they also have some more advanced features like customer portals and multilingual support options – though the latter is limited to their higher cost plans.
The enterprise plans also offer features that are particularly helpful for IT support departments, such as IT asset management capabilities that are fully integrated with their service desk software.
One downside for HappyFox is that they don’t currently offer a live support tool like chat with their help desk plan. They do offer the software, but it’s something you have to buy separately. If you don’t need access to their IT asset management functionality, there may be other options on the market that offer slightly more value.
Price: Starting at $29/agent per month.
Best school help desk for departments using personal email addresses.
Front is a customer communication tool that’s focused on helping businesses provide a more personalized support experience. The initial differentiator most noticeable with Front is the ability to use a personal email address to respond to requests, instead of using a group email address like email@example.com (though that is still an option).
As far as Front’s suite of tools is concerned, you can expect a lot of the standards like a shared inbox, live chat software, a knowledge base builder, and reports – though reports are only offered on their higher-cost plans. Front also offers some unique features like meeting scheduling and the ability to create email sequences for specific groups of users.
As mentioned above, some more basic features are limited to Front’s more expensive plans. Another thing to keep in mind is that their lower-cost plans have user limits, meaning you’d need to switch to a more expensive plan once you exceed a certain number of users.
Price: Starting at $19/person per month.
Best school help desk for large departments with big budgets.
Zendesk is one of the most recognizable brands in customer support software. Over the years they’ve expanded into some other areas like sales support software, but customer support is still one of their core competencies.
They have two main plan types: foundational and suite. Their foundational plans are more basic and center around email and social support.
The suite plans include all the features of their foundational plans, with access to additional support channels like live chat and phone. Their suite plans also include automations features to reduce manual work, AI assisted responses to help reduce ticket volumes for live staff, and the ability to create SLAs.
However, you do need to remember that each additional feature you have also means additional setup and training time. The reality is that most teams don’t need access to all of Zendesk’s features.
Though it’s certainly nice to have a tool that is so versatile and customizable, it’s also important to make sure you don’t overbuy and end up spending a lot of time and money to get little added benefit in return.
Price: Foundational plans start at $19/agent per month, and suite plans start at $49/agent per month.
Best school help desk for phone-centric departments.
Freshdesk has a very similar offering to Zendesk. They have two plan types: support desk and omnichannel. Their support desk plans are more basic in scope. Similar to Zendesk’s foundational plans, support desk plans focus primarily on email and social support, with a few other features included.
Their omnichannel plans include access to additional channels like live chat and phone support. There are also productivity features like automations and access to performance reports to see where you’re excelling and the areas you could improve, plus collaboration features like internal notes to add additional context to conversations.
Where Freshdesk really stands out is with their phone features: All of their omnichannel plans have included minutes. Their highest cost plan even includes a voice activated IVR system and their Voicebot feature, which lets you provide automated responses to phone requests.
Price: Free plan available. Support desk plans start at $15/agent per month, and omnichannel plans start at $29/agent per month.
Best school help desk for light support needs.
You can think of Gmelius as a super powered Gmail extension. It essentially transforms your Gmail account into a basic help desk, allowing you to assign conversations to different agents, add internal notes, and even do some basic automations to reduce manual work.
Along with support functionality, Gmelius also offers some project management tools, like the ability to visualize requests and tasks as a kanban board. Gmelius also integrates with other tools like Trello and Slack to keep things moving smoothly no matter what tool someone prefers.
Though Gmelius does offer a decent bit of value, it doesn’t include tools for live or self-service support. Also, some basic features like reporting are limited to their higher-cost plans. If any of the functionality above is important to your team, Gmelius may not be the right fit.
Price: Starting at $7/user per month.
Best school help desk for departments interested in AI chatbots.
Kustomer bills itself as a CRM for customer service. Though many customer service software on the market today do have some CRM capabilities like customer profiles, Kustomer’s offering is a bit more expanded in that realm. For example, you can add custom objects like shipping details and also segment people based on the information in their profiles.
Along with their CRM capabilities, they also have the tools you’d expect from a help desk like a shared inbox, live chat software, and a knowledge base builder. They also have a number of integrations with common tools and platforms like Shopify and Slack.
Though all of those are great features, Kustomer’s main claim to fame is their AI product called Kustomer IQ. With it, you’re able to make no-code chatbots that can handle basic requests. It can also respond to certain emails based on parameters you set and make suggestions to agents for best next steps with cases they’re working on.
However, those premium features do come with a premium price tag, so if you’re a more budget-conscious team, it might not be the right fit.
Price: Starting at $89/user per month.
Best education support tool for chat-heavy departments.
LiveAgent initially started out as live chat software but has since grown into an entire customer service platform. Along with chat software, they also offer a shared inbox, a knowledge base builder, and phone support software. However, not all channels are supported on all their plans.
Since LiveAgent did start out as chat software, that part of their product is more sophisticated than many others. For example, they offer chat specific analytics to get more insight into those interactions.
You can also create proactive chat messages to make sure you get in front of people at the right time. So, if chat is a big part of your support offering, LiveAgent should be one software you consider.
Price: Starting at $15/agent per month.
Best school help desk for departments using Salesforce CRM.
Salesforce is a well-known name in the software industry. Though their primary product is sales software (as their name suggests), they also make customer support software. The latest iteration of their support software is called Service Cloud.
Service Cloud lets you provide support services across a number of channels including email, social media, phone, SMS, and live chat. They also have a knowledge base builder to create a self-service support option for customers.
To keep things running smoothly across all channels, they also have omni-channel routing that automatically sends cases to the best team or person to ensure a quick resolution.
The biggest advantage comes if you’re using other Salesforce products, as they all integrate seamlessly. With the additional context, your team can move faster and provide an even better customer experience.
Price: Starting at $25/user per month.
Making the best choice
Purchasing any new tool is a big decision. Making a choice is much easier to do when you have a clear understanding of your needs, so be sure to make a list and measure each tool against it.
Once you’ve narrowed your contenders down to two or three options, do your best to get hands-on with each one. If there isn’t a trial, you should at least have a salesperson do an in-depth demo for you and a couple other stakeholders.
From there, collect feedback from those involved in the search and see which option works best for everyone.