Unlike large corporations with many layers of people between leadership and the public, small companies often have people at all levels of the organization interacting with customers. This one-on-one communication provides a unique opportunity to build personal relationships and get direct feedback about the business’ product or service.
However, there comes a point for all growing companies when allowing customers to reach out to employees directly becomes problematic. Email volumes increase, requests fall through the cracks, and keeping track of individual conversations across multiple inboxes gets increasingly difficult.
If these growing pains sound familiar, it might be time to start thinking about a dedicated support tool — like a help desk — for your team.
The 9 best help desks for small businesses
If your small business is ready to give help desk software a try, here are nine options perfect for growing companies.
1. Help Scout
All-around best help desk software for small businesses.
Help Scout is a communications platform that allows small businesses to have efficient, impactful conversations with their customers and communities.
Get organized and improve team collaboration
Working out of a shared Gmail or Outlook mailbox can impede a business’ ability to collaborate effectively. Help Scout’s shared inbox makes it easy for your team to work together and stay organized.
Conversations filter into one central location where you can assign them to the best person or team for the job and use conversation statuses, tags, and custom fields to organize and track issues through to completion.
Collaborative features like saved replies, collision detection, and internal notes help your team work together more efficiently than in a traditional mailbox. You can even discuss customer issues across departments by adding light users to your plus or pro account at no additional cost. The light user role is perfect for employees who aren’t customer-facing but often work with your team on customer issues.
Provide innovative, comprehensive support and streamline your processes
If you’re ready to move your support efforts beyond the email inbox, Help Scout offers native live chat that can be accessed from any page on your website using the platform’s help widget, Beacon. Manage incoming live chats from your company’s shared inbox to provide fast support.
For those worried about contact volumes, Help Scout helps guide customers to the right answers before they even reach out to your team. Docs, Help Scout’s knowledge base builder, lets you publish a customized help center that contains answers to FAQs, all without coding. The messages tool helps you provide proactive support, like surfacing relevant Docs articles if a customer seems stuck. You can also use the feature to make announcements and collect customer feedback.
Beyond self-service channels, Help Scout eases the burden on your team through custom workflows. Workflows are simple “if this, then that” conditions that let you automate repetitive tasks like conversation tagging, assignments, and escalations.
Break down silos and back up business decisions with data
Help Scout is a web help desk that integrates with many popular apps and services like CRMs, ecommerce platforms, and project management software, keeping everyone on your team in the loop. Not only does this improve visibility, but it also empowers your team to provide better customer support, having the full picture available to them from within each conversation.
While you can import valuable information into Help Scout, your customer conversations are also full of useful insights. The platform comes with reporting tools to help you keep track of conversation volume, agent performance, and product issues. Use the data to help inform business decisions like hiring and product development, and show how support is affecting your business’ bottom line.
Whether you’re operating an established business or your company is just getting off the ground, Help Scout is a great choice for those seeking a help desk and customer service software that can grow with their team.
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $20/user per month.
Best help desk for small businesses’ IT teams.
If your small business’s IT team is looking for a service desk, HappyFox is a good option. While a solid choice for any team, IT teams benefit from features like HappyFox’s asset management tool and its ability to integrate with remote service applications.
Beyond IT-specific tools, HappyFox offers a shared inbox that you can use to manage email, as well as a knowledge base builder. It is also possible to use other HappyFox products with the platform, such as HappyFox Chat and Chatbot, but they require additional subscriptions.
Email management with the ability to manage additional channels via integrations.
Shared inbox with collaboration tools (ticket assignments, collision detection, etc.)
Kanban ticket views.
Integrations with HappyFox products and other popular platforms.
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $29/agent per month (five agent minimum).
Best help desk for small businesses that use Google Workspace.
Hiver is a Gmail-based help desk that can be a good solution for teams accustomed to Google’s web interface. While it’s true that there are ways to share inboxes in Google natively, they offer a clunky experience for both agent and customer. Hiver elevates the Gmail support experience and adds functionality beyond email, such as live chat and self-service support channels.
Email assignments, statuses, and tagging.
Email templates and shared drafts.
Natural language processing (NLP) based artificial intelligence (AI).
Integrations with popular software (Salesforce, Jira, Asana, etc.).
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $15/user per month.
Best help desk for small businesses that need multi-brand support.
The first thing you’ll notice about Cayzu when investigating their product is their competitive pricing — their plans start at only $4 per agent per month! However, organizations managing support for multiple brands might want to check out the Enterprise tier.
Cayzu supports the ability to create multiple branded self-service portals. This lets you present a customized experience to your customers while allowing their requests to flow into a single shared inbox for management and resolution by your team.
Email and social media management.
Self-service portal (multi-brand).
Time tracking and asset management tools.
Integrations with popular platforms.
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $4/agent per month.
Best help desk for small businesses focused on cross-platform integrations.
One advantage of going with a legacy platform like Zendesk is that many companies and developers are producing easy ways to integrate the system with other business tools.
While most of the help desk offerings in this article offer ways to integrate with other tools, Zendesk has a library of 1,000+ pre-built apps and integrations to choose from. Their lowest tier plan includes all pre-built options, with the ability to add custom integrations limited to more expensive packages.
Multi-channel platform (email, ticket forms, live chat, voice, SMS, social media, self-service, community forums).
Shared inbox with collaborative features (macros, internal notes, collision detection, custom views, ticket assignments, and light agents).
Triggers and rule-based automation.
Library of 1,000+ pre-built apps and integrations.
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $19/agent per month.
Best help desk for small businesses interested in flat rate pricing plans.
If your small business wants to roll out live chat support, Crisp is a great option. They offer a free plan that allows up to two people to manage live chat support from a team inbox or from iOS and Android apps when you’re on the go. If you’re interested in offering additional channels, Crisp can also handle email, messaging apps, and social media through its platform.
An appealing aspect of Crisp for small businesses is their flat rate pricing plans. Their Unlimited plan is $95 per month for a workspace that includes 20 agent seats — something that would cost significantly more on a per-agent price model.
Multi-channel platform (live chat, email, social media, messaging, self-service).
Team inbox with collaboration features (canned responses, private notes).
Audio & video messages.
Integrations with CRMs and other popular apps.
Price: Free trial and plan available. Paid plans start at $25/workspace per month (includes four seats).
Best help desk for small businesses that use LiveChat.
Help Desk is a solid ticketing system with the collaboration tools needed to provide excellent email support. It even has some features that aren’t as typical, such as its screen recording feature — a tool that lets you create screen capture videos and include them in your customer replies.
One problem with HelpDesk, however, is that many channels you would expect to find in a help desk — like live chat, chatbots, AI, or a knowledge base — are not included. HelpDesk’s parent company, LiveChat, does make products for all of these functions, but they require additional subscriptions.
Still, if you’re a LiveChat subscriber, it integrates seamlessly with HelpDesk, making this a good platform choice.
Supports email and contact form channels (additional channels available via integrations).
Shared inbox with collaboration tools (ticket assignments, canned responses, private notes, custom views, and unlimited “viewer” accounts).
Integrations with other LiveChat products and other select tools.
Price: Free trial available. Plans start at $29/agent per month.
Best help desk for small businesses interested in community forums.
There are many reasons to consider ZohoDesk, ranging from its artificial intelligence offering, Zia, to its seamless integration with other Zoho products like ZohoCRM.
One feature to consider is ZohoDesk’s Community Forums, which allows you to create a central place for your customers to discuss your product and company. Forums can be great for enabling customers to crowd-source answers when your team isn’t online and promote camaraderie around your brand. Those forums, combined with integrations across the Zoho Suite, can help increase customer satisfaction.
As cool as forums can be, those starting a community for the first time should be cautious. Like social media, forums are a very public communication channel, making it essential to have your team present, engaged, and ready to moderate if things get out of hand.
Multi-channel platform (email, social media, voice, live chat, self-service).
Shared inbox with collaboration features (ticket assignments, collision detection, faster response snippets, etc.).
Community forums (included in all but the free plan).
Integrations with Zoho products and other popular apps and platforms.
Price: Free trial and plan available. Plans start at $14/user per month.
Best help desk for small businesses focused on providing chat support.
Tidio is a chat-based customer service platform. Its free plan lets you chat with up to 50 unique users per month and have chatbot conversations with up to 100.
If you’re a bit further along with your support efforts, Tidio’s paid tiers let you center your plan around live chat, chatbots, or features beyond support, such as email marketing tools.
One interesting aspect of Tidio’s live chat paid plans is a focus on proactive support tools like Live Typing, a feature that allows your team to view what a customer is typing into a chat window before they hit send. Though it might feel a little creepy from the customer side, live typing previews can save your team time, allowing them to get a jump start on the customer’s request.
Live chat and chatbot offerings.
Shared inbox that allows integrations with other channels; includes collaboration features like private notes and teams.
Live monitoring features like Live Typing and the Live Visitors List.
Email marketing tools.
Integrations via Zapier; custom integrations are also possible.
Price: Free trial and plan available. Paid plans start at $15.83/operator per month.
What’s a help desk?
A help desk is software that brings all of your communications into one central location. It does this by turning each email, chat, phone call, or social media message you receive into a ticket, which you can use to monitor the communication until it is closed.
Help desk software for small businesses often comes with features that give it a leg up over traditional email clients, such as a shared inbox, customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities, and a knowledge base solution to promote self-service.
While most people probably think of customer service as the primary use case for help desk software, other teams can also benefit. For instance, sales teams may use a help desk to manage conversations with potential clients, while finance teams may use one to handle billing and invoicing. Help desks are also useful for human resources and IT teams who need to track and respond to employee requests.
Why do small businesses need help desk software to manage customer support?
Small businesses may worry that switching from personal communication channels to help desk software may jeopardize the close relationships they’ve built with customers. However, the truth is that making moves to strengthen your support system will make it easier for your team to provide personalized assistance.
Help desk software can improve your team’s:
Organization: Help desks preserve all of your company’s communications in one place and have tools that make it easy to search and filter through them. You can tag conversations by product, view all of the requests from a specific customer, or easily see which team members responded to a message.
Collaboration: Collaborating in a regular Gmail or Outlook inbox is hard. Help desks offer features like email templates, private notes, ticket assignments, and ticket statuses, providing more visibility across your team.
Process: Email management can involve a lot of busy work — deleting junk mail, tagging issues, assigning tasks, and escalating cases that need to take priority. Help desks streamline your support process by automating tasks that don’t require a human touch.
Reporting: There is no real way to track your support efforts accurately if you’re operating out of personal inboxes. Help desks automatically track metrics like ticket volume and time to resolution.
Security: Unlike a shared email account, where everyone uses the same login credentials, help desks have built-in security measures. Every user has their own username and password, and managers can assign roles, ensuring that staff members only have access to the information needed to do their jobs.
Accessibility: Help desks open up new opportunities to better serve customers. Omnichannel platforms allow teams to expand beyond email support, rolling out channels like chat, voice, SMS, social media, and self-service.
These types of improvements ensure that your team never misses an email and always has the information, tools, and bandwidth to deliver outstanding support.
How to choose the best help desk for your small business
When faced with so many choices, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or intimidated by the sheer quantity of help desk solutions on the market. However, the choice doesn’t have to be difficult. As you begin your search, look for software that meets your needs in these four areas:
Channels: Determine which channels are most important to your customers and your team.
Priorities: Know what problems you’re trying to solve and choose a tool that has features capable of helping you meet those goals.
Budget: There is a tool for every budget. Avoid plans that are full of features that you probably won’t use.
Growth: Pick a system that meets your current needs but also has room for you to grow.
Finally, remember to try before you buy. All of the software on this list, including Help Scout, offer a free trial where you can try the features and get a better idea of whether it will be a good fit for your small business team.