Choosing help desk software can be overwhelming: There are hundreds of tools and thousands of potential features to consider. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of imagining how all of those features might help your team deliver ever-better support.

But the reality is that more features often leads to more complexity and overhead. In the end, it’s usually better to find help desk software with the exact features you need — rather than every feature any support team in the world has ever needed.

To find out exactly what features you need, it’s best to sit down with your support team and discuss it. Brainstorm a list of every possible feature you can imagine, and then prioritize each feature into lists of must-haves and nice-to-haves.

If you need a place to start, consider this list of 10 essential features of help desk software to help you narrow down your choices to those that meet the absolute minimum requirements.

10 must-have help desk software features

Must-have features of help desk software include features you can’t live without, such as a shared inbox if you primarily provide email support; features that will make your team’s life easier, such as an intuitive interface; and features that will delight your customers.

1. A great customer experience

If you’re going to deliver great support, you need a tool that enables great support.

Unfortunately, not all help desks are built to delight your customers. Many refer to customers as ticket numbers or force them to create separate logins for support portals to view your responses or make updates to their requests.

These systems may be perfect from the support side of the table, but if using them creates an experience that makes your customers feel uncared for — or creates additional work for them during an already-frustrating time — it won’t matter how great your support is.

In Help Scout, customer requests aren’t “tickets” — they’re “conversations.” And when you use our help desk to reply to conversations, it looks no different to your customers than if you’d sent them an email from your personal account.

email response in help scout

2. An intuitive interface

Before committing to any help desk, it’s essential to ensure it’ll be easy for your team to use. A brand new tool always requires an adjustment — and transitioning the entire team isn’t a simple decision — but some will serve your team better than others.

As you make your decision, consider the overall usability as well as the ways your team successfully works now:

  • Is the interface intuitive and simple to use?
  • Does the system load and make changes quickly?
  • Is it easy to find the options your team will use most?
  • Can you make workflow changes easily without contacting an administrator?

Before making a final decision on a new help desk, check out a demo or trial for your top few options. The ideal choice will remove as much friction as possible, leaving more energy for helping customers instead of fighting tools.

3. Security and compliance features

With all the private customer information stored in your help desk — along with a full team of people accessing it — security is essential. Look for a tool with role-based permissions to limit access to specific areas to only those who need it.

For extra protection when logging in — in addition to encouraging strong passwords for every team member — a help desk with two-factor authentication will prevent unauthorized access.

Depending on the type of data you store and your geographic location, you may need a help desk that is HIPAA compliant, or one that complies with GDPR requirements.

4. Great customer support

While it’s easy to imagine that any company selling help desk software would care very deeply about providing great support to its own customers, that’s unfortunately not always the case.

Before choosing a tool, send in a couple of support requests and see what types of responses you get and how long it takes to get a reply. If you’re not able to do that, read some online reviews of the product; if a company provides poor support, that’s something that’s often mentioned in product reviews.

Some tool providers also offer different levels of support based on the plan you sign up for — or charge an extra fee for premium support — so be sure to dig into the details and factor any additional costs into your overall budget.

5. Scalability

If you expect your team, support volume, or company to grow in the next few years, it’s also important to consider the scalability of the help desk software you choose:

  • Does the tool offer features like workflows and API access that will help you automate repetitive tasks as support volume grows?

workflows in help scout

  • Does the plan you’re considering offer these features, or will you need to upgrade to a higher-cost plan to get access to those features?
  • If you’ll need to upgrade, do you anticipate that future costs will be higher than what your budget will support?

It’s also important to review how the options you’re considering price their tools. If they charge by individual users, it’s easy to predict what adding a new support team member will add to your costs. But if they charge by the amount of support volume you receive, your costs can fluctuate wildly and unpredictably.

Switching to a new help desk takes a lot of time and effort, so doing a little upfront thinking about the future can save you from the headache of switching tools again in a year or two if you discover too late that your help desk won’t scale with your needs.

6. Options for your preferred support channels

This one’s probably obvious, but the help desk you choose should offer tools that enable your team to provide support on your preferred channels.

If you primarily provide email support, look for a tool with a shared inbox. If you primarily provide live chat, look for software with a live chat tool.

But in addition to thinking about the types of support you offer now, it’s also good to consider what types of support you should be offering — and what types of support you may want to offer in the future.

If you don’t have one now, do you anticipate needing to create a knowledge base in the future? If so, look for a tool that offers a knowledge base in addition to email and/or chat support.

Do you think as your company grows that you’ll get more support requests over social media? If so, look for a tool that either has a social support feature or offers integrations that allow you to provide efficient social media support.

7. Third-party integrations

Many help desks integrate with other third-party tools to expand the number of features available to your team, so if your favorite help desk doesn’t offer one specific feature you need, it’s worth looking to see if there’s an integration available that can provide that functionality.

It’s also worth checking to see if the tools you’re considering offer integrations for third-party tools you know you’ll need, such as your billing system or your CRM.

customer profile in help scout
The right integrations can make it easier for your team to see exactly who they're helping and use that information to provide more personalized support.

While it might be possible for a developer at your company to create custom integrations for your help desk, it’s a lot simpler to get up and running if the software you choose integrates with other tools you need right out of the box.

8. Collaboration features

Whether your support team is made up of two people or 200, your help desk must enable successful collaboration between them all. After all, a conversation with a customer may span multiple shifts or days or may need input from several different specialists on your team.

Look for a tool that will help keep everyone on the same page — and prevent any customer conversations from getting lost in the queue — with collaboration features like:

  • Collision detection to ensure team members can see when other people are viewing and responding to conversations, preventing duplicate replies.
traffic cop indicators in help scout
  • Notes and @mentions to make it easy for team members to communicate about issues privately, solving problems and keeping each other in the know.
  • Saved replies to enable team members to get a jump start on answering customer questions by using high-quality pre-written responses created previously by other members of your team.

Features designed to foster teamwork and communication make it easy to bring the right team members into any conversation, keep everyone informed, and better serve your customers.

9. Reporting and metrics

Anyone trying to track the output and success of a support team knows metrics and reports are essential. Your new help desk software must make it possible to deeply understand the quality of your support.

It’s worth figuring out who makes it easiest to uncover these insights as you decide on a new tool before you trap yourself in an endless cycle of difficult-to-understand reports and unwieldy spreadsheets.

The right tool will provide you with the metrics you need to determine things like your team’s busiest hours, average first response times and resolution times, how many customers access your knowledge base articles, team members’ CSAT ratings, and more.

reports in help scout

But help desks don’t stop at simply collecting and tracking metrics. Next, you’ll need those metrics turned into reports. Look for software that creates reports you can work with and share with those around you.

Check for reporting features like advanced filtering, the ability to save custom views for repeated use, and export options in case you need to access your data outside of the software in a spreadsheet.

10. Migration options

It’s not technically essential, but if you’re moving from one help desk to another, migration options are very nice to have.

Some tools offer APIs to help you migrate all of your data from your old tool into the new one. Some may offer automated tools that do the work for you. Some may not offer migration themselves, but there may still be third-party providers who specialize in these migrations that you can use to migrate your data.

Options to help you migrate all of your old data to the new system will save you a lot of time after making the switch and can reduce the likelihood of making an error along the way and losing data you’d like to keep.

Find the best help desk software for your team

The right help desk software will help your team with collaboration, efficiency, automation, prioritizing incoming interactions, analysis, and beyond. Be sure the one you choose allows for growth and will scale with your organization.

By carefully considering your options to find the best fit for your organization, you’ll set your team up for success and delight your customers every day.

If you need more help finding the best software for your support team, check out the additional resources below.

Sarah Blackstock
Sarah Blackstock

Sarah is a freelance writer specializing in technology and customer support and a former Happiness Engineer at Automattic. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.