Customer Support: Which Service Is Best For Your Small Business?

If you need a tool to support your customers, you won't be short on choice. Here are the 14 best options, with tips on our favorite features.

Dale Cudmore
Last Updated on July 22, 2020
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There are hundreds of customer support tools out there, is it possible to not be overwhelmed?

Research is definitely a good thing. Choosing a customer service software is a big investment. On top of the direct cost, it also takes time to move existing data over, make changes to your website, and train your support staff.

To make it a bit easier, I’ve compiled a list of the best 14 customer service tools.

The Best Customer Service Software for Small Businesses

In this post, I’ve given you a brief description of the features of each tool so that you’ll quickly know if it could fit your business.

There’s a lot of overlap between tools, but I’ve tried to categorize them as logically as possible.

All-In-One Customer Service Platforms

The platforms in this section have everything you need for a complete customer service set-up. These products are often included in lists discussing the best customer service software for small businesses.

Go with one of these if your customers need consistent help, and you want to manage everything from one place.

HubSpot’s Service Hub

HubSpot's Customer Service Software
HubSpot’s customer service software’s landing page

“Software that turns customers into promoters and service into growth.”

HubSpot is known for their marketing and sales software, but they offer a full suite of customer support software.

HubSpot’s customer service tools include a range of features that help to improve how you connect with your customers.

  • Universal inbox. Like most other all-in-one customer support software, HubSpot comes with a team inbox.
  • Automated tickets. Incoming emails are automatically turned into tickets, agents can respond using templates, canned responses or short videos.
  • Knowledgebase. Turn the most frequent support questions and tickets into a knowledge base. According to a Microsoft stat cited by Hubspot, 90% of people expect companies to have a self-service customer help section online. This type of feature also reduces the load on your support team.
  • Calls. Call customers via VOIP from inside your account, or from a phone.
  • Live chatbots. Conversational bots can help your customers with easy, routine queries by referring them to support documents or the most appropriate live chat agent.
  • Customer feedback. Collect customer data through surveys and other forms. Customer feedback is an important element in improving your customer service.
  • Free CRM. Tickets and emails are built into HubSpot’s free CRM so you have a detailed profile of the customer.

Service Hub can also connect with HubSpot’s marketing and sales software. HubSpot’s Service Hub starts with a free plan that comes with a basic set of features to get you started. The Enterprise plan comes with a price tag that may place it out of reach for many small businesses, though the mid-tier plan might serve the needs of small to medium-sized businesses.

See all HubSpot Features

Salesforce Service Cloud

Watch a demo or sign up for a free trial on the Salesforce website

“Say goodbye to ‘hold, please’ with the only AI-powered service platform designed for the modern era.”

Like HubSpot, Salesforce is one of the most popular CRMs. Salesforce Service Cloud is powered by Artificial Intelligence and, because of this, the customer service software can personalize engagements with customers.

  • Case management. Salesforce integrates all customer data so agents can quickly reference a specific ticket’s status. The system can even route cases to the agents best suited to solve them quickly.
  • Knowledgebase. When you put together a detailed knowledgebase, you help your customers resolve their queries. Salesforce’s Knowledgebase feature comes with an optimized search.
  • Calls. Customer support agents can make calls from within the Service Cloud console. A useful aspect of Salesforce’s customer service tool is that agents can view the account record of the caller before they take the call.
  • Analytics. Detailed analytics help your customer service team make better decisions.
  • Live chat. Salesforce customer support comes with Einstein Bots, AI-powered chatbots who can reduce the time spent on complex cases by collecting basic information before the agent engages with the customer.
  • Multi-channel support. Let customers find you on any channel, including social networks, your website or on mobile.

Because the Service Cloud is part of the Salesforce platform, a mid to large business may benefit from the integration with sales and marketing CRM. Salesforce offers a 30-day free trial.

See all Salesforce Features

Zendesk

Zendesk
Zendesk lets you sign up for a demo or trial on its website

“The best customer experiences are built with Zendesk/Connect with customers on any channel.”

Zendesk is the most established business here.

It’s a complete customer service solution, with tools for every single part of customer support. This includes:

  • Support: a ticketing solution. Allows you to track, assign, and manage tickets that customers create
  • Chat: a standard live chat application that you install on your website
  • Talk: supports both phone calls and texts. Allows you to distribute them to your customer service agents
  • Guide: a content management system that allows you to create an easy-to-use knowledge base for your customers
  • Explore: analytics and reporting so that you can identify weaknesses in your customer service
  • Connect + Outbound: a built-in CRM that allows you to reach out to customers that you see are having issues.

It does everything you can really think of, which is why Zendesk is so well known. The design is beautiful, and everything “just works.” Zendesk is also popular enough that other products integrate with it. For example, Netomi adds AI-drive chatbots to Zendesk’s other features.

You can either buy all the tools together or individually.

I don’t have anything negative to say about Zendesk. The pricing scales pretty reasonably with your usage.

Zendesk offers 30-day free trial.

See all Zendesk Features

 

Freshdesk

Freshdesk
Freshdesk is used by leading organisations – as mentioned on its website

“Intuitive, feature-rich, affordable customer support software.”

Freshdesk is arguably the second of the “big two” of customer service software, right behind Zendesk.

Of all the features in Freshdesk, most important are:

  • Ticketing support: accept and manage tickets from multiple channels (email, website, social media, etc.)
  • Dedicated call center: you can quickly set up a cheap call center to field phone calls from customers
  • Gamification: your customer service reps can earn points and rewards for finishing customer requests to make it more fun
  • Knowledgebase software: a CMS to allow you to create attractive help documents for customers
  • Reporting: see which times and days of the week produce the most tickets, and when your customer service reps are most productive.

It’s similar in that it includes everything you could ever want in a platform. Seriously, the complete list of features is huge.

But, there’s a few big difference as well that could sway your decision.

First, there’s only one product. Unlike Zendesk where you can buy an individual part, you have to buy Freshdesk as a whole. This means that it could be overkill for your business if you only need a portion of the system.

However, Freshdesk is significantly cheaper than Zendesk when you compare the whole packages together. So even if you don’t use all of Freshdesk, the price could still be comparable.

You can try this customer service tool for free for 21 days.

See all Freshdesk Features

 

 

Groove

Groove
You can learn more from customer testimonials on the Groove website

“Simple Help Desk Software/The Best Ticketing System for Teams.”

Groove is the final all-in-one solution I’ve included here.

It’s gotten really popular over the last few years, and while it offers many of the same features as competitors, it does so with an interesting approach:

  • There’s a single plan that you can sign up for. It includes unlimited everything, as far as agents and tickets go. It’s also quite a cheap price compared to competitors.
  • The software is beautifully designed. It’s modern, intuitive, and flexible.
  • You’re paying for the core tool. So it comes with all the core messaging and ticketing functionality. However, then there are several add-ons that you can choose to buy on top of that. For example, if you want a live chat widget, you have to sign up for Olark, and then you can integrate that into Groove. In my opinion, this is an advantage. You integrate only the specific add-ons that you need, and in the case of live chat, you integrate a specialized tool that is well developed. It is a bit of extra work on your end up front though.

Some add-ons, like the knowledge base, are completely free. You just tick a setting in your account to turn it on.

One particularly unique feature is that while you can answer tickets in Groove itself, you can also configure it with your own email software, like Gmail or Outlook. Then you answer tickets just like you normally answer emails. Some people love this option. You can try Groove for free for 30-days.

See all Groove Features

 

LiveAgent

LiveAgent
LiveAgent’s website lists other clients and lets you sign up for a trial

“Help Desk Software is the 1st Step Towards Better Customer Service.”

What if you need a full suite of customer service tools, like Zendesk and Freshdesk offer, but can’t quite afford the high price tag.

That’s where you take a look at LiveAgent, which is specifically built for small and medium-sized businesses.

It has all the big features that you’ll ever need, plus a few unique ones:

  • Universal inbox: this allows you to see messages made through email, chat, social media, forums, and a few other sources.
  • Automate ticket assignment: a really neat feature that allows you to set how many tickets a certain rep should get, and it automatically assigns new tickets accordingly.
  • Live chat: a standard live chat widget for your website.
  • Call center: lets you take customer calls. Also has a video call option, which could be useful for certain types of businesses.
  • Knowledgebase CMS: lets you create support docs for customers.
  • Gamification: lets customer service employees earn points and awards.

The features all look the same as the other big tools, so what’s the difference?

First, the price is a lot lower.

Second, the software isn’t quite as smooth. While all the features sound great, parts of the user interface are clunky and need to be refined.

If you don’t mind contacting support for help once in awhile to save a decent amount of money, LiveAgent is a solid all-in-one option. LiveAgent offers a 14-day free trial.

See all LiveAgent Features

Which Customer Service Software is Best for Your Business?

We list the features and benefits of the leading all-in-one customer service tools below.

CompanyFree PlanFree TrialPlans start at ...For more
zendesk logo
Yes30 days$ 15Visit Zendesk.
Freshdesk logoYes21 days$ 19Visit FreshDesk.
hubspot logoYes30 days$50Visit HubSpot.
Salesforce logoNo30 days$25Visit Salesforce.
LiveAgentNo14 days$ 9Visit LiveAgent .
Groove logoNo30 days$ 22Visit Groove.

How do the Customer Service Tools Stand out?

While most of the all-in-one customer tools share similar features, we list the unique benefits offered by each platform:

  • Zendesk: Buy the suite of software or purchase each tool separately, according to your business needs. This customer service software is good for small, medium and enterprise. A smaller or mid-size business might only select the most relevant tools, while a large enterprise would opt for the full package.
  • Freshdesk. All the functions are bundled together – one of the most affordable all-in-one customer service tools. Good for small, medium and large businesses.
  • HubSpot. Start using for free and upgrade as your business scales. The entry-level plans are suitable for small businesses; mid (if you have more than 5000 contacts in your CRM) to top-tier plans may be too costly for smaller enterprises.
  • Salesforce. Built on AI-powered intelligence, Salesforce will send you three new innovations and tools to each year.
  • LiveAgent. Top tier plans come with unlimited inbound calls; customers can call directly from your website. Businesses who may have fluctuating demands on customer service -you can add or remove agents according to your business needs.
  • Groove. A single plan has support for unlimited tickets; you get the base tool and add features like chat, calls or customer satisfaction ratings. Small businesses who personalize customer communications – the interface looks exactly like an email.

Specialized Customer Service Tools

There are a few different types of customer service software, ranging from help desk tools to free chat service. We discuss the options below.

Help Desk Software

These customer service tools are similar to all-in-one tools but are missing one or more of features that I would consider core features.

If you don’t need those specific features, these options can still let you create and manage tickets and emails, without paying extra for unnecessary extras.

Help Scout

“There’s a better way to talk with your customers.”

Help Scout
A customer testimonial on the Help Scout website

Help Scout has a simple design but has all the features that a good ticket management software needs:

  • You can build a limited knowledge base to answer common questions using the provided CMS. It’s very easy to link to these articles when you’re responding to tickets.
  • Integrate easily with your other platforms including Slack, HubSpot, and Salesforce.
  • A chat window displays on your site if a team member is available to help.
  • Easy access. Access the customer support platform via the iOS and Android apps.
  • Value for money. It’s extremely affordable per user, so if all you’re looking for is a solid ticketing and email system, it’s a good option.

There’s a 15-day free trial.

See all Help Scout Features

 

Kayako

“Help Desk Software for personal and connected customer service.”

Kayako
Kayako’s marketing focuses on supporting small businesses to form better client relationships

Kayako has a modern design. It reminds me a lot of Slack. If you enjoy using Slack for a chat tool, you’ll also enjoy Kayako.

  • Solid ticketing system
  • Live chat widget to embed on your website. You manage the chats in the backend with your tickets and emails.
  • You can actually use the chat tool for free. If you like it, you can upgrade to get access to the email management system and advanced features like automation.
  • Client history. The customer service tool stores the complete history of customer interactions.
  • Automation consists of triggers and actions. For example, you could configure it to assign any ticket that comes in from Twitter as “high priority”, or send you a message if a negative rating comes in.
  • Easy integration with over 700 apps.

Kayako comes with a 14-day free trial.

See all Kayako Features

 

TeamSupport

“Customer service software built for business to business.”

TeamSupport
TeamSupport’s site makes a display of its B2B focus

TeamSupport is interesting in that it is one of the few customer service tools that specifically is built for B2B customer support.

B2B companies stand to gain if they get customer service right. B2B firms with high customer engagement scores earn 50% higher revenue, according to the Gallup’s Guide to Customer Centricity Report, 2016.

Instead of managing customers individually, the software allows you to support users as part of an organization. This helps your customer support spend less time tracking customer issues across the same business.

Benefits include:

  • Ticketing system. There’s an easy help desk ticketing system to keep track of tickets.
  • Tracks customers and products. Keep track of which products your customers are using so you’re better suited to help them quickly. The customer support software lets you associate products with customers using its Product Section.
  • Customize. You can create your own branded customer support portal so clients can resolve easy queries on their own.

The drawback is that TeamSupport is quite expensive per user. It comes with the standard ticketing and email platform, plus the ability to create a knowledge base.

If you run a B2B business and have struggled to keep track of users that need support, TeamSupport is a great option if you can afford it.

Try TeamSupport with its 14-day free trial.

See all TeamSupport Features

 

Zoho Desk

“Put customer service at the heart of your company.”

Zoho Desk
You can see what the customer support interface looks like on the Zoho Desk site

Zoho Desk has a modern design that has recently been improved. It supports ticket and email support, plus the ability to create a knowledge base.

What’s unique about Zoho Desk is that it offers a free plan where you can have up to 10 users. You still get all the basic features on this plan, which is amazing.

If you upgrade, you get access to advanced features like automation and live chat support.

You can accomplish the following common customer support tasks with Zoho Desk:

  • Multi-channel support software. Support across channels makes it easy for customers to contact support.
  • Helpdesk automation. With automated responses to common queries, you free customer support up to deal with more complex queries.
  • Countdown mode. Track tickets easily and identify progress at a glance. This feature helps your prioritize tickets and displays them according to when they’re due.
  • Tag your tickets. When you tag tickets in Zoho desk, you can categorize tickets for future reference. This might be useful to add frequent queries to the FAQ.
  • Context-aware customer support. When working on a ticket. agents will have access to detailed customer information – data they can access from Zoho’s CRM.
  • Customer happiness rating. Zoho Desk tells you how you’re doing in the customer service satisfaction rankings by assigning a rating to customers.

While you can sign up for a free plan, you can register a 15-day free trial to try to the paid package.

See all Zoho Desk Features

 

HappyFox

“All-in-one help desk ticketing system that provides faster and better support for your customers.”

HappyFox
Businesses can schedule a demo of HappyFox

If you’re looking for a solid ticket management system, HappyFox is a good option.

There aren’t too many things unique about HappyFox, but it has a relatively competitive price with plenty of features. It’s not enough to be considered all-in-one, but close.

It allows customers to create tickets from multiple channels, and you can manage them all from the platform.

There are several integrations you can install, depending on the plan you purchase. For example, live chat is available on all plans, but being able to send SMS to customers is only available on higher tier plans.

There’s a lot of effort put into the tool to allow you to create pre-defined templates. These will save your staff time responding to common questions.

Key features and how they can improve your customer support include:

  • Multi-channel ticketing. Customers can create tickets on email, your website, phone or via live chat.
  • Staff dashboard. Monitor the progress of critical tickets, check the total number of tickets in progress, be alerted to tickets in danger of breaching your company’s SLA.
  • Ticket management. You can organize tickets by adding attachments, check the threaded view of all responses to the ticket and monitor the activity log.
  • Reporting. The reporting system lets you track actions like staff or customer messages that are still waiting for a response.
  • Proactive agent collision. This feature makes sure agents won’t work on the same case without knowing.
  • Automation. Save time by creating canned responses for frequent queries.

HappyFox doesn’t provide a free trial but asks that you request a demo instead. If you’re still interested, they’ll set up an account for you to provide “proof of concept”.

See all HappyFox Features

 

Deskero

“Customers care, with benefits!/ Simple help desk software for effective customer engagement.”

Deskero
Sign up for a free trial on the Deskero site

Deskero has a unique perspective on customer service tools which some people love and others hate.

The system is designed to more manual than automated on purpose.

Some people don’t like it when a customer support tool automatically assigns tickets. Instead, they’d rather a supervisor assign them based on difficulty and the individual skills of support staff. That’s what Deskero allows.

The pricing is on the low side for small teams.

An interesting offer from Deskero is that if you purchase the premium plan, which is expensive, you can actually get software customization. That means they will help tailor Deskero to your specific business, which is great if you have a unique workflow.

You get access to the following customer service tools:

  • Multi-channel ticketing. Let your customers reach you on the channels they’re most active, including social, email or phone. Deskero bills its ticketing system as flexible enough to accommodate the needs of most businesses.
  • Help center. By setting up a self-service portal, you can let customers solve easy queries quickly without contacting support.
  • Email import. The platform lets you import any email request into a ticket. Using rules you’ve configured, the software will automatically assign an agent to the ticket.

Deskero offers a 14-day free trial.

See all Deskero Features

 

Salesforce Desk

“Close cases faster and build customer loyalty with out-of-the-box service for small business.”

Salesforce Desk
Watch a demo of Salesforce Desk on its website

Salesforce Desk is, of course, a Salesforce product.

If you already use another Salesforce product, this is a great option because it integrates right in. You also probably already like the general approach and design they use.

Overall this platform is reasonably priced, right around average for all plans. It’s designed to be as simple as possible to get up and running quickly.

On top of a solid ticketing platform, there are a few other features I’d like to highlight:

  • Automation: there are a variety of ways to automate repetitive tasks, mainly answering repetitive questions from customers
  • Surveying: there are built-in tools to survey customers and get their feedback and satisfaction levels.

You can Salesforce Desk for free for 14 days.

See all Salesforce Desk Features

 

ProProfs Help Desk

proprofs-help-desk-image
Simple cloud-based help desk and customer service software

ProProfs Help Desk is popular for its affordability and emphasis on collaborative efficiency.

A key feature is the shared inbox that facilitates collaboration between customer support teams to address customers’ needs. ProProfs also boasts a user-friendly yet powerful interface.

ProProfs offers a number of other tools that make it easier for your team to help customers, including saved customer ticket and chat histories, auto responses and canned responses, and integrated live chat software with pre-made templates. You can use ProProfs’ ticket ratings feature to gather real-time feedback on tickets, and track agent/help desk performance and customer satisfaction.

While there is a basic free plan with limited functionality, most businesses may find it worth it to upgrade to the Essentials plan ($10/user/month) or the Premium plan ($15/user/month).

  • Unlimited ticketing Unlimited ticketing and department-based ticketing, so tickets can be directed to the appropriate department
  • ProProfs Training Maker, which allows you to build branded customer and agent training courses online
  • ProProfs Survey Maker, so you can conduct customer surveys and gather feedback to assess and improve your customer service
  • Mobile app that lets your agents monitor and respond to tickets anytime, from anywhere

ProProfs lets potential customers try any plan for free for 15 days.

See all ProProfs Help Desk Features

 

Live Chat Tools

These tools focus purely on embedding a live chat widget on your website. If you’re just looking to use a quick and simple solution, a full helpdesk could be overkill, and a live chat tool could work better for you.

LiveChat

“The fastest way to help your customers.”

LiveChat
Sign up for free on the LiveChat site

LiveChat is a simple but extremely attractive live chat tool that you can install on your website.

Visitors or customers can click the little bubble in the bottom corner to open up a chat window.

You’ll see all the conversations in the backend, which looks like any social media chat app that you probably use in your personal life. The backend also attempts to pull up customer information, which can be handy.

There’s both a desktop and mobile app that you can use on your side.

On top of the basic chat, there are more advanced features:

  • Agent profiles. Add staff profiles to the chat windows, which helps to personalize the support experience for your customers.
  • Reports and analytics. Access basic statistics, chat reports and ticket reports to better identify trends and potential issues in your customer support process.
  • Sales goals. LiveChat lets you track the chats that led to sales so you can easily monitor the impact of your live chat efforts.
  • Feedback. Collect user feedback through surveys and chat ratings, another important step in improving your customer service.

While there is a free trial, LiveChat is a pretty expensive chat option. If you’re looking for a top of the line option, LiveChat is great. If you just want a bare-bones live chat option, there are other cheaper options.

See all LiveChat Features

 

HubSpot Live Chathubspot live chat

Connect with your website visitors in real time to convert new leads, close more deals, and provide better support to your customers.”

HubSpot Live Chat provides real-time chat capability that can be personalized via an integration with the free HubSpot CRM (contact database).

For example, the welcome message on each instance of the chat can be tailored to the customer segment that the visitor is in.

You can also tailor the welcome message to suit the page it’s displaying on.

More features:

  • Chatbots: Includes automated chatbots which can also draw information about contacts from the CRM and display personalized messages.
  • Sales support: Chat histories are stored in away that makes sales team follow-up easy.
  • Slack integration: Integrates with Slack so you can use the Slack app on your mobile phone to chat with customers.
  • Smart routing: Route inbound live chat messages to the appropriate team member.
  • Automating routing conversations: Use chatbots for routine tasks, like scheduling appointments, answering common support questions and qualifying leads.

See all HubSpot Live Chat Features

 

HelpOnClick

HelpOnClick
Businesses can sign up for a free 30-day trial via the HelponClick site

“Live chat with your website visitors today/Convert visitors into clients, boost conversion rate by 40%.” 

This is another option if the only customer support you’re looking to offer is through live chat.

As with the other top options, you can chat with visitors and customers either on desktop or mobile.

The most useful feature that HelpOnClick has to offer is the use of a virtual agent, which is a chatbot. It can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and doesn’t cost any extra. You can train it to answer common questions, which saves you a ton of time if you keep getting the same questions over and over.

Other features include:

  • Real-time data. See where your website visitors are from, what page they’re viewing and the time they’ve spent on your site. You can use this data to identify the best time to start a live chat.
  • Reporting. On top of the basic chat, you also have analytics and reporting.
  • Social integration. You can also integrate HelpOnClick with Facebook so that you can handle Facebook chats in the same place as your website chats.
  • Access across platforms. Use live chat features on any device or operating system.

The pricing is very simple, there are only two plans that you can subscribe to (both paid). It’s much cheaper than LiveChat and is a great option. There’s a 30-day free trial.

See all HelpOnClick Features

 

Tawk

“Message your customers/ You never have to pay for live chat software again.”

Tawk
You can quickly create a free Tawk account

Tawk is a really nice live chat option for small businesses with minimal customer service needs. It comes with a mobile app as well for free.

When you log in to the tool, it will show that you’re online on your website to your customers. You can manage all conversations in the backend of the tool.

It’s simple to install, looks fairly attractive, and is easy to customize.

It’s also completely free to use. However, you can opt to remove the “Tawk” branding for a small fee, even though it’s not too off-putting to customers.

One neat option is that you can hire chat agents for an extremely low hourly cost. That frees you up from having to have a window open in the background all the time.

They obviously can’t handle any advanced customer service tasks, but they can answer basic questions. It’s a great short-term option to have if the situation arises.

Here are a few of features you get with Tawk:

  • Automation. Save time with canned responses to the most common support queries.
  • Integration. This customer support software integrates easily with other business apps or platforms.
  • Beta features. Features like in-chat payments and automated translation are still beta.

See all Tawk Features

 

Summary

I know that was a lot, but it’s important to understand what each tool can offer in order to find the right fit for your business.

It’s worth spending the time upfront researching your options. Once you pick one, it can be costly to switch to a new one.

Customer Service Software FAQ

We answer some of the most common questions related to customer service software below.

Why Does Your Business Need Customer Service Software?

Sixty-percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a brand because of poor customer service, according to the Microsoft State of Global Customer Service Report, 2016. That means prioritizing customer satisfaction makes business sense. In a global economy, good customer service gives your business the edge.

How does customer service increase customer loyalty?

Customer support software makes it easier, and quicker for your clients to resolve their problems. When they’re happier with your service, they’re more likely to purchase from your company and recommend to family and friends.

What are the some of the things you can do with customer service software?

Here’s some of the benefits of customer service software:

  • Create help materials so customers can easily help themselves with simple  queries
  • Keep track of tickets to quickly flag critical cases, e.g., a case close to breaching your SLA
  • Let customers contact you on a channel of their choice, including email, phone or live chat.
  • Automated responses to routine support questions

 

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