Selecting a help desk for your business should be a fairly simple task. However, with all of the options out there it can be a bit difficult to figure out which one is the best fit for your needs. Below are a few things to consider as you begin your search...
Make sure the help desk has all of the tools you need
The basics for any help desk should include live chat, a ticketing system, call logging or phone system integration and some form of self-service knowledge base. Ideally you'll want to get all of this from a single solution and then pick-and-choose the features that you actually want to implement. Unfortunately, many SaaS-based solutions offer a limited toolset, forcing users to mix-and-match services across a number of different providers. Does anyone really need that hassle? A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple: look for one solutions provider that can meet, or exceed, your needs.
Simple pricing scheme
Hands down, "per-agent per month" pricing is the simplest model to follow, understand and budget for. Some solutions offer tiered pricing based on total agents; some offer tiered pricing based on the features you get; and one or two offer pricing models based on workload, time spent using the system (like cell phone minutes) and other, more difficult to understand pricing schemes.
Your best bet is to select whichever pricing scheme fits your needs, but a simple method that allows you to pay monthly for the number of agents you need and that allows you to add or remove agents at any time seems like the best and simplest model to use. In addition, this makes it easy to budget for your customer service costs.
Customizable to fit your business
Making a seamless transition from your website to your customer service solution means your customers will be in a better state of mind when they communicate their requests or concerns with your staff. Customization options include things like color-coordinating the customer service interface (ticket submission, self-service portal, live chat, etc.) to match your website, the ability to add your own logo, the ability to add in links to other sites and/or services like a company forum, your company blog ora back-end management system.
Your customization options should even be something as simple as the ability to use your own domain name (or an offshoot of your domain name) instead of the URL the service provider offers for the address of your online help desk. Using "support.yourcompany.com" versus an alphanumeric mess like "http://site113.hosted.help_desk_company_name.com" can mean the difference between keeping a customer within their comfort zone and stoking the fires of anger and regret.
Intuitive and powerful management system
Your help desk should not only give you options on how to communicate with customers, it should also give you the ability to manage and monitor the communication methods you implement. For example, your supervisors and managers should be able to monitor live chats and offer advice to an agent in real-time, right within the chat window. If things get too dicey—say a customer gets irate or starts asking more difficult questions—a supervisor should be able to jump in and either co-chat with the customer and the agent or take the chat and personally handle the issue. In addition, an event system should be available so that agents, supervisors and managers can be alerted when circumstances warrant it, such as when a VIP submits a ticket, a chat sits idle too long, or if a customer begins using language that some may find offensive. In fact, the event system should be flexible enough to fit just about any circumstance and compatible with all tools within the help desk, from live chats to tickets, tasks management to KB articles.
Informative and actionable reporting
In addition to all of the tools on hand to interact with customers, management should be able to view reports based on those tools. For example, time reports to see how long agents spend answering tickets and live chats or even cost reports to see the true cost of providing phone, live chat or ticket support. Business owners should be able to see trend reports so that they can make informed decisions on things like adding staff if the work load trends upwards and more.
In many cases the ability to see trends and point-in-time reports on all help desk functions is just as important—and some would argue they're more important—than having the features available to provide support and customer service. Handling support requests is one thing, but being able to act on the information gleaned while handling those support requests can mean the difference between a successful business and one that flounders.
There you go. Hopefully that provides a little guidance as you go about your search. As always, we're interested in your opinion on the items above, as well as any we may have missed. Please feel free to add your own "things to consider" in the comments.