Blog editor @ HelpCrunch
To be completely honest, customer service is such a wide notion that it’s quite difficult to see which tools count as customer service tools and which don’t.
I remember the times when you had to call companies and talk to them via phone whenever you had a problem with their services. And talking was kind of best-case scenario.
In most cases, you were routed to some interactive voice response system. Remember those systems? Those automatic conversations where you were asked some pre-recorded questions and had to choose some options and click some buttons and end up with nothing helpful.
That was the best customer service you could get not as long as 20 years ago. (I guess many companies still use this technology today)
Fast-forward to the present day and customers have messengers, social media, help centers for self-help. They can call, write, send letters, complain all over social media. What a time to be alive! That is for customers.
But what if you’re on the other end of this spectrum? What if you’re running a business and want to provide the best customer service you’re capable of?
It’s pretty simple — you need a reliable piece of customer service software. Since there are hundreds of those on the market these days, this guide’s sole aim is to gather the most popular and reliable customer service tools in one place so that you can make an informed decision.
I mean I asked out customer success manager Konstantine about the go-to tools he uses at work every day. Suffice it to say, one of his favs is Spotify. Not quite what you imagine when talking about customer service tools, right? But then again, do you imagine your work without it?
So yeah, customer service tools are different for different businesses. Depending on what customer service means to you, there are live chat tools and help desk tools. There are call center tools (cause it’s still a thing in 2019) and all-in-one tools that have them all. The choice is yours.
They all have different sets of features and tools depending on whether you prefer old school ticketing systems or more modern business messengers. But if we talk small business, I think I can safely assume the question of pricing is one of the most important here. So in this article, we’ll focus on the money thing as well – to help you count your spendings.
The most common and convenient way to categorize customer service is by channels.
There are five most popular channels that customers use for contacting businesses and getting help with their problems and issues — live chat, email, social media, phone and self-help centers.
You’d think it will make five corresponding types of customer service tools, but there are actually six of them:
1. All-in-one customer service tools are tools that cover all of the above-mentioned channels in one software. Basically, you wouldn’t need a separate tool for live chat, emails, phone calls as every customer request will land into a unified dashboard where you can manage them in a single browser tab.
2. Live chat customer service tools are real-time messengers that you can install on your website or app. Live chat will appear in the form of a small button so that customers can click them, open a live chat window and connect with a support agent right away to help resolve your issues. The whole experience is much like using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
3. Help desk customer service tools are mainly associated with emails (though it’s not exclusively so). Customers can contact a business via email, but instead of answering to them from Gmail, businesses can use help desk software. This way, all emails land into this specialized dashboard where it’s way more convenient to track, tag and manage huge loads of emails.
4. Social media customer service tools help businesses track all their mentions across all social media and respond to them as fast as possible. Strictly speaking, these tools fall into the marketing category rather than customer service. But in a broader sense, customer service, marketing and sales are all parts of customer communication, that is why it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between them.
5. Call center customer service tools provide you with all the necessary features to manage incoming calls from customers more effectively and keep them all in one database.
6. Knowledge base customer service tools are designated tools for creating sites with pre-made answers to customers’ common questions. To a certain degree, knowledge base tools are similar to classic content management systems like WordPress in a sense that they usually give you a text editor where you can create and publish articles.
The answer to this question depends on your needs and capabilities.
Call centers require more people and resources. You have to hire enough operators to answer calls immediately and not keep people on hold for too long. Moreover, younger generations are less eager to make phone calls in general. According to Business Insider, 59% of consumers would rather go through additional channels to contact customer service than use their voice to communicate.
Live chats are easier on your budget since one chat agent can operate 5-6 chats simultaneously. But they also require a more or less immediate reaction from your support team since live chat implies real-time communication. Forbes reports that 51% of customers also prefer to live chat because it allows them to multitask.
Knowledge bases are great because you just create them once and don’t waste much time and resources on them afterward. Customers usually expect businesses to provide self-help portals of some kind. But knowledge bases can’t completely substitute human help, especially when it comes to unique and complex issues.
In a lot of cases, if your customers need to have human contact, you’ve already failed them.
Old-fashioned tickets are easier to keep up with since customers don’t expect immediate reaction via email. However, you should keep in mind that long response time can be frustrating and usually leads to much lower customer satisfaction rates. As the pace of life increases, people want businesses to address their issues as fast as possible, otherwise, they will be quick to switch to another website or service.
All this only brings us to an obvious conclusion: if you want to be successful and beat your competition, you can’t concentrate on one channel and ignore the rest.
Your users would want you to have a knowledge base where they can find some answers on their own. They would also want to contact you immediately if they didn’t find what they needed. Since they want things to be done immediately, you should make your customer support available 24/7 with the help of offline forms, chatbots and in any other way you can think of.
That is why more and more businesses turn to all-in-one customer service tools that can cover all these tasks in one place. So, let’s talk about them first.
Intercom is a known reliable solution in a world of customer service software. They’ve been consistently building their extensive set of tools which covers basically every customer support channel.
Intercom’s most famous feature is their Messenger (or live chat). You can add different apps to the Intercom Messenger and use it not only for communication but also for showing company news, blog posts, knowledge base articles, etc. Their chatbot is also one of the best on the market.
However, Intercom’s pricing is their greatest setback. Not only are their prices higher than the market average, but they also charge additionally for knowledge base, active contacts, bots, etc. That is why the platform is more suitable for enterprises willing to pay more money.
HelpCrunch is the ultimate expression of the all-in-one customer tool. It’s a solid software covering live chat, knowledge base, ticketing, while also offering many marketing and sales features. Basically, you wouldn’t have to leave its dashboard for communicating with customers ever.
Let me paint you a picture. Every single message from a customer, be it via email or chat, lands into the HelpCrunch dashboard as a separate conversation (aka ‘ticket’), where it gets assigned to a certain customer support agent or department. Customer support reps can re-assign, tag, move, add private notes, send canned responses and manage them as they please.
Your team can also write and publish knowledge base articles in HelpCrunch by switching to the corresponding tab. The HelpCrunch Knowledge Base comes with SEO-settings to help these articles get indexed by Google.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. You can use HelpCrunch for shooting automated chat messages to your website visitors and encouraging them to start a conversation.
The Standard ‘Live chat’ pricing plan for $15 includes live chat, ticketing, knowledge base and pop-ups and unlimited contacts. And for $29/mo/team member you get all the email features in addition to everything before-mentioned.
Crisp is actually quite great if you’re looking for something like Intercom, but not as expensive and flashy. Their live chat, knowledge base, ticketing are great on their own and pretty well integrated with each other. The company is also very dynamic and constantly adds new features and improves existing ones.
Crisp’s pricing is quite pleasant, too. They offer a free limited plan, while their paid subscriptions start from $25/website. For this price, you can get 4 seats, but be aware that knowledge base, chatbot, integrations, and other enticing features are only available on the $95/mo subscription.
Overall, the whole software looks… promising. But some complain that their customer support and sales team is very misleading. Apparently, Crisp likes promising too much and not delivering on their promises in time. Honestly, I think it’s okay for a small upcoming company, but their potential leads should be aware of this and take Crisp’s words with a grain of salt.
When you sign up for Help Scout, you actually sign up for something they call a mailbox. The Standard $25/mo plan gives you 5 mailboxes on top of live chat and knowledge base. What exactly does this mean? It simply means that you can connect 5 email addresses to your HelpScout account and receive emails from all of them in one dashboard.
All in all, HelpScout is a nice and simple tool. They offer live chat with knowledge base integration so that your customers can easily switch between these two tabs and contact your customer service team only if they haven’t found the answer in your help center.
Zendesk is probably the richest customer service tool in terms of the features it offers. The thing is, they are also one of the oldest tools on the market, which sometimes can show in their UX/UI or behavior.
For instance, they started off as a ticketing system and added the live chat feature later on by purchasing a third-party solution. That’s why their live chat may seem a little outdated. And other numerous tools aren’t that well integrated with each other.
The ticketing is great, though. They really invest in it, so I don’t think you will find a help desk solution as developed and feature-rich as Zendesk’s one. If ticketing is the primary way you do customer support at your company, it can be a great choice for you.
Zendesk is also very flexible in terms of pricing. They offer all-in-one plans along with separate subscriptions for each of their tools. You can choose which features you need and pay only for them. Or not pay at all since there are free versions available, too.
While being a great robust all-in-one customer service tool, Drift focuses on their sales and marketing features like chatbots, calendars or conversational landing pages.
You can use their free version for basic support, though. For $0, you get live chat, one agent seat, and 150 emails/month for sales purposes. Their other subscriptions are much more costly — from $50/mo for extended live chat and knowledge base to $1500/mo for custom chatbots and all the fancy stuff.
If I had to describe LiveAgent in a few words I’d say it’s a simplified Zendesk alternative. Which is a good thing if you ask me.
LiveAgent’s main focus is also on their ticketing features with live chat playing a secondary role. I guess that is why their basic ‘Ticket’ subscription plan offers only help desk and knowledge base. You can get it for $15/mo/agent.
If you want to use LiveAgent as a true all-in-one customer service tool, you’ll have to pay $39/agent/month for live chat, help desk, knowledge base and call center tools.
My impression was that all these tools are quite well-integrated and reliable, even if sometimes their design decisions may seem outdated. But then again, the very idea of ticket-based customer service is pretty outdated on its own.
Which brings us to our next category of customer service tools…
Live chat is on the rise these days, more and more with each passing day.
As I’ve already mentioned, customer service is becoming faster and people aren’t ready to wait days or even hours. They expect an immediate answer whenever they need it and live chat is the only way to rise to those expectations.
LiveChat is a traditional live chat tool powered by basic help desk features, which means that you can create tickets and respond to people not only in live chat but also via email.
It can be a great choice if you’re looking for something simple with all the necessary live chat features like automated greetings, saved responses, and chat forms. One distinguishing feature from LiveChat is their message sneak peek, which allows your support agents to see what customers are typing before they send their message.
Olark has one of the simplest pricing systems out there. Which makes sense since they have one single feature and, correspondingly, they offer one subscription plan with the full functionality. It costs $17/mo/agent.
In a nutshell, Olark’s live chat is simple, intuitive, and user-friendly, although it feels like it lacks some customization options. In terms of functionality, it has everything a modern live chat tool should have: chatforms, file sharing, customer data as well as the ability to send automated and targeted chat messages.
However, there’s a downside, too. Such important features as chat unbranding or chat localizations are only available at additional cost.
One of the pleasant things about this customer service tool is that Chatra offers a free subscription plan with one agent seat, unlimited chats and chat history.
If you’re interested in something more advanced, you can go with their single paid subscription for $19/mo/agent. These extra features will include targeted chat messages, group chats for several support agents, detailed customer data, and operating hours among other things.
Pure Chat offers a pretty decent feature-rich free plan. You can get 3 agent seats, unlimited chats, and full chat customization at no cost. I guess this is the most outstanding thing about this software. For $49/month you get 4 agent seats, visitor tracking and chat unbranding features.
If you’re interested in getting SMS notifications about new chats, Pure Chat can send them to you — up to 100 on the $39 plan and 1000 on the $79 subscription. I guess that is interesting, but quite useless given that many customer service tools have full-fledged mobile apps.
Though ClickDesk’s live chat may seem a little outdated in terms of UX/UI, their toolset is worth mentioning here.
They have a free subscription plan that includes audio calls, 30 chats, and 25 tickets per month. Yes, 30 chats in total. So, I guess if you have more than 30 customers, ClickDesk’s free plan is not the best choice.
The most basic paid subscription costs $14.99 per month and it will allow you to have unlimited chats. But if you’re here for ClickDesk’s video chat feature, you’ll have to pay at least $24.99 per month for the ‘Pro’ plan. It will also include post-chat surveys, chat history and reports.
Acquire’s most outstanding features is its co-browsing tool which allows your support agents to see and interact with your customers’ screen in real time. Naturally, this can accelerate your customer service performance dramatically.
Other tools offered by Acquire include live chat, video and audio calls, SMS. All these features are available on their basic pricing plan for $300/month. And for as much as $950/month, you can add to them a knowledge base. Please note that not only are these prices monstrous, they are also specified only for annual subscriptions.
In my opinion, traditional help desk tools are becoming a thing of the past. Bigger companies like Zendesk understand this, that’s why they’ve changed their business model to become all-in-one tools.
Still, there are some companies that don’t want or can’t afford to provide real-time live chat support, that’s why they turn to good old ticketing systems. Let’s talk about them, too.
The curious thing about Freshdesk is that it’s not a help desk tool in the traditional sense. Company owners perfectly understand that the market’s evolving and they have to add modern customer service channels to their toolset. However, they sell them separately.
So, you can purchase their Freshchat for chat, Freshcaller for call center software, Freshsales for CRM and, of course, Freshdesk for help desk, which is their most known toolset. So, let’s talk about that Freshdesk now.
Freshdesk offers ticketing and knowledge base features for $19/mo/agent. There are other subscription plans, too, but they differ only by different ticketing and security features like knowledge base localizations, custom roles, or HIPAA compliance. There’s also a free subscription plan available.
Just like Freshworks with all their disconnected packages of tools, HappyFox also offers live chat as a separate product. Help desk is their main selling point, though.
You know that the company is pretty ambitious if they call their most basic plan ‘Mighty’. So, what do you get on the ‘Mighty’ subscription for $39/mo/agent? It includes knowledge base, unlimited tickets, and canned actions (macros). The more advanced plan you choose, the more ticketing and security features you get.
AzureDesk has only one subscription plan. On this plan, you get unlimited mailboxes (email addresses), knowledge base and all collaboration and reporting features like private notes and tags.
Many AzureDesk’s reviews emphasize that the tool is super easy to use and not overloaded with redundant features. So, if you’re looking for a simple help desk solution for basic customer support needs, you may like this one.
If you don’t have time or resources for a full-fledged customer service team, you should at least create a self-help center on your website. For the most basic version, you wouldn’t even need anything other than WordPress and its knowledge base plugins.
But if you want to take your help center game to the next level, you better choose a designated tool for it.
Helpjuice is probably the most known stand-alone knowledge base tool. And the most expensive one, too.
They have two subscription plans — limited for $189/mo and unlimited for $369/mo. So, what does Helpjuice offer for such a price?
Their text editor has all the customization and collaboration features your support team may need. Multiple people can work on the same article and all changes will be saved.
The knowledge base reports are very detailed and informative: you can see how many people read your self-help center, which articles perform better, which authors write more helpful content and what your visitors search for in general.
At last, you can choose whether you want your knowledge base to be public and accessible to everybody or private.
Don’t be afraid, knowledge base customer service tools don’t have to cost a fortune. For instance, HelpSite’s prices start at $14,99/mo and there’s also a free plan for 25 articles available.
HelpSite’s text editor has all basic customization editing options, but the tool is limited in terms of customization. Your knowledge base will look like a list of clickable FAQs, that’s it. However, you can apply custom CSS and HTML if you subscribe to the $49.99/mo plan.
All in all, it’s nothing extra, but enough to create a simple self-help site at a low cost.
Document360’s knowledge base is organized in the form of tree view navigation, where all the categories are located on the left side. They can also have assigned emojis for a better visual arrangement.
Basically, you get unlimited articles on all subscription plans, the difference is mainly about your team’s size, backups, analytics, and storage facility. On the basic ‘Startup’ plan, you will be able to restore documents from the day before, while the $299 ‘Enterprise’ plan will give you access to backups from 90 days ago. The ‘Startup’ plan allows only 2 user accounts.
A quick disclaimer first. In the following section, I’m going to list only cloud call center tools. I’m aware that there are also on-premise hardware solutions, but honestly, I don’t have enough expertise in them. And why on earth would you want to choose something so outdated and difficult to maintain?
Aircall helps your team consolidate phone support activities under one elegant dashboard. You can easily monitor how many calls are being made, how many of them are answered (or dropped), and how each member of the team performs.
Aircall users get access to advanced features like call routing, conferencing and automatic responses that guide callers to the correct member of the team. But the real advantage of Aircall is how easy it is to integrate it with other tools on your stack, from a CRM like HubSpot to Slack.
The basic pricing plan costs $30/mo/user, but be aware that they only specify prices for annual subscriptions on their website. In other news, it seems like Aircall is the only call center tool that reveals its prices. Other tools hide them for some reason.
TalkDesk helps your team make customer support experience smoother by automatically setting up and recording calls, storing your notes and integrating with your existing ticketing system.
It also features a set of robust reporting tools that enables you to detect agent statuses in real-time and access historical metrics like wait time, call duration or percentage of inbound calls answered below your target threshold.
Five9 is another cloud contact center provider that helps your support team optimize their performance. The platform automatically routes customers to agents and predicts demand to help your team operate efficiently.
Customer support agents can take advantage of Five9’s various predictive dialer modes. Users can set up the platform to intelligently fetch customer information for review before the call, automatically dial the next contact when an agent becomes available, and more.
Social media tools traditionally belong to marketing rather than customer service. But if you don’t have any other channel for customers to get in touch with you, then you should pay particular attention to social media requests and mentions.
Here are some tools that can help you with this:
Mention is great not only for monitoring and managing your social media accounts, but also for tracking all your brand’s mentions across the web.
You can publish posts on social media and track web mention on all subscription plans including the free plan. The only peculiar thing is that Facebook tracking is only available on the $450/mo ‘Enterprise’ plan. Other than that, the differences between Mention’s subscriptions are mainly about the number of social accounts, mentions and alerts.
Buffer offers at least 7 subscription plans divided by usage purposes — Publish, Reply, and Analyze. ‘Reply’ packages are most suitable for social media customer service as it allows you to respond to social conversations across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The cheapest ‘Pro’ subscription costs $15/mo/user. It includes 3 social accounts and all the typical customer support features like tags, saved responses, internal notes and customer profiles. For $35/mo/user, you can also use automation rules for automatic tagging, assigning, and setting statuses.
Sprout Social’s pricing is not particularly friendly if you’re only going to use their software for customer service. The cheapest ‘Standard’ subscription costs $99/mo/user. For this price, you’ll be able to manage up to 5 social media accounts, schedule and publish posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin and get access to some basic social CRM.
Sure, it allows you to manage social media, but at what cost?
To be completely honest, it’s not really your choice which customer service channel you want to cover.
Customers want them all. They will message you in chat, send you emails, mention you on their social media and call you if nothing else has worked.
That’s why the best customer service tool is the one that covers all these channels and even more. Once you try an all-in-one solution, you would never want to turn to numerous disconnected customer service tools again. So, which one will you choose?
Disclaimer: This post was originally published on the HelpCrunch blog by Anastasiia Khlystova. Anastasiia is a content marketing manager at HelpCrunch responsible for most of the company's texts.