Saturday, 14 May 2011

Customer Support, helpdesk, knowledge bases and community forums

These are my own personal views on the following products and services - please view them as such.

Clearly any business looking to scale rapidly should be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to customer engagement. 

Web app and SAAS solutions for tracking customer enquires, community chatter and knowledge bases are growing in number and quality all the time. They are especially helpful for fast growing businesses needing to manage huge ratios of users to support agent.

I've recently been assessing the market leaders in this space. There didn't seem to be any decent comparisons available so I thought I better create my own.

I'll be comparing:
  1. Parature
  2. Get Satisfaction
  3. Zendesk,
  4. Assistly
  5. Uservoice
Rightly or wrongly I've ruled out's service cloud and Rightnow from the outset as I regard them as overkill for an SMB - complicated to set up and little or no improvement in experience to the 5 above. I'll try to be 100% objective throughout this analysis - using metrics, absolute ratings and weightings where possible.

First I drew up two lists of requirements, provider experience and customer experience. Examples of provider would be "Track Customer Queries, Fast User interface", and of customer - "Suggested answers during ticket writing, Branded portal". The full list of 48 requirements are in the attached excel spreadsheet.

Next I signed up for the full featured free trial on all the services (except Parature which we are currently using).

Then each requirement was weighted for importance from 1 to 10 with 10 being most important. And each product was ranked each product from 0 to 10 on every requirement. A 0 means no support for that feature, and a 10 means I believe that it's a great implementation.

Here's the full list (with the weightings hidden):

Summary Review of Each Product:
I've also included a link to each company's own helpdesk (What I would assume to be the best possible implementation of their system)

Lots of good features hidden within a nasty frame based back end UI - think 5 refreshes for every action. Forum support exists but isn't worth using. The next version to be released will allow a frameless version of their knowledgebase, which is a great step forward.  Also on the plus side, ticket management is strong - SSO, SLAs and customer tracking works very well. They  released an "easyanswer" ticket deflection system in Q3 2010. This suggests knowledgebase articles on the fly based on question content before the customer presses submit.

Get Satisfaction
Great for public engagement around feature ideas, bug reports, and general public questions. Simple and clean customer facing UI, suggests existing questions and  allows you to highlight employees easily. No support for private helpdesk features (unless you integrate with Zendesk).

Uservoice (Full Service)
Uservoice's new system is a triumph. Although lacking in features like uploading screenshots to embed in the knowledge base (I assume this will arrive soon?), and twitter integration. The ticketing system is amazing. It works a little like the new twitter interface. You can quickly search for the ticket you're looking for. Then see the thread load immediately on a separate pane when you select it. The best feature of the Uservoice system however is the customer facing ticket creation lightbox. It searches your knowledge base and feature requests as the customer types. but compared to Parature and Assistly's implementation it is less obtrusive. One of the smartest features is the rolling ticket counter at the top of the agent screen. Answering support tickets is not always as fun as it sounds ;-) and a counter recording your achievements is a little positive nudge in the right direction.

A good and well rounded product - scored relatively highly across the board because it wasn't missing many obvious features. One feature that I felt was lacking was an autosuggest implementation - submitting a ticket seems to be a simple contact form. Although the ability to search the knowledgebase is always available and fast. Knowlegebase pages can look spread out and messy - there seems to be lots of scrolling involved from a customer's point of view. The back end is powerful and has a decent twitter integration for creating "twickets". On the other hand it is very green, and also feels a little like you've zoomed in on your browser by mistake! Internal analytics is good and the extended functionality via GoodData lookz very impressive. Live chat is thrown in too.

I hadn't heard of Assistly before I started looking into this but their product is remarkably good. The twitter integration is mighty impressive and I really like how quick and easy it is to drop knowledge base articles into tickets. Their get-satisfaction integration is also slick. The back end is easy to navigate and but complicated  due to the massive functionality. The knowledgebase articles are full featured and easy to edit. Front and back end experience is better than Zendesk's, but worse than Uservoice's. Powerful analytics also included as standard.

Overall I'd go:

  • Uservoice for a super fast and great looking customer and agent experience with a trimmed down feature set.
  • Assistly for great looking and full featured support including twitter and chat integration (Salesforce coming soon)

During my analysis, after a couple of tweets, as you'd hope from companies who build this kind of customer engagement software, I received fast replies:

Zendesk's CEO Mikkel Svane:

Assistly also got in touch quickly - both through Twitter and separately by personal email:

And Uservoice's CEO Richard White:

Which is great. I'll be in touch with sales from all three soon so they can correct any misrepresentation in the above assessment!

Best Regards,



  1. Thanks, James, for sharing your results. Very interesting and lots of food for thought.

  2. I think your assessment of Assistly and ZenDesk are good but you give UserVoice too much credit at this point. While the potential is there it is lacking code features such as the ability to open a manual ticket! It only supports email ticket creation. Also missing the ability to do service level agreements and other critical features.

    One I would add to your list to review, TenderApp.

    Thanks for the blog article.

  3. Hi Anon,

    Thanks for the feedback - I've never had to open a manual ticket and Uservoice lets users create tickets from a handy lightbox - so not too bad?. However I concede that SLAs missing is definitely an important issue for some businesses.



  4. Hi James,

    Excellent write-up. We've put a *lot* of work into making a great UserVoice a great user experience for agents and users alike so we were pleased to see you giving us the only 10 in you grid for the speed of our UI and a 9 for the simplicity of it. Thanks!

    PS We're currently beta testing manual ticket creation. It should be out in a few weeks :)

    Richard White

  5. James,

    I appreciate you including Get Satisfaction in your analysis, however we are not a help desk app, as evidenced by the fact that we offer integration connectors for Zendesk, Parature, Assistly, and Salesforce Service Cloud.

    Get Satisfaction is a platform for branded company-to-customer communities, think of it as a solid foundation for comprehensive social CRM initiatives. We bring distributed community efforts (Facebook, widgets, Twitter, APIs) together to provide companies large and small with a proven framework for engaging customers to improve their products, answer their questions, capture positive feedback, and yes, resolve problems when they arise.

    We have consciously avoided going down the help desk path because it is a very crowded market with many solid products and our customers typically already have a help desk that they wish to integrate with, or in the case of the many startups that we work with they prefer to adopt a best of breed approach that brings customer community and help desk system together through integration.

    Our customers rely on us to engage their customers for marketing and sales objectives, as well as service and support. Point in fact, only 1 in 3 topics posted in Get Satisfaction communities are problems, the majority of topics are questions and ideas, both of which have a very different lifecycle than a help desk ticket.

    Please feel free to contact me directly at jeff at getsatisfaction dot com.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you very much for commenting on my article. The reason that Get Satisfaction was included in the comparison is simply that it is a great product.

    As a result - I was trying to imagine a scenario where a business could use it exclusively - encouraging customers or taking all feedback publicly, and answering publicly too.
    Questions work like knowledgebase articles, Ideas are obviously feature requests, Problems (effectively public versions of tickets), and Praise - a bonus! - Is clearly an example of a brilliant Get Satisfaction use case, where the customer is able to move to a separate private ticketing system by clicking "contact us" when required.


  7. Hi Richard,

    Indeed the UI is great - but you're still missing uploadable screenshots in knowledgebase articles, and SLAs through SSO. :)


  8. Some further definitions for those who asked:

    Definitions for the below:
    Customer = Your customers who are looking for help and support
    Agent = Your staff who are answering tickets
    App = The main application which your customers have paid you to use, and need help with

    - Instant Access to Support Articles
    Means Agent can put some kind of help tab that opens a lightbox in my own application so that the Customer can instantly access the knowledge base without leaving the App and coming back.

    - Ask a question as an admin
    This is a bit specific - basically can Agent filter the type of Customers who can ask questions (i.e. only super users or account administrators)

    - Ask a public question
    As a Customer, can I ask a question that can be answered publicly by another member of the community OR an Agent. And that will remain available to answer future users with the same issue.

    - Suggested answers during ticket
    As a Customer, does the app give me suggested articles which might answer my question as I type the content of my support ticket? If so, how annoying / useful is the implementation?

    - Ticket Feedback from CMR
    As a Customer, can I give feedback on the quality of the ticket response?

    - Contact to extend acct.
    Again specific. as a Customer, can I make contact with the support team for commercial rather than support queries and have my request forwarded automatically (or manually by an Agent) to the right people.


Please post your views and similar/contradictory experiences. If you have any questions I'll do my best to answer them as soon as possible!