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Must Haves (and Pitfalls) When Choosing IT Help Desk Ticketing Software

Must Haves (and Pitfalls) When Choosing IT Help Desk Ticketing Software

There are dozens of IT help desk ticketing software applications on the market. Some are awesome. Others…not so much.

If you are unhappy with your current solution, you can either improve your help desk ticket management system, or replace it.

If you are leaning towards replacing, here are some insights from our experience working with most of the help desk ticketing systems out there.

This is not a comprehensive review of software vendors.

It’s not a review at all, actually.

Instead, this is a list of some must-have features your help-desk software should have, along with a list of pitfalls to avoid when choosing your software.

Six Must-Have Features When Choosing IT Help Desk Software

1.    Customizable

2.    User-friendly

3.    Robust reporting

4.    Integrations

5.    Self-service

6.    Automation

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Must-Have 1: Customizable

You operate a unique IT help desk. Your users are unique. Your company products and services are unique. And your IT requests are unique, too. Which means any help desk software you purchase must work with your uniqueness, not try to shove it into an ill-fitting, cookie-cutter solution.

So, first on your list of must-have features is the ability to customize the software. Right out of the box, you can design it the way you'd like. Buying and implementing software that's configurable for your type of work solves a lot of your problems right up front.

So, what do you customize? Well, you need to be able to customize or configure specific fields to reflect your company, your users and the way you operate.

For example, you need software that lets you customize details about tickets, such as the due date on the ticket (the date that the problem needs to be resolved by). You need to be able to custom-configure fields to indicate the level of priority, the ticket status, and ticket categories.

There are plenty of other areas where the ability to customize is vital, including the dashboards and user interface. And that brings us to your next essential requirement—user experience.

Must Have 2: User Friendly

You’re picking out the screens your help desk agents will be working with every minute of every shift. And if you want these agents to be as efficient and effective as possible, the software you buy to manage your tickets, track your incidents and administer requests must have a user-friendly interface.

Those screens must have type that is legible, navigation that is intuitive, fields that are easy to tab into, and almost no need to re-enter information, to start with a few UX features. In other words, the user interface must work with the way you already work and not create any obstacles. It must meet your requirements of being efficient, quick and intuitive to use.

Must Have 3: Robust Reporting

Next on your list of essential features is reporting and analytics.

Your help desk is only as good as your ability to track agent performance and customer satisfaction. That means any software solution you buy must have robust reporting and analytics built in. (And we don’t mean reporting and analytics that can be available as paid add-ons. They need to be an integral part of the solution.)

Must Have 4: Integrations

Your IT help desk ticketing software must be able to play well with others because it isn’t going to be a stand-alone solution, is it? It’s going to be integrated with other systems in your company.

This means it must have the ability to integrate easily and cost-effectively with your CRM, ERP and other systems (more below).

Most IT help desk software comes with some level of API, enabling your developers to connect it with your other systems so they can share data and functionality. But whether these APIs will work with other APIs, and whether they require you to buy some sort of middleware, is another matter. Some tools on the market are already going the integrated route, offering a full platform instead of just an incident tracking system.

When it comes to integrating your help desk software, here are some things you can integrate:

  • Your phone system
  • Remote control
  • Full monitoring solutions
  • Full management solutions on the backend that handle application patching, software deployment, packaging of software and deployment

Must Have 5: Self-Service

Another must-have feature of any help desk platform you buy is self-service. Many platforms ship today with knowledge bases built in, but is the knowledge base self-service accessible? Does the platform let you segregate your knowledge into categories, such as self-service public knowledge, internal help desk knowledge, and privileged knowledge for other teams?

Also consider if you want the knowledge in your knowledge base to be user generated. If you do, that requires a Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) model (an increasingly popular choice among large enterprises). With this model, anyone on your team can submit knowledge, which then goes through a verification and publishing workflow. If this model is on your radar, you need to ask potential platform vendors about whether their solution supports it.

Must Have 6: Automation

The sixth and final must-have feature is automation.

Help desks, by their very nature, field calls about the same issues, day in day out. This can lead to monotony and agent boredom.

And mistakes.

And poor customer service.

One way to eliminate the soul-crushing drudgery of repetitive tasks is automation. Some help desk software lets you automate user creations and other frequent tasks from a request and a request workflow. Typically, this requires you to have someone in-house who can do the required coding to make the automation happen, but in the long run, it can vastly increase your efficiency along with your customer and agent satisfaction.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Choosing IT Help Desk Software

Buyer’s remorse isn’t a great feeling, and goodness knows we’ve been there (in fairness, we really thought we were going to use that yogurt maker). So, to save you from buyer’s remorse, here are a few potential pitfalls you’ll want to watch for when assessing your IT help desk software choices.

Bells and Whistles

Software that comes with bells and whistles you don’t need…and with no one to help you configure them or manage them?

That’s basically bloatware. And unfortunately, some bells and whistles are really shiny. They might even be enticing enough to distract you from your actual software needs. That’s why it’s so vital to figure out the precise features you need in a solution (feel free to add to our list), and then keep referring back to it when assessing your options.

Free Software

The rule of thumb for buying help desk software is that you get what you pay for. If you pay nothing, you don’t exactly get nothing, but you may be close.

There are some decent free solutions on the market, but they have limited functionality. Some are solid, bare-bones solutions made with care and effort – and they’re an acceptable (but again, very limited) option if your budget is nonexistent. Others, we’re sorry to say, are just plain junk.

So, how do you separate the good from the bad? Ask questions. Talk about your use-cases and ask how the software would handle them. And of course, read customer reviews. The key is to understand the limitations before you sign up, so you don’t waste time implementing something that simply won’t work.

Poor Security

We can’t talk about software without talking about security. Poor security is a pit you don’t want to fall into. Security, of course, depends on your company, the risks you face, and the tool you’re getting and what its capable of.

Having on-premises security is becoming less common these days, which means your data is going to be hosted in the cloud somewhere. So, it’s absolutely vital to choose a software vendor who won’t put your data at risk. You do this by ensuring your help desk software vendor can meet your privacy and regulatory compliance needs. When it comes to data security, sensitive information and access control, do your due diligence.

Lack of Support

One thing that’s characteristic of free software is a total lack of support. With free versions, you typically must pay extra for support. Factor this into your cost for using the software and compare that cost with other solutions that include support in their monthly subscription. You may discover that the more expensive solution provides more value in productivity and time saved.

Tips for Evaluating Help Desk Software Vendors

You are likely not in a position where you buy help desk software all that often, which means you might be at square one when it comes to choosing a vendor. Here are some tips on how to screen vendors, so you can get the answers you need to make the best choice.

  1. Understand your needs and processes. Before you talk with anyone, know what you need. This way, you’ll know if the vendor can supply it.
  2. Ask your agents. Who knows better than your help desk agents what a new help-desk software should accomplish? Ask the people who will be using the tool the most, and the people who will be configuring and managing it, for their input before you make a purchase.
  3. Get a demo and a free trial. Always take the software for a test drive. That can be a guided test drive, where the vendor sits in the passenger seat beside you. Or you can test drive the solution on your own. But don’t try the demo alone. Ask a few agents, ideally with different levels of experience, to try it out as well.
  4. Talk to customers. Ask each vendor on your short list for references, and then check them. Ask each company what they like, what they don’t. Take notes.
  5. Ask around. Read reviews of the software, research online communities, and generally do your homework to discover what users think of the software.
  6. Check for support. If support is not included in the software you aim to buy, check to see if the vendor has a user community, user forums and other types of online support.

Buying IT help desk software is a basically a balancing act between getting your must-have features and avoiding the common pitfalls, and it’s not an easy task. Some companies wash their hands of it altogether, preferring to outsource their IT help desk (in addition to not having to worry about buying software, they also tend to enjoy faster resolution and a lower cost per ticket, to name a few benefits).

Whatever you decide, going into it with clear must-haves and a wary eye toward pitfalls will increase your chances of finding the perfect solution for your business’s needs. And if you do decide on a solution and need to build a case for the cost, make sure to check out our helpful guide to assessing the true ROI of your help desk: Measuring Your Real Help Desk ROI: 4 Steps to a Better Analysis

Ebook: Help Desk ROI: It's Not Just Financial