Tickets, calls, faulty equipment, people complaining… IT support moves at supersonic speed and, if your IT professionals have to manage everything with, say, Outlook, your company may be losing a lot of money.
Pair an email client with the high wages typical for the industry and you’ll get yourself in a “throwing money down the drain” situation. Resolving a single tech support case can cost anywhere between $2.93 and $49.69 and, if you offer tiered IT support, you can expect the expense to triple every time an issue is escalated.
In short, it’s best to help your IT support staff to be as productive as possible. Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably aware that the solution to this problem is an IT ticketing system. It is true. Such software can save up to 670 working hours per year.
Generally speaking, what an IT support ticket system does is to automate manual tasks and help IT staff manage the lifecycle of each request.
At the heart of an IT support ticket system is, as the name suggests, ticket management. The system creates a ticket each time a new case is submitted, appending all relevant customer and incident data to it. Some systems also have advanced tools for asset management, IT change management, network diagnostics, problem and incident management, etc.
Note that the terms “IT help desk” and “IT service desk” can sometimes be used interchangeably even though, strictly speaking, they are two separate entities. Unlike the help desk, the service desk puts an emphasis on the users or, as the ITIL framework defined it, a service desk is “the point of communication between the service provider and all its users.” By contrast, when IT help desks first appeared in the 1980s, they were simply a means of reporting and resolving incidents on an ad-hoc basis.
The terminology gets even more confusing when your IT department doubles as a customer service department. Fortunately, most IT ticketing software can be used for both employee support and customer support. So, you can get away with using the wrong term.
Here are the best IT ticketing systems today:
We’ll review all of these in detail but, first, let’s talk about the main considerations when choosing an IT support ticket system.
IT Ticketing System Features: What to Look For
When looking for a helpdesk ticketing system, it's important to consider both your customer's needs and your agents’ workflow. Not all systems offer the full set of features and you may end up using a combination of tools to achieve the desired results.
In general, here’s what to look for when choosing IT ticketing software.
External knowledge base
An external knowledge base creates a rare win-win-win (yes, that’s a triple win) situation for customer support. Customers gladly resolve issues themselves which reduces ticket volume and your company’s overall support costs.
Among other things, you can use an external knowledge base to publish customer FAQs, product and service updates, and troubleshooting guides. Customers can browse by category or search the knowledge base which helps you deflect ticket creation while keeping them happy—they find the information they need instantly.
Here’s an example.
Internal knowledge base
An internal knowledge base helps your IT team work more efficiently because it enables employees to serve themselves. Your busy users will appreciate the ability to find the answers and instructions they need without having to wait.
An internal knowledge base can also be extremely useful to agents when dealing with service requests. It can store SOPs for handling requests as well as how-to’s, technical documentation, and best practices.
Not all helpdesk ticket software comes with a knowledge base but you may use a third-party solution.
Unified smart inbox
One of the crucial features of an IT ticketing system is the ability to create helpdesk tickets from various sources such as email, live chat, social media, phone calls, etc. If there is a single dashboard to view and manage all incoming tickets, your team will be more productive.
Here’s what a unified inbox should enable you to do:
- Create tickets manually
- Use quick pre-populated templates for common issues
- Send an automatic response to the end-user when she submits an issue, giving her the ability to reply
- Attach files
- Keep all past conversations in the same ticket to provide context
- Prevent two agents from responding to the same ticket at the same time (collision detection)
- Enable agents to collaborate on a ticket, e.g. by leaving internal notes
Most ticketing systems allow you to define triggers and rules to change ticket status, priority, category, and other ticket attributes automatically. Some even give you the ability to define custom workflows, eliminating the larger portion of manual work. Here’s how this works in practice.
Let’s suppose that your ticketing system software lets you set up rules to auto-triage and auto-prioritize tickets based on the email address, subject line, ticket category, and other conditions. You can create a rule to tag all issues coming from a specific email (an important client or a C-level executive) and assign the tickets to your most experienced IT support professionals.
Automation is especially useful to companies that need to tie a custom set of products and services to each customer (e.g. MSRs).
Customer details are often attached to service tickets, passwords are sent back and forth, and so on. Ticketing system software should be able to protect your sensitive data.
Some companies opt for on-premise installations to eliminate all potential threats. Some prefer cloud-based ticketing systems. There are benefits and drawbacks to both but security is a concern in all cases.
Here are some important security features to look for in an IT helpdesk:
- IP restrictions to ensure only your staff can log in to the back end
- Message encryption to protect sensitive data
- Access control to define user groups and privileges within your organization
- Virus scanning to ensure no harmful file attachments can be sent
- SSL URL encryption for cloud-based systems
Incident and problem management
Incident management is like firefighting. First, the incident is identified and logged, then it’s diagnosed and, finally, it’s solved as fast as possible.
If you look at the incident management lifecycle below, you’ll notice that the features you need are available in almost all ticket management software.
Problem management can be a bit more tricky, though. It’s about understanding the root cause that has lead to one or more incidents and taking action to prevent further incidents. If you need problem management, you need an IT support system that allows you to:
- Perform incident analysis and identify trends
- Detect duplicate and recurring issues
- Identify future risks related to the current incident
- Analyze information from external sources like suppliers, partners, the internal developer team, etc.
Speed is extremely important in IT support which is why most teams have SLAs (Service Level Agreements) they have to stick to. That’s why analytics and insights are a crucial aspect of ticketing system software.
The best ticketing system will help you understand immediately how your team is performing against your SLAs. It will provide you with real-time data regarding agent performance such as tickets closed, the average time to resolve issues, and so on.
In addition, ticketing system software should also enable you to collect customer feedback and measure customer satisfaction—be it through NPS surveys, CSAT surveys or some other method.
If you work in a large organization, integrations with other software will be a chief consideration in your search for a service desk ticketing system. Here are a few cases where this might be necessary:
- Integration with your CRM can give you a better view of your customers—their buying history, web browsing activity, their likes and interests, and more. Armed with such insight, your IT support team will be able to provide personalized support.
- Integration with your IT asset management system can help you identify faulty equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced, enabling you to improve your problem management.
- Integration with your issue tracking system can help you prioritize software bug fixes.
When choosing service tickets software, you might want to consider the ability to scale.
Will this work if your company grows?
How much will it cost if your team doubles or triples?
Some of the top scalability concerns include the maximum number of user accounts, data storage capability, number of teams and customers you can manage on the same platform. Note how the pricing changes as your team grows.
Last but not least, you have to think about regulations and standards. If you work for a healthcare organization, you’ll need a HIPAA compliant help desk. If your company has to conform to ITIL, you’ll need a help desk system that meets the ITIL requirements.
So, it’s a good idea to take note of any standards and regulations your organization has to adhere to and add them to your IT ticketing system checklist.
Before reviewing the best ticketing systems on the market, let’s outline some best practices.
Helpdesk Ticket System Best Practices
- Have a support portal: Encourage self-service by publishing lots of content in your external knowledge base. Make sure it’s easy to submit a ticket and there is a smart search functionality that enables customers to find all information relevant to their case.
- Categorize tickets on submission: To save time and reduce manual work, create automation rules that assign a specific type of issue to a specific agent or department.
- Define SLAs and stick to them: Service Level Agreements (SLAs) help you set expectations with users as well as measure agent performance. To keep up with your SLAs, make sure you have enough agents to handle all support requests and your IT helpdesk software has enough capacity to support your team.
- Let your system manage handoffs: Customers expect companies to know “know their contact, product and service information or history”. Make sure agents receive all the necessary background information to resolve tickets.
- Create specialized teams: Instead of having all of your IT staff running from network infrastructure to hardware support, to system change requests, you can set up specialized teams that will work on sets of related tasks. This reduces stress and helps your agents stay focused.
- Perform customer satisfaction surveys regularly: Metrics give you lots of insights but feedback from your customers is what helps you see the finer details in the big picture.
Best Helpdesk Ticketing Systems
Time to review the best helpdesk ticketing systems!
Spiceworks is a highly-customizable free service and ticketing system. Depending on our needs, you can extend it with a large variety of IT support apps for tasks and processes like inventory management, remote support and network monitoring.
Spiceworks has both on-premise and cloud versions as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS. For those who want to connect with peers and exchange expertise, there is the Spiceworks community which is quite large and popular among sysadmins, network engineers and other IT professionals.
Spiceworks at a glance:
- Free, customizable helpdesk ticketing software
- Sponsored by advertisements that appear in the backend
- Ticket submission forms can be customized for various scenarios
- No ticket or device limitations
osTicket is a support ticket system that has all the basic functionality you may need for IT support and can also be customized to your preference. You can choose between a free open-source version and a cloud-hosted version available for a monthly subscription.
One of osTicket’s main advantages is the ability to auto-triage incoming requests. You can set up custom fields, queues and forms upon ticket submission to forward each ticket to the right agent or agent group.
OSticket at a glance:
- Free, cloud-hosted and enterprise versions
- Agent collision avoidance
- Rules to route incoming tickets
- Service Level Agreements
- Dashboard reports
ServiceNow is an enterprise ticketing system that goes beyond simple incident logging. This platform intends to bring all IT operations in one place—from ITSM to governance and DevOps.
The main focus of this software is efficiency.
For example, ServiceNow enables you to consolidate all of your IT systems, networks and software in a centralized dashboard. You can track custom metrics and create your own workflows for internal users, customers and IT staff. You can even use it as a task management system.
ServiceNow at a glance:
- Incident and problem management features
- Asset and configuration management
- Interactive dashboards with custom metrics
- Your own workflows for the full range of IT processes, including customer service, ITSM, asset management, and so on.
- Marketplace with a large number of extensions and apps
ConnectWise is more than IT ticketing software. It’s a full-blown business process automation platform designed for companies that need to manage various support workflows under the same digital roof. Besides a ticketing system, the platform has many other capabilities including project management, time tracking, reporting, billing and procurement.
If you need additional functionality, you can customize ConnectWise with one of the 300+ third-party integrations. The system’s flexible contract management helps you handle multiple service contracts with ease.
ConnectWise at a glance:
- Help desk and ticketing system
- Timesheets, dashboards and reporting
- Billing, procurement and dispatch
- Open API and 300+ Integrations
This review is about SolarWinds Web Help Desk which is designed to handle customer requests and asset management only. If you need a help desk ticketing system for employee support, there is another SolarWinds program for that called Service Desk.
That being said, Web Help Desk is a downloadable program that enables you to manage support tickets, IT assets and change management requests. One of the features that stands out is “SLA breach approaching”—it allows you to set up SLA alerts. For example: “If a ticket hasn’t been updated for 45 minutes, notify the group manager.”
SolarWinds Web Help Desk at a glance:
- Ticket linking to manage related tickets more easily
- Native integration with Active Directory and LDAP
- Configure automated feedback surveys
- Integrate with 3rd-party tools for IT asset management
Unlike SolarWinds, Jira Service Desk is a helpdesk ticketing system suitable for both ITSM and customer service. Since it has been built on the same platform, this solution connects seamlessly with the company’s popular project management system—Jira Software.
Jira Service Desk can be extended using 350+ third-party addons that include tools for asset management, surveys, CRM, and many other IT-related tasks. This system comes with powerful automation features that enable you to streamline tasks like ticket routing and severity 1 notifications.
Jira Service Desk at a glance:
- Repetitive task automation
- Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
- 350+ add-ons on the Atlassian Marketplace
- Customer satisfaction reporting (CSAT)
Offering both cloud and self-hosted solutions, JitBit is focused on simplicity. This doesn’t mean that this is helpdesk ticket software is limited, though. Under the minimalistic interface, you will find powerful automation triggers that allow you to send automatic replies, assign technicians to tickets and set ticket due dates.
Jitbit features built-in integrations with tools like Slack, Jira, and Github. You can also connect it to Zapier (which is a gateway to 500+ more apps) or use the REST API to build your own custom integrations.
Jitbit at a glance:
- Help desk automation
- Asset management
- Mobile help desk apps
- SSL Encryption
Next on our ticketing system software list is Zammad. This web-based open-source helpdesk support system enables you to provide IT service via several channels like telephone, Facebook, Twitter, chat and email.
Zammad’s ticket escalation rules and “desired deadlines” can be applied not just to tickets but also to clients and organizations, enabling you to quickly define and monitor your SLAs. One of the biggest advantages of this system is that it’s auditable—you can go back to any moment in time and see who changed what.
Zammad at a glance:
- You can search both tickets and file attachments
- Autosave and collision detection
- Individual escalation rules and ticket solution time limits
Freshdesk is a cloud-based ticketing support system that has all the necessary IT support features in one place. The functionality varies based on your plan but all plans include ticket management, team collaboration, social ticketing and reporting.
One especially helpful Freshdesk feature is the contact management hub where contacts and companies are associated with tickets, making it easier to manage communication. Agents and managers can easily filter outstanding tickets by various criteria to ensure all issues are addressed on time.
Note that Freshdesk is not suitable for ITSM. The company offers another tool for that called Fresh Service.
Freshdesk at a glance:
- Automation and skill-based assignment in paid plans
- Team dashboards enable you to monitor important metrics
- “Gamification” feature to motivate agents
- Offer multichannel support via email, chat, website and social media
Request Tracker is a free, open-source help desk ticketing program that enables you to keep track of tickets and manage workflow processes. The web-based interface is completely responsive which means that user requests can be accessed on any device.
Request Tracker is a secure solution that comes with complete PGP support for signing, encrypting and decrypting files. Unlike the other tools on this list, Request Tracker doesn’t boast a great UI. The interface may look outdated to some users.
Request Tracker at a glance:
- Respond to tickets on the go using a mobile browser or an email app
- Time tracking and reporting features
- Paid support plans can be purchased
- No dynamic document integration and SLA features
Zendesk Support is an IT ticketing solution part of the Zendesk suite. Designed for general-purpose customer service, it doesn’t include IT-specific features such as change and asset management.
On the flip side, this system is great at multi-channel support—tickets can be created from a myriad of sources, including social media sites.
One of Zendesk’s strengths is the implementation of rules. For example, agents can trigger a specific automated workflow when there’s a change in one of the ticket’s attributes. Zendesk’s “Views” can also come in handy as they allow you to filter tickets based on certain criteria.
Zendesk at a glance:
- Customizable views and ticket expiration times
- Customizable reporting dashboard with flexible queries that allow you to create any report you like
- Cost per agent can grow to $200 in large teams
All-in-One IT Helpdesk Ticketing System or Specialized Solutions?
Some of the solutions we suggested can handle just about any IT support task—they give you the ability to manage tickets, inventory, customer requests, and employee requests on the same platform. This can be a great option in certain cases when you don’t mind a steep learning curve or a high price tag.
However, you don’t always need an all-in-one solution. If you value simplicity, you may decide to stack several IT support programs that are best at one specific aspect of IT support.
For example, Helpjuice is a knowledge base system that is focused on providing your end-users with stellar self-service. It can work in conjunction with any of the helpdesk systems we listed above.
If you choose to pair our knowledge base software with an easy-to-use IT ticketing system, you’ll get the best of both worlds: Simple, super-fast self-service, and uncluttered agent interface.