Ana Khlystova
Jul 30, 2021 | 15 min read

Zendesk is an old solid tool that has been on the market for over a decade. The company holds more than 72% of the help desk market and almost 15% of the live chat market. And it’s used by such companies as Airbnb, Squarespace, and Vimeo for their customer service needs.

Long story short, Zendesk is huge. But, what makes it such a popular customer service solution?

First of all, it offers a comprehensive set of tools for every use case: live chat, ticketing, knowledge base, call center support, CRM, etc. Their reports are extensive and detailed which gives Zendesk’s users many insights into their performance. And just the fact that the tool has been on the market for so long implies that it must be very secure and stable.

Those are great arguments in favor of Zendesk. But no tool is perfect, and businesses are looking for Zendesk alternatives because of some major flaws.

Why look for Zendesk alternatives?

Zendesk has  2,700+ reviews on G2 as of today and 30 heated customer discussions about the brand. Its rating is 4.2 out of 5 stars with many users praising the tool for its reliable and feature-rich ticketing system. 

However, there’s some dissatisfaction, too. Most of the complaints come down to the following five issues:

  • Chats, emails, and other channels are managed separately. The biggest downside is that Zendesk separates chats and email tickets, so there’s no way to answer customer requests in one queue.
  • Outdated interface. Zendesk’s overall interface looks very outdated and overloaded if compared to modern tools.
  • Limited email automation functionality. You are allowed to launch automated email sequences and provide support only if you purchase two separate subscriptions. So, is it an all-in-one solution after all?
  • No out-of-the-box features. Many tools are offering some advanced features like custom chatbots, product tours, or video support. But it seems like Zendesk wants to stay a good old ticketing system and is not interested in customer service innovations.
  • Gets pricey. Zendesk offers a great many tools and features for customer service, but if you want to enjoy its full power, Zendesk costs bite.

1. HelpCrunch — one-stop Zendesk alternative

HelpCrunch homepage
HelpCrunch homepage

HelpCrunch is just the right Zendesk alternative if you’ve decided to shift away from a traditional ticketing approach and move to something more versatile.

Being a one-stop platform for building customer relations, HelpCrunch offers not only a shared inbox for all your chats and emails but also knowledge base, email marketing features, and tools for customer engagement

HelpCrunch features

Live chat 

HelpCrunch offers a state-of-the-art and 100% customizable live chat. Once you install it on your website or app, you can tweak its color, wallpaper, button’s style, position, and even transform it with custom CSS and remove the HelpCrunch branding. The chat will automatically change from online to offline modes and back based on the operation hours you set.

HelpCrunch live chat widet customization
HelpCrunch live chat widget customization

Support agents will find all the necessary features for managing customer requests as effectively as possible — private notes, saved responses, departments, and prioritizing based on a chat status. Besides, even after you’ve sent a message to a customer, you can edit or delete it. File attachments and emojis are also at your disposal.

The user information is always in the sidebar of the chat window. It provides your team with a timely context, so no need to bombard clients with redundant questions. Support agents can assign any dialogue to themselves, another teammate, or a corresponding department.

As the work on a request continues, agents will change its status from new to open, pending, on hold, or closed. Additionally, you can use your chat widget for engaging your customers proactively by sending them auto and manual chat messages.

 Email marketing 

The email support feature isn’t something separate in HelpCrunch. All emails land into a single dashboard in the form of conversations. They appear in the same window and can be managed in exactly the same way as chats. Basically, you have a chronological queue of all conversations, no matter the channel.

HelpCrunch shared inbox
HelpCrunch shared inbox

On top of running email support with HelpCrunch, you can send an email follow-up after you’ve had a live chat conversation with your customers (that is if they’ve left their email address to you). It’s easily done by simply switching between the corresponding tabs in the chat window. And every message that a customer hasn’t read in a chat is automatically forwarded to their email address.

Knowledge base 

Once you sign up for HelpCrunch, you can build a well-oiled help center with articles, optimize them for search engines and divide them by categories and sections. The feature is included in all subscription plans. 

Thanks to the WYSIWYG text editor, your pieces will never be patchy as it lets you:

  • Embed visual content such as videos and images
  • Structure your texts with lists of all kinds
  • Set up SEO settings for articles
  • Save articles as drafts and make them public or private 

Plus, the help center is integrated into the chat widget. Click the “Search” and the whole library of information opens up. Customers can now solve their questions much faster and search for articles right off the bat. 

HelpCrunch knowledge management tool
HelpCrunch knowledge base integrated into the chat widget

Popup builder 

There is one more important and unique feature that HelpCrunch offers and Zendesk doesn’t – popup functionalities. Many companies have already tried the HelpCrunch popup feature in full play and boosted customer engagement levels

HelpCrunch allows you to set popups on your website based on visitors’ personal information and behavior. Choose between 6 popup templates, change the button color, come up with the most eye-catching CTA and heading, add animation, and set up popup display rules. 

It’s a surefire way to collect the contact info of your potential leads and store it in HelpCrunch for further use.

HelpCrunch pricing

HelpCrunch is one of the most budget-friendly solutions on the market. Its Standard ‘Live chat’ subscription costs $12/mo per team member if billed annually and includes full live chat and knowledge base functionality as well as popups. 

What the package lacks are all email features. If you want to enjoy them, go with the ‘Live chat & Emails’ package. It will cost you $23/month per team member if billed annually. 

HelpCrunch vs Zendesk

As a Zendesk similar option, HelpCrunch feels more like one-piece software where everything can be run in a single tab. Zendesk positions its chats, emails, and calls as separate apps, which can only be convenient for big support teams. 

HELPCRUNCH PROS

  • Customizable chat widget
  • Emails and chats land into one queue
  • All features are well integrated with each other
  • Has email marketing functionality included
  • Affordable startup-friendly pricing
  • Modern interface

HELPCRUNCH CONS

  • Not applicable as a big ticketing system
  • No call center feature
  • Poorer reports

To see that all of the above-mentioned is not lip service, give the one-stop solution a shot! Sign up for a free 14-day trial with HelpCrunch now and test its features in all their glory.

2. Intercom — expensive yet powerful Zendesk alternative

Intercome homepage with a live chat widget
Intercom homepage

Intercom is a more flexible alternative offering many innovative features not only for support but also for sales and marketing. That’s something that Zendesk lacks since it’s almost entirely support-oriented.

Some Intercom features include custom bots, targeted product tours, advanced email marketing functionality, etc. Almost no other tool comes even remotely close to the level of innovation that Intercom sets. But those features also cost a lot — sometimes, thousands of dollars.

So, for the sake of simplicity, I won’t talk about them here and rather concentrate on three core Intercom features — live chat, shared inbox, and help center.

Intercom features

Their Business Messenger (the same as live chat) is quite feature-packed with a built-in knowledge base and announcements integration. Once you install it on your website, it becomes a universal destination for all customer support.

It can also be enhanced by automations. The Resolution bot can help you with self-service routine, automatically recognize similar questions from past conversations and serve up the best answer, and respond to repetitive questions so that your team can focus on their performance. 

Intercom’s shared inbox has such help desk features as tags, office hours, smart suggestions, public help center, snooze conversations, and a lot more. So, it’s a handy tool for email campaigns.

Unlike many Intercom competitors, the help center feature here is easily adjustable from the dashboard. You can set up the basics to start your hub, localize articles, and style the knowledge base. To provide customers with their answers, use the system that automatically suggests articles from your resource center. 

Intercom dashboard
Intercom dashboard

Intercom pricing

Intercom pricing is, in fact, a very unstable thing. Not to mention the Product tours which cost at least $199/mo and numerous chaotic add-ons, there are only two options left:

  • Starter plan for $59/mo, with 1 seat, + $19/mo for an additional seat.
  • Grow plan for $199/mo, with 5 seats, each additional seat costing $19/mo.

Also, note that Intercom charges not only for agent seats but also for contacts that you had communicated with during the month. More than 2,000 contacts will cost you $50/mo for every 1,000 additional people.

Intercom vs Zendesk

Even though Intercom has some great customer support features, its full potential becomes apparent only when you choose one of the expensive plans and use it for sales and marketing. 

But that’s exactly why people like Intercom. Old help desk tools are becoming outdated and tools like HelpCrunch or Intercom bring omni-channel support to the next level.

INTERCOM PROS

  • Modern interface
  • Feature-rich Business Messenger 
  • Shared inbox for emails and chats
  • Innovative features like custom bots and product tours (for additional costs)

INTERCOM CONS

  • Not applicable as a big ticketing system
  • Hidden fees
  • Additionally charges for active contacts
  • Limited reports

3. Freshdesk — almost identical Zendesk alternative for ticketing

Freshdesk homepage
Freshdesk homepage

If you want to exchange Zendesk for something 100% identical, Freshdesk is an obvious frontrunner.

Freshdesk is a help desk part of a customer support suite of tools called Freshworks. It includes products for live chat, analytics, CRM, etc. So, what’s the deal with Freshdesk? 

Freshdesk features

Freshdesk is a perfect replacement for Zendesk’s ‘Support’ subscription if you only need a help desk for email and social media support. Optionally, you can add other Freshworks products to your dashboard.

The four core functionalities the tool covers starting from the free subscription are:

  • Help widget
  • Email ticketing
  • Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp integration
  • Knowledge base

There are all the basic ticketing features available like canned responses, ticket merging/splitting, tags, etc. Working in a shared inbox might be difficult for bigger teams, that’s why Freshdesk offers numerous collaboration features like agent collision detection or Omniroute — a ticketing routing system that allows you to balance workloads in one place. 

Freshdesk dashboard
Freshdesk dashboard

One of Freshdesk’s main selling points is its customer service automation. You can automate virtually anything — from reminders to following up to prioritizing and assigning.  For instance, there are three different ticket assignment techniques — skill-based, load balancing, and round-robin. They ensure equal distribution of tickets between available support agents.

With the knowledge base feature, you can convert agent responses from tickets into knowledge base articles. Freshdesk has all the necessary settings for multilingual content, SEO optimization as well as comfortable work with the text editor.

Freshdesk pricing

There are 5 subscription plans this Zendesk cheaper alternative offers (plus 2 omnichannel packages):

  • Sprout – free, email & social ticketing, knowledge base
  • Blossom – $15/month per agent, + automations, marketplace apps, etc.
  • Garden – $35/month per agent, + time tracking, performance reports, etc.
  • Estate – $49/month per agent, + round-robin routing, versioning in a knowledge base, etc.
  • Forest – $99/month per agent, + email bot, Assist bot, canned responses, etc.
  • Estate Omnichannel – $79/month per agent, + co-browsing, multilingual support, roles and permissions, etc.
  • Forest Omnichannel – $139/month per agent, + email bot, Robo assist, etc.  

Freshdesk vs Zendesk

Freshdesk is probably one of the most similar Zendesk products that offer an extensive set of ticketing features: collaboration options, detailed analytics, and ticket management. 

In stark contrast to Zendesk competitors, Freshdesk is still a ticketing system that can be handy only for big enterprises. As a small business, why would you want something as heavy and disconnected in 2021?

FRESHDESK PROS

  • Modern and more intuitive design
  • The live chat widget by Freshchat is more advanced and feature-rich
  • Advanced workflow automations
  • Other Freshworks products are available and can be integrated for free

FRESHDESK CONS

  • Live chat feature is available from $99/agent/mo
  • Disintegrated compared to all-in-one solutions
  • Poorer analytics
  • Unclear distribution of features among subscription plans

4. LiveAgent — simpler and more affordable Zendesk alternative

LiveAgent homepage
LiveAgent homepage

LiveAgent is a classic help desk tool for receiving and handling customer requests from different channels — e.g. email, live chat, social media, phone calls. And it seems like the tool strikes the perfect balance between a feature-rich ticketing system and a simple interface.

LiveAgent features

LiveAgent’s flagship feature is a help desk. Its interface looks like the older version of Gmail and is handy for receiving and managing email requests from customers. Once you buy additional communication channels (live chat, social media, calls), they’ll also appear in the LiveAgent universal inbox. 

LiveAgent dashboard
LiveAgent dashboard

Help desk features include things like merging/splitting tickets, canned responses, business hours, and whatnot. Plus, you can create a knowledge base or provide customers with community forums and portals even being on a free 14-day trial.

Live chat the brand offers is rather basic compared to chat-oriented software similar to Zendesk. But it does have all the necessary features like chat forms, satisfaction surveys, chat routing, etc. Like HelpCrunch, LiveAgent also makes it possible to set up proactive chat invitations to engage website visitors and invite them to start a conversation.

LiveAgent pricing

LiveAgent is Zendesk’s cheaper alternative and has a free subscription plan for creating contact forms on your website and basic ticket management. Self-service options like a knowledge base and community forum are also included.

Other packages involve:

  • Ticket – $15/agent/month, perfectly designed for email ticketing
  • Ticket + Chat plan – $29/agent/month, for multi-channel ticketing, live chat, and real-time visitor monitoring
  • All-inclusive – $39/month/agent, for omnichannel help desk routines 

 LiveAgent vs Zendesk

LiveAgent is like a cut-down alternative to Zendesk. And this is by no means a negative thing. Zendesk can feel overwhelming with all those features and pricing packages to choose from.

So if you want a similar yet simpler Zendesk alternative, LiveAgent can be a great choice. They have only three subscription plans plus a free one, and each of them offers a very clear set of functionalities. Obviously, it won’t beat Zendesk in the feature department, but maybe you don’t need some of those numerous functionalities after all.

LIVEAGENT PROS

  • Simpler and more intuitive set of features
  • More affordable as an all-in-one solution

LIVEAGENT CONS

  • Chats, emails, calls, and social media requests are under separate tabs
  • No email marketing feature
  • Outdated interface
  • Basic live chat functionality

5. Kayako — the oldest Zendesk alternative with limited functionality

Kayako homepage
Kayako homepage

Kayako is 20-year old bootstrapped help desk software. They did a huge shift in 2016 when the tool became omnichannel and unified customer data from different channels under one dashboard.

As of today, it’s an all-in-one tool that looks and functions like a ticketing system where you receive all customer requests in a shared inbox (which is something Zendesk lacks).

Kayako features

Kayako’s functionalities are rather primitive for a full-fledged Zendesk alternative. But if you’re a small business owner, they’ll probably be enough for a two- or three-person customer support team. 

The live chat by Kayako can be integrated not only with your website but also with mobile apps through mobile SDKs. The widget is basic and doesn’t cover anything other than some very run-of-the-mill color scheme customization and proactive chat invitations.

As for the main help desk option, there is nothing irregular with this solution. Once a customer leaves a message in your live chat, it lands into the unified inbox together with emails and social media messages. Agents can see user information in a ticket’s sidebar. 

Kayako dashboard

Additionally, every ticket shows a complete log of every activity a customer performed with your website or app before/during/after contacting you. This gives some additional context and can help you eliminate a couple of redundant questions.

Customer agents will enjoy collaboration features like: 

  • Private notes
  • Collision prevention
  • Assignment rules
  • Macros (canned responses) 

Plus, there are only three statuses for each ticket — open, pending, and completed, but it’s possible to mark them with custom tags. 

Speaking of the knowledge base feature, it’s entry-level. You can create articles in a simple text editor, tag them, and distribute them between categories. To top it off, there are no SEO settings. 

Kayako pricing

Kayako offers three subscription plans (they only list their prices for annual subscriptions):

  • Inbox – $15/month per agent for live chat, Twitter, emails, help center, etc.
  • Growth – $30/month per agent, everything in Inbox + workflow automations, reporting, Slack integrations
  • Scale – $60/month per agent, everything in Growth + internal help center, Salesforce integration, custom roles, etc.

Kayako vs Zendesk

Among all the other alternatives we discussed here, Kayako isn’t remotely as feature-rich as Zendesk. But then again, no tool is. If you’re looking for a simplified help desk solution with no redundant features, then Kayako may be for you. 

KAYAKO PROS

  • Complete customer journeys in a ticket window
  • Shared inbox for all customer service channels
  • The ability to add collaborators for free
  • More affordable as an all-in-one solution

KAYAKO CONS

  • Poorer help desk functionality and reports
  • Basic live chat widget customization
  • Basic knowledge base functionality

6. Help Scout — Zendesk alternative for effective email management 

help scout homepage
Help Scout help desk landing page

Among other alternatives to Zendesk, Help Scout is a quite small customer service and help desk solution. It is accessible and widely used by freelancers and small businesses in a variety of industries. 

Help Scout features 

The Help Scout’s help desk is called Mailbox. It is a pretty standard help desk solution: from the messages that are marked as Unassigned, Mine, Assigned, Closed, and Spam to the reports section. Only that Help Scout named their satisfaction report as “Happiness”. Compare that to Zendesk’s colorless “Satisfaction rating”. 

HelpScout mailbox
Help Scout mailbox

Such a shared inbox and collaboration functionalities will let you: 

  • Process all customer requests in a jiffy and keep them in a single queue
  • Create multiple mailboxes for different teams to prevent clutter
  • Monitor Beacons (aka live chat conversations)  
  • Send teammates private notes to discuss clients’ issues faster
  • Create a searchable library of answers to FAQs and insert them into replies in two clicks
  • Avoid duplication with real-time indicators showing when someone else is viewing or replying to a request.

However, Help Scout is not the best alternative to Zendesk if only because its knowledge base installation and configuration is a nightmare. Numerous unnecessary tabs, illogical UI, and narrow SEO optimization. And this is 2021 already. 

The most striking is Help Scout’s new Properties feature. It means you can monitor important customer relationship data in the dashboard’s sidebar. Zendesk, for one thing, had this long before that which makes the tool more progressive.

Help Scout pricing

Unlike other Zendesk alternatives, Help Scout’s pricing is a no-brainer as it comprises only two packages — Standard and Plus. The former is $20/month per user (reporting, automations, and integrations for support teams) and the latter is $35/month per user (advanced reporting features). 

Help Scout vs Zendesk

What is similar to Zendesk here? The most analogous Help Scout’s options here would be automations and a convenient messenger. Plus, Help Scout’s reporting has almost the same logic as that of Zendesk. But to my mind, the latter is more serious and profound.

HELP SCOUT PROS

  • Easy-to-digest mailbox UI 
  • Effortless reporting features
  • Incoming emails tracking
  • Affordable pricing

HELP SCOUT CONS

  • The tagging feature is a bit intricate (could be more in-depth also)
  • Clumsy and hard-to-edit help center

7. ThriveDesk — best Zendesk alternative for bootstrapped startups

ThriveDesk homepage
ThriveDesk homepage

ThriveDesk is a new help desk solution for small and medium-sized businesses. Its niche is mainly SaaS and WordPress brands, and the motto is quite self-explanatory — “Where teams connect to thrive customer support”.

ThriveDesk features

This Zendesk similar solution is all about ease of use and minimum fuss. This point is totally better than Zendesk. ThriveDesk’s set of features comprises:

Shared inbox. Once you log into the dashboard, there is a 4-step setup process, a zero learning curve, and just the key highlights you need to consider.

ThriveDesk dashboard
ThriveDesk dashboard

This is a dime a dozen. All your conversations happen under the same roof, automations for redundant tasks are at your disposal, credible reporting and live chat are in place, to name just a few. 

You can easily keep track of your team’s performance with reporting features, assign conversations to individual team members, filter spam, use email signatures generator, build pre-defined canned replies, add assistants (aka support agents), manage tags, and much much more.

Community. This is a rare case among Zendesk similar products. ThriveDesk lets you develop your own space for driving user engagement, increasing customer LTV, and connecting on different ideas. Comment and reply to posts, share attachments, embed your own content: in other words, build social trust.

The use cases here are miscellaneous, from membership and topic-related to product and newsletter communities. Plus, you can host webinars which is something new as compared to Zendesk. Think of it as a quirky knowledge base. But with real people in the driver’s seat.

WordPress integration. The ThriveDesk plugin for WordPress can be up and running in minutes and comes with features like live chat, reporting, and a lot more. Besides, clients can access their current and past ticket history on the WordPress dashboard, or you can create a ticket using the Thrivedesk form builder, and add any field you desire into your ticket.

ThriveDesk pricing 

“Affordable pricing for thriving businesses​” states the ThriveDesk pricing page. And rightly so! There is one main early-bird package available for $25/month that includes 3 mailboxes, 5 users, 1 community, reports, and whatnot. When they launch in full swing (the process happens virtually as we speak), the price will be much higher and locked for life. 

ThriveDesk vs Zendesk

Clearly, this is one of the alternatives similar to Zendesk offering an easy installation. However, ThriveDesk could expand its feature set to become more alluring to customers.

THRIVEDESK PROS

  • A set-up process is not an issue 
  • Affordable price
  • Innovative features

THRIVEDESK CONS

  • No mobile app yet 
  • Still, some tweaks are in the roadmap

Conclusion

Basically, there are two kinds of Zendesk alternatives — those that are still more ticketing-oriented and all-in-one solutions. If you’re looking for something exactly like Zendesk, then Freshdesk, Kayako, LiveAgent, or ThriveDesk are ideal options to a certain extent.

Want to adopt software similar to Zendesk for shifting your approach to customer service completely and make it more modern and accessible? In this case, you should definitely go with one-stop innovative solutions like HelpCrunch or Intercom. This way, you’ll be able to provide real-time help and manage all your customer communications in a single tab. So, it’s your call now!

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