While doing the research for this article, I’ve not only tested both Intercom and Zendesk myself, but also read a pile of different articles, comparisons, guides, showdowns and all this kind of stuff. I wanted to get a second opinion, too.
And what really struck me though is that people seemed to like Zendesk more.
Let me elaborate on this one.
I know Intercom. I’ve known Intercom for a while. I used it at my previous work, and heck, I liked it back then. One could even say I was being a little bit biased towards Intercom before starting the research (and one would be completely wrong as my heart belongs to HelpCrunch now, but that’s not the point).
So when I realized that lots of companies actually prefer Zendesk over Intercom, I was surprised. For real. I mean I stumbled upon this article where people from Outreach.io were telling why they’d switched from Intercom to Zendesk, then I saw this comparison, where Zendesk seemed to beat Intercom at the end. And it got me thinking.
As it turns, it’s quite difficult to compare Zendesk against Intercom as they serve different purposes and will fit different businesses. But I tried anyway.
So, how do these two tools actually compare? Is the winner that obvious or is it more complicated than that? Let’s dive right in.
Zendesk offers a great many support features, way more than Intercom. But it lacks in-app messenger and email marketing tools as well as some advanced sales and marketing features. Intercom has all its tools and features integrated with each other better, which makes your experience with the toolset as smooth as silk. Moreover, it offers such amazing features like chatbots, product tours, banners, etc.
Basically, if you’re a huge corporation with a complicated customer support process, go Zendesk for its helpdesk functionality. If you’re a smaller and more sales-oriented startup with enough money, go Intercom.
If you’re looking for something equally powerful yet more affordable, why don’t you try HelpCrunch? It combines live chat, in-app messenger and auto message functionality with help desk features like shared inbox, customer profiles, tags, etc.
Looking for all-in-one customer
Founded in 2007, Zendesk started off as a ticketing tool for customer support teams. That was their main focus back then. It was later when they started adding all kinds of other tools. Like when they bought out the Zopim live chat and integrated it with their toolset.
Intercom is 4 years younger than Zendesk. They’ve been marketing themselves as a messaging platform right from the beginning.
Zendesk vs Intercom: features
Oh God, where do I even start. Both Zendesk and Intercom are equally feature-rich and powerful. They both offer some state-of-the-art core functionality and numerous unusual features.
However, it’s obvious even at first glance that they’re crafted for different use cases. Intercom is more sales-oriented, while Zendesk has everything a customer support representative can dream about. So, let’s take a look at what features Zendesk and Intercom have to offer to their users.
Zendesk Suite includes the following tools:
- Support (Suite) — helpdesk tool for ticketing, prioritizing, and solving requests via email, live chat, social media, phone calls, and knowledge base
- Support (Foundation) — ticketing system for managing customer requests via email and social media, help center functionality is NOT included
- Sales — for managing your sales process via email and calls, includes a CRM system and pipelines.
I’d like to concentrate on the following three:
Zendesk is a ticketing system before anything else and their ticketing functionality is overwhelming in the best possible way.
As I’ve already mentioned, they started as a helpdesk/ticketing tool, and honestly, they perfected every bit of it over the years.
All interactions with customers, be it via phone, chat, email, social media, or any other channel, are landing in one dashboard, where your agents can solve them fast and efficiently. There’s a plethora of features to help bigger teams collaborate more effectively — like private notes or real-time view of who’s handling a given ticket at the moment, etc.
All in all, Zendesk is great for its helpdesk functionality.
To be honest, Zendesk’s chat widget is not my favorite one. Its default design looks outdated. And if you want to change its look, you’ll find that their widget has very limited customization options.
But I don’t want to sell their chat tool short as it still has most of necessary features like shortcuts (saved responses), automated triggers and live chat analytics. Nothing fancy, just usual stuff.
Knowledge base features
The Help Center tool from Zendesk is very rich in features. Basically, you can create new articles in a simple intuitive WYSIWYG text editor, divide them by categories and sections and customize it with your custom themes. And it’s multilingual, too.
Zendesk also has the Answer Bot, which will take your knowledge base game to the next level instantly. It can automatically suggest relevant articles to customers reducing the workload for your support agents.
You can choose from the following Intercom tool packages:
- Start (live chat + team inbox)
- Grow (live chat + inbound & outbound emails + knowledge base + banners)
- Accelerate (live chat + inbound & outbound emails + knowledge base + banners + custom bots)
- Scale (advanced features for enterprises)
- *Add-on* Product tours
- *Add-on* Account-based marketing
Intercom was built as a business messenger in the first place. Their chat widget looks and works great and they invest lots of efforts to make it a modern convenient customer communication tool.
Also, their in-app messenger is worth a separate mention as it’s one of their distinctive tools (especially since Zendesk doesn’t really have one). With Intercom, you can send targeted email, push, and in-app messages which can be based on relevant time or behavior triggers.
God do I love the Intercom live chat. It’s modern, smooth, and has so many advanced features that other chat tools don’t have. It’s highly customizable, too, so you can adjust it according to your website or product’s style.
What makes Intercom stand out from the crowd are their chatbots and lots of chat automation features that can be very helpful for your team. You can integrate different apps (like Google Meet or Stripe) with your messenger and make it a high end point for your customers.
It’s a truly powerful tool.
Knowledge base features
The Help Center by Intercom is also a very efficient tool. You can publish your knowledge base articles, divide them by categories and also integrate them with your messenger to accelerate the whole chat experience.
Just as Zendesk, Intercom also offers its own Operator bot which will automatically suggest relevant articles to customers right in a chat widget.
If I had to describe Intercom’s helpdesk, I would say it’s rather a complementary tool to their chat tools. It’s great, it’s convenient, it’s not nearly as advanced as the one by Zendesk.
Their helpdesk is a single inbox to handle customer requests, where your customer support agents can leave private notes for each other and automatically assign requests to the right people. I’ve said it about Zendesk chat and I’ll repeat it here. Nothing fancy, just usual stuff.
But it’s designed and crafted so well that I can’t seem to get enough of it.
So yeah, all the features talk actually brings us to the most sacred question — the question of pricing.
You’d probably want to know how much it costs to get Zendesk or Intercom for your business, so let’s talk money now.
Zendesk vs Intercom: pricing
First things first. If you’d want to test Zendesk and Intercom before deciding on a tool for good, they both provide free trials. Intercom has a standard trial period for a SaaS product which is 14 days, while Zendesk offers a 30-day trial.
As you’ve seen above, Zendesk offers a great many tools. They’ve divided them into three tiers:
- Zendesk Support Suite (from $59 to $199 per agent per month)
- Zendesk Support Foundation (from $25 to $125 per agent per month)
- Zendesk Sales (from $59 to $249 per agent per month)
To sum things up, one can get really confused trying to make sense of Zendesk’s pricing, let alone to calculate costs. But it seems so only at first glance.
It’s much easier if you decide to go with the Zendesk Suite, which includes all features for email, live chat, voice, and social media support. There are four options there — Team ($59/agent), Growth ($99/agent), Professional ($125/agent), and Enterprise ($199/agent).
If you thought that Zendesk prices were confusing, let me introduce you to the Intercom pricing. It’s virtually impossible to predict what you’re going to pay for Intercom at end of the day.
There are four different subscription packages you can choose from.
The cheapest (aka Start) package will cost you $59 per month and will include 1 seat and basic live chat features. If you want to use Intercom
On practice, I can’t promise you anything when it comes to Intercom. They charge by contacts, not by agent seats. Moreover, these are new prices as they’re in the middle of changing their pricing policy right now (and they’re definitely not getting cheaper).
Zendesk vs Intercom: overall impression
(Aka very subjective take on both tools’ UX/UI.)
What can be really inconvenient about Zendesk, though is how their tools integrate with each other when you need to use them simultaneously.
When Daniil, our marketing manager at HelpCrunch, was testing different Intercom alternatives, here’s what he thought of Zendesk (and I completely agree with him on this one:
I found that if I wanted to work most productively I’d need to have all four main Zendesk products opened in different browser tabs as there is no option of having all of them within a single dashboard.Daniil Kopilevych, marketing manager @ HelpCrunch
While using Zendesk for longer than a couple of hours (especially if you do so right after Intercom) you can get a nauseating feeling that its design is a bit outdated and cluttered — especially when it comes to their chat widget and its customization. Honestly, when it comes to Zendesk, it is not the most modern tool out there.
Say what you will, but Intercom’s design and overall user experience are leaving all its competitors far behind. I mean, it will just suffice to mention their blog. It’s beautifully crafted and thought through, and their custom-made illustrations are just next level stuff. You can see their attention to detail in everything — from their tools to their website.
Zendesk vs Intercom: customer support
In a nutshell, both these companies provide great customer support. Basically, that’s all you really need to do. I tested both of their live chats and their support agents were answering in very quickly and right to the point. Zendesk team can be just a little bit faster depending on the time of the day.
Though Intercom chat window says that their team typically replies in a few hours, I received the answer in a couple of minutes. Their agent was always trying to convert me into a lead along the way, but heck, that’s a side effect of our job.
Zendesk’s customer support is also very fast, though their live chat is only available for registered users. It means you can chat with their team only if you’re Zendesk user, but if you’re only browsing their website, you can contact them only by shooting a message to their sales team and leaving your email address.
So yeah, two essential things that Zendesk lacks in comparison to Intercom are in-app messages and email marketing tools. Intercom on the other hand lacks many ticketing functionality that can be essential for big companies with a huge customer support load.
At the same time, they both provide great and easy user onboarding and customer support. Both are quite reliable and stable.
- richer analytics and reports
- fixed pricing that doesn’t depend on how many contacts you have in your database
- way more features for customer support (especially, for bigger teams)
- excellent and blazingly fast customer support of their own
- email marketing tools
- in-app messaging features are still the best on the market (let alone the fact that Zendesk doesn’t really have them)
- better user experience
In terms of pricing, Intercom is considered one of the hardest on your pocket. Zendesk can be more flexible and predictable in this area as you can buy different tools separately (or even use their limited versions for free).
To sum things up, Zendesk is a great customer support oriented tool which will be a great choice for big teams with various departments. Intercom feels more wholesome and is more customer success oriented, but can be too costly for smaller companies.
If you’re looking for a middle ground, I’d also recommend you testing some other alternatives — like HelpCrunch. It has all the necessary features from the both worlds and it’s more affordable than both Zendesk and Intercom:
- live chat, customizable, modern, convenient
- knowledge base with a WYSIWYG editor, SEO settings, and access control
- shared inbox for live chat and email communication
- basic helpdesk features like status, tags, user profiles, custom inboxes, etc
- email marketing tools for both manual email and automated (based on triggers) campaigns
- in-app messenger
- proactive messaging.
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