Warning: This is not a customer-service tool round-up packed with links and (self-serving) reviews. Why? Because that’s not what you need.
- Most customer service tools have similar features; knowing the channels your customers and support agents rely on is essential.
- Your help desk software and inbox should be the centerpiece around which all other workflows orbit, integrate, and turn.
- The right customer service software should complement your customer experience and support, not complicate them.
Customer service tools work in two directions—simultaneously.
First, from the inside out: enabling your service team to do what they do best. But they also work from the outside in: providing the capabilities to capture, analyze, and solve requests through external conversations.
Unfortunately, tool choice abounds. Far from helping, the sprawl of apps, platforms, and software makes evaluating which ones are right for you feel paralyzing.
Worse, with each addition to your tech stack, complexity intensifies.
That’s why we’ve put together a tool-by-tool checklist of ten customer service tool types. Rather than an unwieldy “listicle,” we’ll explore how each type works from the inside out and the outside in.
1. Help desk software and ‘ticketing’ system
Help desk software should be the centralized hub for all your customer support. While the term “ticketing system” is often used, thinking—and talking—about service requests as conversations keep them far more human.
Today, customers post questions, concerns, and complaints via multiple support channels—phone calls, text messages, websites, Facebook Messenger, email, and social media (to name just a few). Even small businesses need a way to track those and avoid any slipping through the cracks.
Externally—customers who have bought products or services can use your help desk software to submit questions or concerns wherever it’s convenient for them. Whether that be from their office, home, on-the-go, or even from multiple accounts and devices.
Internally—your team members have a place to communicate with these customers and with each other effectively. The tool helps you categorize the request, delegate it to the right person, and track conversation history.
Many help desk software tools share similarities but each one will have their own unique benefits. When evaluating your options, consider whether they have the following features:
- Shared inbox to help your team collaborate and solve requests, no matter which channel they’re sent through
- Self-serve support to let customers find answers to questions or solve product issues on their own terms
- Ticket organization to assign conversations to specific reps manually and/or automatically, but (above all) clearly
- Automation capabilities to eliminate redundant tasks while making it easier to build better relationships with customers
- Reporting functionality to track customer sentiment and improve overall customer service by the numbers
If you’d like to see how we think Groove stacks up—particularly against solid alternatives like Zendesk, Salesforce, Help Scout, Freshdesk, and Gmail—take a look at:
2. All-in-one inbox for multi-channel support
An all-in-one inbox solution unifies your conversations across multiple channels, multiple intake options, and multiple departments—into one central place.
Inherently, a shared inbox diffuses the madness of “who replied to whom” or “who did what” feedback loops.
The goal is two-fold. Number one, eliminate the madness that drives everyone crazy: teams and customers alike. And, number two, reduce (rather than inflate) sensitive situations.
Here’s the trick… from the outside, your inbox should be invisible to customers.
Instead, they should be able to open a support ticket—start a conversation—how, where, and when they want. Whether that’s via email, live chat, social, over the phone, or on your website.
From the inside, some of the specific features to look for center on integration and automation capabilities:
- Assign responsibility to specific team members
- Add internal notes based on private discussions
- Monitor support-ticket status and update conversations
- Avoid duplicate replies (collisions) in real-time
- Escalate conversations to non-support departments
- Enable canned replies to automate regularly sent messages
There’s no excuse for missed emails, customer messages, or website inquiries anymore.
3. Self-service knowledge base for FAQs and onboarding
A self-service knowledge base is an online library curated by you and your team to provide answers and helpful information. Customers want to solve their own problems first, as long as that process empowers them.
When a customer has a question or problem, where’s the first place they turn?
According to multiple customer service statistics, they turn to self-service:
Your knowledge base delivers this promise in the form of articles, how-to guides, explainer videos, or illustrations. Similar to your customer service team, your knowledge base also serves on the frontlines. Probably even more so.
Only if the customer still has questions, or is unable to solve the issue themselves, should it be easy for them to request help directly.
Creating a knowledge base is relatively easy when you have the right software behind it. Features to note when choosing your knowledge base software include:
- Site-wide widgets for easy access
- Google-like search functionality for visibility onsite and off
- Related content recommendations page-by-page, article-by-article
- Data and reporting to identify what’s working and needs fixing
- Immediate access to your support team with the click of a button when the knowledge base doesn’t cut it
A top-notch knowledge base packed with these features will be your customer service team’s strongest ally.
4. Social media listening, monitoring, and responding
Social media monitoring lets you listen and track what people are saying about your brand—giving you the ability to respond natively and gather useful feedback.
When a customer chooses to reach out via social media, they’ve picked it as their channel of choice and for convenience. Like any social interaction, they’re expecting a near-instant reply, too.
Unless you’re able to have a social media team working around the clock, it’s impossible and costly to keep up.
Plus, the advantages of the right tool aren’t solely about speed.
Social media monitoring can be used to identify trends, track competitor activity, understand customer sentiment, and measure the impact of your social media marketing.
Make sure the platform you select enables you to:
- Track and respond to both brand and product mentions
- Identify trending topics important to your product, service or industry
- Gain better insight into customer sentiment
- Integrate with existing business tools such as your help desk software, where you can create support tickets from social mentions and respond directly from the app
It’s inevitable that customers will contact you via social media for support. It’s up to you to decide how you listen and how you respond.
However, there will be times where an issue involves sensitive customer information or it’s too long-winded for a quick Instagram or Facebook DM. That’s when the next tools come in.
5. Real-time phone calls, chat, and video
Real-time communication tools help your customer support team deliver immediate service and information to a customer in a live environment.
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s just easier to jump on a call or screen-share with a customer to talk through an issue or walk them through a process.
Doing so saves time. And, if it’s a frustrating or tense conversation, having a live conversation (as opposed to resolving via email) can diffuse it.
But there’s another benefit to having these tools…
They allow you to run webinars, conduct remote training, and form a stronger customer service team when you’re separated by postcodes.
Internally at Groove, we use Zoom. We rely on it so much that our founder, Alex, even wrote an entire article on 15 Advanced Zoom Tips for Better Video Meetings.
Externally—meaning, as a service tool employed by our customers—we integrate with Olark for live chat and JustCall for phone support. With both, that means you never have to leave the software to use either.
So, what are some of the phone, video, and chat features you should look out for when choosing?
- Integration with your help desk software
- Access to chat transcripts
- Log phone calls and extra notes
- Analytics for usage, performance, and improvement
One last thing, which isn’t so much a feature, is to do your research and sift through verified reviews of the software. Make sure it’s reliable and hasn’t had too many issues with bugs and conversations “dropping out.”
6. Community forums
Online community software helps you provide a digital place for your customers to connect, ask questions, and share their experience and knowledge about your product or service.
All too often, we get so fixated on how we’re communicating with our customers that we don’t consider the idea of facilitating conversations between them.
Forums provide the opportunity for customers to share their knowledge about your product or service—whether that’s a review, a tip, hack, or even just some praise. For others, it gives them more ways to access information and advice from others who are using your product or service.
A forum can become a customer support team’s gold mine. You suddenly have access to new information and insights into your customers’ minds. You can use this to develop more FAQ-style content, provide feedback to your team, and optimize your workflows.
You can choose to be part of the conversations and moderate or just sit on the sidelines watching and observing.
Most online forums are straightforward to set up. You register an account, create threads and post in response to other users’ messages. (You’ll also want to ensure you can have admins and moderators to look out for offensive content.)
In addition, other features you might consider include:
- Customizable forum to keep it on-brand
- Profile customizations to let users tailor similarly
- Segmentation and searchability to help customers find threads
- Integration with email so you and your customers are able to send messages and get notified when others have commented
- Some level of analytics to report on conversation sentiment, topics, and even customer demographics and transactional data
- Safeguards to block spam or abusive users
Keep in mind that forums are not “build it and they will come” platforms.
They’re engagement-oriented online communities, which means you will need to consider what your engagement strategy is before kick-off.
7. Shared project management
Project management software allows you and your team members to create, collaborate, and track projects. But, they should also be accessible (in part) to your customers.
Customer service isn’t just about answering support tickets. Typically, the best ideas flow in from having daily conversations with your customers—and you need somewhere to record and progress these ideas.
- Bugs to be worked out
- New features to be prioritized and built
- Knowledge base articles to be written
- Explainer videos to be recorded
- Onboarding emails that need improving
- And much, much more
A project management tool will help these projects stay on track. Think of it as a shared to-do list with your team.
The hinge isn’t just picking an internal tool. It’s selecting one you can integrate with your service software and share with customers.
In-house at Groove—and within the customer service platform itself—we do this through an integration with Trello. This enables you to either attach conversations to existing Trello cards or create new cards directly from conversations:
What about customer participation and access?
Because we value transparency, we also host an open Trello board of the Groove Product Roadmap. Doing something similar—whether you sell a product or service—gives your company external and internal clarity around what’s being prioritized, why, and when:
When you’re evaluating, here are the features to pay attention to:
- Progress indicators
- Drag-and-drop functionality
- Easy organization with tags, labels, and categories
- Integration with other communication channels
- Uploading large files and attachments
- Activity streams and @mention functionality
For optimal efficiency, the project management tool you decide on should be so well integrated into your team’s daily work life that it becomes second-nature.
8. Internal communication tool
Beyond email that can be too sluggish and formal for daily team chat, an internal communication tool is typically cloud-based software to collaborate via channels or private conversations.
For your team (internally), the tool serves a greater purpose of maintaining a good workplace culture, facilitating day-to-day conversations with colleagues, and giving the team a sense of belonging.
From a support perspective (externally), it becomes a vital link between your team and your customers.
It’s a space to share customer feedback, ideas, as well as company-wide updates on product features or fixes—keeping anyone answering support tickets up-to-date.
Some of the key features you should consider when evaluating the right internal communication tool include:
- Apps and integration capabilities with your current tools
- Flexible organization via teams, projects, locations, clients, or products
- Searchable history based on predetermined naming conventions
- Ability to share and upload files, attachments, and link-previews
- External partners or stakeholders with shared channels or guest accounts
- Security to protect conversations or data shared on the platform
- Mobile app for support and sales teams who are on the go
If you’re still using email (or hangouts) as your primary form of team communication, it’s definitely time to think about something new. Ours is Slack and it’s a game-changer.
9. Customer experience and satisfaction surveys
Experience and customer satisfaction surveys unearth subtle and blatant clues—quantitative and qualitative data—on your overall performance.
With increasing competition in nearly all industries, your business isn’t what it is without your customers. And technology has sped up how quickly word of mouth spreads.
While you may not like everything you hear, that’s exactly the point. And the leading benefit! Surveys are a great tool to gain specific insight into how you can improve a certain product, service, or process.
In fact, we’re so convinced of their value, we went deep in Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Questions, Examples, and Reports to Guide Customer-Centric Businesses.
You’re can go short and simple with quantitative surveys like:
- CSAT (Customer Satisfaction)
- NPS (Net Promoter Score)
- CES (Customer Effort Score)
Or, you can use software to build out a more substantial survey with multiple-choice or open-ended questions.
Customers who have something to say will find a way to do it. Typically this scenario plays out when they aren’t happy and decide to share their experience via social media.
Incorporating customer experience surveys into your regular ticket flows offer an outlet for customers to vent and feel heard. On the flip side, it’s also a great way to identify those who are extremely happy and could be advocates.
Things you should look for in a survey tool include:
- Template design or pre-made templates you can use
- Embed surveys into emails, web pages, live chat, etc.
- Unlimited questions and answers
- Export and filter custom data for reporting
- Dashboards within the platforms
Generally, most paid plans will offer a step-up on these features (and more) but the free versions might be all you need to get started.
10. Customer service reporting
Reporting tools help you measure, analyze, and track a variety of customer support services. They should also bring your metrics into a single, interactive dashboard you can use to make real decisions and track bottom-line performance.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with data. The key is knowing what to track and what to do with it. A customer service reporting tool should streamline this for you.
First, you have external information: requests received, support tickets opened, time of day, frequent channels, and (of course) satisfaction.
Then, you have internal information like response times, resolution times, average replies per resolution, and team member performance.
All of this presented in a single interactive dashboard.
The overall goal is to take both sets of data and identify trends or insights to help your team operate more efficiently.
Your customer service reports are unique to your business, so it’s important to find the software that will allow you to pull in the data that matters most.
Here are some of the short-list requirements:
- Pre-built metrics to cover customer service basics
- Custom metrics via integrations (APIs) unique to your business
- Time and volume tracking for calls, email, and other support channels
- Direct integration with the rest of your tool stack
The number one customer support software isn’t a ‘tool’
In the end, no tool is a magic wand to incredible customer service, but they do matter.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide just on a feature list alone, so take up some free trial offers and see which tools are best suited to your budget, your company size, and how it will work with the existing tools you already use and love.
Just remember… the best service solution isn’t a tool. It’s people. And the tool must serve them.