How To Automate Online Support For Your Business

Setting up a automated support system is an important step towards streamlining your customer support and speeding up the process of dealing with enquiries and support emails.
Many entrepreneurs and small business owners use email as a means of support. However as a business grows, the number of enquiries and support requests can quickly grow. This exponential growth will make it inefficient to rely on email to track every support request and enquiry.
For this reason, most companies will setup a support system or “HelpDesk” that allows customers to create ‘tickets’. The system will then allow these customers to login to a special web page and view both their original tickets as well as replies online. Typically such a system will be setup to allow submission of new tickets either via email or a web form.
There are many support systems on the market. Besides the basic support ticket features, many bundle other innovative support features. These can include real-time chat and searchable FAQs or knowledge bases. Some systems are even sophisticated enough to scan the customer’s support ticket during creation, and propose answers even before the ticket is sent.   With all these available features, it is tempting to simply choose the HelpDesk system with the most “bells and whistles”. However there are a few other important considerations when choosing a system to automate your online support.
These include:
1. How much time you have for support.
It is important to walk in your customer’s shoes, and see the level of support that they require and deliver a system that can meet and exceed their expectations. Even if support is currently not an important priority for your online business, you should make installing a support desk a top priority when starting any business online. This will help condition your customers towards the use of a ticketing system rather than email for support, and help you manage their requirements and expectations in a timely manner.
2. You technical abilities for support.
The support system with the most features may not be the best choice for your business, if it is too complex for you or your customers to use. There has been a shift in recent years towards companies using SAAS (software as a service) applications to power their support desks. This takes away most of the potential headaches in installing and maintaining a support desk on their own servers. Unless you are technically proficient, or have staff how can install and maintain your support desk, it is recommended that you go with an outsourced solution. With the exception of OSTicket, all the support service providers recommended at the end of this article have a outsourced HelpDesk solution.
3. Your budget for support.
If you are just starting out, I currently recommend an outsourced HelpDesk provider like for your support requirements. They have a free version that is full featured but only supports up to 50 of your customers. This should be sufficient for you to grow your business till you can upgrade to a higher capacity paid plan. Any money you save from starting on a cheaper HelpDesk solution, can then be utilized to provide good tutorials and FAQs for your customers, and automate as much of your business support as possible.
A short brief on popular support solution providers follows:

Zendesk is a professional-grade help desk system. It has been designed using ITIL best practices and is in every possible way geared towards providing support and service. Not customer relationship management, bug tracking or project management. Zendesk is the just-right solution for end-user support. We are sure that Zendesk can be used in many creative ways, but it has been designed with end-user support in mind.
There is a free plan for supporting up to 50 customers, and monthly paid plans start at USD 19/user.

osTicket is a widely-used open source support ticket system. It seamlessly integrates inquiries created via email and web-based forms into a simple easy to use multi-user web interface. Easily manage, organize and archive all your support requests and responses in one place while providing your clients with accountability and responsiveness they deserve.
osTicket is an attractive alternative to higher-cost and complex customer support systems; simple, lightweight, reliable, open source, and easy to setup and use. The best part is, it’s completely free.
Furthermore, this software (and several other HelpDesk scripts) can be installed with 1-click using Fantastico.

Kayako offers market leading, business-class help desk software solutions that are affordable to companies, organizations and businesses of all sizes.  This is one of the more full-featured and also expensive solutions.  Their software can be installed on your own server, or purchased as a monthly service.
Their software is turn-key and very easy to set up, requiring nothing more than an average web server. Be up and running in a matter of minutes using the automatic installer.
Pricing starts at USD 29.95/mth.

S|CRM is a very powerful suite of support products. The different components work together centralizing client records, ticket exchanges, online discussion, email, and drawing traffic intelligence across all of your sites synergistically giving your client a common ground to interact with all your businesses and departments.
The Saeven system has a steeper learning curve, but offers good functionality at a price point lower than their competitors.
Prices start from USD 18.95/mth

Cerberus is a Helpdesk system that helps small groups share the responsibility for a bunch of e-mail accounts while being vastly outnumbered. They add tasks, feedback capture, time tracking, notes, and alerts to your conversations. Their main goal is making it hard to ignore important things and easy to ignore clutter.
Like Kayako, Cerberus can be purchased for install on your own servers, or purchased as a monthly service.
Prices start from USD 35/mth
Have any other questions on HelpDesk systems?  Feel free to drop me an email, or contact our support desk at
Ivan Wong