Is your company struggling to manage customer service? Rest easy; no longer do you need a receptionist or dozens of customer service representatives standing by to give your small business’s customers a big-business experience. Today’s DIY customer service tools let consumers handle their own scheduling and get service the way they want—whether that’s online, by phone or by live chat. Here we highlight some of the most popular appointment scheduling, help desk and live-chat tools for small businesses.
All of the software in this article is cloud-based, meaning you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee for the service and can access it from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Cloud-based software costs less than software you host on your servers, and it’s also easier to access on mobile devices—important when interacting with buyers and clients while out of the office.
Customer Service/Help-Desk Software
These programs have an internal component, helping your representatives document, track and resolve customer service problems, and an external component that enables users to “help themselves”—something many customers today prefer. The super-fast self-checkout line at the grocery story is a testament to that.
Customer service software typically includes…
• A one-stop dashboard where employees can manage all types of interactions with customers, including email, social media, phone, live chat and mobile app all in one place.
• A knowledge base where you can store frequent questions, problems and answers (either for customers to access, or solely for your employees to refer to).
• A self-service portal where customers can get help on their own by looking through FAQs or how-to directions.
• Analytic tools so you can see how well you’re doing at customer service.
All of the software below offers these features.
Zendesk’s advantage: It’s the big name in customer service, with products ranging from small-business to enterprise-level solutions in a huge range of industries. There’s extensive support and education to help you maximize its many features, plus over 100 add-on apps. The downside is some people may find all the options overwhelming.
Pricing: starts at $1/user/month
Companies that rely on Salesforce’s sales and customer relationship management software will gravitate toward Desk.com. It’s owned by Salesforce, so integration with Salesforce products is built in, and it automatically syncs with Sales Cloud.
Pricing: starts at $3/month for three users
Built by a small-business owner who couldn’t find what he needed in help desk software, Groove presents itself as a simpler, more user-friendly and responsive alternative to big names like Desk.com and Zendesk. Responses look like regular emails from individuals, not a computer program, helping maintain your small-company feel, and you can choose from a dozen add-on apps.
Pricing: starts at $15/user/month
Easy to learn and use, Freshdesk stands out for its integration of social media, the ease of developing and maintaining a knowledge base, and customer forums that make it easy for users to interact with each other. It integrates with more than 30 apps.
Pricing: free for up to three agents, but $15/month beyond that
Appointment Scheduling Software
Do you need to schedule appointments with customers or clients? For a consultant, personal trainer, hair salon, plumber or other small business, enabling customers to book their own appointments online can save time, money and hassles—and lead to more clients, more bookings and fewer no-shows. Plus, many customers prefer to book online anyway rather than contacting a business by phone.
Instead of hiring a receptionist to handle appointments or playing phone tag or email tag with customers, investigate these popular appointment scheduling software programs. All of them work on mobile devices, including Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.
Simplicity is the selling point at BookFresh—just install the widget and start accepting appointments right away on your website, Facebook, Twitter or WordPress blog. Bonus: If you don’t have a website, BookFresh will give you one—free. It syncs with existing calendars, including Google Calendar, iCal or Outlook, and sends you automated reminders about appointments. You can accept payments and publish client reviews, too.
Pricing: starts at $29.95/month
Genbook’s strength is that it not only schedules appointments but also lets you offer promotions, improve your visibility on search engines, market your business via social media and publish customer reviews. All of this marketing outreach helps you promote available appointments instead of letting them go unsold. Plus, analytics show your results and help you improve every month.
Pricing: starts at $20/month
A veteran in this industry, Appointment-Plus has been around for over a decade. Customers can book on your website or on Facebook or Twitter, employees can have separate calendars and accounts, and you can even charge customers right when they book. With lots of options and customization choices, Appointment-Plus is ideal for companies with multiple locations or lots of employees. It’s got strong analytics tools, and with solutions up to corporation-level, it can stick with you as you grow your business.
Pricing: starts at $34/location/month
Maybe you don’t need a fully featured customer help desk solution with all its bells and whistles, but you do want the option to engage in a live online chat with customers who need help or who seem to be waffling about an online purchase. Here are two live-chat-only solutions to consider:
This live-chat solution installs on your business’s website, Facebook page, blog and more, and lets you chat using any browser or mobile device. You can transfer chats to other employees and deal with up to 20 different users at a time, making this a good option for companies with a small staff.
Pricing: starts at $29.95/month
Ideal for e-commerce websites, Velaro offers sophisticated tools, including the ability to proactively initiate a chat based on what customers place in their shopping carts, the pages they’re visiting or the items they’re viewing so you can offer help or suggestions.
Pricing: starts at $29.95/month