I had to call tech support for my DVR the other week. It’s something I loathe to do. However, I lucked into a great help desk technician who walked me through my issues. He was working from his house in Colorado. This prompted me to revisit some cloud based help desk solutions and I found three solid ones that integrate with Google Apps for Business.
Consumerization is changing the face of enterprise IT especially help desk solutions by helping meet the following challenges:
- Heavy turnover in help desk jobs either through attrition or help desk agents advancing to software development, system administration, or other higher-level positions.
- Growing requirements that customer facing and even enterprise help desks work remotely like the help desk agent who resolved my DVR issue.
- Customer demands for more web-based and social media support.
- Help desk agents are from the “browser generation” used to accessing apps via a browser.
Today’s cloud help desk solutions draw from a lot of consumer technologies such as browser based interfaces and social tools. Google Apps can help with another layer of consumer tools to help improve help desk infrastructure and agent to customer communications.
The following cloud help desks are available in the Google Apps Marketplace.
The Salesforce Company is the mind behind Desk.com, a social help desk. Integrate Desk.com with Google Apps and then a help desk team can conduct all of their business from the cloud regardless of their locations
It supports traditional support channels such as the phone and online support including email, live chat, or social networking tools like Facebook or Twitter. It’s also mobile friendly with help desk agents able to access Desk.com features through its HTML5 interface through an iPhone, Android, or Blackberry device.
Throw Google Apps for Business integration behind it with support for the following:
- User provisioning enabling Read Only access to corporate Gmail boxes for users to manage and respond to customer emails.
- Email access with Read/Write/Send access that displays a list of corporate email inboxes available for connection to Desk.com.
You must have Open ID configured in order to make the required Desk.com configuration changes. While I can understand (and even appreciate) the Open ID requirement, it does add a degree of complexity to the help desk setup.
While the provisioning and email access options available in Desk.com/Google Apps integration certainly help simplify setup and ongoing maintenance, I was really hoping to find a content creation option with help desk agents able to create and manage knowledgebase content within Desk.com using Google Docs and/or Google Drive.
Figure A shows an example of a ticket in Desk.com.
Freshdesk competes against Desk.com. It offers help desk ticketing, a knowledge base, and online community forums. Help desk technicians can interact with customers using the traditional means including email, web, and the phone. There is also support for interacting with customers using Facebook and Twitter.
It requires that Single Sign On (SSO) be configured in your Google Apps domain to complete the integration steps with Google Apps. This adds another level of complexity to the integration but is actually a prudent security move.
Freshdesk includes more integration with Google Apps for Business including Read/Write access to contacts and the following email options:
- CC recipient addresses
- Message body
- Raw subject line
- Sender address
- Subject line
- To Recipient addresses
Figure B shows an example of the Freshdesk dashboard.
This is a solution to choose if you plan to do a lot of email based support because its email features surpass what you’ll find in Desk.com and Zendesk.
Zendesk is also a proponent of developing a more consumer/social help desk experience with their flagship Zendesk product. It supports:
- Multiple communications channels including web, email, phone, social media, and an online knowledge base.
- Customizable reports about your help desk activity
- Native mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Android.
The Zendesk/Google Apps integration is primarily for controlling Zendesk setup including:
- Read only user provisioning for retrieving users from Google Apps and then add then as helpdesk agents in Zendesk
- API access via https://apps-apis.google.com/a/feeds/domain/#readonly for retrieving the organization name, number of users, and language for Zendesk account setup.
The Zendesk setup and Google Apps integration is amongst the easiest I’ve yet to see in the Google Apps Marketplace. It is wizard driven, clearly documented, and its also graphically pleasing right down to a screen where you can assign Google Apps users as help desk agents.
Once you configure Zendesk, you have the option to forward support requests from existing email accounts into your Zendesk account so they become help desk tickets. I like Zendesk as a potential help desk platform for small to medium businesses and start up companies because of its easy setup, usability, and the integration with Google Apps just makes it even better.
Figure C shows a view of a sample help desk ticket request ready for submission in Zendesk:
Zendesk Sample Ticket Request
Google Apps furthering the consumerization of the help desk
Integrating Google Apps for Business with one of the cloud based help desk solutions I profile in this post adds further browser based tools to the help desk agent’s existing toolset of web, chat, and social tools that customers have come to expect from today’s help desk. While I feel help desk agents are short changed on the content development/knowledge management side it’s hard to deny that Google Apps can play a role in the consumerization of the IT help desk.
TechRepublic and ZDNet delve deeper into this topic in a special report page: BYOD and the Consumerization of IT.