Customer service is more than answering questions and solving problems. It’s also key to customer retention. And a 5% higher retention rate translates to 25%-95% in additional profits, according to Harvard Business School. Customer service even impacts sales. Given that it’s so important, how do you stay on top of customer interactions so nothing gets lost and customers get help fast?
But it can be costly.
Luckily, there are at least three great free customer service software options. I’ve compared their reviews, along with their pros and cons, to help you choose which to try first.
Be aware that the features checklist includes features in the highest tier of service. Most free plans have limited functionality, so be sure that the feature you want is included in the free plan.
Kayako, our second most-popular help desk software option, is free to use for registered charities or open-source projects. Most of Kayako’s source code is open and accessible. Only not-for-profits that are charitable (such as IRS code 501(c)(3)), non-government, non-academic, non-political, non-religious, and non-commercial are eligible for the free version.
To find out if you’re in that category, contact them with your registered charity number. Or if you’re an open-source project, make sure your established codebase is available online and open to the public, and is published under a recognized open-source license.
If you’re eligible, you’ll get one license. Which is good for a single installation of Kayako customer service software. You get full technical support, which includes a live rep available 24/7 online. You’ll also have access to upgrades. You can have as many users and departments on the software as you like, but you can only use your license on one live, public domain name.
With Kayako’s SLA system, you can create complicated rule sets with automated follow-up actions to ensure that you meet all your SLA requirements and prevent your staff from missing deadlines and forgetting steps.
Kayako also offers real-time visitor monitoring and the ability to track and record phone calls.
The editable, open-source code makes Kayako pretty customizable. For example you can create department-specific forms.
While you have to buy their live chat functionality separately, it’s very robust and includes video chat and a “call me” button. Gartner predicts that by 2018, more than 100 of the 500 largest global businesses will introduce video chat for customer service.
Capterra reviewer Tony Ortiz, Network Administrator III at Golden Valley Health was less-than-thrilled with Kayako’s UI. “Creating tickets is crude,” Ortiz wrote. “Very difficult to follow. Although creating a ticket if you are an end-user seems simple enough, managing the details of a ticket, its status, searching for it if you don’t know the ticket number, creation of custom detail screens, etc., is horrible.”
The mobile app has a 3.6 star rating in the Google Play store.
If you need flexibility, and have the resources to make the changes you wish to see in your software, Kayako is a great option.
Related: What’s the point of help desk software?
UserVoice is another great option with a free version. It’s number three in our most popular help desk software listing. Uservoice offers its free plan to startups for 12 months. It also offers a free plan with limited features for single users.
Details on who is eligible are sketchy online. I reached out to Heather McCloskey, Inbound Marketing Manager for UserVoice to get more information on who qualifies for the free plan.
But it does appear that startups who participate can use any UserVoice plan with any number of admins.
Our reviewers love UserVoice. It’s got five reviews, and every reviewer gave it five out of five stars on all three criteria: ease of use, customer service, and overall.
UserVoice’s key differentiator is that it helps companies and organizations aggregate, summarize, and prioritize user needs. For example, it will eliminate hundreds of duplicate suggestions spelled or worded slightly differently. Having a bird’s eye view of what customers want makes it easier to choose what product improvements to make first.
Vincent Turner, CEO / Founder at Planwise has been using UserVoice for two years. He loves “the analytics and reports on our feature requests, all components of our support streams, and users. It makes it extremely quick to query the reports and find the exact insights that we need to help us make Product and Business decisions.”
Dejana Bajic, Product Manager at Threadflip, has played that role in various SaaS platforms. “Over the past three years UserVoice has played an essential role in guiding my product decisions. The array of tools they offer really makes it easy to collect user feedback in a less intrusive way. Most importantly, end-users love the feedback UI, too, and seem to keep continue engaging without me having to solicit feedback over and over again. I’ve tried other solutions out there – Zendesk, GetSatisfaction, IdeaScale… Nothing worked as well as UserVoice.”
Ranvir Rai, MD at Zorma, tested a few systems and describes UserVoice having the best ticketing and knowledge base functionality. He’s been using it for two years as well, and says the UserVoice team continually rolls out updates with improvements on its core product.
Turner echoed Rai’s praise about continual improvement, and added some detail. “They are continuously improving their analytics and admin dashboards that empower us to become more data driven as they develop,” Turner wrote. He also likes how UserVoice inserts help articles directly into email responses and keeps track of individual user interactions in the customer database.
Turner called UserVoice’s customer support superb. “They always answer questions that we have very quickly and provide complete and thorough answers. You will never feel like you are talking to a robot because their support team is very friendly, personable and professional.”
Daniel Kan, COO at Exec was impressed with UserVoice’s email integration, specifically how “looked just like regular email.”
For the purposes of a post about free customer service software, the biggest con is not knowing who’s eligible for the free unlimited plan and what the limited plan offers.
Reviewers elsewhere on the web have complained about the start screen being cluttered with information and described the community forum features as “weak.” This reviewer said the forum “doesn’t feel like a forum.” Also if you want to use live chat, you must also use SnapEngage.
The mobile app has a 3.1 star rating in the Google Play store.
UserVoice is definitely a good option for paid subscribers who are dealing with a lot of requests from users. It’s not clear how good the free option is or who’s eligible.
Freshdesk is our fourth most popular help desk software option. They call their free option the Sprout plan. It’s available for up to three agents, with limited functionality. A SmallBizTrends reviewer called the Sprout plan “robust.”
Our reviewers have great thing to say about Freshdesk. It has six reviews with an average rating of 5/5 stars for ease of use, customer service, and overall.
Jane Kaiser, Project Manager at AttorneyYellowPages.com, uses the free version and is impressed with Freshdesk’s customer service. “Their incredible customer service has been involved with me personally since day one,” she wrote.
Justin Haver, Vice President at GoVacuum, has used Desk.com and Zendesk and calls Freshdesk “so much better.” He also sang customer service’s praises. “The customer service, technical and sales support was one of, if not the best experience I’ve had while implementing and migrating tech platforms,” Haver wrote. “Krupesh was very knowledgeable and supportive. Their all in one FreshFone is awesome and much less! Keep up the great work FreshDesk and give Krupesh a raise or I might just have to hire him :)”
Danny Ben Shitrit at Sector Seven wrote “Freshdesk is an easy winner in the help desk software category.” He called the interface “sleek and modern” and the software “highly and easily customizable.” He described the forums and knowledge base as “not designed as an afterthought but rather as full components of the system.”
Ben Shitrit noted that Freshdesk has a lot of features, but wrote that they are “designed so they don’t get in the way.”
Freshdesk integrates with Google Analytics and Salesforce. It has gamification to help encourages productivity. Ben Shitrit described the implementation of gamification mechanics “tasteful.”
The mobile app has a 4.1 star rating in the Google Play store.
Despite its robustness, the aforementioned SmallBizTrends reviewer would like to see Freshdesk beef up its speed. “I read in other reviews related to Freshdesk (and some other solutions) that access could be a bit slow. I personally didn’t find it to be lightning fast, but I wouldn’t complain about it. The same reviewer also thought a greater variety of built-in sample reports would be helpful “so I can understand better what’s possible from that option. But as you can see here, there is no shortage of options once you have some data/tickets flowing.”
Freshdesk is the only option that’s free for more than one user, so it’s definitely your best bet if your team has two or three users.
Kayako, UserVoice, and Freshdesk have great free options for those who qualify.
If you don’t end up qualifying, or need features not included in the free versions, check out Capterra’s Top 20 Help Desk Software infographic. Or to narrow down your options by feature, check out our Customer Service Software directory.
Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.