Managing customer contacts: help desk, CRM, something else?

My business is expanding, and there are getting to be a lot more pre-sales and support questions than I can handle by myself ina day.

I’ve got enough sales to support hiring someone part time at least to help out with these e-mails and phone calls.

I don’t want to lose any of the conversations over time, though. For example, if a customer asks for something special before their order, I want to make sure that I know about that when they follow up after the order. Or if they are asking for a repeat or clarification of something asked a while back, I’d like to be able to see the original conversation.

I also think this is helpful for training purposes, so I can see how my new employee is responding to the customers.

Finally, I want to be able to assign incoming e-mail requests to a particular person, so that they can handle the customer for that request stream.

Is there a tool that’s oriented around doing this kind of thing? I’ve tried a few different CRM and help desk offerings (and there are a LOT of them on the market) and none seemed quite right.

Interesting. Maybe you can list the ones that you tried and what the issues were that you hit with them specifically?

I spent a tiny bit of time looking into this myself but ended up sticking with gmail for now. I still have a pretty low support volume though and am doing it myself so probably have different needs.

Some of the packages I’ve looked at so far:

Odoo, SugarCRM, Insightly,, Zoho, Streak, Capsule CRM, Nutshell, SupportBee.

Odoo: hard to configure, never got it working.
Capsule CRM: Couldn’t get this to work.
Zoho: Couldn’t get this to work right despite multiple phone calls with support.
SugarCRM: seems to be targeting a way different market.
Insightly: doesn’t automatically save incoming/outgoing e-mails. weird interface, doesn’t seem to support searching.
Streak: simple to use, but again requires you to manually add e-mails to its system.
Nutshell: Didn’t support attachments in e-mails.
SupportBee: favorite so far, but I’ve just signed up for the free trial.

You don’t seem to have tried any of the support / ticketing apps like Zendesk, Freshdesk, and so on

Yep, Freshdesk might work for you. We use it for Tech Support.

Free for 2 or 3 users.

Incoming emails can be assigned to someone. It’ll create a record for them as well. And you can add more info (phone number, etc.)

I’m not sure if NEW emails from that same customer would get assigned to the same rep automatically (although it does have some scripting capability)

Support is surprisingly good in the free level.

You may want to take a peek at Not sure it would fit your needs but it’s a neat tool.

I spent a long time looking 2 years ago at CRM’s and … struggled.

Nearly all my interactions via customers is via an email ticketing system / helpdesk (happens to be Helpspot).

ALL the CRM’s I saw did email tickets poorly (just one e.g. poor at concept of having a ticket assigned to only 1 person at a time) so then you had to use both. But they don’t integrate (apart from in most superficial way).

Also most / all CRM’s deal with individuals whereas most of the info I need is at the company level (e.g. I don’t care if its bob or sarah from acme asking for help - needs to pick up same records).

I knocked my own franken system together using some gaffer tape and javascript - has an iFrame toolbar in front of helpdesk system - javascript polling for email address in ticket - searches in custom DB for basic customer details to put in toolbar with links to main systems. Don’t have anything in place for things like ‘sales pipeline’ (as don’t have a process for inside sales that needs it) etc but could add it.

You should never use a CRM for support tickets. Period.

Also, anyone on this board probably shouldn’t use a CRM for sales/pre-sales. Just do it all through your help desk app. We’re just getting big enough we’re I’m considering using a sales/crm tool for sales stuff, very few companies on this board are HelpSpot size (also you should check out HelpSpot ;)).

If you don’t have a ‘sales person’ CRM will be a waste of time. Funnel it all through support as most small/medium bootstrapped businesses there tends to be little distinction. The same person helping a customer do an install is also giving out pricing details, etc. They only need one tool and that’s a ticketing tool. They’re not going to be pro-actively emailing customers on their birthday, visiting them on-site, manually cold emailing people, etc.


As @ian said, don’t use a CRM for customer support as these functions have two completely different workflows and deliverables. Past a certain scale (say dozens of different customers including people/departments in large corporations), it’s nice to have both types of software and integrate them (i.e. you see support tickets in CRM accounts/contacts). I used in combination with in the past and likes that combo after I had spent a significant amount of time customizing each of them to our needs.

I’m not sure I’d recommend Desk for a company that’s not using SFDC as a few things such as handling inbound spam email took me a fair amount of time to figure out in the admin. On the other hand it’s basically free if you have just one user.

Sounds like the consensus here is to get away from CRM apps and look at the helpdesk focussed stuff.

I guess I started looking into CRM because the conversation views seemed so nice. I’ll dig deeper into the helpdesk world and see what I can find.

How’s this for insanity:

A list of 209 different help desk options!!!

This really goes to show that you shouldn’t worry about re-creating something that already exists. There’s a ton of niches this could apply to which would help you get a handle on things. This applies to CRM, too. When looking at the CRM side, I found a “CRM for tour guides”.

Freshdesk seems to do a little more than SupportBee. It has a bigger following, which makes me feel more comfortable that it’ll be supported. It’s my leading choice for the moment, unless I find a showstopper.

I’m now using Freshdesk alongside regular e-mail.

No major problems yet.

I do wish it was easier to see a customer’s support history when replying.

Also, the ability to set a reminder to follow up in a couple days if the customer has not responsed would be great. This is a very CRM kind of thing. Freshdesk was promising this a couple years ago, but haven’t gotten around to implementing it. See this page:

Someone posted previously about using Trello for working through the sales process with prospects. After looking at a lot of CRMs etc. I realized it had the least friction. Haven’t jumped into that stage yet, but hopefully soon!

We’re using HelpScout for managing support. It’s pretty barebones compared to other solutions, but the functionality they have is great for teams our size (3 people).

Freshdesk seems to be missing the following features which would be really useful to have:

  1. The ability to easily set a followup reminder after a certain number of days.
  2. The ability to ORIGINATE a ticket from within the helpdesk by sending the customer an e-mail

Which help desks have these features?

With SupportBee you can originate a ticket from the help desk, just like sending the customer an email. I’ve just tested this with the free plan.
(we’re also looking for a help desk solution, but prefer self hosted, like HelpSpot. )