Zoho Desk review

Cheap yet powerful helpdesk

Our Verdict

For those that use Zoho products already, Zoho desk is a no-brainer. For everyone else, this is a powerful and flexible solution that costs relatively little per agent for the full feature set. The low cost of a seat makes it ideal for small and growing businesses.

For

  • Very powerful
  • Cheap per agent
  • Brandable

Against

  • A little daunting to configure
  • No self-service options
  • Lacks asset registers

Zoho is a private company based in India that previously went by the name of AdventNet Inc until 2009.

Following the success of Zoho CRM, Projects, Creator, Sheet, Docs and Meeting, the company took the name of its application suite. And, have since expanded its software offerings with a complete Office suite, Agile project management and Business intelligence software.

Zoho Desk is its support platform and works in conjunction with other solutions to provide a powerful but inexpensive means to deliver a unified service experience.
At just $12 per agent per month, is Zoho Desk a helpdesk solution that is just too good to be true?

(Image credit: Zoho)

Features

In terms of features, it’s hard to know where to start with Zoho Desk, as it has almost all the features that we’ve seen on other help platforms and a few that are wholly exclusive.

At its heart, and most of the competitor products, this is a ticket management engine where requests for help can be processed from different channels into a single customer-centric database.

Agents can be allocated tickets automatically, based on skills or manually, and all communication with the customer is held in the system ready to help them again or continue support where required.

Tickets can be organised by numerous different priorities, and managers can be made aware of tickets that exceed the SLA rules and are overdue for a response.

For efficient ticket handling, Zoho Desk has several features that users of other systems will be familiar.

Usually called ‘macros’ on other systems, Zoho Desk labels them as ‘snippets’, and you can define block responses to help accelerate a conversation with embedded fields from held information.

Another useful ticketing feature is the way that Zoho Desk implements notes, specifically those that aren’t meant for the customer to see. Notifications can be either included in the response or sit outside but connected, helping subsequent support staff to avoid repeating previously unsuccessful exercises.

Administrators can also build ticket processing macros that run when a ticket is active, alerting sales staff that a customer has used the system for the first time, for example. Or, triggering an approval request from staff in a different department, if refunds are involved.

Beyond these Macro functions, this system has a proper workflow implementation that has a programmable language called Deluge (Data Enriched Language for the Universal Grid Environment).

Deluge is incredibly powerful in the right hands, as it has access to the SDK and API of all Zoho products and external web services, allowing for very sophisticated responses to the customer to be coded.

For those that can’t code, the alternative is Blueprint, a graphical workflow tool where business processes can be easily translated into actions the system will take when they’re required.

One feature needs mention is that Zoho Desk has integrated VoIP telephony. Using this capability, an agent can divert an online chat into a verbal conversation using Twilio, RingCentral, AWS and more than a dozen other providers.

Talking to agents can save ticket handling time, but how do you feel about allowing them to talk to an AI?

Zia is the AI member of the support team that can access the support knowledge base that the system builds and can chat with customers about their problem and negate the need for human intervention.

Depending on how well, or not, that goes, Zia has the tools to analyse the sentiment of any human interaction and judge if the customer is happy or not. And, it is possible to train the AI to be an expert in a specific business and its language, so that the responses it generates are more helpful.

The only major features that aren’t included at those that would make Zoho Desk ITIL compliant, such as an asset register, change manager or problem documenter. These are specific requirements for IT support solutions, and Zoho Desk is built for more general scenarios at this time.

This limitation might well change, as Zoho has implemented a marketplace for coded extensions. At the moment it only offers seven that Zoho coded, two that Microsoft built and another five by other third-party companies.

These currently connect Zoho Desk to JIRA, Salesforce, Slack, Zapier, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Zoho CRM, Zoho Analytics, Zoho Assist, Zoho Invoice, Zoho Books and Cliq.

This selection doesn’t compare with the hundreds of extensions that Freshdesk has, but it is a start.

We should also mention that access to marketplace extensions requires a paid plan.

(Image credit: Zoho)

Interface

If you’ve seen a web-based interface to a help platform, then nothing about Zoho Desk will shock or surprise you.

In this one the menu is along the top and sub-menu down the left side, leaving 90% or more of the browser for the lists, reports or input.

A thin ribbon along the very bottom give quick access to contacts, chat, keyboard shortcuts, pending activities, recent items, feedback and search.

Once an agent understands how to handle a ticket, and the options available to facilitate that, it’s all very straightforward.

But where it stands out from other systems is the sheer number of options that some submenus have.

Typically, the setup menu on a helpdesk might have up to ten sections, but the Zoho Desk one has that many for many of its eight headings. In total we counted 43 sections, covering everything from permissions to SLAs and developer API information.

The number of sections reveals the massive functionality buried in Zoho Desk just below the surface, and the only danger with having this much is that some very useful things might get overlooked by a business trying to get a system up as quickly as possible.

Zoho has provided some excellent support information for its product but having a staff member who has used this solution in anger before would be very helpful for those wanting to deliver a support system on a tight schedule.

(Image credit: Zoho)

A mobile version is available on iOS and Android devices that are primarily for ticket handling, should you want field support staff generating or closing them away from the office.

Security

In some helpdesk solutions security is encompassed by a password and the web interface using an SSL channel, but Zoho offers much more than that.

Access to a Zoho account for any of its applications is tied to two-factor authentication, allowing codes to be generated by the Google authenticator, for example.

These methodologies aren’t amazingly secure, but they are better than just passwords.

Where Zoho goes the extra security mile is in how agents can be controlled in the system, as they can be given very specific limits to their powers.

Profiles can be created so that new agents can’t change the ownership of a ticket or create content for the knowledge base, and the controls are remarkably granular.

Beyond that scope, field-level security can be applied to system information, enabling the changes an agent can make to fit better their role and responsibilities.

The defining of teams, roles and their associated powers are for a business to decide, and the system can implement those once they’re agreed.

We’re sure that it is possible to use Zoho Desk in a highly insecure manner, but the controls are in place to make it highly secure if a business using it can be motivated to use them.

(Image credit: Zoho)

Plans and pricing

Zoho has one of the simplest cost models of any support solution, with just four plans and one of those is free.

For free Zoho Desk offers three agents, and basic ticket tracking with a single agent email, priority-based SLAs, reports, dashboards, re-branding and even domain mapping.

Probably the only significant limitation of the free plan is that it only has email and web-form channels, and not the multi-channel support of the paid plans.

The first paid rung is the Professional plan that costs $15 per agent month paid monthly or $12 if you subscribe annually. Professional adds multi-channel support, automation, advanced SLAs, sync with Zoho CRM, VoIP telephony, enhanced reporting and dashboards, Zoho Books and Invoice integration, Atlassian Jira integration, Slack integration, Marketplace for Zoho Desk and social media connections.

Enterprise agents cost $30 per month and get everything in the Professional plan plus a new contextual AI system (currently in Beta), multi-branding support, contract management, custom ticket templates and a live chat channel. An annual subscription to Enterprise costs just $25 per agent.

Free, Professional and Enterprise are the standard ways to license Zoho Desk, but it also comes as part of a Zoho CRM Plus package that costs $60 per agent per month ($50 annually). This option provides in addition to Desk, Visitor tracking, marketing automation, social marketing, AI, Sales, Analytics, Project management and Surveys.
Considering that some help desk solutions charge more than this just for a single tool, this is an exceptional bargain.

Therefore, Zoho Desk combines a feature-rich solution with affordable pricing and excellent integrations. Which begs the obvious question; what does it not do brilliantly?

As we’ve already mentioned, the number of features in this product are so numerous that it might overwhelm a less technical management team.

We’d recommend employing a Zoho implementation expert to get the helpdesk on the right track and avoid poor choices that are difficult to undo a year or so down the road.

The other weakness is that some businesses aren’t Cloud fans and would ideally like to install the product locally, and this isn’t an option, or likely to become one.
Helpdesk solutions offering this choice are dwindling. It’s easier to manage software versioning online and make global tweaks when required. But if this is a prerequisite, then Zoho Desk isn’t for you.

Final verdict

Given the functionality, even in the free version, it isn’t hard to see why its competitors are concerned about Zoho Desk. To them, it represents a low-cost and fully featured future that probably isn’t part of their commercial plans.

Zoho Desk is the disruptive influence in this commercial space and a solution that all helpdesk using businesses should look at before investing elsewhere.