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FogBugz vs HelpSpot as a Help Desk

Probably because of the type of folks who read this blog I often get the question of whether FogBugz is an appropriate tool for running a help desk and how I think HelpSpot compares to it in this use. So I thought it would be best to simply post about it so I can point folks here.

First my take on bug tracking vs help desk software. In general these two types of apps are about 85% the same. They basically track requests for action. On the one hand it might be to fix the width of a UI control, on the other a request to fix your printer. In terms of creating these types of applications the database structures and code involved are similar.

I find the big difference to be presentation. The UI is very often one of the most different components. Even this can look similar, but on close inspection you’ll see differences. This makes sense because the people using the two types of products are generally very different. A bug tracking app is almost exclusively used by programmers and software professionals like project managers, etc. These people are very comfortable with the world of bugs and the terminology around software development. In addition, there are often very specific rules to be followed. For instance a bug is found by testing, it’s sent back to programming, the programmers fix it and the testers verify.

A piece of help desk software has a very different core group of users, at least ones like HelpSpot which are designed for internal and external customer support. Formal help desks often have far fewer truly technical people. There may be an IT person who installs the software and/or procure it, but often the actual techs are not programmers at all. They’re often not even overly technical, but have simply been trained to support a few specific products. Beyond that, in most organizations the help desk has little or nothing to do with tracking bugs. In fact they usually do little more than report it when they find one.

All of this leads to the big 15% difference between a bug tracking application and a help desk application. Though I am most often asked about FogBugz (Bugzilla’s a close second) it really applies to any bug tracking application. Here’s what I think.

If you’re a group of programmers who also need to provide some or all of the support for a product and your support is mostly email based then a bug tracking application is probably fine for you. It certainly simplifies things by only having to manage a single app, having one place to login, being able to easily move things between bugs and support and so on. However, if you’re mostly or entirely doing customer service and/or you have less technical users involved then a pure help desk software application is probably a better choice. Not that you don’t need a bug tracking solution (HelpSpot would be a bad solution for that), but you need it in addition to a help desk application.

Going with a help desk tool means there’s less technical mumbo jumbo getting in the way of less technically savvy staff. A dedicated tool also will have specific customer service features which can make your life easier. In HelpSpots case it’s things like the customer portal and knowledge books. Since it’s designed to be customer facing there’s also easily customizable portal templates and email templates. Finally, help desk applications tend to be more flexible with workflows, providing unlimited custom fields, allowing request escalation/automation and in general giving a bit more freedom to customize things since each help desk is different and each company is different.

I would also add that there’s something to be said for keeping these functions separate. As an organization grows, pulling your help desk system out of your bug tracking tool could be tricky, so separation from the beginning may be a good idea if you’re planning on growing your support staff down the road.

Hopefully this helps a bit!

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