The digital age has brought a wealth of new customer service solutions to businesses of every size. Long gone are the days when a customer with a problem had their choice between writing a paper letter, waiting on hold (potentially for hours), or just giving up on finding a solution to their customer service troubles. Now there are plenty of digital avenues to good customer service: email, text, social media, chatbots, and more.

Two of the most common tools now being used by businesses are CRMs (customer relationship management software) and help desk software. While some might be under the impression these are the same thing, they’re actually not. They have separate (though frequently overlapping) functions, and there are some reasons to choose one over the other, depending on your needs.

So what is the difference between a CRM and help desk software? Let’s take a look.

What is CRM Software?

Customer relationship management software is a digital tool for managing a company’s relationships and interactions with customers. The goals of a CRM include maintaining connections with customers, attracting new and potential customers, streamlining business processes, and overall increasing a company’s profitability.

A typical CRM software suite will have tools for managing contacts, managing sales, and helping with agent productivity. One of the main functions of a CRM system is to maintain and manage customer relationships through the entire “life cycle” of the customer — from lead tracking and conversion, through sales, and into customer service interaction.

The prime appeal of a CRM system is the centralized management of contacts. While we’re a long way from a Rolodex of customer phone numbers, there is still an astonishing amount of customer data out there to be tracked, analyzed, and exploited. A CRM tool stores that data in one location, so it can be searched, retrieved, and updated as needed by any relevant personnel in the organization.

A CRM system can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from sales and recruitment to marketing and customer service. In short, it makes it much easier for companies to manage various needs from one central location.

What Is a Help Desk System?

Help desk software, on the other hand, has a somewhat narrower focus, which is right there in the name: help.

The entire goal of a good help desk system is to maximize the effectiveness of a company’s customer support. A typical help desk software suite will include tools for voice support, email support, chatbots and live support chat, knowledge base libraries, and customer reporting. The main focus is on retaining customers, building loyalty, and increasing customer satisfaction to help improve the company’s bottom line.

How does this help a company go above and beyond the service provided by email or phone support? A few ways:

  • Help desk software is predictive, meaning AI and machine learning can foresee customer issues quickly and anticipate customer needs even before major problems arise. 
  • Incoming requests can be managed, tracked, and assigned, minimizing any cross-communication problems or misunderstandings. 
  • Customer needs are addressed more immediately, thanks to omnichannel support that offers multiple avenues to solving problems, which in turn increases customer satisfaction. 
  • Help desk software can improve the performance of a customer service team by increasing transparency and collecting data across the entire organization. 
  • Data analysis can help identify trends and predict customer needs, such as finding the most common questions asked by customers — so the answers to those questions can be made more prominent. 

Which Do You Need?

So which system is better? Should you use both? That depends entirely on your needs.

When deciding between a CRMS or help desk system, you should first take a hard look at your needs. Is your current system for managing contacts and sales working for you? Do you need to focus more on how your help desk is managed

These questions are vital to making an informed choice. While a CRM can handle customer service requests, help desk software might not be useful for the other functions a CRM provides. But also, a help desk system devoted to only solving customer service issues is going to be more comprehensive and useful for that task alone.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • A CRMS may offer more in terms of customer tracking and management beyond customer service than a help desk system. 
  • A help desk system is likely to offer a broader suite of customer-facing communication methods (social media, chat, etc. ) 
  • Both feature a ticketing system to track customer cases. 

Finally, it is possible to get the best of both worlds by finding a CRM system that will integrate with a help desk system. This will allow for both more sophisticated options for prospective and ongoing customer relations, while providing the robust array of customer care options afforded by a help desk system.