Revised May 19, 2017
The emergence and spread of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has dramatically changed the game for both B2B vendors and customers. Producers of a wide array of products—from vehicles to machine tools to jet engines to officer copiers—now have access to the kind of user and usage data that, not long ago, only SaaS software developers could capture.
Professional customers (i.e., those in business/industrial firms, government agencies, non-profits, educational institutions, financial services, and healthcare) are well aware of the data they are providing to vendors, just through normal product usage. They don’t mind giving up their data—as long as that leads to better support and product development.
They also expect service and even vendor engagement options far beyond phone calls and email. The ten tools here enable vendors to extend their support offerings to social media, online knowledge bases, and web chat. Some go even further, empowering customers to collaborate with vendors, and with each other.
Customer Service Management Tools
Google Review Count: 344
Email-based help desk software with performance reporting and integrations to popular web chat and voicemail apps. Includes searchable knowledgebase of articles and documents.
Sample review: “These top customer support tools will help you grow…(check out) HelpScout for nurturing and improving relationships with customers.” — Marketing Insider Group
Pricing: free or $20/$40 per user per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group
Google Review Count: 168
Email-based help desk software with performance reporting and integrations to popular web chat and voicemail apps. Includes searchable knowledgebase of articles and documents. Zendesk expanded its product by acquiring live chat software provider Zopim in 2014.
Sample review: “Zendesk is all about bringing harmony to your help desk and is designed to streamline your customer support system with neat features like ticket views, triggers, and automations.” — AppStorm
Pricing: five levels from $5 to $199 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm, Marketing Insider Group, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 145
Simple help desk software with ticket management for teams, a knowledgebase, support widgets, live chat (through Olark), email integration, and reporting.
Sample review: “Like Zendesk, Groove is another helpdesk that helps you offer awesome support. If you are a smaller business (and are not a tech guru), then Groove might be a better option for you.” — StoreYa Blog
Pricing: free or $15 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 141
Multi-channel help desk software with ticketing, case management, self-service support, and reporting. Owned by Salesforce.com.
Pricing: $20/$60/$100 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm
Google Review Count: 114
Sample review: “Freshdesk is an efficient customer service management application that features a collaborative shared inbox, automatic ticket creation in your helpdesk and the ability to categorize, prioritize, and assign tickets to your team. This transparent approach to customer service makes sure that two agents are never working on the same issue at the same time and ensures tickets get solved quicker, thus increasing customer satisfaction.” — AppStorm
Pricing: free or four levels from $19 to $89 per agent per month
Showcase reviews: AppStorm
Customer Engagement Platforms
Google Review Count: 210
A social community builder tool; create a community site for your brand with features including likes and share, member categories, blogging and commenting, social sign-in (members can sign in through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google), sharing to social media sites, content moderation, and privacy controls.
Sample review: “It probably won’t be the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster any time soon, but the Ning platform allows you to create your very own Facebook. The app helps you play Mark Zuckerberg for your own online community of other professionals, clients, and business owners in your field. In this online space you can share ideas and network without the cocktail hangover.” — Social Media Explorer
Pricing: $25/$49/$99 per month
Showcase reviews: Social Media Explorer
Google Review Count: 185
Tools to acquire (website chat), engage (targeted emails and in-app messages), educate (knowledgebase), and resolve issues for (team chat customer support, email, social, help desk) customers.
Sample review: “Intercom.io allows you to send targeted personalized messages to users of your apps. Be more social with your subscribers! The best tool I’ve found lately is Intercom; a sort of CRM tool for SaaS software companies that makes it easy to see user activity and communicate with…application users.” — RazorSocial
Pricing: $49/$98/$110 per month
Showcase reviews: Marketing Insider Group, RazorSocial, StoreYa Blog
Google Review Count: 120
MindTouch repackages user manuals, FAQ content, product documentation, sell sheets, engineering specs, and other existing content into bite-sized, semantically rich microcontent—much easier for customers to search and work with, and more search-engine-friendly as well.
Sample review: “The idea is to make customer support proactive and not reactive by ‘stopping customer problems before they occur,’ MindTouch says. The company calls it, nebulously, a ‘product experience platform.’ Here are some concrete facts about it: it’s in the cloud; it’s got a web-based, self-service help center component; it integrates with SAP, Salesforce and Zendesk; it alllows for collaborative authoring; and it uses HelpRank machine learning to get smarter. ” — ZDNet
Pricing: contact vendor for quote
Showcase reviews: ZDNet
Google Review Count: 108
WorkOutLoud is a secure, private, collaboration platform that lets you essentially create a private social network for your customers. It includes tools for blogging, group collaboration, surveys, and other functions that help customers “connect, self-organize, collaborate, present challenges, and share solutions” to improve customer retention.
Sample review: “(WorkOutLoud) has produced a platform where a company’s customers can connect with other customers through a digital community. In addition, users can view and interact with an event calendar built by the host corporation…Cultivating brand loyalty through the platform will hopefully reduce customer turnover for the businesses using it…Besides fostering brand allegiance, WorkOutLoud can also be used to gather data about a company’s customers and how those customers are using the platform.” — TECHdotMN
Pricing: contact vendor for quote
Showcase reviews: TECHdotMN
Google Review Count: N/A
Engage is a personalized one-to-one messaging / web chat app for digital sales enablement. Unlike typical web chat tools, Engage lets site visitors browse real profiles of your people, choose who to engage with, re-engage with the same individual on return visits, and know they are having an authentic interaction with a real, identifiable person. While standard web chat tools can be effective on sites with a high volume of low-value transactions, Engage is designed for account-based marketing (ABM) and high-value, considered purchase environments.
Sample review: “The legacy live chat you see on websites hasn’t seen significant innovation in the last decade. The idea of being in a chat queue or speaking with someone you don’t know in a tiny chat box is outdated. Engage…enables organizations to put their customer-facing professionals on their website in an authentic way. Visitors and customers see pictures, names, and job titles, they do not have to wait in a chat queue, they get to choose who they speak with, and they can come back at any future point and start a chat again with the same person.” — FinancesOnline.com
Pricing: $9 per user per month
Showcase reviews: FinancesOnline.com
Google Review Count: 81
SherpaDesk is an all-in-one professional services automation (PSA) platform the incorporates help desk ticket management and routing, remote desktop sessions, time tracking and invoicing, project budgeting and tracking, and a customer engagement/support portal. It also provides customizable reporting, and integrations to accounting and CRM systems.
Pricing: free or $39 per agent per month
This was the 43rd post in the Best Online Business Tools series.
#1: Best Online Business Tools Series Kicks Off Today
#2: The 12 Best Competitive Intelligence and Benchmarking Tools
#3: The Nine Best Facebook Marketing Tools
#4: The 14 Best Content Planning and Research Tools
#5: The 23 Best Content Ideation Tools
#6: The 24 Best Online Writing Tools and Apps
#7: The Six Best Google+ Marketing Tools
#8: The Four Best Online Education Tools For Business Pros
#9: The 14 Best Marketing Automation Tools
#10: The 17 Best Keyword Research Tools for SEO and SEM
#11: The Seven Best File Sharing Tools
#12: The Five Best Infographic Creation Tools and Services
#13: The 28 Best Influencer Marketing Tools
#14: The Five Best Pinterest and Instagram Marketing Tools
#15: The 24 Best Visual Content Creation Tools
#16: The Six Best Online HR, Payroll, and Employee Scheduling Tools
#17: The 20 Best SEO Rank Tracker Tools
#18: The Six Best Screen Capture Tools
#19: The 15 Best Special-Purpose SEO Tools
#20: The Four Best Online Survey Tools
#21: The 26 Best All-in-One SEO Tool Suites
#22: The 32 Best Twitter Marketing Tools
#23: The 29 Best Web Analytics Tools
#24: The 24 Best Email Marketing Tools
#25: The 28 Best Web Design Tools
#26: The 29 Best Social Media Monitoring Tools
#27: The 17 Best Project Management Tools
#28: The 21 Best Content Curation Tools
#29: The 26 Best WordPress Plugins
#30: The 14 Best Personal Productivity Tools
#31: The 11 Best Social Media Campaign Builders and Ad Monitoring Tools
#32: The 12 Best Landing Page and Form Builders for Conversion Rate Optimization
#33: The 17 Best Photo Editing Tools
#34: The Six Best Accounting and Finance Tools for Small Business
#35: The 15 Best Content Distribution and Amplification Tools
#36: The 17 Best Social Media Management Tools
#37: The 23 Best Google Chrome Extensions for Digital Marketers
#38: The 15 Best Audio and Video Editing Tools
#39: The Eight Best Social CRM Tools
#40: The Nine Best Reputation Management, RSS, and Social Search Tools
#41: The 15 Best Screencasting and Online Presentation Tools
#42: The 16 Best Sites for Free Stock Photos and Videos
#43: The 10 Best Customer Service and Customer Engagement Platforms