A short review of Desk.com

In my previous article I wrote about the five most important things every Sass should start with. Here I want to focus on what’s the product we at News@me use for customer care and it’s features I appreciate the most.

Don’t want to keep you on your toes, it’s Desk. Desk is an online software for helpdesk management, that according to its homepage (at the time of writing), offers “Fast awesome customer support”. I think part of the awesome depends on you more than on the tool. On the speed, I have to say that it keeps the promise.

We use it primarily for the following:

  • collect help requests from inside News@me for authenticated users
  • collect help requests from outside News@me, from people who is not signed in yet
  • open tickets for every email delivered at support@newsatme.com
  • publish knowledge base articles in Italian and English language

And of course to manage all the ticket’s lifecycle.

Multilingual support

One thing which made us decide to go with Desk was the multilingual support. It’s really everywhere, in the ticket management, in the documentation, everywhere.

It was very important for us from the beginning because we wanted to deal with both Italian and English speaking customers. So having the possibility to publish help pages in both languages was a requirement.

Talking about documents, the translation system is really smart. When you write a document in the main language, let’s say in English language, it shows whether or not you are missing other languages. If the main document changes, it informs you that the Italian version may be out of date.

Such a feature is probably something you appreciate the most when you have hundreds of doc pages, you’d say. I don’t think so, it’s pretty easy to forget to update a translated version. For us, given we plan to introduce other languages pretty soon (I know dear american readers, may sound strange to you), the mess can easily be multiplied.

The help desk backoffice

I admit, the first time I saw it I was not particularly enchanted. But I’m maybe to much sensible to the latest trends in web design. I’ve used [Zendesk][4] in other projects, which did invest quite a bit recently in more attractive user interface for agents.

Desk is far from there AFAIR. But, all the controls are well placed on the page. You can’t get lost. One cool thing is that it’s easy to navigate through tickets even in the same browser tab. They simply arrange on the top of the page as if the were tabs in the tab, allowing you to easily navigate through them without having a separate browser tab for each.

The left third of the page is for customer and ticket infos, while the right side is for the conversation itself.
There’s everything you can imagine you’d need when dealing with support tickets, so I won’t say the obvious.

Quick codes

Among the few things I use repeatedly each day some are a real time saver. Canned messages are one of those. You can write documents as you would do with normal KB pages, then you mark then as “canned responses”. Those can come with a quick code that you decide. Quick code allows you to have the input field in the ticket reply to be populated in a snap with the document’s text.

That’s nothing special per se, the awesomeness is that it works across different languages. You can assign a language to the current customer (yes, you have to do it manually, it doesn’t even try to guess the customer’s language, unfortunately), you type in the quick code, and the corresponding translated message fills in the text area.


I’ll be short here. Enough to say that you can customize just everything. You can dress your doc pages with the most exotic web design you can imagine. If your clever enough your users won’t even recognize they navigated away from your app to the KB.


There are currently three major integrations we have with Desk right now.

  • single sign on
  • inbound email messages
  • HipChat

Single sign on

Normally, in order to submit a ticket in Desk (as in other ticket support system) you have to fill in a form and leave your email address. This can be annoying for your customers who are already signed in. The single sign on feature allows you to show your customers just a text area to leave the message and a submit button.

In practice, you are telling Desk that you gran for the identity of this user. You have to setup an endpoint on your app to use a shared key and HMAC signature. No rocket science. This is mandatory if you want to provide your users with a seamless integration between the documentation site and your app.

Inbound email messages

A.K.A. the support mailbox. You may want to setup one and configure Desk to pick up messages and open tickets from a specific email account. This is a key point if you want to broaden the input channels (and you want, right?).

Sometimes it happens for the less tech savvy member of the team (i.e. the marketing dept.) to tell customers to use email as the quick way to ping the support team. An inbound email channel is the way to have those messages picked up and transformed in open tickets. No more email driven conversations with customers.


Or whatever you use as a team hub. I’m pretty sure the most common third-party tools are supported. That’s maybe non vital, since agents receive emails anyway whenever a new ticket arrives, but sometimes it’s nice to have tickets appear in the chatroom too. If nothing else, it’s just an occasion to make jokes altogether on ticket subjects.

What I don’t like in Desk

There are few things I don’t like about Desk. The first is the Live chat feature. It never worked well for us. Maybe we did not understand it, but nowadays you want something like Olark on your website.

Some people started a live chat with us on Desk, such conversations were delivered to out inbox as open tickets, but we were never able to start a live chatting session with them as it should be. Maybe live chat is not for us. In the end we removed it.

Another thing I don’t approve is the limitation on the number of agents in the team. You have to pay for a higher plan if you want more people in the team. We are a small team of people, we are four, but the limits for our plan is 3. One has to stay out. That’s the only reason we should buy a higher plan. Odd. But it looks like it’s a kind of industry standard, if you know of someone doing it differently let me know.

Final vote

I don’t know what’s the current state of Desk’s competitors. I’d recommend to start with Desk to anybody with multi-language requirements like ours. I’d also recommend it for the uptime, for the quick replies I had with the few support tickets we opened with them, and the overall reactivity of the interface.

Found this useful? Please drop be a line in the comments on ping me on Twitter @fregini.


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