Ops News & Trends
February 20, 2020

Zendesk vs Jira Service Desk: The Definitive Guide

Choosing a new help desk software is a pain. Seriously. There are multiple options to evaluate, hundreds of features to go through, and too many pricing models to compare. Today we're taking a closer look at Zendesk and Jira Service Desk to help you identify which fits your workflow the best.

When you look at the top help desk (er...service desk) platforms, you realize pretty quickly - they’re all very similar. So how do you find the one that will work best for you?

Here's the secret - choosing a new internal IT help desk solution isn’t about the overall feature set. It's about which product matches your existing company workflows. If your new help desk means you have to shoehorn a new process onto your colleagues.

‍You won’t be able to determine which software fits your company the best until you try it out. So the first order of business is to find the deal breakers that help you know which one to trial/demo. 

Today we’ll look at some of the differences between Zendesk and Jira Service Desk - two of the most popular platforms for managing internal IT support requests. Even though they have a lot of feature overlap, the differences in their features may tell you exactly what you need to make a decision. Our goal is to have you cruising into your help desk trial like a kid in a station wagon.

Ready? Let's take a look at what these two platforms have to offer.


🎟 Ticketing

Ticketing functionality is a pretty straightforward thing, and as you’d expect, both Zendesk Support and Jira Service Desk offer robust ticketing solutions with a clean, navigable interface. 

Each platform also offers advanced capabilities to handle tickets like multilingual support, different forms for different request types, and business rules and automations. You can use either to assign different tickets to different agents based on particular skills, for instance. However, each has its own special features that the other one sometimes can’t match.


Zendesk’s clean ticketing interface

Zendesk offers conditional fields for request forms. These offer customers a more intuitive experience, and often contribute to higher CSAT scores. Additionally, Zendesk offers Guided mode - a key feature which allows you to round-robin requests. If you want to make sure your support team members don’t cherry-pick the easy tickets to work on, this one’s for you.

Jira Service Desk offers none of these features out of the box - however, you can find add-ons that do the same things in the Jira Apps Marketplace. (This will be a common thread between both platforms throughout the course of this blog, so get used to it!)


Jira Service Desk’s solid ticketing interface

While Zendesk offers a lot of tools to make the customer experience better, Jira Service Desk offers a few features that can be a game-changer for internal IT teams. First off, if you align to the ITSM or ITIL methodology, you’re in luck - Jira is ITIL-certified and offers seven ITSM workflow templates out of the box. Zendesk has no pre-configured ITSM templates - you can build them yourself, if you’re okay with taking the time to do so.

Additionally, Jira Service Desk offers a visual workflow editor. This tool is a major step up when creating complex routing rules for requests. (Zendesk’s rule editor is quite functional, but not visual). 


Jira Service Desk’s workflow editor

If you’re concerned with complex workflows that align to ITIL and ITSM standards, you may want to take a look at Jira first; but if you’re more concerned about a seamless customer experience, Zendesk might be for you.


📫 Communication Channels

One of the better-known rules of IT: employees will communicate however they want to. If you want people to reach out via a web form, they’ll reach out via email. Or phone. Or text messages. Or Slack/MS Teams. (And tomorrow it will be something else).

Your internal customers are going to communicate with you via whatever means is most convenient for them - so whatever is dominant at your company, you’d better make sure your help desk system supports it.

So which inbound channels do Zendesk Support and Jira Service Desk work with?

Zendesk offers all of the above. While it only supports email and web forms out of the box, you can purchase the additional Talk and Chat products to enable live chat, SMS text messaging, and phone support.

Like Zendesk, Jira Service Desk offers email and web forms out of the box. To enable chat, SMS, or phone support, you’ll need to turn to the Marketplace and subscribe to a 3rd-party tool.

The good news is, both Zendesk and Jira offer Slack and MS Teams add-ons in their marketplaces, so you’re all set there. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that those Slack integrations are limited. If you get a lot of volume via Slack or MS Teams, you'll certainly want to account for that communication channel.

(Shameless plug - this is something we do. If you’re getting support requests via Slack or Teams, take a look at Halp. We let your agents manage tickets from directly in Slack, have our own ticketing back-end designed for internal operations and can also integrate with Zendesk and Jira) 


🔀 Integrations: Does it play well with others?

In a lot of cases, you’ll need extra functionality that connects your help desk system to other systems. Whether it’s a complex ERP or a simple project management tool, both Jira and Zendesk offer lots of options - just in different ways.

Zendesk doesn’t offer out-of-the-box integration with any project management software - but all is not lost! The Zendesk Marketplace lets you connect to a huge number of options like Monday, Trello, and more. And even if you don’t find the integration you need there, you can always use a tool like Zapier to connect your other apps with Zendesk.

Jira Service Desk, on the other hand, integrates seamlessly with Jira Software to enable project and issue tracking. If you already use Jira for software development, adding Jira Service Desk for IT may be a no-brainer. The two integrate easily out of the box - so if you ever need to send something over to engineering, it’s as simple as pressing a button. (And Zapier is also an option.)

This is one of the significant differences between Zendesk and Jira Service Desk. If you’re already using Jira Software to manage your development work, it’s an easy decision to try Jira Service Desk first.

For other integrations, the App Marketplaces and Zapier integrations offer the ability to quickly integrate either platform with existing solutions. Both Jira Service Desk and Zendesk also offer developer APIs, making them incredibly extensible, and able to connect to almost anything you want to build.


🎓 Knowledge Base & Self-Help

Adding a knowledge base can help decrease your ticket load and streamline your operations. A good knowledge base integration not only allows your employee customers to help themselves, but it also provides a good resource to streamline replies to common requests.

Zendesk comes standard with a light version of the Zendesk Guide knowledge base, but if you want to really get the most out of it, you’ll need to pay extra for seats with Zendesk Guide. For an extra fee you can add their Answer Bot assistant to route customers to self-service using machine learning.


Zendesk’s Answer Bot

This is one of the places where Jira Service Desk falls behind Zendesk. They offer no bundled “light” knowledge base. For the meantime, you can opt to purchase Atlassian’s Confluence app. If you’re already using Confluence that may be a compelling reason to go with Jira. If you’re set up with Confluence and Jira Service Desk, you’ll see it suggest relevant Confluence articles from the Jira Portal when users open a ticket. 


Atlassian Confluence, Jira’s Knowledge Base


📈 Reporting & Trend Analysis

Another key benefit to a well-built help desk or service desk is the ability to review progress and dig into the data. You want to be able to determine “How are my agents doing?” as well as spot trends with common requests and issues. 

Both Zendesk and Jira Service Desk offer basic reporting features, including the ability to collect CSAT surveys and improve service levels. But this is another area where you may have to fork over a little extra funds to get the functionality you really need. 

Jira Service Desk offers a number of different dashboards, and you can export to Excel for more detailed analysis. As always, the Jira Marketplace offers 200+ integrations to customize your installation, many of them geared around reporting and analytics.

Zendesk Support once again offers basic reporting functionality; if you find you need more powerful reporting, you can purchase the Zendesk Explore add-on to better dig into your metrics.  


🙌 Other Features

Jira Service Desk offers a couple of other relevant features that don’t appear natively in Zendesk: 

  • First off, Jira Service Desk lets you integrate SLAs into your workflows. You can use them to keep track of deadlines and automatically escalate certain tasks to notify the right team members and prevent SLA breaches.
  • Secondly, if your organization requires your IT support software to be on-premises, Jira offers a self-managed version called Jira Service Desk Server to help you stay within your security guidelines. 
  • Atlassian is also known for a more self-serve model, so you can expect a less hands on approach, whereas Zendesk will have an account manager and dedicated support depending on the size of your organization. 


💰 What’s It All Cost?

That is the million dollar question, isn’t it? (Let’s hope not.)

Both Zendesk and Jira Service Desk have per-agent pricing, so you can scale your budget up as your team grows. Zendesk pricing starts at $5 per month per agent, but realistically for IT teams the $49/agent/month tier would be the only tier that could handle basic functionality, and in order to have multiple request forms most IT teams end up paying $99/agent/month. 

(Zendesk also offers a bundled suite pricing at $89 per agent per month - which may be a great deal if you need lots of their additional functionality.)

Jira Service Desk pricing starts out at $20 per agent month and goes down as you add more users, but also scales upward as you add confluence, added functionality and different plugins. 

Generally, Jira Service Desk is more of a budget option but additional plugin pricing can creep up on you quickly. Zendesk starts at a higher price but comes with most of what you need and is predictable as you grow. 

Given the wide range of prices, we recommend you determine the essential features you need and price it from there.

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As we mentioned above, an internal IT team's greatest battle is often with company culture. You can't force your company to align to new processes - you have to meet them where they are. 

Neither one of these platforms is “better” than the other one. Despite some differences in functionality, both Zendesk and Jira Service Desk are capable of doing most everything you need. But you won’t know for sure until you try the products. 

So get to it, and let us know what you find!


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