Freshdesk provides a platform for SMBs with vocal customers

Chennai-based startup aims to provide a knowledge-based, self-service portal as well as a community platform to help companies better engage customers in this social era of business.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

Chennai-based startup Freshdesk is looking to provide a self-service portal and community platform to help small and midsize businesses (SMBs) better engage customers in a social media era. 

Founded in October 2010, Freshdesk provides an on-demand customer support software that works across multiple support channels as well as a helpdesk, a knowledge-based, self-service portal for consumers, and a community platform to engage the customer community. Its customers are typically SMBs looking for cloud-based customer support software. 

According to Freshdesk's blog, penned by co-founder Girish Mathrubootham, who was formerly vice president of product management at Zoho, the founders didn't meet the usual way. They weren't roommates in college. They didn't bump into each other at a coffee shop. In fact, before the idea of Freshdesk even came to be, Girish, who is CEO, and Shan Krishnasamy, co-founder and CTO, were colleagues for 10 years building multi-million dollar products for Zoho.

But that's not where the story of Freshdesk really begins.

Freshdesk really began with a comment--a Hackernews comment, to be exact. The article was about how Zendesk, a prominent player in the customer support space, was raising their prices by 300 percent. A user commented on a huge opportunity in the market that was up for grabs to any player able to get it right for a reasonable price. 

Screenshot from 2013-07-03 19:26:07

The comment was a wake-up call for Girish who said he was in the right position to be that player. He had the experience, the knowledge, and something told him this felt right. This was the thing he had to. But he still had doubts and setting up a company involved a lot of risk.

That week, Girish and Shan decided they were getting into the SaaS (software-as-a-service) customer support software space. Freshdesk was introduced to the world in June 2011. Later the same year, it won the Microsoft Bizspark Startup Challenge which was the startup's seed money.

Over two years later, Freshdesk now has 7,000 customers including the likes of Pearson, Goodreads, and Toshiba, and have raised two rounds of funding so far--from Accel Partners and Tiger Global--raising a total of US$6 million.

Zendesk, Desk.com, and GrooveHQ are some of their competitors. According to the Freshdesk founders, while it costs thousands of dollars for a business to use software from some of the competitors, the tools the Indian company offers are affordably priced and offer full-blown customization options that many competing products lack. 

From the testimonials on its website, the startup certainly gets credit on usability. It claims to know what their users need and offer them unlimited rebranding features across the company's support portal. Desk.com, for instance, charges people additional fees for something as simple as adding custom fields, according to Freshdesk. 

The Indian startup's target audience includes small and large businesses looking for a software to handle their support needs. It offers four service packages for enterprise customers which only pay for features they require. There is also a free plan for businesses with three or fewer support agents.

It also caters to vertical markets and has customers from various segments including tech startups, e-commerce, publishing, education, and healthcare. In particular, it is seeing a lot of traction from industries where customers tend to be more vocal. E-commerce, for instance, is one of its fastest growing customer sectors. 

Until just a few years ago, service support was pretty reactive. Customers would typically come in with issues through e-mail or phone directly to the company. The support infrastructure was always one-to-one. Today, customers expect moire from the companies they do business with. They want to talk to other customers, share ideas, and suggest feedback to the organizations. Often, they end up taking their frustrations outward to social media.

Freshdesk tools help to gather customer queries coming through e-mail and phone, and enable service support teams to address these. They are also touted to enable businesses to be proactive aand provide their customers the platform to engage. Some features the startup says it offers include: 

1. Arcade. Turns customer support function into a game, allowing agents to compete for trophies, badges, and recognition for solving customer support tickets. 

2. Automation. Dispatcher, Supervisor, and Scenario Automations are some of the modules Freshdesk offers which are touted to save agents time and frustration by allowing them to instantly categorize, prioritize, and dispatch tickets to the right agents. 

3. Themes. Any business can rebrand its support portal with its own logo, and alter the look and feel of the support portal with complete CSS customization. There is also a suit of off-the-shelf themes to choose from. 

4. Roles. Admins can choose different roles for their agents, giving them specific privileges over the support portal. For instance, Community Managers can be permitted to only add articles to the knowledge base, and not respond to tickets.

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