Kayako vs Zendesk – A No-Holds Barred Comparison

A few years ago, I bought an “owned” license of Kayako that resides on my domain. Since I’m always looking for better solutions, my eye recently wandered over to Zendesk. Why? A few days ago, I found out the Zendesk Starter Plan is $20 per year. That’s very, very affordable for most startup companies. Along the way, I found out some interesting stuff. So here we go Kayako vs. Zendesk.

February 21, 2015 Update: This is an old post from March 7, 2012. Please perform your own due diligence on Kayako and Zendesk before purchasing. The free trials they offer are quite generous and more than enough to make your own informed decision.

Kayako vs. Zendesk Rules

Rule #1. For the purposes of this article, I can only compare the products I own and have used. I’m testing the Zendesk Starter Plan and I currently own Kayako Resolve (help desk only). So going forward, all comparisons are based on these plans.

Rule #2. Both products provide nearly the same exact functionality. But there are significant exceptions. Listed below are these significant exceptions. Any feature not mentioned below is shared by both systems. If you see something missing, tell me in the comments.

9 Ways Zendesk Wins Over Kayako

  • Social Tickets: Zendesk can monitor your Facebook page and Twitter account for problems and create tickets.
  • Forums: Zendesk Starter allows you to setup unlimited Forums for customers to answer their own questions. Kayako has a “Knowledge base” that’s very similar but not quite the same thing.
  • Mobile Applications: Zendesk has their own iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Android applications. The iPhone app works very well. As of this writing, Kayako still hasn’t released theirs. Kayako does have a Windows Phone version, however. There is a 3rd party iPhone app…but it will cost an additional $29 or so in the App Store.
  • WordPress: Everyone is using WordPress these days. Zendesk figured this out and created a WordPress plugin that lets you create tickets from comments. It also lets commenters open tickets instead of commenting. This is an excellent feature. WordPress users can also share their username and password information with Zendesk so it’s “single signon”. Kayako, from what I’ve read, has no plans of supporting WordPress.
  • 3rd Party Integration: WordPress, by the way, is only one of over 90+ integrations that Zendesk has already built.
  • Feedback Tab: Ever wanted one of those “Feedback” tabs that sits on the edge of your website? With Zendesk, it’s easy to drop in with some embed code. This makes it very easy for visitors to open tickets and contact you while they are on your site.
  • SSL Encryption: SSL comes with Zendesk by default. “So what”, you say? Well, remember the previously mentioned “Feedback” tab? You can place it on an SSL checkout page without breaking the SSL session and throwing up browser alerts. With Kayako, you’ll need to buy an SSL certificate and dedicated IP and have it installed on your server.
  • Low Annual Fee: Zendesk Starter wants $20 per year (and they’re giving that to charity). Kayako wants $130 per year for support and upgrades.
  • No Complicated Upgrades or Downtime: Zendesk is a hosted solution, so you never have to update your software to the “next version”. They do it invisibly in the backend. That also means that if your main server goes down, your support desk will continue to operate. That’s really, really important to a customer-based business. Customers always want a way to reach you. If your help desk resides on your main server, then you can potentially lose all ability to communicate with customers unless you resort to Twitter or Facebook.

5 Ways Kayako Wins Over Zendesk

  • Custom Ticket  Fields for Different Departments: This is quite possible the single most important feature that is missing in Zendesk. When you create a department in Kayako, you can create custom fields just for that Department. For example, when John Doe enters a ticket for Software help, you can ask him for the Operating System and Version. But when John opens a ticket for Billing, you can ask for the Account Number. Zendesk can only do this universally for all tickets entered. I couldn’t find a way to do it at a per-department level.
  • Your Own Domain: Zendesk Starter forces you to use a URL. You will need to upgrade to a more expensive plan to use http://support.yourdomain.com. With Kayako owned license, you can install it anywhere you want.
  • Your Own Email: Zendesk Starter forces you to use email@subdomain.zendesk.com to open tickets. You will need to upgrade to a more expensive plan to use youremail@yourdomain.com. With Kayako, you can use any email you want and map it to a specific department if you wish.
  • Unlimited Control: When you have a help desk on your own domain, you can do anything you want. You can rip into the code and edit it, you can perform API magic and more. With a self-hosted solution comes tons of control.
  • Data Ownership: All the data is stored on your server. For some companies, that’s a deal-maker or deal-breaker.
  • Powerful Reporting: Kayako v4 boasts some really powerful reporting functionality.

Kayako vs Zendesk Conclusion

Here is what it boils down to for me. Email and Custom Ticket Fields.

Custom Ticket Fields: If you run the type of company that can use the same ticket submission form and fields, then get Zendesk. If you run multiple departments that require different ticket submission forms and fields, get Kayako.

Multiple Emails: If you have multiple email addresses that need to be regularly scanned for tickets, get Kayako or you’ll be forced to use a more expensive version of Kayako.

Did I miss something? Tell me in the comments.

17 thoughts on “Kayako vs Zendesk – A No-Holds Barred Comparison”

  1. Hi Jesus Perez,

    You miss few things:
    1. Kayako provides the both deployment options, On-premises or SAAS, when zendesk just a SAAS.
    2. The SAAS price very similar, but Zendesk provide basic edition, when Koyako full functionality.
    3. The custom ticket fields for different departments exists in both solutions, but in Zendesk it’s requires enterprise edition, with $99 staff/month (after discount) instead of $29 staff/month in Kayako.
    4. The mobile apps are available for both solutions (released after your post…).
    5. Zendesk has more clear and sexy UI
    6. Zendesk has a sandbox – Changes testing environment with automatic promotion to production, kayako doesn’t 🙁

    Make the right decision,

  2. Between the two, I’d go with Zendesk because so far I find this tool more powerful than any other CRM software in the market. With its integration to social sites, where most users are staying, customer support reps has better ways in trying to reach out to their customers and make sure that their concerns are attended promptly. In case you need to outsource your customer support reps, you may check out Staff.com where you can hire outsourced workers online.

  3. Being a Kayako customer, I would take ANY other provider NOW any day.

    Being a small sized business, I had purchased Kayako Supportsuite v3 at a whopping $500 at that time for the ‘standalone’ lifetime licence.

    Soon, I realized that even though it had a lot of features it had many bugs as well, but the product was heavily updated…so over time I decided to not use it for a while till a more stable version came out…and guess what ..the new v4 did come out and with it a new price tag – $999

    And here is what Kayako team had to say when I requested to get the upgrade ‘offer’ that I happen to miss the deadline by 27 days…

    The upgrade offer for our v3 clients ended on August 1′ 2012. Now we are unable to give you an option to upgrade your help desk to v4 at $130 for an year…

    If you wish to upgrade your help desk to the latest version, then you will need to purchase a new license in V4…

    Kind regards,

    Rakesh Kumar Goyal

    So basically what they are saying is buy the product at full price – $999

    That attitude to me is a no go and trust me I own a lot of licences for a lot of software’s..and not one till now have treated a paying customer like this and most of them have a much lower price point.


    • Alauddin, I can’t believe they wouldn’t make an exception. That’s pretty poor customer service. I guess Kayako doesn’t realize that by upgrading you to v4, you would have likely invested in a $130 upgrade license multiple times over the upcoming years. They could have made that same $999 over the course of a satisfied customer’s lifetime.

  4. Freshdesk looks cool, but it doesn’t have many of the features Kayako has – for example – Live Chat, screen sharing, Click-to-Call and integrated VoIP etc. etc.
    In fact, Zendesk doesn’t have them either AFAIK

  5. We are in the same boat as Alauddin was back when he posted, except that we jumped on-board at $999 for Kayako Fusion. It was a decent solution but we didn’t have time to learn its non-intuitive interface. Therefore, we only touched the surface of its “capabilities.”

    However, I use the term capabilities lightly, because once I hired some new support techs and put one in charge of overhauling our helpdesk; we really began to see the flaws and bugs in the system. It was an arduous journey, to say the least, as KB search did not work and SSO was not available, etc. I also ran into a bug that required an upgrade, which in turn required us to perform an OS upgrade (which was a no-go at the time for a number of reasons).

    Ultimately, we did some minor research and found that certain things about zendesk (in the top 3 at the time) didn’t quite meet our needs. Kayako talked a big game and gave a “big” discount to get me to “upgrade” to “hosted” Fusion. BIG MISTAKE. It took us several months to get things upgraded enough and working well enough to be smooth and streamlined, but still we have no SSO (only on the download version we were convinced to abandon!) and several other irritating issues. I must say that I LOATHE Kayako and their support. It is horrible. Every single ticket we opened was met with an auto response of “just modify your ini file or this or that” and we kept having to reiterate that we were on hosted now. They just don’t listen. It wasn’t until I found the magic phrase of “IF you tell me to modify my ini file on my hosted version, then I will make fun of you!” that they would take the time (it seemed) to actually read what we wrote.

    In the end, I am happy to jump ship and lose BOTH of my entire investments in Kayako ($999 + $1,800 annual for hosted) plus 100s of hours of time invested to making it work.

    I will gladly give all of that up and cut losses.

    I have revisited the top competitors and it appears that zendesk has overcome all of my previous reservations. I would say that freshdesk has also come a long way and is in my top 3 now. However, we are going to try zendesk first based on our research.

    Anyway, I’m not advocating either zendesk or freshdesk, but I am warning others about kayako. If you value your sanity, then stay away.



  6. I’ve been using Kayako since 2008. Like others, we purchased a lifetime license of Kayako for $500 plus paid the (at the time) bi-annual support renewal fees of $49. It was our first real help desk software so it was hard to compare it to what else is out there. The price was right though, you couldn’t beat the price.

    The support we got from Kayako was and still is pretty poor. The company is based in India and all their employees speak with broken english, so it’s hard to communicate sometimes. Their support is also not 24×7, they operate on their local time zone for support so you email in the morning in the US and you might get a response in the afternoon when they begin working. It often takes several days of back and forth to effectively communicate problems to them. They usually request access to FTP and PHPMyAdmin to troubleshoot problems. In the past I even had them troubleshoot a problem in their source code that I never modified and they told me it was my fault for the issue and wouldn’t fix it. I ended up spending several hours digging through their source code to find the problem and fixed it myself.

    When version 4 came out it was missing all sorts of functionality that version 3 had, so we held off on the upgrade. We finally got an email from Kayako in mid-2012 telling us that if we wanted to upgrade to version 4 for free we had to do it within roughly the next 45 days. Otherwise, we would have to pull per user if we decided to upgrade in the future. This timeline is probably for a company that hasn’t built on modules to Kayako, but we had done extensive add-ons and used Kayako as sort of a portal to all the other tools we offered our customers. Basically, we were forced to quickly upgrade to version 4 that was still missing some functionality we were using in version 3. We did the upgrade successfully, but ended up having to build a lot more custom modifications to their source to work around its shortcomings. Now we not only have our customer modules, but we’ve even made changes to their source code to change functionality and fix bugs.

    Since the upgrade it seems we have at least 1 ticket a week open with Kayako where we are reporting a bug to them. It is a bit silly how buggy their product is. We are getting ready to do an upgrade in a few weeks that is supposed to now fix most of those bugs, but it’s turning out to be a nightmare as we have a lot of work to get our custom modules and add-ons working again. Wish us luck.

    I very much would like to move away from Kayako and get on ZenDesk as it has all the functionality we need and even has integrations ready to go out of the box for most of the add-on modules we had to build, like for Jira and a few others.

    Parting words: Kayako is fine if you can get it to work out of the box for what you without add-on modules and your helpdesk is small.

  7. Thanks for this great review, Jesus, and to the rest of you Gents for your honest feedback of your experience with Kayako ~ this is very timely for me, so I really appreciate it:)

  8. We have used Kayako Fusion since v4 was in beta, and it has been rock solid and done exactly what we need it to. However, that’s nothing, compared to their AMAZING support. I am serious; I have never experienced better support in my IT career.
    They are available almost 24/7 on chat, and they will help you out with just about anything, for $130 a year, which is a steal unless you’re some FOSS neckbeard. 🙂
    And by the way, their written english is flawless, better than most americans! I have never called them though, so I can’t comment on phone support, but remote support and chat support? Very, very good!

  9. We have bought Kayako (unlimited license) and have also one SaaS subscription. Never called them but their support in simply perfect like Erlend says. Always clear answers and correct, very impressive. Zendesk is way too much sales driven.

  10. I came across this post and read the comments with interest on my search for a helpdesk solution. We evaluated Kayako, Zendesk and UserVoice circa three months ago and settled on Kayako about 5 weeks ago.

    I have three comments:

    1) I don’t think many of these comments are particularly fair in particular those from old Kayako customers complaining about missing the upgrade offer. Yes, they are sore. They now need to pay for a new Kayako 4 license. But I understand from Kayako’s documentation that they had a *two year window* [https://my.kayako.com/Knowledgebase/Article/View/842/0/kayako-3-eol-end-of-life] in which old Kayako 3 customers could have upgraded entirely for free. Call me a fanboy, but I think that is exceedingly reasonable. In fact, seeing that “grandfather” is one of the reasons why I feel I can trust Kayako for the long term.

    2) Kayako’s support has been nothing but excellent. I mean really, excellent – in terms of attention paid to our questions – however technical – and their follow ups to make sure everything was OK. I’ve seen some comments about people being directed to their “India” team – Kayako was founded in India, I understand, and has always been based there. Despite call center horror stories, I haven’t had any with Kayako.

    3) I see this blog post was published in early 2012. It came up in my search for helpdesks and Kayako information – and caused some concerns when I recommended Kayako internally, mainly because it is a lightning rod for some old Kayako customers who, to put it simply, missed out on their own accord. I think that’s unfair to Kayako. I wonder if the author should be responsible for updating this post re-reviewing Kayako and Zendesk to see how the two stack up today, or providing clarification in the post in respect to these comments.

    Thank you for reading my two – well, maybe three – cents.

  11. Hi Jesus

    Thanks for the writeup. I understand the review rule: “For the purposes of this article, I can only compare the products I own and have used. I’m testing the Zendesk Starter Plan and I currently own Kayako Resolve (help desk only).” – that is a nice approach to take.

    However, I think you’ve only reviewed Kayako Resolve (now called Kayako Case) on the basis of our on-premise offering (purchase a license, install it yourself). We offer our three products as subscription SaaS, starting from $24, and always have done.

    > SSL Encryption: […] With Kayako, you’ll need to buy an SSL certificate and dedicated IP and have it installed on your server.

    Kayako also comes with SSL by default. However, if you choose to buy the on-premise version of Kayako and install and maintain Kayako on your own web server, then indeed yes: you will need to configure SSL on your webserver.

    > No Complicated Upgrades or Downtime

    Ditto for Kayako 🙂

    > Kayako does have a Windows Phone version, however. There is a 3rd party iPhone app…but it will cost an additional $29 or so in the App Store.

    We have great native apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android smartphones and tablets, Windows Phone, Blackberry 10 and Blackberry… older: http://www.kayako.com/mobile.


    Jamie @ Kayako

  12. Thanks Jesus for this review, even though it’s now a few years old… based on this I’m leaning heavily towards ZenDesk, but I was wondering if you’ve seen any major changes to either platform since you first wrote this…? Thanks again!

    • This is an old review. These days I’m still using Zendesk happily and the feature differences have slimmed to a few. Both are solid choices. Tip: check out Freshdesk as well. I’m hearing good things about them.


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