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HelpSpot Versus FogBugz

Although the title of this entry is HelpSpot Versus FogBugz, I really don’t think it’s exactly appropriate even though almost everyone seems to want to compare the two head to head (and I have to admit I was somewhat guilty of this last year too). Even Ian, the creator of HelpSpot, goes so far as to say that HelpSpot and FogBugz are 80% similar. I’m going to disagree with him and say the reverse, that they’re only about 20% similar. My company LandlordMax currently uses both of these systems and they’re both great, they both help us tremendously. I can’t imagine being without either.

Now the first thing you should notice is that I said we’re both using them simultaneously. How’s that possible if they’re competing products? The truth is that they do have some overlapping features, there’s no doubt about it, but their core competencies are very different. HelpSpot‘s core competency is customer service. This includes support (email and online form), customer facing (presentation), user manuals, forums, etc. FogBugz is mainly about bug tracking and project management (which in themselves are huge). The overlap is because FogBugz also includes as part of their package a customer service system, and this is where the confusion begins.

When we initially were trying to decide, we went with FogBugz for the simple reason that we got a customer service system with a bug tracking and project management system. We basically were able to get a lot of bang for a lot less buck. FogBugz does a great job of project management and bug tracking. It lets you create multiple projects, move cases between projects, set priorities, estimate times, capture screenshots and create new cases directly in the system, link your cases to your version control, create release notes from the cases, link the cases internally, etc. This is all great! it’s saved us a tremendous amount of time and really helped streamline our development process. The only thing I’d like see is more reports, right now this is very basic or you can purchase a third party software such as Case Detective and DBxtra for FogBugz.

Initially for customer service we also used FogBugz through email. That is as it received emails it would then classify them as new cases within the Inbox (which is basically the same as creating a new case for project called “Inbox”). From here you can treat it as another project case, with the added ability to respond to it (i.e. email the customer).

This worked for us for a while. In the last month or so we started to notice that several of our customers weren’t receiving their reply emails. The issue was because some of the larger email services started to classify some of our emails as spam (probably because they contained terms like mortgage, real estate, etc. – remember our domain is property management software) and move them to their junk folders, at which points many people simply didn’t see them there. I can understand this, it’s the reality of emailing and spam. However understanding and dealing with it were two seperate issues. In our case, it ended up with me sending them a personal email from this domain (FollowSteph.com) explaning what was happening. After several of these, we decided we needed to take more proactive actions.

Initially we looked at FogBugz to help resolve this as it had served us well in the past. However after some emails with the FogBugz support staff and a lot of digging, we found that FogBugz was limited in two respects for us. The first was that if we were to put an online form, FogBugz only has the option of sending an email with the link to the response page. It’s not possible to immediately forward the user to the response webpage (so that they can bookmark it and return to it later should the email get wrongly filtered). Secondly, we quickly found out that FogBugz was not designed to be customer facing. As soon as we started to try to change the look and feel of the system it got very difficult. There are a lot of files to modify with a lot of code and it he presentation logic appears intertwined with the backend logic. For example, a lot of the code goes through a default.php file which is very large file.

All things considered, I can completely understand why FogBugz never really took the time to design their system for customer facing. Remember their core competency is bug tracking and project management, both internal functions. Customer service is mainly done through email, which you can see if you deal with FogBugz themselves. They do provide the functionality but I personally wouldn’t present the interface as it is to the client, even assuming that the layout looked the same as your website, because it’s a fairly advanced user interface.

This brings us to HelpSpot. We re-evaluated HelpSpot and we noticed it did this and much more in regards to customer service. It’s core competency is customer service. Ian, the founder, even mentions that HelpSpot can forced to be a bug tracking system, but it’s really not meant for that. HelpSpot is a customer service system. It provides all the functionality for email support (for example you can have part of the request be private whereas in FogBugz everything is public). It provides enhanced request support, reporting, etc. It also has an easy to use method of tracking tickets online, so that if the customer’s email is filtered as spam and therefore missed, they can just go back to the response web page (with a bookmark) to see if their request has been answered. HelpSpot also offers automation rules on just about anything, which is very handy for customer service (for example we have it that tickets that have no activity from either us or our customers for at least 7 days get automatically closed).

HelpSpot also really shines when it comes to customer facing. Because it’s core competency is customer service, it’s expected that many of HelpSpot’s customers will want their support system to be accessed directly online by the public, so this has been built into the design. HelpSpot calls it “Portal” functionality, which in essence means that they’ve built the ability to template it. What’s great about this is that it’s really easy (I did the customization of HelpSpot for LandlordMax myself) to change the look and feel in minutes. All the files are located in folder called “custom-templates” and there are about a dozen. As far as I remember, almost all of the files are down to one page and self-explanatory, containing only the presentation logic. They aren’t litered with all kinds of business logic. So for example, if you decide you want to move the search form to the top of the page, all you need to do is copy/paste a line to the location you need. If you want to “skin” the website, there is one header, footer, and navigation files which you can edit. The beauty is that you don’t really need to understand the backend or worry about moving around the code, it just works.

The other part where HelpSpot shines is the “Knowledge Books“. This might not seem like such a big feature at first, but once we integrated the LandlordMax User Manual into it, the whole user manual was searchable. Not only that, we’re also in the process of adding our FAQ (Frequetly Asked Questions) and it will search through both documents showing all the results. This is very handy since a lot of our customers often ask similar questions. For example some of the most common pre-sales questions are: How many units can the software handle? Do I receive any upgrades with my purchase? Both are answered on the first page but not directly (for example “No need to worry about getting the latest version. You get every release for 1 year”). In either case, since people ask us these questions, it means that we’re not answering them clearly enough (we’re continually working on this). The good news though is that if you go to the “Get Support” page, you will be able to enter in the search field (coming this week) “How many units can the software handle?” and one of the first search results you’ll see is “FAQ ~ How Many Units Can I Enter?” (as well as several references to other similar topics).

As for discussion forums it appears that HelpSpot is more advanced, but I can’t say for certain as I haven’t used it. I have used the FogBugz discussion forum in the past for FollowSteph.com, at least until I converted it over to WordPress, and it worked as expected. It’s a very easy and simple discussion forum. I have no complaints, it did what I needed it to do.

As you’ve probably noticed from this entry, I’ve talked a bit more about HelpSpot, and that’s because I’m trying to write a HelpSpot Versus FogBugz entry, which means I need to focus on the similarities. Overall, where they overlap, HelpSpot seems to be ahead. That being said, do remember that FogBugz’s core competency is not on the aspects that they overlap. HelpSpot is about customer service and FogBugz is about project management and bug tracking.

At the end of the day, my recommendation is this. If you need a project management system and bug tracking system use FogBugz. If you need a customer service system, use HelpSpot. In retrospect, I believe we made a mistake in our initial decision of just purchasing FogBugz, we should have purchased both systems initially rather than to try and save a few dollars. We would have been much further ahead as we needed both. So plain and simple, use each system for what they are meant to be used for. We use them both because we need both functionality and prefer to have better tools. It might be a little more expensive than just using one, but the difference in functionality and how much they can help you is definitely worth it!

Like this article?


  •     Robin
    · June 20th, 2006  · 4:15 pm  · Permalink

    Interesting post, I have one question though about operating two separate systems in parallel.
    What do you do about mapping a call/calls from a customer recorded in HelpSpot to a bug/bugs entered in FogBugz, and vica versa? That is to say if a customer calls to report one or more issues, which result in bugs being entered into FogBugz, how do you update the status of the call from the customer when the bugs status changes in FugBugz?

  •     Steph
    · June 20th, 2006  · 4:32 pm  · Permalink

    Robin, what we’ve been doing is adding the url link between the two systems. This way if you’re in FogBugz all you need to do is click on the link to the HelpSpot request, and vice versa. Normally if you were only in FogBugz, you would just type in case xxxxx and it would automatically create the link. Now you just need to copy/paste the link. It’s pretty much the same amount of work just a little different.

    As for updating the status of the call once the status of the bug has changed, we generally don’t do this. We try to bring every ticket to closure as soon as possible. We’ve found that 95% of our support questions are pre-sales, with the rest generally being feature requests and the odd bug (for example we haven’t yet received a single support email about a bug since the release of the last version 2.12b almost 2 months ago), so this isn’t as big an issue for us.

  •     Rudolf F. Vanek
    · June 20th, 2006  · 5:52 pm  · Permalink

    “The only thing I’d like see is more reports, right now this is very basic or you can purchase a third party software such as Case Detective.”

    You forgot to mention DBxtra for FogBugz 🙂

    Beside that I agree a 100% with you!


  •     Steph
    · June 20th, 2006  · 10:17 pm  · Permalink

    Thanks for the tip, I’ve updated the post. I’m sorry I missed your tool, I actually even remember having tried it out once.

  •     Rudolf F. Vanek
    · June 21st, 2006  · 12:16 pm  · Permalink

    Thanks a lot.

  •     FollowSteph.com » LandlordMax Discussion Forums are Open
    · August 10th, 2007  · 10:30 pm  · Permalink

    […] And thank you Ian for the great Forum software that’s part of HelpSpot. I don’t know what we’d do without it here. It’s a great product which I recommend to anyone looking for an online help desk support system. […]

  •     FollowSteph.com » HelpSpot a Great Customer Service System
    · December 2nd, 2007  · 11:51 pm  · Permalink

    […] some of you know we use HelpSpot from UserScape as our technical support system. We’ve been using it for some time and it’s a great product. Today we performed a much needed upgrade as we were behind one major upgrade and at least a few […]

  •     Chris Kaday
    · November 3rd, 2011  · 7:42 am  · Permalink

    I have an estate agent client who is evaluating HelpSpot which is great for what they need but they are desperately seeking some help to configure and code it to their reuqirmeents. Do you know any resource or user in the UK preferably London who could do this?

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