Providing a rich customer experience is imperative in today’s online world. One way to keep customers and prospects happy is to give them a satisfying experience when they seek help.

Two of the top solutions that automate customer-support help-desk operations are Zendesk and Kayako Fusion, both available as online offerings.

Zendesk and Kayako Fusion are both relatively young solutions with garage-type foreign origins and U.S. presences. Zendesk, which was launched in Copenhagen in 2007, has a team of 50 programmers in San Francisco. Kayako, which was formed in Jalandhar, Punjab, India in 2001, was incorporated in Idaho. Kayako rewrote, renamed, and relaunched its solution as Fusion in 2010.

Online chat, password resetting, knowledge databases, and self-serevice are among the features these systems provide. They also offer customer ticketing, collaboration, and workflow to help agents resolve problems. Each allows you to define rules and procedures for categorizing and routing specific help topics to agents.

In a survey, users praised the ease of setup, customization, support, and overall capabilities of both vendors’ solutions.

However, while they both provide a comprehensive help-desk support feature set, each also has unique capabilities.

Zendesk is unique in providing social media capabilities that allow you to monitor and answer queries via Facebook and Twitter. Zendesk also provides a more extensive roster of prebuilt integrations with third-party products and APIs, listing 90+ on its site.

Kayako offers no integration details other than that it provides rich APIs, access to source code, and a developer network to help you integrate.

Zendesk has had a commanding lead in mobile platform support—including iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows phone—but Kayako is catching up.

Kayako initially supported only Windows Phone, but announced Android support in November 2011 and has a beta available for iPhone devices. Mobile support is not one of Kayako’s boasting points, and is not mentioned on its site.

Features touted by Kayako include VoIP integration, intelligent routing, customer screen sharing, and the ability to toggle between phone, e-mail, tickets, and chat while working on a case.

Pricewise, for its entry-level Starter plan (previously $9 per user per month), Zendesk is offering a special deal in which you donate $20 to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and receive a year for free for up to three agents. Zendesk’s other three plans, Regular, Plus, and Enterprise, are $24, $49, and $99 per user per month, respectively, for unlimited users.

The Starter plan, while a bargain, lacks community, knowledgebase, ticket, online chat, e-mail and phone support, as well as other capabilities.

Kayako’s online solution is priced at $49, $29, and $29 per user per month for its Fusion, Engage, and Resolve plans, respectively. Fusion is its full-featured solution, Engage is a live chat and real-time support system, and Resolve is a ticket support system.

Zendesk provides a full side-by-side checklist of features for its plans on its site, while Kayako does not provide a comprehensive list of features, making it more difficult to determine what is included.

For a solution that targets larger SMBs, the sweet spot these companies aim to capture, Zendesk and Kayako’s offerings are both $49 per user per month.

As one user noted, as your number of agents rises, these solutions can get expensive. Kayako offers server-based-solutions that you can run in-house, but this requires installing and managing client/server hardware, network, and communications systems—a scenario that might be cost-effective but that many small businesses want to avoid.

Bottom Line: Both have solid reputations and pricing is similar. As usual, you should evaluate these solutions based on your size, budget, and how the plans, feature sets, and user interfaces match your needs and preferences. Zendesk and Kayako both offer a free trial, so you can test drive each and decide.

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