Zendesk Focuses on Communities, Conversations With Latest Help Desk Offerings

Customer service software provider Zendesk is betting big on conversational business solutions and the power of peer-driven communities to help its subscribers offer more comprehensive and engaging help desk solutions.

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'We are launching products to help our clients build richer experiences and more engagement with their customers," Adrian McDermott, President of Products at Zendesk, told PCMag. "Companies that succeed today are those that shift their entire focus towards building better experiences." He added that the key ingredients of great help desk solutions are responsiveness, empowerment, and transparency, which he said Zendesk's new offerings aim to offer clients.

Customer engagement through messaging has been on Zendesk's agenda for much of this year. In May, the company launched Sunshine Conversations, the result of the acquisition of omnichannel chat platform provider Smooch. In August, WhatsApp for Zendesk was launched, enabling help desk support for 1.5 billion chat users in 180 countries.

Chat-based Conversations: The Future of Customer Service?

Zendesk believes that businesses and consumers are moving away from the web-based model of interacting with each other. In the past, websites or social media pages on Facebook were how consumers engaged companies' support services. This engagement has moved to mobile through the use of applications and phone-optimized websites. Now, Zendesk is touting conversations through chat and messaging as the next evolution of customer service. "The conversation becomes the application," McDermott said."

As an example, he cited luxury hotel company Four Seasons Hotels, which has a conversational concierge-like service reachable on Facebook Messenger, Line, SMS, Twitter, and WeChat. McDermott added that Four Seasons Hotels saw a seven-point increase for guests that use chat in its Net Promoter Score (NPS), a standard used to measure customer loyalty.

"One would think that engaging face-to-face or through voice-based interactions would be a more powerful way to engage with the brand," McDermott said. "But [chat-based conversations] are low-friction, easy, and enjoyable interactions that drive up loyalty towards the hotel."

Sunshine Conversations, Zendesk's new application programming interface (API)-based platform, lets companies use social media and various messaging services to reach and engage customers. Unlike telephone support calls, chat interactions have no queues, they're sessionless, and they're familiar to users because they work like popular messaging apps, such as Apple's iMessage or Facebook Messenger."The ability to add social messaging to Zendesk apps [e.g., Support, Chat, and Sell] will ultimately be sold as add-ons on a per-seat basis," said Warren Levitan, Vice President for Conversational Business at Zendesk. "For connecting social messaging to third-party CRMs or for conversational business extensions like bots and payments, Sunshine Conversations is available for new and existing customers." Levitan added that entry-level plans will start at $145 per month for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and enterprise plans will start at $5,000 per month plus usage.

Betting on the Power of Communities

Zendesk also launched Zendesk Gather, a solution that it says helps companies provide customer support by creating online community forums. Zendesk Gather (which begins at $9 per agent per month, billed annually) is a platform to build communities for businesses where their customers can engage with each other and with company support staff. The idea is to crowdsource solutions while building engagement among customers. The service includes community forums, ticket escalation, moderator permissions, integrated search, reporting, and analytics.

"Communities are powerful, self-serve solutions because they expand the opportunities customers have to get their questions answered by opening the pool beyond agents to other customers, peers, and experts to help," said Shawna Wolverton, Senior Vice President for Product at Zendesk. "Community questions are more transparent as they're not locked away like 1:1 support ticket conversations so they are available as public resources to help others with the same need in the future."

The company said the advantage for users seeking solutions is that they can cast a wider net to solve support issues, and connect with other users and moderators that have encountered and possibly solved similar issues. The challenge for the company is building a sustainable community with enough active participants.

Being given the Moderator role is one incentive given to users who actively participate in a company's customer support activities in Zendesk Gather. "The Moderator role is a great way to reward customers who are active contributors to a community and eager to help out," Wolverton explained.

Moderators in Zendesk Gather have the ability to promote, pin, or move posts; set various statuses, and hide or approve content for moderation.

Zendesk hopes its peer-based community solution can supplement businesses' help desk solutions. "Communities thrive when they become a place to go for support, inspiration, and advice from peers and experts," Wolverton said.

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This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.