Zendesk Has a Twicket to Ride Twitter

7/13/10Follow @wroush

Score another one for Twitter. Like Facebook and Google, the San Francisco-based microblogging service has ingrained itself into so many corners of the Internet that other companies are altering their strategies, and their vocabularies, to accommodate it.

The latest example: Zendesk, the provider of Web-based customer support software, today introduced a new feature allowing companies to turn tweets into help tickets—dubbed, of course, “twickets.” Once a customer’s tweet has been made into a twicket, Zendesk’s software will record the entire Twitter conversation, in effect turning Twitter into a new channel for customer support and engagement.

“We decided that innovation will not come from creating whole new channels of social support [for customers] but by making existing ones business-relevant,” says Maksim Ovsyannikov, vice president of product management at the San Francisco-based startup. “Without any integration or any need to modify your workflow or the Twitter client you’re using, be it Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or Twitter.com, you can natively turn a tweet into a ticket and then basically hit this ‘record button’ between you as a company and the individual who has a question or is submitting feedback.”

After several months in beta testing, the new Twitter features are now available to all 5,000-plus companies using Zendesk, who pay anywhere from $9 per month to $59 per month for access to the company’s system for collecting and tracking complaints and help requests.

Zendesk is portraying the new feature as a way for businesses to tame Twitter, which is normally a cacophony of random comments, replies, and retweets—but, for better or worse, is also the forum where an increasing number of people turn first to voice comments or complaints about companies and their products and services.

“Being able to connect the twittersphere with your current customer service workflow is something we believe will change a lot of companies’ perception of Twitter,” writes CEO Mikkel Svane in a blog post today. “A chaotic cloud of shouts and conversations can become the foundation of a new business process; one ensuring participation and clear and timely communications.”

Zendesk pulls tweets into its tracking system using a little-known Twitter feature called favorites. Originally intended as a way to allow regular Twitter users to mark and collect specific tweets in a favorites folder, the favorite function is the only way available through Twitter’s public application programming interface for third-party software makers to “tag” a tweet with additional information. The function has now been appropriated by Zendesk as the marker that a customer-support conversation has begun.

“We configure certain Twitter accounts in a company that are allowed to convert tweets into twickets,” says Ovsyannikov. “They can continue using any Twitter client, and the second they mark a tweet as a favorite, Zendesk will listen for that and pull that into a twicket in the workflow, and then the entirety of the conversation gets recorded.” The recording continues until the conversation is marked as resolved.

According to Ovsyannikov, the new Twitter features help to broaden the scope of Zendesk beyond the simple tracking of customer-support requests. Anyone whose Twitter account is properly configured can turn a tweet into a twicket that’s then seen by others in the company. This means, for example, that a CEO who sees a negative comment about his or her company on Twitter can flag it for follow-up by the company’s marketing or sales staff.

“At the end of the day we are interested in any possible way to intensify the relationship that our customers have with their customers,” says Ovsyannikov. “How can we get into the middle of these conversations and anticipate their needs? Listening to their feedback on social channels anticipates the needs.”

At least one early user is raving about the Twitter feature. In Zendesk’s press announcement today, Beth Halel, a support manager at San Francisco-based mobile phone payment startup Square, calls the Zendesk-Twitter integration “pretty much the best thing that’s ever happened to Square support…It gives us a chance to use Twitter the way it was meant to be used, by allowing us the chance to give real shape to Twitter support requests.” (Square was founded by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey.)

Zendesk was founded in Denmark in 2007, moved its headquarters to Boston in early 2009 after winning funding from Waltham, MA-based Charles River Ventures, then moved to San Francisco in late 2009 after winning more funding from Menlo Park, CA-based Benchmark Capital.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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