Making Customer Support Sexy: Zendesk’s Help Desk Lovefest

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its crowdsourcing approach (users with specific problems can subscribe to message threads where other users and/or company representatives might post solutions). And with so much of the business world migrating to the Web, the marketplace for Web-based help desk software is literally rife with competition, from Kayako and Tender to Atlassian’s Jira and UserScape’s HelpSpot.

But to hear Ovsyannikov tell it, most of the competing help desk systems were designed with help desk administrators in mind, not actual customers. “They’re mainly focused on the user experience for the agent—the dashboard or the console—but not the user coming to report a problem,” he says. “They make it really easy to track and resolve a problem, but really hard to submit the problem in the first place, so people don’t feel that it’s easy to communicate with the organization. That’s where we have really innovated.”

One of Zendesk’s signature features, in Ovsyannikov’s view, is the “e-mail only help desk.” Using this feature, Zendesk subscribers who want to keep things simple need only publish an e-mail address, such as “support@acme.com,” and the system will automatically route incoming messages to the right support agent based on rules the subscribers specify. Zendesk logs each issue and tracks whether it’s been resolved, but subscribers get to use their existing e-mail client as their help system, rather than having to learn an unfamiliar new interface.

Zendesk also developed a “drop box” help widget that subscribers can insert into their websites with just a few lines of JavaScript code. The code places a tab labeled “Support” or “Help” or “Ask Us” on a browser window’s left margin; clicking the tab opens a box that allows site visitors to send feedback, questions, or issues directly to help desk agents.

The more ways customers can reach an organization, the happier they’ll be, Ovsyannikov argues. “The first inertia that was added to Zendesk was when our customers started hearing from their customers that the support was all of a sudden so much better because of these multiple ways to connect, to close the gap of silence,” he says.

One of Zendesk’s biggest clients is Twitter, and the way the red-hot Web messaging company has implemented Zendesk illustrates the help desk system’s flexibility. If you go to support.twitter.com, you’ll see a page that looks for all the world as if it’s simply another section of Twitter’s own site. But in fact, the page is entirely powered by Zendesk. “It’s a very nice example of how customizable the application is,” says Ovsyannikov.

Twitter’s Zendesk site is notable for another reason—it’s very heavy on FAQ-style information, with the aim of making it easy for customers to find out the answers to questions on their own, before they end up opening an actual trouble ticket. This is the “knowledge base” feature of Zendesk, rolled out in May. “Twitter is innovating with a new concept that nobody except the founders understood a few years ago,” says Ovsyannikov. “So they knew they needed … Next Page »

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

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