One of the first applications I learned about in the contact center market was customer relationship management (CRM). The core capabilities of a CRM system were to manage customer data, marketing campaigns, sales opportunities and service requests. Vendors also touted them as the source for a comprehensive “360 degree” view of the customer, which they could never actually deliver because they did not include customer financial data, interaction histories or customer sentiment in the form of feedback. In any case CRM applications became integral to contact centers as a source of information to answer customer queries, but in reality they did little to actually manage the customer relationship, which was a factor in why they gained a bad reputation. Over time, many vendors adopted a different approach and broke the CRM category into marketing, sales and service clouds, which although they include additional capabilities basically do the same thing, with one big drawback – customer data is managed in three different systems, reducing the availability of a single source of customer data even further.
Zendesk takes a different approach, maintaining core CRM capabilities while adding others to support customer engagement. Its portfolio consists of seven products, but all customer data is managed in one place, ensuring that all customer-related decisions and actions are based on the same information. Its flagship product is Zendesk Support. It is based on a simple concept – managing customer support tickets, although “support ticket” is in my view a misnomer; in reality it is a record of a task that needs resolving. A task can be anything such as a service request, a sales inquiry, a request for information or an action raised by one employee on another. Users configure rules that define how a task is managed, from tracking and prioritizing through resolution. As I outlined, this is done using a common source of customer data, so all actions, responses and outcomes are made in the context of the individual customer’s relationship with the organization. These capabilities are made available through a common desktop application, which gives users access to tickets, information, actions and collaboration tools using an interface that matches modern user expectations.
These are the six other products:
- Help Center includes self-service capabilities based on a knowledge base, a customer service portal where customers can track tickets and view approved community discussion topics, and online community capabilities to support customer conversations and gain feedback.
- Chat supports real-time, text-based conversations between employees and customers, including the ability for employees to proactively reach out to customers, for example to offer help using a website.
- Talk connects to the organization’s telephone system so that employees can have conversations with customers using the same platform as for other channels.
- Message allows organizations to engage with customers using messaging apps such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Connect collects data from the other Zendesk applications and third-party sources to produce customer journey maps and spot trends, which can be used to trigger personalized, outbound engagement.
- Explore provides analytics capabilities to produce customized reports and analysis for different users concerning all aspects of the customer experience, including how customers use channels, customer sentiment and employee performance in handling interactions.
Overall, the Zendesk suite that was announced in late 2016 is unified and supports engagement through the most common communication channels in a unique way of managing tasks generated by interactions, and its modern analytics includes a complete customer view and journeys across different communication channels – all based on the same customer data and processing rules. Used properly, this combination of capabilities can enable organizations to manage customer interactions in the ways customers expect and provide real customer relationship management.
Customers expect organizations to support their preferred communication channels and they want responses to be personalized, in context and above all consistent – in other words, an omnichannel experience. Our benchmark research into next-generation contact center in the cloud shows less than half (48%) of participants claiming to provide such experiences. Earlier research into next-generation customer engagement identifies the three most commons reasons for falling short in customer experience are difficulty in integrating systems, communication channels managed as silos and responses being inconsistent across touch points. The Zendesk portfolio has capabilities to help overcome these challenges so I recommend that any organization seeking to improve the customer experience assess how it can help in those efforts.
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