Zendesk, Customer Service Software That’s Easy to Evaluate

Zendesk Product Evaluation

Zendesk is the customer service offering from Zendesk, Inc. a publicly held, San Francisco, CA based software supplier with 1,000 employees that was founded in 2004. The product provides cloud-based, cross-channel case management, knowledge management, communities and collaboration, and social customer service capabilities across assisted-service, self-service, and social customer service channels.

We evaluated Zendesk against our Evaluation Framework for Customer Service and published our Product Evaluation Report on October 22. Zendesk earned a very good Report Card—Exceeds Requirements grades in Product History and Strategy, Case Management, and Customer Service Integration, and Meets Requirements grades for all other criteria but one, Social Customer Service. Its Needs Improvement grade in Social Customer Service is less an issue with packaged capabilities than it is a requirement for a specialized external app designed for and positioned for wide and deep monitoring of social networks.

Evaluation Framework

Our Evaluation Framework considers an offering’s functionality and implementation, what a product does and how it does it. It also considers the supplier and the supplier’s product marketing (positioning, target markets, packaging and pricing, competition) and product management (release history and cycle, development approach, strategy and plans) for the offering.

We rely on the supplier for product marketing and product management information. First we gather that info from the supplier’s website and press releases and, if the supplier is publicly held, from the supplier’s SEC filings. We speak directly with the supplier for anything else in these areas.

For functionality and implementation, the supplier typically gives us (frequently under NDA) access to the product’s user and developer documentation, the manuals and help files that licensees get. In this era of cloud computing, we’ve been more and more frequently getting access to the product, itself, through online trials. We also read any supplier’s patents and patent applications to learn about the technology foundation of functionality and implementation.

In addition, we entertain the supplier’s presentations and demonstrations. They’re useful to get a feel for the style of the product and the supplier and to understand future capabilities. However, to really understand the product, there’s no substitute for actual usage (where we drive) and/or documentation.

Our research process includes insisting that the supplier reviews and provides feedback on a draft of the Product Evaluation Report. This review process ensures that we respect any NDA, improves the accuracy and usefulness of the information in the report, and prevents embarrassing the supplier and us.

Ease of Evaluation, a New Evaluation Criterion

Our frameworks have never had an Ease of Evaluation criterion. We’ve always figured that we’d do the work to make your evaluation and selection of products easier, faster, and less costly. Our evaluation of Zendesk has us rethinking that. We’ve learned that our Product Evaluation Reports can speed and shorten your evaluation and selection process but that your process doesn’t end with our reports. You do additional evaluation, modifying and extending our criteria or adding criteria for criteria to represent requirements specific to your organization, your business, and/or application for a product. Understanding Ease of Evaluation can further speed and shorten your evaluation and selection process.

So, beginning with our next Product Evaluation Report, you’ll find that Ease of Evaluation criterion in our framework.

Zendesk Was Very Easy to Evaluate

By the way, Zendesk would earn an Exceeds Requirements grade for Ease of Evaluation. We did a 30-day trial of the product. We signed-up for the trial online—no waiting. During the trial we submitted cases to Zendesk Support and we used the Zendesk community forums. In addition, Zendesk.com provided a wealth of detailed information about the product, including technical specifications and a published RESTful API.

Scroll down to the bottom of Zendesk.com’s home page to see a list of UNDER THE HOOD links.

under the hood

Looking at the UNDER THE HOOD links in a bit more detail:

  • Apps and integrations is a link to a marketplace for third party apps. Currently there are more than 300 of them.
  • Developer API is a link to the documentation of Zendesk’s RESTful, JavaScript API. It lists and comprehensively describes more than100 services.
  • Mobile SDK is a link to documentation for Android and iOS SDKs and for the Web Widget API. (The Web Widget embeds Zendesk functionality such as ticketing and knowledgebase search in a website.)
  • Security is a link to descriptions of security-related features descriptions lists of Zendesk’s security compliance certifications and memberships.
  • Tech Specs is a link to a comprehensive collection of documents that describe Zendesk’s functionality and implementation.
  • What’s new is a link to high-level descriptions of recently added capabilities
  • Uptime is a link to info and charts about the availability of Zendesk Inc.’s cloud computing infrastructure
  • Legal is a link to a description of the Terms of Service of the Zendesk offering

We spent considerable time in Tech Specs and Developer API. We found the content to be comprehensive, well organized and easy to access, and well written. The combination of the product trial and UNDER THE HOOD made Zendesk easy to evaluate. And, we did not have to sign an NDA for access to any of this information.

Many suppliers make their offerings as easy to evaluate as Zendesk, Inc. made Zendesk for us. On the other hand, many suppliers are not quite so willing to share detailed information about their products and, especially their underlying technologies. Products and technologies are, after all, software suppliers’ key IP. They have every right to protect this information. They don’t feel that patent protection is enough. Their offerings are much harder to evaluate at the level of our Product Evaluation Reports.

Consider Products That Are Easy to Evaluate

We feel as you should feel that in-depth evaluations are essential to the selection of customer service products. You’ll be spending very significant time and money to deploy and maintain these products. You should never rely on supplier presentations and demonstrations to justify those expenditures. Certainly rely on our reports and use them as the basis for your further, deeper evaluation, including our new Ease of Evaluation criterion. Put those suppliers that facilitate these evaluations on your short lists.

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Product Evaluation: Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience

Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience 

Our evaluation of the August 2013 Release of Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience is this week’s report. You may be more familiar with the product by its former RightNow CX Social Experience or Oracle RightNow Cloud Service Social Experience names. Oracle acquired RightNow in January 2012 and, without a formal announcement, renamed the product sometime during 2Q2013. One other point about the acquisition, the former RightNow R&D team has continued to develop the product, has continued to work out of the former RightNow headquarters site in Bozeman, and has continued the regular, quarterly releases of the product.

Social Experience is one of three “Experiences” in Oracle Social Cloud. The other two are Agent Experience and Web Experience. Each is aptly named for the channel that it supports. The three share a base of common data (Customers, accounts, cases, and knowledge items, for example) and services including business rules, process management, user management, and reporting. Also, product packaging and pricing puts Social Experience “in the box” with Agent and Web Experience. So, social customer service is really built into Oracle Service Cloud and that’s its key strength and differentiator.

Social Experience has these three components:

  • Communities, which supports internal community capabilities of posts and responses on topic threads. Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience Communities is based on technology developed by HiveLive that the then RightNow acquired in 2009.
  • Social Monitor, which provides capabilities to monitor posts on the social web—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and RSS feeds as well as Communities, to analyze the content of monitored social posts, and to interact with social posters.
  • Self Service for Facebook, which lets organizations deploy Oracle Service Cloud web experience and Communities capabilities on their Facebook pages to help Facebook users access Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience Communities and knowledgebase as well as to create cases.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS, and Social Experience Communities are the social sources monitored by Social Experience. While these are certainly the key social networks, the product does not monitor some sources that are critical to customer service, particularly external communities, forums, and blogs. These are sources that customers very commonly use to get answers to questions and solutions to problems. That Social Experience doesn’t monitor them is a serious limitation. Oracle already has the technology to address this limitation, technology that came with its June 2012 acquisition of Collective Intellect. Collective Intellect’s IP was social monitoring and analysis technology. Oracle told us that it’s working on integrating this technology with Oracle Service Cloud.

Twitter for Customer Service

On the topic of Twitter, last week, Patty Seybold published, “Four Reasons Why Customers Prefer Twitter for Customer Service,” a report about how businesses and their customers use Twitter as a key channel for customer service. Patty proposes seven best practices for Twitter-based customer service. Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience can help implement four of the seven—Treat Twitter as an Integrated Customer Service Channel, If You Have Lots of Customers, Establish Customer Service Twitter Accounts, Defuse Anger Publicly; Take the Issue Private, Gather Customers’ Ideas for Next-Gen Products. You’ll implement the other three—Set Customers’ Expectations Re: Times of Day You’ll Respond to Tweets in Real Time, Respond within Minutes, and Don’t Use Automated Responses!—with customer service policies, standards, and procedures. Here are the four with brief descriptions of how Oracle Service Cloud Social Experience helps implement them.

  • Treat Twitter as an Integrated Customer Service Channel

Social Experience Social Monitor searches Twitter for Tweets that are relevant to customer service. Agents and/or analysts specify search queries as strings of language-specific terms of 255 characters or fewer. Queries strings may include the exact match (“”), AND, or OR operators. Analysts can save search queries for execution at a later time or for (regularly) scheduled execution.

Social Experience Social Monitor can automatically create customer service cases from the Tweets in search results and automatically appends the info in subsequent Tweets from the same Twitter account to them.

Social Experience captures customers’ Twitter account info within search results and includes them within Oracle Service Cloud customer data.

  • If You Have Lots of Customers, Establish Customer Service Twitter Accounts

Social Experience supports multiple corporate Twitter accounts that it shares among its users. (It supports corporate Facebook accounts, too.) Businesses can create a hierarchy of corporate Twitter accounts for customer service, organizing them in any appropriate manner—by customer or customer company, by products, by customer service level, or by severity or priority, for example. And, Social Experience’s Corporate Twitter accounts can be set to follow customers’ Twitter accounts.

  • Defuse Anger Publicly; Take the Issue Private

Agents specify whether each of their Tweets on their corporate accounts is public or private.

  • Gather Customers’ Ideas for Next-Gen Products

Cases generated from Social Monitor search results can be ideas for next-gen products as well as the representation of questions and problems.

Pretty good, although a bit of content-based alerting on search results could automate Twitter monitoring. Note that these capabilities of Social Experience’s to support Twitter are capabilities that we’ve seen in other social monitoring and analysis offerings, offerings including Attensity Analyze, and Respond, Clarabridge Analyze, Collaborate, and Engage, and KANA Experience Analytics. All of these offerings have been available for a few years. They’re widely-used and well-proven. Any of them can help make Twitter an integrated customer service channel.

Going forward, we’ll extend our framework for evaluating social customer service products to include Patty’s best practices as