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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Customer Service Integration

This week’s report is our 1Q2014 Customer Service Update. Briefly, 1Q2014 was a quiet quarter for customer service. Customer growth was down. Only Clarabridge improved significantly in both customer acquisition and repeat business. Product activity was light. Five of our suppliers did not make any product announcements. Company activity was light. Four suppliers did not make any company announcements. Most significantly, Verint acquired KANA. Clarabridge earned a Customer Service Star for 1Q2014 for outstanding customer growth, for significant company activity, and for earning an excellent product evaluation.

We observed one customer service trend—customer service integration. Very important. Customer Service Integration is one of the key criteria in all of our frameworks for evaluating customer service products. Customer service integration can reduce cost to serve and increase customer satisfaction. Integration expands and streamlines the customer service experience. It makes it easier for customers to get answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. It makes it easier for customer service agents to help customers.

For example, from our framework for evaluating virtual agent/virtual assisted-service products, we state, “Through integration with external customer service applications, virtual agent software product deployments can escalate to assisted-service chat or contact center telephone channels, deliver virtual assisted-service on social networks, and/or can answer a wider range of questions, questions that involve the data in cases and accounts, for instance. Integration makes virtual agents more powerful, creating a richer, broader, and deeper virtual assisted-service experience. Integration lowers cost to serve, deflecting/avoiding high-cost interactions with live agents.”

The important integration targets for several types of customer service applications are shown in the Table below. Our evaluation frameworks are the source.

Customer Service Integration
Customer Service Application Type Integration Targets
Virtual agent
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks
Social customer service
  • Account management
  • Case management
  • Contact center
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
Contact center/Case management
  • Account management
  • Communities
  • Knowledge management
  • Live chat
  • Social networks/Social customer service
  • Virtual agents

Table 1. In this Table we present the key integration targets for several types of customer service applications.

In practice, we’ve seen broad and deep customer service integration within CRM suites and customer service suites such as Oracle Service Cloud and Salesforce Service Cloud. For example, Salesforce Service Cloud and Salesforce Sales Cloud are both implemented on the Salesforce1 platform. Platform resources include account data so account management is built in to Service Cloud. The Service Cloud Console gives agents access to cases. Salesforce Knowledge, the firm’s knowledge management offering, Salesforce Communities, the firm’s internal communities offering, and Live Agent, the firm’s live chat offering, are Service Cloud features. Salesforce Social Hub, a feature of the Radian6 component of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, which provides social listening and interaction capabilities, integrates social customer service. While many of these features are separately packaged and separately priced, all are very tightly integrated and that integration is “in the box.”

Individual customer service applications typically do not package integration with external customer service applications. We’ve heard from suppliers of these applications that integration can be accomplished by their professional services organizations, that it’s a “simple matter of programming,” and that they’ve written this code for many of their customers. That may be so, but professional service programming is not product. New releases on either side of the integration interface mean additional custom programming. Programming is never simple.

Alternatively, licensees of these products commonly do integration “at the desktop.” Customer service agents’ desktops have a window open for each of the applications they need to help answer their customers’ questions or solve their problems. Integration at the desktop is complicated. The integration burden is on agents.

This quarter, eGain, IntelliResponse, and Oracle announced new customer service integration. The eGain SAP Certified integration allows contact center agents to search and access the eGain Knowledge Base from the SAP CRM agent console using eGain’s FAQs, natural language and keyword search queries, topic trees, and guided help search methods. The IntelliResponse Virtual Agent (VA) for Salesforce integrates IntelliResponse VA with Salesforce Service Cloud, adding virtual assisted-service to the Service Cloud Console, the Customer Portal, and Service Cloud Communities. In the Oracle Service Cloud February 2014 release, the dynamic forms API for the Customer Portal enables developers to configure a page that asks the customer for additional information, dynamically, before submitting the incident.

We hope that more customer service suppliers will recognize the value in customer service integration. Customer service integration makes their offerings more attractive. It helps their customers create and deliver a better customer service experience, reducing cost to serve and increasing customer satisfaction. It makes it easier and faster for their customers’ customers to get answers and solutions. That’s’ a win, win, win, a no-brainer for sure.

A Good Quarter for Customer Service in 3Q2013

This week, continuing our tenth year of quarterly updates on the suppliers and products in customer service, we published our 3Q2013 Customer Service Update Report. Just a reminder, these reports examine customer service suppliers and their products along the dimensions of customer growth, financial performance, product activity, and company activity. We currently cover ten leading customer service suppliers. They lead in overall market influence and share, in market segment influence and share, and/or in product technology and innovation.

3Q2013 was a good quarter for customer service. Customer growth was up and improved customer growth resulted in improved financial performance. Product activity was light. Six of our suppliers did not make any product announcements, but remember that third quarters are summer quarters. They’re usually never big for products. Company activity was also on the light side but what company action we saw was highlighted by expansion into new markets by four of our suppliers. That’s a key customer service trend and a solid indicator of customer service growth in the quarters ahead. Here’s a bit more detail:

  • On July 17, IntelliResponse and BolderView, a Melbourne, AU-based consultancy specializing in virtual agent solutions for large enterprises in utilities, banking, technology, higher education and government markets, jointly announced that BolderView had become a value-added reseller of IntelliResponse VA for Australia and New Zealand. Within the release, IntelliResponse also announced the opening of its own office in Sydney, AU.
  • On September 5, KANA and Wipro jointly announced a partnership that will apply Wipro’s consulting, systems integration, and insurance industry expertise and experience to accelerate deployments of KANA Enterprise for large global insurers and financial services providers. The companies will form a dedicated, joint deployment team to work on customer deployments.
  • On September 17, Clarabridge announced the expansion of its global operations into Latin America. A sales team will use Miami, FL offices and will leverage Clarabridge’s partnerships with Accenture, Deloitte, and Salesforce.com initially to focus on opportunities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.
  • On September 25, Moxie announced the expansion of its operations in Europe. The expansion includes opening an office in Reading, UK, forming partner ships with Spitze & Company in Denmark and IZO in Spain, and appointing Andrew Mennie General Manager for EMEA.

This expansion is a win for customer service suppliers, a win for their customers, and a win for their customers’ customers.

It’s already winning for customer service suppliers. For example, Moxie claims to have doubled its European customer base in the last six months. New customers include Allied Irish Bank and the British Army. IntelliResponse and BolderView recently launched “Olivia,” their first joint virtual agent deployment. Olivia is the virtual agent for Optus, Australia’s second largest telecommunications provider. And, Creative Virtual, a UK-based virtual agent software supplier that we’ve been covering in our quarterly reports for the past four quarters, recently announced Sabine, the Dutch-speaking virtual agent for NIBC Direct, the online retail unit of The Hague, NE-based bank. Sabine’s deployment is supported from Creative Virtual’s new Amsterdam office. See Sabine at the bottom right of NIBC Direct’s home page, below.

nibc png

Expansion demonstrates the strength and viability of customer service suppliers. Their products have reached the level of maturity and reliability that their deployment “far from home” carries little or no risk. They have the resources to open offices and hire the staff to promote, sell, and support their products in new markets. And they recognize the potential for new and additional business in those markets.

Our suppliers’ customers and their (end) customers in Australia and New Zealand, Latin America, and Europe benefit, too. Customer service applications like Clarabridge Analyze, a CEM (Customer Experience Management) app, Creative Virtual V-Person and IntelliResponse VA (Virtual Agent) virtual agents apps, and Moxie Social Knowledgebase, a social customer service app have been proven to lower cost to serve and to improve customer experiences. Companies in expanded markets that deploy these apps will have more satisfied, more profitable customers. These apps will help answer customers’ questions and solve customers’ problems more quickly and more easily.

We’ve been ready for this expansion. Language support has long been a criterion in our frameworks for evaluating customer service applications. We examine the languages that the apps support for internal users and the globalization/localization facilities to deploy the apps to end customers. Generally, we’ve found that most customer service apps can be localized to support locale-specific deployments. On the other hand, the tools and reporting capabilities for internal users tend to be implemented and supported only in English.