Zendesk launches conversation and community engagement tools

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 3, 2019
Summary:
Cloud CRM vendor Zendesk launches multi-channel conversation tool and online community platform to help boost customer engagement

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Business is becoming more conversational. Consumers increasingly expect a more responsive, personalized engagement with the brands they interact with. They're also getting used to conversing among themselves about those interactions. Today, to coincide with its regional Showcase event taking place in its home town of San Francisco, cloud CRM vendor Zendesk launches two new products to help businesses embrace these behavioral trends.

Being based in Silicon Valley has put Zendesk at the heart of "a lot of the breeding ground in terms of customer experience," says Adrian McDermott, President of Products. Today's consumers look for responsiveness, empowerment and transparency, increasingly delivered through conversational channels, he explains:

What we're seeing around the world is this shift towards conversational ways of doing business ... in which the conversation becomes the application.

Sunshine Conversations is the first of today's announcements — a platform for providing rich interactions across multiple social and messaging channels and in a brand's own apps and websites. It provides tools for building a complete conversational experience within the messaging interface, including browsing products, booking reservations and making payment, using AI services to power chatbots or determine when to hand off to a human agent. Built on technology from the acquisition of Smooch earlier this year, it forms part of the AWS-native Sunshine CRM platform first launched last year. This means conversational data can be stored in context to inform subsequent interactions across the business.

Upmarket hotel chain Four Seasons is an early user, enabling guests to use their own preferred messaging channel and any of a hundred different languages to make concierge requests during their stay. "We look to leverage technology in a way that lets us get more personal,” says Marco Trecroce, CIO at Four Seasons. The chain has seen a marked increase in net promoter score from guests using the chat service and its introduction has led to a 25% jump in customer satisfaction for the mobile app.

Moving beyond omni-channel

The value of the messaging layer is that it hides the complexity of the underlying systems away from the customer, says Warren Levitan, VP of Conversational Messaging at Zendesk and former CEO and co-founder of Smooch. The customer doesn't need to know which ticketing system is handling their request, and the ultimate objective is they should be able to switch from one channel to another in the middle of a conversation without missing a beat:

The idea is, focus on the customer, not on the channel ... it's much more about what you're trying to get done with the customer.

We need to move beyond even the word omni-channel. We want our customers to think in a channel-less way, which basically means you don't have to worry about channels anymore. We solve that for you.

The second announcement is Gather — a new platform for online community forums to capture, organize and share knowledge and feedback among and with a brand's customers. Developed out of existing community-focused features in ZenDesk's Guide Enterprise self-service knowledgebase, Gather adds new capabilities such as:

  • Allowing community members to act as moderators
  • The ability to feature popular articles or pin notable posts
  • A search function that surfaces relevant content across both community posts and help center articles
  • New branding and customization options

Design platform InVision has already been using the community function for some time to serve its 5 million user base, with each post attracting hundreds of views on average. Because users can find answers for themselves, it frees up service resources to concentrate on more demanding issues, says Sean Kinney, Senior Director of Support at InVision:

Our enthusiastic community of designers help each other with issues that arise, and we’ve seen some exciting, genuine conversations happening between our customers as a result.

My take

These announcements chime with several trends we've been watching over the past few years.

First of all there's the move to a more human, conversational user experience, in which the underlying applications become 'headless' providers of data and functions that surface in a separate messaging, chatbot or voice layer. Zendesk is doing well to get ahead of the curve here, but as McDermott notes, that's been driven by a customer base that skews towards digital businesses that have been early adopters of this new approach to customer engagement.

This is the sort of thing that looks effortless when it's done well, but relies on a huge amount of co-ordination behind the scenes — integrated datasets of customer information, joined-up processes across the various functions within the enterprise, and an ability to act fast on the latest information. All features of the phenomenon we call frictionless enterprise.

Next there's the trend towards more continuous engagement with customers. We believe this stems from what we call the XaaS Effect — a business approach enabled by connected digital technology, in which vendors maintain engagement with customers, monitor their experience, and work to continuously improve the results customers get from using their products. As the Four Seasons example shows, this model applies just as much to a service business as it can to a product business.

We believe that this model goes beyond customer experience and is very much oriented around customer success — which is more about long-term benefits than short-term experience. Engaging with customers as a community as well as individuals is an invaluable addition to this model. Often customers have a better concept of how to gain benefits from using a product or service than the vendor itself, and they can learn from each other and build on their collective experiences too.

This illustrates the power of networking across an ecosystem, and the importance of nurturing a customer community as well as those individual relationships. Collaboration isn't just something that needs to happen within an enterprise to bring all of these various outcomes to life. It also has a powerful impact beyond the boundaries of each individual organization.