An early Zendesk employee’s advice for managing Zendesk at any size

Written by
Nils Rebehn
Founder, Guidoo
April 4, 2022
min read

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By way of background, I worked at Zendesk from 2011 to 2016. I don’t recall precisely what number employee I was, but it was somewhere around 100. I loved the experience. The growth was tremendous, and in those early days, I got exposure to different parts of the business and many exciting conversations. Plus, I got to see the product develop and replace so many convoluted, legacy support systems.

After five years, I left to do something else, but as often happens with people who spend lots of time with one system, work followed me. After two years of freelancing by request, I founded Guidoo to consult companies on launching and refining Zendesk implementations.

After four years at Guidoo—and with over 11 years working on Zendesk under my belt—here’s my advice for managing that system at any size.

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Never forget that Zendesk’s purpose is to create a better customer experience

It’s easy to get lost in the needs of the business and responding to users, but your North Star is customer experience. I find, the more mature the support organization, the better grasp they have on that. In smaller or newer organizations, the focus is almost entirely on activities—it’s, “How do we get through these 500 tickets?” As support teams grow and mature, it becomes, “How can we use these 500 tickets to improve the system so we never have these 500 tickets ever again?”

This is all to say, don’t just manage the inbound queries from customers. Think of how to help them in a better way. Come up with ways to use what you know in Zendesk and evolve the customer experience.

The cycle should go like this:

#1. Help the customer as best as you can

#2. Get feedback (e. g. by measuring satisfaction)

#3. Find where you fall short on expectations

#4. Improve

#5. Check again

Also realize that customer service lives outside the support department. Every interaction with your business affects the experience, and if a product or service is difficult to use, that’s going to show in your volume of inbound support queries.

Whatever issues you’re seeing reported via Zendesk tickets, pass it along to the business. Informing those other teams makes the product or service better, which improves the overall experience for the users, which in turn, reduces stress on the support team.

Put your existing knowledge to better (re)use

Any knowledge your team generates answering questions for customers has the potential to answer future questions as well. As hard as you think about resolving issues, think about reusing existing answers. Dedicate time to building out your help center straight from material you generated in your tickets. Then reuse those articles via the Answer Bot, Zendesk’s built-in chatbot solution.

Perhaps using chatbots doesn’t seem very new, but when you think about their potential to repurpose existing knowledge, the effects can be exciting. The content doesn't just help customers help themselves. It also helps your team onboard new team members, deflect issues, and provide data on what’s leading to resolutions.

When reusing, you can start small, and don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Write content fast and get it in front of customers whose input can help you refine it. Between one-third and two-thirds of customers expect to find help on a company’s website, and all those eyeballs can translate into a lot of feedback. As those articles get better, expand upon them.

Then reuse, reuse, reuse.

Business engineers face a few unique challenges. Firstly, the role is fairly new so there aren’t  a lot of best practices or methodologies to rely on. This means these folks rely on the interfaces of each application, which often thoroughly lack the safeguards and time-saving principles you might expect from systems so crucial to a company. This all means that errors are frequent, and they tend to cascade across a business until suddenly, they wipe away revenue. Which is what happened with organizations from Avon to HP.

As they say, “Don’t ship the org chart”

Companies’ external communications tend to mirror their internal organization. This is a principle known as Conway’s Law, and it applies to building out your Zendesk implementation.

It isn’t that Zendesk is complex—it’s your company’s unique ways of working that add complexity to the system. Lots of large companies can overdo their Zendesk configuration, and slow it all down with too much of an enterprise mindset. Something that shouldn't take long, like wanting to offer lightning-fast support for ecommerce, explodes into an eighteen-month project with sprawling overhead.

It isn’t that Zendesk is complex—it’s your company’s unique ways of working that add complexity to the system

I see it all the time with companies launching a user help center. Everyone agrees it’s a good idea. Then every stakeholder gets their say, and suddenly, the launch plan requires them to write 200 articles—which delays the launch indefinitely. My challenge to them is: How could we start smaller and test? What if you just answer the top 10 questions, see what people engage with, and then write more? Then you have data for how to write those next 190 articles, and you’ll be helping customers as you go.

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Toward a better user experience

Never forget that Zendesk’s number one purpose within your organization is to improve the customer experience. That’s your North Star. It’s easy to get sucked into a stream of minor requests and conversations about what the business needs—and to add rules and complexity—but don’t let that primary objective out of your sight.

Written by
Nils Rebehn

My team at Guidoo Services helps companies transform their customer service and improve relationships with their customers through Zendesk. I like to describe myself as an entrepreneur, investor, and environmentalist 🌳.

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