Updating Zendesk users with external data—Part 2

Written by
Jude Kriwald
Zendesk Consultant
March 28, 2023
min read

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In Part 1, we introduced User Fields, what they are, why they are useful, as well as how to make custom User Fields for your organisation’s unique data points.

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Now that we have our User Fields set up as we want them, we want to find a way to update our hundreds or thousands of users in a few clicks so that we can make this information available to agents and automations that we’ll subsequently build.

A Vital Preliminary Step

Before we go ahead and tell Zendesk how to update all of our users, we must consider what exactly that means. Let’s imagine that you have 3,000 customers in your database separate from Zendesk, but only 1,000 of them have requested a ticket since you moved to Zendesk. What’s going to happen to the 2,000 users whose data you upload to Zendesk but don’t yet have a Zendesk user profile?

Unless we’re careful, the answer is that they will all receive an email notification informing them that their Zendesk account has been created. This will cause confusion among your customer-base as well as an influx of messages for your support team to deal with.

Thankfully, we can turn off this setting. Navigate to Admin Centre > People > Configuration > End users or https://YOURDOMAIN.zendesk.com/admin/people/configuration/settings and untick the checkbox labelled “Also send a welcome email when a new user is created by an agent or administrator.”

Now, when you create a new user profile in Zendesk, the end-user will not receive a welcome email out of the blue.

Preparing a CSV for Bulk Edits

To tell Zendesk which customer is a VIP versus Standard customer, we need to format our data taken from our external customer database list. Zendesk requires the CSV to be in a specific format.

Depending on where you store the data that you’d like to input into Zendesk, the steps required to achieve the format Zendesk will accept will vary. Thankfully, just about every customer management, CRM or database tool has an option to download customer data into a spreadsheet.

Ultimately, the CSV we need to create is a very simple one. We need just one column to tell Zendesk which user we want to update. In this case, it is the user email address. Zendesk also allows for phone numbers to be used as unique identifiers.

Ensure that this identifying column is titled exactly “email” or “phone”

The second column is the value for the Tier field we created earlier. Zendesk requires you to use the format “custom_fields.” immediately followed by the Field key we noted down earlier. In our case, that’s “tier”.

Getting more value out of your bulk update

Whilst we’re readying our data to upload into Zendesk, it’s worth considering if there might be any further useful data we’d like to update.

One simple example is our end-users’ names as they appear in Zendesk. Whilst Zendesk is generally very good at ascertaining an end-user’s full name from their email address, some people’s email addresses don’t allow for this, causing end-users to be stored in Zendesk with names that aren’t helpful when trying to use tools like macros that automatically insert the requester’s name.

Thus, if your database export allows for it, we can easily add in our customers’ names. 

Zendesk will still use the email address as the unique identifying field. So, as long as Zendesk finds a user with the given email address, it will update the name and Tier field as per your spreadsheet.

Processing your Customer Data into Zendesk

Now that you’ve prepared your spreadsheet, save the file as a CSV. This is the only file format that Zendesk will accept.

Note that your spreadsheet cannot have more than 2,000 rows in it. If your database is larger than this, you must split it into multiple CSV files, each with the Field keys as row 1, as per our example images.

Now, navigate to Admin Centre > People > Bulk Actions > Import Users or https://YOURDOMAIN.zendesk.com/admin/people/bulk_actions/import-users

Underneath “Select CSV file”, click “Choose file” and upload your CSV, then hit “Import”. A small file like our example will process instantly. A larger file may take a few minutes until you notice the changes to users accounts.

Review Changes

Now, if we look at our Sample customer again, you can see that their Tier status has changed, as per our most recent CSV upload. Note that, updating any user field will also generate a corresponding tag, even though the tag wasn’t our primary aim and is not going to be part of our agent processes. Despite this tag not being useful to us now, it will be much further down the line. For example, Zendesk cannot build a view based on a User Field, so having a corresponding tag in place is super handy!

We can also navigate to the Customers page at https://YOURDOMAIN.zendesk.com/agent/user_filters and see a list of all our customers, along with their updated Tier value

This particular page on Zendesk only shows tags, rather than the Tier field directly. Still, this is confirmation enough that our bulk CSV changes have worked. Click into any user to see that the Tier field has also updated.

Not only has Zendesk updated our first Sample Customer, it has also created user profiles for our seven other sample customers. Now, when any of these customers get in touch via Zendesk, whether it’s their first communication or their tenth, Zendesk will automatically show your agents whether they are a VIP or Standard customer. You can also build many automations, views, SLAs and more on this data point.

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To conclude, we have explored when and why Zendesk User Fields are useful. Then we learned how to create our own custom User Fields to match data stored elsewhere, and how to update these User Fields en masse. This allows you to utilise your customer data to make your Zendesk instance more powerful and align it with how your organisation thinks about its users beyond Zendesk.

Written by
Jude Kriwald

Jude Kriwald first learned to administer Zendesk in 2015 and has been helping businesses improve their customer operations as a freelance consultant since 2018. Offline, he can be found making maps, paragliding or exploring remote places.

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