Zendesk: Customer service goes iPad

Customer service is hard. Good customer service is very hard. Great customer service? As rare as unicorn $#!%.

The problem with most corporate thinking about customer service is that it's something done after the fact. We design a product, we make the product, we sell the product and then those guys over there, they answer the post sales questions. And if you've ever asked a customer service rep about whether they can relay a comment to management, most will tell you that's there's no way for them to give feedback to the organization's big dogs.

Those organizations that get customer service and have apparently found the unicorn $#!%, for example, Zappos, do what Apple suggested many years (and marketing campaigns) ago: They think different.

To the likes of Zappos, customer service is a pervasive idea, something that is inherent in how the entire organization functions, not something that is hived off in a corner because it's a pain in the butt.

Now, how do you create such an environment? In this column I won't go into the general management strategies and issues but rather take a brief look at a technology that can, in an organization that's trying to be as customer-focused as possible, transform who is involved in the customer service and how.

The product is Zendesk, a veteran purveyor of Web-based help desk service. Zendesk is, in many ways, a classic help desk system with a trouble ticketing subsystem, workflow support, triggers for auto-assigning by keywords and events, auditing, filtering ... all of the features that you'd expect from a sophisticated customer support system wrapped up in an elegant and responsive Web interface and with a backend API for integration with any service or application you please.

Zendesk also extends and integrates with other communications systems and services. You can send e-mails to Zendesk to become trouble tickets and add a tab to any Web page so users can search a knowledge base or submit a ticket.

You can also convert Twitter "tweets" into Zendesk ticket with one click and "take the conversation private" as well as start a chat session with a customer service agent from within a Zendesk ticket or from a Web page tab.

But much of commonplace thinking about customer service is that it is confined to a deskbound team. Once you move that out from being a group function to be something that engages everyone in the organization, desktop support is not enough. To this end, Zendesk offers apps for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry and, their latest enhancement, an app for the iPad.

Make no mistake, iPad support and pad support in general are huge steps forward for customer service as they allow not just for easier fielding of a complex ticket (trouble tickets can contain way more data than you can easily view on a smartphone screen) but also offer a larger scope of interaction when company representatives are with clients. For example, you can hardly share the display on a smartphone to dig into the customer service system to show a knowledgebase entry to a customer but with a pad device, it's as easy as sharing a book.

Zendesk for iPad is free while pricing for the Zendesk service starts at $9 per agent per month which, when compared to in-house implementation of a customer service solution, is almost insanely cheap!

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