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The Smith Family + Zendesk: Side-by-side innovation with impact

Learn how the Australian educational nonprofit lowered costs per contact and increased satisfaction levels of its donors and employees by improving its reporting, channel coverage, stability, security, and ease of administration.

The Smith Family
“You can’t replace relationship building with software, but what you can do is automate repetitive tasks so people can focus on people—like the families and students the Smith Family supports. Zendesk really helps move the admin work out of the way.”

Dylan Rose

National Manager, Customer Experience (CX) and Supporter Operations at The Smith Family

“We grow side-by-side with Zendesk because it’s innovating to improve customer experience; we can take that improvement and apply it to our own operations.”

Dylan Rose

National Manager, Customer Experience (CX) and Supporter Operations at The Smith Family





Amount of donations spent on programs



Donor retention rate


Monthly ticket volume


Ticket handling efficiency since 2019

Near the end of Dylan Rose’s first year as national manager, customer experience and supporter operations at the Smith Family—an Australian charity focused on improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children—a caller asked to speak to a team leader. Taking the phone, Rose explained what the Smith Family did, assuming the caller was deciding whether to make a $20 or $100 donation.

The caller asked Rose to call back at the same time the following day, when they would have made a decision. When he did, the caller offered the Smith Family a donation of $180,000. It is a lesson that has stuck with Rose: the supporter experience team must always be available. Zendesk helps make that happen.

With 1 in 6 children and young people in Australia living in poverty and 76 percent of Australians reporting they have seen COVID-19 have a negative effects on the education of children in disadvantage, Rose and his team are using Zendesk to help the organization do more with less, and ensure that more kids can access the educational resources they need to thrive.

Since 2017, the Smith Family has managed an over 100 percent increase in contacts with only a modest 28 percent increase in headcount. And when COVID-19 hit, it quickly decentralized its support operations so leadership could focus on new challenges. How is the not-for-profit able to be so nimble in times of uncertainty? The Smith Family leverages technology to build automated workflows so that agents spend less time on rote tasks and more time building relationships with its supporters and families.

Earning and stretching donations through operational excellence

One of the Smith Family’s hallmarks is consistently raising efficacy standards, whether that comes from better processes, improved security, clearer communication, or stronger relationship building. Its team knows that improved operations means better stewardship of the donations it receives.

In 2017, the Smith Family’s support team handled around 18,000 emails per year; by 2021, the volume had surged to over 54,000 emails. That growth was part of an organization-wide initiative to do more to tackle disadvantage in Australia.

“In 2017, our CEO made a bold decision,” Rose said. “By 2022 we would increase by 30 percent the number of Australian children reached with our effective programs, enabling them to break the cycle of disadvantage and thrive. To achieve this level of growth, we knew we could not do it by ourselves and that financial support from external funders would be vital.”

When the Australian Government committed funding which would help bring an extra 24,000 children in need onto the Smith Family’s Learning for Life program over four years, the organization’s path was set for a massive growth trajectory. As requests related to newly expanded activities grew, the Smith Family looked to technology to help manage the growth in contacts.

After evaluating a number of support platforms in 2018, the Smith Family turned to Zendesk. Zendesk’s ease-of-use, reporting, stability, security, and omnichannel capabilities enabled the Smith Family to scale its services without heavily investing in overhead. It also meant that the Smith Family could work independently, without specialized programmers, and be available, especially when opportunities such as large donations arise.

“We need a platform that is 100 percent available, that’s always working, that’s always reliable,” Rose said. “If we miss a call, it could mean missing out on much-needed donations–and very special ones like that $180,000 gift. It’s just not an option for us not to be available to our customers on any platform they want to contact us on.”

Zendesk enables the Smith Family to make things as easy as possible for any potential donor.

Empathy maps spotlight challenges and opportunities

Because every dollar donated is so important, the Smith Family uses data from multiple sources, including Zendesk, to outline customer journeys to help it understand what is working and where improvements can be made.

“We continually do tests to just make sure that we’re optimizing our messaging and the process flow,” Rose said. “We’re actually building empathy maps to look at where we think processes could go wrong, like someone getting four automated emails before they’ve got a human response. The empathy maps are about really listening to our customers.”

In response to customer feedback, the Smith Family has rolled out simplified eForms equipped with Zendesk Chat so people have positive experiences donating online. As a result, conversion rates skyrocketed from 10 percent to 30 percent over the course of 2020. The Smith Family also implemented Agent Workspace to help agents manage conversations through one central platform. “In terms of efficiency, Agent Workspace is going to be a big improvement,” Rose said. “We really want to centralize as much as possible onto the platform and invest in Zendesk because it is always innovating.”

And that won’t be the end of the charity’s efforts to improve efficiency. “The fact is we never want to stop optimizing,” Rose said. “We will continue to build new and improved workflows in a very affordable way that will help us to help our generous donors provide better support for children in disadvantage. And delivering ongoing customer satisfaction through these improved processes will be absolutely key to achieve.”

Partnership grounded in a shared commitment to innovation

Collaboration, excellence, integrity, respect, and innovation are the five core values at the Smith Family. Rose works with his Zendesk account team to align with these values. The experience of COVID-19 made innovation particularly important, when remote work and doing more with less became necessities.

“A big difference between Zendesk and other platforms is the success manager relationship,” Rose said. “Because of that relationship, we know what’s available. I think we have something like 15 things that we want to do with Zendesk always sitting in the backlog. Whether we’ll get through to all of them is not the point; the fact that they’re available when we are ready to do them is the point.”

For Rose, success is powered by innovation and grounded in successful teamwork and improved outcomes. Over his tenure at the Smith Family, he’s been focused on doing what he can to improve collaboration so anyone who reaches out feels supported and seen. Zendesk makes this simple by capturing the customer voice. With just three clicks an agent can have access to hundreds of quotes from customers on their experiences.

“The thing I’m probably the proudest of having accomplished,” Rose said, “is getting customer experience and supporter care to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind and making it really clear that how the Smith Family handles communication with our supporters is as important as any other part of our organization.”

While serving the children it supports will always come first, making it easy for people to reach out, to either donate or get help, is part of what will continue to build the Smith Family’s reputation and impact in the long run. And Rose is going to keep making sure people can connect in meaningful ways. “I enjoy the not-for-profit culture so much that I decided to stay,” Rose said. “I think I’ll probably stay in the sector for the rest of my career if I can.”