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Article 9 min read

Here’s how companies actually got faster at solving customer issues last year

Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference.

By Maggie Mazzetti, Staff Writer

Last updated October 14, 2021

Image credit: Liam Cobb


When a customer contacts a support team, two things are top of mind—how quickly they can solve their problem and how fast a company responds to them when they need help. In recent Zendesk research, 73 percent of customers say their number one priority is a fast resolution, while 59 percent say it’s a fast response that matters most.

Either way, it’s reason enough for companies to pay attention. No one wants to keep customers waiting, especially as good customer support experiences become increasingly important drivers of customer loyalty and spend.

“We saw a 1,200 percent increase in parents contacting us and over a 750 percent increase in contacts from teachers.” Laurie LeDuc, Khan Academy’s head of community support

In the last year, however, record high engagement from customers means that for many companies it’s getting harder and harder to prioritize speed. In fact, tickets have settled at a 20 percent higher baseline globally compared to where they were just before the pandemic began. And for industries that saw the greatest impacts from the global shutdowns (think food and grocery delivery, e-commerce, and remote work and education platforms), these rates were even higher.

Food delivery app, Grubhub, reported a 100 percent growth in ticket volume since February 2020, largely due to new customers and increased concerns around safety. And non-profit education platform Khan Academy saw engagement skyrocket in the pandemic’s early days.

“We saw a 1,200 percent increase in parents contacting us and over a 750 percent increase in contacts from teachers,” said Laurie LeDuc, Khan Academy’s head of community support. The support team was overwhelmed by the sudden surge—how can teams deliver the fast support that customers expect when they’re managing more tickets than ever before?

Nearly a third of companies actually got faster at resolving customer issues, despite having more tickets coming in.

Despite the odds, nearly a third of companies using Zendesk actually got faster at resolving customer issues this past year. Though this group saw ticket volumes jump an average of 91 percent compared to 2019, resolution times fell by 53 percent.

That’s a cumulative 2.3 million minutes saved, on average, across the year, or 972 minutes per ticket. And what’s more, a similar number dropped their response times, as well.

How did they do it? To learn more, we looked deeper into the Zendesk Benchmark, which tracks key indicators from thousands of companies that power their support operations using Zendesk. Here’s what we found:

Response and resolution times dropped across all channels

Companies that dropped their response and resolution times during the pandemic managed to do so across all channels, with improvements across phone, social messaging, and email and webform channels making some of the biggest differences.

While adoption rates were similar when compared to other companies, we did notice that those who improved their response and resolution times were less reliant overall on phone support—which makes sense.

When customers call in for support, the agent they speak with can only work on that one ticket at a time. There’s no moving back and forth between tickets or handling multiple chat windows simultaneously. Of course that’s not the only way to think of channel benefits or drawbacks—many customers actually prefer phone support because it’s direct and more personable. But it’s certainly not the most effective way to tackle huge ticket backlogs.

faster resolutions

Small gains from workflow management tools add up

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. When it comes to getting faster answers for customers, nothing seems to matter more than the small efficiency gains from using tools like macros, triggers, and automations.

Companies that increased their efficiency (by dropping their response or resolution times by at least two percent, while also managing at least a two percent increase in tickets) were:

  • adding automations at a 67 percent faster rate;

  • adding triggers at a 33 percent faster rate; and

  • adding macros at a 10 percent faster rate than everyone else.

What are macros, triggers, and automations?

  1. Macros

    A macro is a prepared response or action that can be applied by an agent when they are creating or updating tickets, including updating ticket fields, changing the ticket assignee, adding comments, or adding attachments. Macros can save agents the time and effort of manually responding to multiple customers with the same issue.
  2. Triggers

    Triggers are business rules that you define that run automatically when a ticket is created or updated, and if certain conditions are met. This can include notifying customers when you’re out of office or sending customers satisfaction score follow-ups. They can also help get tickets to the right people, escalate certain issues, or route priority customers to a specialized support team.
  3. Automations

    Automations are similar to triggers, but are set to run based on specific time-events rather than only when tickets are created or updated. These are helpful tools for keeping track of unresolved or unassigned tickets, and making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. For instance, agents with unresolved tickets could get a reminder every hour, or managers could get a similar notification for new tickets that remain unassigned after a reasonable amount of time.

Automating time-consuming parts of the agent workflow, including one feature that makes it possible for diners to make order changes and initiate refunds themselves, has helped Grubhub reduce their contacts per order by 37 percent. “We’re now at the lowest contacts-per-order rate that we’ve seen in years,” says Michael Wireko, director of care support at Grubhub.

And it’s an easy process fix to implement. After the initial surge, Grubhub’s team got new workflow automations up within two weeks, making it possible to handle mass cancellations and refunds when restaurants weren’t able to fulfill orders, and proactively create tickets so that agents could intervene on a diner’s behalf.

And automations across the ticketing process at Khan Academy have helped the support team better triage tickets as they come in, prioritizing what needs immediate help, who should help them, and what issues can wait. “We use ticket forms as the sole gateway to support,” says LeDuc, “which really enables us to power through triage and automate a lot of flows.”

Agents are quickly becoming more efficient

When agents don’t have to spend as much time working on simple, repeatable tasks like routing tickets to the right person or sending mass responses to customers with the same issue, they’re able to focus on solving more problems.

Unsurprisingly, this group has made some remarkable gains in agent efficiency. In fact, companies responding faster to customers over the past year saw a 72 percent jump in the average number of tickets processed per agent, a rate that increased nearly 50 percent faster than other companies.

Companies responding faster to customers saw agent efficiency jump 72 percent, on average.

And these companies are now relying more on agents that can work across channels, so-called “blended agents.” Put simply, having agents that can staff multiple channels means that teams can scale support as needed to meet any changes in demand. The average daily number of agents working across multiple channels spiked 71 percent—22 percent faster than everyone else.

Self-service helps to solve problems before they become tickets

Self-service also has an important role to play. And why not? When customers can find the answers they need themselves, they don’t need to speak to a support agent. At scale, these ticket deflections mean fewer backlogs, reduced wait times for other customers, and more time for agents to spend on complex issues.

It makes sense then that companies responding faster to customers—even while managing higher ticket rates—are adding articles to their help centers 70 percent faster than those who have been unable to keep response rates low.

“We get about a million hits a month. If you equate that to ticket deflection, we’re eliminating tens of thousands of contacts.”Danny Duong, director of customer experience at Discord

Discord, a communication platform typically used by gamers, saw its user base expand exponentially over the last year. Virtual classrooms, book clubs, study groups, restaurateurs, and digital conventions all began to use Discord to gather online.

To manage the influx in customer requests, the support team leaned on their help center. “We get about a million hits a month,” said Danny Duong, director of customer experience at Discord. “If you equate that to ticket deflection, we’re eliminating tens of thousands of contacts.” With a 10 percent deflection rate, one out of every 10 Discord users that needs help never has to contact an agent to get it.

Help your support team work smarter

When it comes to getting faster answers for customers, the way you work might be the only thing standing in your way. Where should companies start if they’re looking to find and eliminate bottlenecks that are slowing down their support teams?

  1. Dive deeper into your one-touch tickets

    If your team solves a high percentage of tickets with just a single touch, you might be missing opportunities to take advantage of time-saving automations or help center content that can reduce the burden on your agents.
    Start by taking stock of the kinds of questions or issues that only require a single agent response and whether these tickets can be addressed with a macro or trigger, or even additional help center content.
  2. Audit existing macros and triggers

    Check up on the macros and triggers that you already have in place. How often have they been used in the last 30 days? For highly used macros, consider making them a trigger instead.
    Here’s a quick example: if an agent frequently uses a macro to respond to a refund request, they still have to manually close the ticket. A trigger could manage both—respond and mark the ticket as solved—saving valuable time.
  3. Talk to agents

    No one understands the ins and outs of your work streams better than your agents. Talk to those front line agents to get a better sense of what would make their lives easier. Where can the team be more efficient? How can they better deflect tickets with help center content?

Getting faster at responding to customers doesn’t have to mean a complete overhaul of how you work. In fact, the smallest changes to how you triage and process tickets may end up having the biggest impact.

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