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When Mike Cartwright, Chief of Partner Solutions at Expedia® Affiliate Network (EAN) spoke at a Zendesk event in London last May, he joked that EAN used to offer two levels of support: there were people with Jamie’s email address, and people with Jamie’s phone number.
Jamie Loren Byers II is the Head of Support for EAN’s Partner:Connect team. He’s hands-on with affiliates, and with Zendesk Support, he no longer has to give out his personal contact information. Unless, of course, he wants to.
As part of Expedia, Inc., EAN supports the many B2B partners who use Expedia content on their travel websites. It used to be that affiliates went through account managers, who then contacted the Partner:Connect team. Sometimes messages languished in inboxes for far too long.
“As with any startup organization, it was fairly ‘best efforts’,” Cartwright said. The Partner:Connect team was nine people strong, distributed around the globe. But unlike other startups, EAN was growing affiliates by the thousands, rather than hundreds. For each new affiliate, the team had to perform a legal and site review before allowing the partner to deploy Expedia’s API. The process took close to 3 hours per partner.
One of Cartwright’s first tasks after joining EAN was to bring visibility to the workload faced by the Partner:Connect team. He also wanted to bring value to the business by tracking and prioritizing requests. To do this, they needed a customer service software and selected Zendesk Support for its agility. They liked that they could see the entire customer story in a single ticket, from anywhere in the world.
“I think the most impressive piece for me about Support was how quickly we started getting value from it,” Cartwright said. In a little over a month, the team went from signing the contract to deploying the product, including the training for account managers, sales reps, and support. “We kicked on very quickly. And I think if we had another tool, we couldn’t have made the leaps forward that we made over the next few months.”
Onboarding new affiliates is only part of the Partner:Connect team’s job. Yet it was so time-consuming that they were always behind. In this regard, time savings was one of the first returns they saw with Support. New affiliates began submitting review requests through Support and automatically received a questionnaire. Their responses and photos then attached to the ticket, making it easy for the team to quickly review the details.
“We’ve definitely turned it around,” Byers said. “We went from having a constant backlog, to being up-to-date, and getting our partners up and running much faster. Zendesk Support has added a lot of value there.”
They can now complete reviews of new affiliates in less than an hour, roughly a 60% improvement.
Another one of Cartwright’s goals was to relieve Byers and the other skilled agents from basic support tasks so that they could focus on partner-facing optimization. EAN invested in a Level 1 support team, based in Romania. “Having Zendesk Support in place, with it being a SaaS offering, meant that it was incredibly quick and easy to get them up and running, without having to provision any internal accounts,” he said.
At the same time these changes were rolling out, the Partner:Connect team began creating articles and building out a knowledge base.
“When we invested in getting the public-facing knowledge base to a place where we felt there was real value, we saw a massive decline in the number of support requests coming in,” Cartwright said. “This is because partners were getting what I consider to be the very best service—which is that they never had to log a ticket in the first place. If we don’t get a ticket, then we’ve done our job.”
The importance of an internal knowledge base and external help center is something Cartwright doesn’t mince words about. “There was a lot that maybe seemed like a waste of time, or red tape or process early on,” he said, “but there are certain things you can do at the start that will ensure the success of the service desk, and creating a knowledge base is one of them.”
As a result of this effort, they’ve built a powerful database. It’s contributed directly to the efficiency of the Level 1 team, who surface answers from the internal knowledge base using Zendesk Support’s Answer Suggestion app. “We live by the mantra: ‘When you fix a problem, document how you fixed it, and put it in the knowledge base,’” Cartwright said.
With Guide, Expedia started capturing internal knowledge to work smarter.
To handle a volume of nearly 1,000 tickets a week, EAN uses tags and business rules to allocate tickets based on a set of criteria they defined. “We have some clever logic in there,” Cartwright admitted. “Every company has a finite capacity for support, so using it efficiently is very important.”
Byers’ team relies on data pulled from Support to further improve operational efficiencies, and also to collect partner feedback. They’ve created a ‘feature requests forum’ that they review with the product team during bi-weekly bug review meetings. Any features worth implementing, are tagged. They also use the Zendesk Support JIRA integration to send problem tickets to development.
“Consciously, we’re not using Zendesk Support purely as a support tool. It is helping us manage more efficient launches, to speed up the time-to-market for new affiliates, to drive product innovation, and to fix defects in the product,” Cartwright said. “It’s been valuable to have a tool that enables us to deal with the technical questions, as well as the non-technical—the functional and financial questions.”
Instead of email, account managers now also use Zendesk Support to contact support. Even requests for updates to website copy, such as a description of a hotel, route to a content team through Support.
“Support expanded from a tool that was originally scoped to provide tech support to our partner developers to something that’s much more a collaboration tool at the heart of our business,” Cartwright said. “Support is always going to be a cost, but I think what Support allows us to do is to justify that cost by demonstrating the amount of value we’re bringing to the business and the volume of requests we’re actually dealing with.”
From the front line, Byers shared, “I would describe my experience with Zendesk Support as stellar. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Cartwright agreed. “It’s kind of a weird compliment, but when I’m not hearing a lot about Support, that’s a good thing. It’s not something on the agenda every week that we’re talking about. It’s there delivering what we wanted it to deliver.”
“We went from complete fog—not being able to see two feet in front of us—to open air. Before, we had zero visibility whatsoever. Once we started using Zendesk Support, we knew where our tickets were coming from and what people needed.”