Customer service: turning transactions into relationships

Customer service has never been easy. Over the years it has only become more complex and demanding. Every person has different needs and wants you to meet them all. Some want access to information so they can help themselves. Others need a little hand-holding as you work with them to navigate a new product or service. Some customers even have different customer service channel preferences depending on their inquiry or mindset.

The people who support your customers—agents—are human too. They have their own ways of learning and communicating, and their own unique career aspirations to be developed and cultivated.

All of the above present myriad challenges, none of which have quick and easy solutions, and all of which must be solved if you want to provide great customer service.

And you do want to provide great customer service, because doing so leads to loyal, satisfied customer who tell their friends, family, and coworkers to do business with you. The result: Your company will move away from only caring about transactions—a nearsighted approach to business that focuses on the immediate—and towards caring about relationships, which focus on the full lifetime value of a customer.

But how can you achieve this?
Software is necessary for providing great customer service, but it’s merely a tool that enables your customer engagement strategy. The best tool in the world won’t help you provide great support if you aren’t committed to doing so. That’s because the best support is human support, and learning to provide that will be the biggest differentiator between you and the competition.

Zendesk believes that excellent customer service must focus on the customer experience, the agent experience, and the agent lifecycle. Each of these three pillars are the foundation of strong and long-lasting customer service. That's why we worked with customer service experts to create three guides, one for each pillar, to help customer service leaders like you help your customers provide great support.

The 3 pillars of customer service
First, we want to share with you the basic tenets of each pillar:

Customer experience
Customers are the reason we’re all here, so we must first and foremost try to look at everything through their perspective. Different departments frequently disagree on the right approach for important decisions such as how to best provide customers access to important information. Your sales department might have thoughts about how to do this, the product team has another idea, and marketing might want it done a completely different way.

But what’s best for the customer? What will provide the customer with the best possible experience?

Customer experience focuses on improving the way customers interact with your business. It’s one thing to talk about being customer centric, but doing so means putting the needs of the customer front and center, even when it’s at the expense of people within the company. Taking this approach might lead to some hard-fought internal decisions, but customer service isn’t easy, remember?

The thing for everyone to keep in mind is this: If you provide a negative experience to a customer, not only will they likely tell their friends and colleagues, they will abandon you for a competitor. This is bad for everyone, including departments who might wish you’d do things their way. The good news is that the opposite is also true: provide positive experiences and customers will tell others about and choose you over the competition, time after time. When this happens, anyone who advocated against the customer-centric approach will quickly forget they weren’t always in favor of it.

Overview: The Customer Experience guide will show you how to build processes and infrastructures that enable you to always put the customer first, building and constantly improving experiences for them.

Agent life cycle
No matter the type of business, customer service agents are very often the first people to interact with customers and prospects. Not only that, they’re usually the people who interact with customers more than anyone else. In that regard, they are the face and ambassadors of the brand. Every single interaction with a customer represents an opportunity to either create a brand loyalist or someone who will never do business with you again.

All of which is to say this: Customer service agents are very, very important for the success of your company. Time, energy, and resources must be dedicated to hiring, training, developing, and retaining the best possible talent to fill all the various roles in this department.

The way your business treats its agents can have a direct impact on how they interact with your customers, which in turn impacts the bottom line. Happy agents will not only provide a better customer experience, but also stay with your organization longer.

Overview: The Agent Life Cycle guide takes the long view of your customer service agents, showing you how to do everything from finding and training them, to developing their skills and value as they grow into more advanced positions within your organization.

Agent experience
In contrast to the big picture challenges of hiring and training agents, agent experience focuses on the day-to-day challenges of their typical workload. This includes everything from resolving support queries to writing knowledge-base articles to improving operational efficiencies. These tasks might not seem as inspiring as the work of building meaningful relationships with customers, but the agent experience is foundational to that work.

Customers want support to be human and personal, but they also want it to be fast and efficient. Agent experience focuses on improving the way agents interact with customers.

To effectively meet customers’ needs, support agents must be set up for success. That means making an up-front investment in tools and processes that enable support agents to not only provide the kind of support customers love, but avoid providing the kind of frustrating experiences customer hate.

Overview: The Agent Experience guide shows you how to setup your agents for success, and help them avoid the typical pitfalls of customer service, like taking to long to respond to a request of support or making customer repeat their issue to multiple agents.

One size does not fit all
No two companies are the same.

Within each of the three pillars lives an entire spectrum of strengths and weaknesses that will be specific to each organization. Maybe you’ve made a heavy investment in the customer experience but haven’t had the time to focus on your agents. Or maybe you’ve finally figured out how to onboard agents and have build satisfying career roadmaps for them, but still aren’t doing everything you can to keep your customers satisfied.

We’ve broken everything down into three segments:

High growth
As a high-growth support organization, something is clearly working. The support you provide resonates with your customers. But the demands are increasing. Time and time again you’re asked to do more, straining your support team and threatening your ability to not just maintain the same level of quality, but improve it.

Achieving scale
As a support organization looking to achieve scale, you have matured to the point that you are able to deliver quality support to an ever-increasing number of customers. You know that you are able to meet those needs, but as the company moves to another level of success, the deluge of customer interactions is just around the corner. As your support structure and strategies currently stand, you know there is no way to meet future demand without finding a way to scale and maintain a high level of quality.

Driving efficiency
As a support organization looking to drive efficiency, you have effectively overcome the challenges that typically plague less mature support organizations. You have a robust team with specialized roles that provides high-quality support. Even though you're experiencing great success, you can’t shake the nagging feeling that things could be much better. Maybe the support provided from a newly opened international office isn’t performing as well as you’d like, or change management still feels like it did during the startup days. As your support structure and strategies currently stand, you know you can’t rest on past successes, but instead must find a way to improve even further.

As stated at the beginning, customer service is hard. While Zendesk can’t make it easy (any software company that claims it can should be met with serious skepticism), we can make it easier. But we know from experience that software is a tool, and tools are only half the answer. The other answer lies in the people using them. That includes everyone from the agents who interact with customers to the designers who create experiences for them.

And Zendesk is here to help with that side of the equation too.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Why CX, Why Now?

Transforming customer experience (CX) is more important than ever. But despite growing interest in the discipline, most companies have a long way to go to accelerate their CX efforts.

Join Maxie Schmidt, principal analyst at Forrester and Roshni Sondhi, director of customer success at Zendesk, and learn:

  • What drives the urgency to invest in CX.
  • How great CX drives business results.
  • How to get buy-in and share the business benefits of CX.

Watch this on-demand webinar now and get access to Forrester’s full report, “Why CX, Why Now”.

Maxie Schmidt is principal analyst in Forrester’s CX research team and lead Forrester’s research on CX measurement and customer feedback programs.

Roshni Sondhi is director of customer success at Zendesk and has spent over the last 10 years partnering with various companies on how to effectively plan and execute against a customer experience strategy.

How to Deliver Better Customer Service This Year

Watch our recent webinar, featuring Forrester analyst Kate Leggett, that will offer concrete ways to assess your current customer service team and capabilities to find opportunities to improve. Learn how to gain executive buy-in, build stakeholder consensus, manage agents more effectively, and select the right technology to create loyal customer experiences.

Watch Now!

VP, Principal Analyst Serving Application Development & Delivery Professional. Kate is a leading expert on customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service strategies, maturity, benchmarking, governance, and ROI. She is an accomplished public speaker and frequently presents at industry events such as CRM Evolution. She has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and industry publications such as CRM Magazine, KM World, and Destination CRM.

Zendesk research: analytics

analyticsHigh usage of analytics in customer service pays off: companies that depend more on analytics reports are shown to perform better than those who don’t. These metrics, which gauge important indicators like customer satisfaction and related efficiency factors, can help companies identify their successes as well as areas of improvement. How else can companies take a data-driven approach to customer service? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Benchmark metrics for customer satisfaction
  • Results of high usage of analytics versus low usage
  • Rankings of the most data-driven industries

Download the full report for full details and insights

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: retail and the holidays

retail and the holidaysThe holiday season does not bear good tidings for the retail industry’s customer satisfaction scores. As end-of-the-year shopping brings an influx of new customers, many companies struggle to keep up with the accompanying increase of service and support tickets. With retail customer satisfaction falling 6 percentage points this quarter, what are the reasons behind this seasonal dip in satisfaction? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Year-to-year effects of seasonality
  • Ticket volume and agent workload during the holiday season
  • Benchmark metrics for customer satisfaction
  • How some retailers maintain high customer satisfaction when things get busy

Download the full report for full details and insights

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: operational benchmarking

operational benchmarking Operational benchmarking has a long history in business: It’s natural for companies to want to compare themselves to other businesses to give context and meaning to their own performance—and to understand where opportunities for growth and improvement exist. But frequently, similarities among companies in the same industry are merely superficial and don’t offer a meaningful point of comparison for benchmarking customer service performance.

In this Zendesk Research report, we address this shortfall through a cluster analysis that reveals four types of customer service operations— and within those, 12 distinct clusters, each characterized by a unique operational pattern. Each cluster is defined by workload, strategy, and resources, as well as a typical level of support performance that the component companies can be expected to achieve.

The four types are:

  1. Relationship Builders: These small teams provide a personal customer experience that customers love.
  2. Masters of Complexity: Driven by detailed support requests, these companies have sophisticated customer service operations.
  3. Late Bloomers: With an unbalanced approach to support, these companies have yet to realize their full potential.
  4. Captains of Scale: These teams set the gold standard of customer support operations.

Read the full report to find out where you fit and what you need to focus on to improve

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: live chat

Live ChatThe popularity of live chat for customer service is rising fast. Increasingly, consumers turn to live chat when shopping online, and a growing number of consumers say it is their preferred way to engage with support. So how can companies use live chat to transform the way they engage with customers? This Zendesk research report explores:

  • Benchmark metrics for live chat
  • How live chat changes customer engagement
  • The characteristics of a great live chat experience
  • What to consider when staffing for live chat

Download the full report for full details and insights.

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Zendesk research: behavioral cues

behavioral cuesIn this report, we take a closer look at behavioral cues of customers and agents to better understand how these correlate with increased or decreased customer satisfaction. We attempt to move beyond typical metrics like first reply time and explore the often overlooked components of support interactions, such as what words like “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you” by agents can have on customer satisfaction.

This report also examines:

  • Valediction: Do interactions with the sign off “Best Wishes,” in comparison to “Best Regards,” “Cheers” and “Yours Sincerely,” have a lower customer satisfaction score?
  • Word count: Can a wordier request for help in an online form leads to lower customer satisfaction? How about email?
  • Email address: Are customers with Yahoo email addresses more difficult to please than Gmail users?

Read the full report to learn more insights and how they might be used to improve the service you provide

If you're a fan of metrics, analytics, and other things with numbers in them, visit the Zendesk Benchmark page to see how your customer support stacks up against the competition.

Increase revenue with agile customer care

Some companies look at customer service as a drain on resources. As a result, customer service is a department that is often hobbled by a lack of resources. But it shouldn't be this way. When the proper investment is made in hiring and training great agents, building out top notch operations, and improving collaboration across departments, companies can see support for what it really is: a competitive differentiator that can lead to increased revenue.

Thanks to agile customer care, more and more companies are reaping the benefits of investing in great support.

Learn more about agile customer care, read the report: Happy customers, happy bottom line

Gartner examines customer experience innovation for 2017

Bad decisions are, well, bad. Yet, it can be difficult to make good decisions without the right information. That’s why analytics are important—they enable you to make educated changes to your organization, rather than changes based on opinions.

The use of customer analytics to improve the customer experience has become an area of increasing focus for organizations. According to Gartner, “By 2020, more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience.”

To distinguish your organization from others, the use of data to improve how your customers interact with your company is crucial. Gartner’s Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map explores the customer experience projects of numerous organizations, as well as what makes them successful.

Gartner’s report discusses:

  • New and Continuing CX Improvement Projects in 2016
  • Projects With the Biggest Impact on Customer Experience in 2016
  • CX Projects Planned for 2017
  • Customer Experience Technology Investment Increases for 2017
  • Customer Analytics Priorities for 2017
  • Plans for Emerging Technologies in Customer-Experience-Related Projects
  • Measuring the ROI of CX Improvement Projects

To learn more about the customer analytics technology customers are investing in, access a complimentary copy of Gartner’s report Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map for a limited time.

Survey Analysis: Customer Experience Innovation 2017—AI Now on the CX Map, N. Ingelbrecht, O. Huang.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Forrester: Pinpoint opportunities for better customer service

In today’s customer-centric world, technology constantly challenges and transforms how businesses interact with customers. The question is, how can you make sure your business engages customers the right way? Are you giving them a reason to stay loyal?

Forrester’s report, Assess Customer Service Capabilities To Pinpoint Opportunities For Better Service, offers insights that will help you establish a strategy, lead your customer service agents more effectively, and select the right technologies for better customer experiences. Included in the report is Forrester’s assessment tool for customer service.

Forrester’s December 2016, Assess Customer Service Capabilities To Pinpoint Opportunities For Better Service, includes Forrester’s assessment tool for customer service to help you understand how your organization stacks up against more than 150 best practices that drive customer retention, customer loyalty, reduced cost, and increased revenue. This framework will help you:

  • Define strategy
  • Gain executive buy-in
  • Build stakeholder consensus
  • Manage customer service agents more effectively
  • Select the right technologies for loyalty-creating customer experiences

How to Keep Your Customers Coming Back

Think about your best relationships. Chances are, there’s a great deal of trust between the two parties, and there’s not a lot of ongoing drama involved. Very few relationships are totally drama-free, but if you’ve built up enough trust, you can usually get through the bumps and even come out stronger on the other end.

The relationship between a business and its customers is no different. To succeed long-term, companies must build trust with their customers and make their experiences as effortless as possible (no drama!).

It’s not quick or easy, but when you achieve both, your business is repaid with long-term customer loyalty. And when something inevitably does go awry, you’re more likely to get through it without losing the customer.

Creating an effortless experience and building loyalty, however, is anything but effortless. It takes work—lots of it. To help set you on the right path, we teamed up with our friends at HubSpot on a new customer loyalty ebook: How to Keep Your Customers Coming Back.

Download this ebook to learn about:

  • Innovation. It all starts with offering innovative products and services and continually improving them over time.
  • Communication. Clear communication that accurately represents your brand builds trust, and that goes for every channel and interaction—from support reps answering the phones to your website writers.
  • Education. Customers increasingly prefer to learn about your products and services—and answer questions and solve problems—themselves.
  • From that foundation, the ebook goes on to outline ways to build an effortless experience that will help you improve customer retention and stickiness, all drama-free.

    By supplying your contact information, you authorize Zendesk and/or HubSpot to contact you with further information. You further authorize Zendesk to pass your information to HubSpot for these purposes.

ICMI report: Uncover the Hidden Profits in Your Contact Center

This whitepaper provides actionable insights on how to effectively deliver value in four key areas and highlights where the opportunities for an organization to profit are hiding.

Our findings uncovered key contributing factors as to why today’s contact center struggles to identify, demonstrate, and defend their strategic value, return on investment and overall benefit to the organization. This whitepaper reveals the key components to becoming a profit center and provides concise instruction and actionable ideas for overcoming the barriers in their way. You’ll discover the dangers of neglecting valuable data points including forecast accuracy, customer retention, and voice of the customer feedback.

Lastly, receive best practices for measuring, managing, and reporting the most important insights leveraged by leading profit centers.

More of a visual person? Check out this infographic for a condensed version of some of the findings and recommendations from the report.

Predicting customer satisfaction helps prioritize interactions and prevent churn

This report by Ovum, an independent research and advisory firm, features Zendesk's new Satisfaction Prediction tool. The report is available for complimentary download for a limited time.

Some might say the ability to see into the future belongs to psychics and fortune tellers, but predicting customer satisfaction isn't only for the clairvoyant (or someone doing manual ticket triage and making their best guess). It's now something we can all do when armed with the right tools and data.

Many companies today measure customer satisfaction. It's an important metric, but one that typically isn't being used to improve operations or help reduce customer churn. By applying machine learning and predictive analytics, you can now improve your customer relationships over the long-term, and can predict in the moment how likely a ticket is to receive a good or bad rating, allowing you to take action to ensure a positive outcome.

In the report, "Predicting customer satisfaction helps prioritize interactions and prevent churn," you'll learn from Aphrodite Brinsmead, Ovum's Principle Analyst, Customer Engagement:

  • Why customer satisfaction scores are so important
  • How Zendesk is using machine learning to predict and assign customer satisfaction scores to interactions
  • How Zendesk's Satisfaction Prediction tool marks a change in the way analytics will be packaged and sold

Zendesk Deep Dive: Dynamic Content and Localization

When it comes to scaling support in global organizations, having localized content should be at the forefront of your strategy. Just imagine asking a company a question in your native language (say, English) and receiving an answer in another language (Japanese, for example). A roadblock to great global support, right?

Zendesk’s dynamic content feature can help ensure a seamless experience for agent and end-user alike, regardless of their primary language. In this 40-minute on-demand webinar, Zendesk teams up with Evernote to show how Zendesk’s dynamic content tools can be used with our automated features to meet your global customer service needs.

Listen to Brian Tobin, Director of Sales and Support Operations at Evernote, as he shares the story and impact of Evernote’s localization process. You'll also hear from Sam Michaels, a Tier 2 customer advocate at Zendesk, who demonstrates best practices for setting up dynamic content and Help Center translations.
This webinar is intended for everyone, no matter the size of your team or the level of technical expertise.

3 Insider Perspectives on Removing the Roadblocks to an Effortless Customer Experience

Consider the impact of every contact center agent having the knowledge, tools and ability to provide a flawless experience; think about the results that are possible when an organization perfectly aligns their mission, vision, and values with the needs and expectations of both their customers and their employees. Envision all of this being the case for your organization.

This is not an easy task for even the most sophisticated of organizations: The complexity of today’s contact center is at an all-time high with a future indicating more channels to manage, increased customer expectations to fulfill, and a need for a frontline workforce that is, by no means, “entry level”. This doesn’t mean providing an effortless customer experience is impossible, it just means that you need to be ready to handle whatever comes your way.

Want to know more? Check out this white paper from ICMI, sponsored by Zendesk and Genesys to learn how to remove roadblocks and create an effortless customer experience.

Getting Schooled with Zendesk: EDU Customer Stories

Getting Schooled with Zendesk

Zendesk has more than 1,000 customers in the education space and just recently created a new industry vertical to help identify and work with successful customers in this field.

During this 1-hour recorded webinar, we officially introduce the new EDU vertical and highlight three customers:

    • Brandon Dennis, Enterprise Knowledge Manager, Apollo Education Group
    • Don Burrhus, IT Support Supervisor, Stetson University
    • Tzvi Eleff, Manager of Touro NONSTOP, Touro College

During the first half of this webinar, they each tell their Zendesk story and share benefits they've experienced using the customer service platform. Then, panelists answer questions during a live Q&A session.

Customer Service in the Retail Revolution

Customer Service in the Retail Revolution

Retailers deeply understand the direct impact customer service experiences have on business outcomes. Modern technology has created drastic changes for both shoppers and stores. Online stores, social media, mobile shopping, and shopping apps have all impacted the way retail companies interact with their clientele, markedly increasing the focus on customer service within an industry that has always excelled in this area.

This paper, based on 15 interviews with customer service leaders around the world, examines practical implications for retailers operating with heightened customer expectations in an environment that is more global, and public, than ever before. We examine both the opportunities presented and the challenges faced by modern retail technologies and trends, with a specific focus on social media, holiday shopping, and customer advocacy.

Download the report to learn:

  • Why social media is the most important trend impacting customer service organizations today
  • How to avoid the annual "holiday dip" in customer satisfaction
  • How customer advocacy teams can present the voice of the customer to the larger organization
  • How to deliver a great customer experience in direct-to-consumer businesses
  • How to provide consistent customer service despite multiple purchase channels
  • How to scale without spending

Creating Moments of Magic for Your Customers - Today and Every Day

Shep Hyken photo

Customer service is more than just a department or a job description - it’s a philosophy and an attitude, and it’s the way we do business. And when you embrace this philosophy, you know that getting to know your customers is the first step in building strong, lasting relationships with them.

Watch this 30-minute webinar, where customer service expert Shep Hyken will share steps for creating moments of magic for your customers - not just today, but every day. You’ll learn about managing the first impression, demonstrating knowledge to create credibility, techniques for dealing with confrontation, and more. This webinar is a must-see for companies who are customer-centric, as well as those who aim to be.

Providing Great Customer Service Through Social Media

Social media
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have evolved to become more than emergent platforms for marketing and advertising. Increasingly, they are also valid and important channels through which consumers solicit and receive customer service. According to the Q2 2016 Sprout Social Index, 90 percent of surveyed consumers have used social media in some way to communicate with a brand. What’s more, over a third (34.5 percent) said they preferred social media to traditional channels like phone and email.

"Social care" is not a new concept, yet providing multi-channel support that includes social media can present real challenges for B2B and B2C companies both large and small—as well as opportunities to positively impact sales and customer loyalty. The reality is that customer service expectations are rising year over year and consumers are looking to brands to create a seamless experience that spans the showroom floor to the Facebook timeline. Simply having a social media presence is no longer enough; your job is to be a social media rock star.

But how? In this guide we'll explore some best practices for an employee to deliver great customer service through social media, whether you're just getting started on the job or taking your social care to the next level.


One of the first challenges to providing great customer service over social media is determining where to focus time and resources. While marketing efforts may drive traffic to targeted social sites, customer service teams must meet their customers where they're already socializing. For most companies, Facebook and Twitter will be the primary focus for social care, but some brands may find that their customers also frequent Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or other social sites.

To feel out where your audience is, search for mentions of your brand within popular social sites. Whether this is a first step toward creating a social media presence, or something your marketing department has already done, it is a mistake to leave dialogue about your brand solely to online commenters and the Google search algorithm.

If you find that your audience aren't yet talking about your brand online, look for ways to include yourself in conversations relevant to your industry. The way, for an employee to be welcomed into social conversations is to add something of value.

Because the consumer—not the brand—wields the most power over a brand's image on social media, the bottom line is that neglecting conversations that occur on sites like Facebook and Twitter can have staggering consequences. Conversocial reported that 88 percent of consumers are less likely to purchase from a company that leaves questions on social media unanswered.


Many marketers are already familiar with social media monitoring tools that automate the process of searching for mentions of a brand name, or combing social media pages for specific keywords, but listening is equally important from a customer service perspective. What's more, many customers already believe that you are. In fact, research from the Institute of Customer Service reveals 1 in every 3 customers turns to social media to seek advice or communicate with a business.

Depending on how much volume your brand's social media pages generate, it's an important part of the job to collect and analyze activity so that you understand the kind of issues being raised over social media. Smaller companies may need to collect a week or month's worth of activity while larger companies can probably take a pulse over a shorter period of time.

Look at the information you've collected to determine:

  • How many comments appear to be written in moments of frustration, perhaps after having a poor customer experience in person or online?
  • How many are technical or account-specific questions?
  • How many comments provide feedback, positive or negative?
  • How many questions can be answered using links to existing help content?
  • How many brand mentions require, or would benefit from, a response?
  • What time of day are your customers most active on social media?

The answers to these questions will help you plan staffing and resources, define priority criteria, make decisions about self-service options, and determine whether you'll be able to handle the majority of issues directly through the social channel or require a process for directing social media users to another line of support.

There are tools that automate the process of calculating volume and time, and an employee can generate reports to provide you with a complete picture of customer demand. You may learn, for example, that the hours your audience is the most active on social media do not align with your actual work hours.


The size of your company and industry vertical will affect your social metrics. Some companies will see a lot of what amounts to "noise" via social media, and their challenge will be to sift through the noise to find the top priority contacts that require a response from an employee. Other companies will find that the majority of their contacts are direct requests for customer service. Depending on the volume of social interactions your brand generates, and the size of your staff, your ability to keep track of social inquiries (and your responses) may be made easier by a customer service platform that can integrate with social media and turn posts, tweets, and direct or private messages into tickets. In this way, you can easily triage, track, and escalate issues behind the scenes, yet still respond to the customer in the space where they have contacted you.

As a best practice, it's not necessarily wise to simply turn every social media mention into a ticket, either because your company's social media pages are so heavily trafficked that the volume becomes unwieldy, or because every interaction does not require a response (even if it feels like it should). Still, what an integrated, multi-channel customer service platform can provide is context. The more you can see about a customer's history, the better. Are there open or prior conversations with this customer? Who did they interact with, and what was the outcome? Have they had this same issue before? Have they already tried reaching customer support through traditional channels or was Facebook their first line of defense? If you already have user data stored, agents can eliminate back-and-forth questioning for basic (or private) contact data.

In the fast-paced world of social media, speed of response is critical. Treating social media tickets like any standard ticket isn't going to be enough because a faster response is expected. So, how can you define priority criteria? There's no single way to do it, of course, but here are a few suggestions:

Highest priority:

  • Direct technical or account-related questions
  • Complaints from dissatisfied users
  • Service or product requests that are urgent
  • Issues (or outages) that affect many users or raise a potential PR crisis

Items that are second-tier in priority are often opportunities to be proactive. You might consider:

  • Responding to general references to your products or services
  • Thanking those who provided positive feedback
  • Touching base with those who have made comments about your brand or industry that weren't necessarily targeted at you or requiring a response

Smaller businesses without a need for a customer service platform might try one built specifically for social media ticket creation and management (rather than phone, email, and chat support) or, at the very least, utilize the private or direct messaging features of Facebook and Twitter to help create an archive of interactions.


It's worth restating: speed of response is critical.

"Live help" typically refers to phone or chat support, yet in the customer's mind, social media is a gray area that more closely straddles the line between chat and email support. There is the potential for help to be instantaneous if social media is constantly monitored, but more likely, help will arrive hours later.

Several studies have found that most people feel they deserve a response over social media within the same day. That’s pretty reasonable considering the Northridge Group reported that 42 percent of consumers expect a response to their customer service inquiry within the hour. Of this group, 17 percent expect a response in minutes. These can be difficult service levels to meet, though some companies are beginning to.

One of the challenges to providing social care when you're not using the follow-the-sun model of support, is that tweets and timeline posts can languish overnight, driving your response time from just a few hours to 10-20 hours later.

As a best practice, always respond with immediacy—or with the promise of. This can be tricky without being able to send an email autoresponder, but one workaround that problem is to prepare a boilerplate message catered to each social channel that lets users know you've seen their comment and that you're working on a resolution.

Speed isn't everything if you're not able to resolve the customer's issue. As a general guideline, if you can easily answer a question posed over social media in the space of a comment or tweet, and the answer can be public, then by all means, do it. But more important than providing an answer through the same channel it was asked, is providing a timely and correct answer. This might involve providing a first response over social media that moves the conversation to another channel of support.


The success of your social care efforts will depend, as ever, on the quality of care you provide, but you might want to pull out the kid gloves because providing great customer service over social media can require extra special handling. Agent responses must be timely, accurate, sensitive, brief, and friendly—a tall order.

Agents must respond quickly but not so fast that the problem isn't properly resolved. Agents must employ their customer service skills to read into a customer's emotional state and properly determine when the informal nature of social media, such as the use of smiley faces or emojis, are appropriate for conveying friendliness and willingness to help, or when a more formal statement of empathy or apology might be required before addressing an issue.

Then there is the issue of length. Can or should the issue be resolved publicly, within the limited real estate of a comment or tweet? Is the agent trained in, or capable of, drafting custom replies without errors? Popular myth suggests that the young and tech-savvy are best equipped to handle social media, but some large companies have reported success using seasoned customer service agents, trained specifically for social media.

In general, all tenets of excellent customer service apply to social media. A great response will:

  • Correctly identify the issue or problem
  • Provide links to additional information
  • Close the loop (even to a "thank you" comment or tweet)
  • Include a personal touch, such as signing off with the agent's first name or initials
  • Be consistent across the organization, with regard to tone and response time

Active use of a site like Twitter can be an acquired taste—and a learned skill. Consider hosting a "Lunch and Learn" or equivalent to cross-train your staff on social media usage and etiquette. Often at smaller or newer companies, there is overlap between marketing and customer service, but as companies grow, shared skill sets, best practices, and communication guidelines tend to break down and become siloed. Cross-training will ensure that your teams learn from one another, and that your brand message and integrity are upheld at every point of the interaction.

Once agents are trained at responding over social media, they have the potential to be more efficient, handling four to eight times the number of contacts received through social media as they can by phone, according to a report by Gartner. In addition to improved efficiency, it was also reported that providing excellent social care helps to foster a deeper emotional commitment to your brand, directly impacting your Net Promoter Score.


Providing a public response to a question or complaint can go a long way. According to Conversocial, 95.6 percent of consumers are affected by other comments on a brand's social pages, and so it follows that consumers will also be affected by your responses to questions they see raised over social media.

When you gain or lose customers based on customer service, it adds up in dollars. The good news is that customers can spend up to 20 percent more when a business engages their customer service-related tweets, as reported by Applied Marketing Science.

But the reality is that not every contact over social media can be easily resolved in a single exchange (or in less than 140 characters), particularly if the issue is very technical or when the customer has many grievances to air. It can also be hard to know at the outset whether the customer will keep a thread going, cluttering your Twitter feed with @replies, so customer service reps must become adept at determining when to take a conversation from a public page to a private message, or perhaps off social media altogether—as well as when to bring the exchange back into the public sphere.

Generally, agents should move a conversation "offline"—in this case, off a timeline or feed/stream/profile—when:

  • there are many back and forth replies, perhaps because the customer needs to answer a series of questions, or
  • sensitive personal data is required, such as email addresses, phone numbers, passwords, account or credit card numbers.

But how to do it? Sensitive information that can be quickly conveyed in writing may easily be sent in a private or direct message through the social media site. The following are based on a few real world examples of how one company used Twitter to request information, suggest another channel, and move a conversation into a private message:

@Customer My sincerest apologies! I would be happy to look into this for you. Can you please follow us and DM me with your order #? ^SB

@Customer So sorry for those emails! If you need help w/ your email settings, don't hesitate to LiveChat us [] ^SB

@Customer Apologies for the inconvenience! I just reached out to you via Facebook Message. Be sure to check your "Other" folder. ^SB

One benefit to using a customer service platform that integrates both social and traditional channels is that you can use social media to let the customer know you'll send them the information they need by email, without having to request an email address.

After an issue is resolved offline, it's important to return to the social channel and thank the customer for reaching out. Public interactions can be a double-edged sword, but the positive ones, when a customer has the chance to express gratitude for a great customer experience, is not the interaction to miss out on.

While building a social media support strategy, it's worth considering what might happen if you moved every social interaction "offline" or to another channel of support. Companies with limited staffing and resources might find that they must, and when done well, the customer will feel like they received a response over social media and had their issue resolved.


We're all familiar with that old adage, "When life gives you lemons..." The well-known implication is that it's possible to turn around a less-than-hoped-for situation with a change in attitude. This is particularly useful advice when providing customer service over social media, given consumers' proclivity to use social media to grab a brand's attention. A survey by Dialog Direct and Customer Care Measurement & Consulting found that in 2011, 20 percent of customers were using social media to communicate their complaints to a brand. By 2015, that number had increased to 33 percent.

When this happens, everything depends on your response. Receiving negative feedback is an open invitation to rectify your brand's image and, more important, your relationship with the customer. The customer must feel like they've been heard and that you're willing to do what it takes to make them happy.

The following are some other things customer service reps might do to proactively to engage customers:

  • Respond even when the user hasn't directly tweeted at you or asked for help. Answering brand mentions or comments that don't require a response, but might benefit from one, shows you're paying attention.
  • Promote your customers by retweeting a happily resolved support interaction, or by "liking" helpful interactions that occur between customers. It's kind of like giving your customers a hug.
  • Give your customer service team a public face by introducing who's on duty and how long they'll be answering questions. Consider posting a team photo or an agent spotlight. It's nice to connect the face of the brand with the names behind it.
  • If feasible, follow up a resolved interaction with, "How is everything?"
  • Promote self-service. Think about introducing a support tip of the week and assigning it a clever, unique, and easy-to-remember hashtag, or designating someone to update your company's social media accounts when a new article has been added to your knowledge base or help center.


Whatever the social channel, there are a few ways to (publicly!) stick your foot in your mouth. The following are a few social media don'ts:

  • Don't neglect your customers. If you're going to provide customer service over social media, at minimum every direct support question should be answered.
  • Don't delete (or hide) comments or posts. The only exception is when comments are clearly spam or in violation of posted community guidelines. Deleting a customer's negative comment in order to preserve your virtual image will only further enrage the customer and damage the relationship.
  • Don't be defensive. It's important to remember that the customer, even when angry, has reached out to you. Thank them for bringing their issue to your attention, acknowledge their concern, and apologize for the trouble they are experiencing (even if you know it's self-wrought).
  • Don't engage with a customer whose intent is to simply argue and publicly defame your brand. Sometimes your best defense is silence and, after a certain point, they'll damage their own credibility more than your brand's reputation.
  • Don't overwhelm your customers with too much information, whether you're posting articles from a knowledge base or providing a too-lengthy response in a comment.

There are, of course, always a few exceptions to the rule, and here's one of them:

  • Don't reply or respond to every customer in the event of mass issues or outages. When many customers are affected by a single issue, it's best to provide only public status updates that will reach everyone.

Regular monitoring of your company's social media pages combined with savvy use of the sites can elevate your customer service efforts from acceptable to exceptional. The better your social care, the more social traffic you can expect, and this is a good thing!

If you’re looking for more information about using social media for customer service, we’ve got you covered with downloadable platform-specific tip sheets:

Tips for Providing Great Customer Service on Facebook
Tips for Providing Great Customer Service on Twitter

Zen Masters of Customer Service Webinars

7 Strategies for Turning Angry Customers into Loyal Fans7 Strategies for Turning Angry Customers into Loyal Fans Learn creative problem solving and down-to-earth emotion management skills for creating stronger customer relationships in this 1-hour webinar presented by customer experience experts and bestselling authors Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest.
Turning Difficult Moments into Positive Customer ExperiencesTurning Difficult Moments into Positive Customer Experiences
Watch this 1-hour webinar to learn Kate Nasser's foolproof method for staying objective and caring when dealing with an upset customer, and turn potentially bad customer interactions into positive ones.
Turning Rants into RavesTurning Rants into Raves
With the right mindset, some proven techniques, and a heaping dose of common sense, you can have customers not only raving about your business, but also recommending you to others. Learn how in this 1-hour webinar.
The Zappos ExperienceThe Zappos Experience
It's been said that there's a fine line between "cult" and "culture", and Zappos has developed legendary service from the inside out. Joseph Michelli shares their secrets to success in this 1-hour webinar.
Customer Experience Lessons from DisneyCustomer Experience Lessons from Disney
In this 1-hour webinar, Dennis Snow shares the secrets behind Disney service success, including the four critical elements of service excellence that will help ensure consistent service behaviors across your entire organization.
How Zendesk Does Customer ServiceHow Zendesk Does Customer Service
Learn how the Zendesk team supports its 30,000+ customers day-to-day in this 30-minute webinar featuring Pam Dodrill, Zendesk's Senior Director of Customer Support. She'll dig into how her team uses data to provide more proactive support, and their follow-the-sun support model.
Three Hidden Reasons Why Good People Provide Bad ServiceThree Hidden Reasons Why Good People Provide Bad Service
Check out this 1-hour webinar, where Jeff Toister will reveal the three hidden obstacles that prevent employees from doing their very best, and simple solutions for overcoming them.
Master High-Tech, High-Touch Customer ServiceMaster High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service
Learn how to harness the power of technology to build emotional connections with your customers while retaining the best of classic service techniques in this 1-hour webinar featuring Micah Solomon.
7 Tools for Amazing Every Customer Every Time7 Tools for Amazing Every Customer Every Time
Watch this webinar where renowned customer service expert Shep Hyken shares 7 practical tools for transforming your organization into an operation that amazes every customer every time.
The Apple ExperienceThe Apple Experience
In this 1-hour webinar, Carmine Gallo lifts the curtain behind Apple's stunning success in retail to show anyone how to run any business the Apple way. He breaks down Apple's customer-centric model to provide an action plan for anyone responsible for delivering exceptional customer service.

Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customers

With Joseph Michelli

The international success of Starbucks begins with a promise: To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Watch this 1-hour webinar, where bestselling author Joseph Michelli explores the 5 actionable principles that customer service teams can adopt to drive and support that same promise for their own companies. These five principles can be used by employees at all levels, in any company, and in any industry to transform something as ordinary as the delivery of coffee into a cultural phenomenon. He'll also share inspiring and entertaining anecdotes gleaned from one-on-one conversations with variety of Starbucks employees - everyone from baristas to senior leaders. And, as always, we'll save plenty of time for your questions, too.

The Zendesk Customer Service Benchmark

Q2 2015

In Focus: Customer Satisfaction


In Focus: Customer Satisfaction
Across the globe, businesses are striving to improve customer satisfaction (CSAT) ratings. According to the most recent Zendesk Benchmark report, their efforts are paying off—customers around the world are relatively happy. In fact, the global customer satisfaction benchmark number for Q2 in 2015 was 94.94%.

So where in the world is customer satisfaction the highest? Find out in the Q2 2015 Zendesk Benchmark report.

How to move beyond email to the cloud

There was a time when an email inbox was enough to provide online customer service. You simply set up an email alias for support requests, checked it a few times throughout the day, and lived happily ever after. But soon your customer base grew, your organization expanded, and you introduced new products and services. That meant more support requests coming in every day, making your inbox bust at the seams, becoming increasingly troublesome to tackle. Once the backbone of your customer support department, email has now become a monster too big and complex to tame.

As companies and organizations grow, the problems with a shared customer support email inbox become even more significant. It is nearly impossible to track conversations. Emails can receive multiple answers from different support agents, often leading to more confusion than resolution. In addition, some emails may never get a response; when enough of those incidents pile up it can lead to serious customer satisfaction issues. And, searching through email for past support requests can be exceedingly time-consuming.

In this paper, we'll discuss how migrating from email to cloud-based customer service software such as Zendesk is the fastest and easiest way to boost the efficiency of your customer service department. We will examine how quickly you can shift away from your current customer support system and towards cloud-based customer service software, as well as how it can increase the speed, capabilities, and quality of your customer support department. And, we'll tell you what you can do in the next 24 hours to tame your inbox and gain new tools to support your customers.

The Global Inbox

Over time, email has become the new standard for communication between businesses and customers, as well as between internal support organizations such as an IT help desk and employees within a company.

Email is prolific and few people can complain that they get too little email every day. In fact, in 2013, 182.9 billion emails were sent per day, worldwide.

Does Email Scale As Your Business Grows?

Without question, email has revolutionized the customer support world. Businesses of all sizes can instantly answer support requests simply by setting up an email inbox. However, email lacks many of the capabilities needed by today's support operations:

  • An email inbox is 'one size fits all.' It does not allow you to easily view specific requests by designated groups or individuals.
  • Email is not able to remind you when a question has been left unanswered for too long.
  • Multiple agents sharing an inbox may respond to the same question, often with different answers.
  • You must manually update customers when problems are solved or to request satisfaction feedback.
  • If your email provider is having problems with their servers, you will not receive new support requests or be able to respond in a timely manner.
  • As your customers increasingly use smartphones, tablets, and social media to communicate, your email inbox cannot handle questions sent via text messages, phone calls, live chats, or tweets.
  • Emails have a tendency to get buried and searching for them can be very time consuming.

Perhaps the single biggest drawback to email is how easily you can lose track of a conversation with a customer. Emails get accidentally deleted, people get added and removed from email chains, and each email is tied to the inbox it was sent to, meaning you cannot easily work on an email with a colleague. You cannot track overall customer question themes, time spent by agents on each support question, or automatically route emails to the right department. Email is not reliable and these limitations will become exponentially more painful as your customer base grows.

Cloud-Based Software Wholly Focused on Customer Support

Your customer support organization can expect to save both time and energy by using a customer service platform to streamline your current email support processes. Zendesk is cloud-based customer service software that can instantly raise your customer support efficiency through dozens of built-in automations that work right out of the box. With so many built-in efficiencies, you are freed from trying to set up complicated labeling systems or other ways of organizing your email in an inbox.

Zendesk manages support requests by creating what is known as a ticket. A ticket is simply a record of all conversations; it keeps everything in one place and keeps your whole team in the loop. By creating a series of recorded events tied to one ticket, agents and customers can stay on the same page. This also creates a level of accountability that can ensure each problem is solved quickly. Furthermore, a ticket creates a full audit trail that can give you insight into how your support agents are spending their working hours.

All tickets are visible and can be tracked by the account owner from start to finish. You can give and restrict access to various parts of your support infrastructure as you see fit. With email alone, you are not able to easily access the requests that individual agents are handling, but in Zendesk you have full transparency into how your organization is working. Having full visibility into the customer support process allows you to understand what happens on a daily basis in your organization.

Email Functionality From Day One

Zendesk works with the support email addresses you've already set up, so your customers will not notice any change in how they communicate with your business. Instead, they will notice a much more communicative and transparent customer support experience.

Figure 1 - Setting Up Email Forwarding in Outlook

Most customers prefer to receive email on their own domain address rather than using the Zendesk provided address. This is perfectly understandable, and 100% supported. This means that you can accept email on e.g. and forward it to your account on

A customer who sends you an email will instantly be notified that their request has been received, reassuring them that their email will be responded to quickly. This creates accountability. You can create time-based triggers that will automatically escalate unanswered support requests. Your customers will be notified when their request is considered 'solved' by the support agent and is given the option to reopen the ticket if they should need to later. All these steps would have to be done manually with email alone, but with Zendesk they are completely automatic.

If you receive the same type of email questions repeatedly, you can set up Zendesk macros, which are standard responses to frequently asked questions. Macros allow agents to respond to common issues with just one click, which significantly increases productivity. Each of your support agents can have their own personal macros to save time and still maintain their personal support style or expertise.

Zendesk is cloud-based and has a 99.9% service uptime. If you have access to the Internet, it is virtually guaranteed you have full access to your Zendesk and your customer support requests. Zendesk even has mobile apps for iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, Windows 7, and Android that ensure you are able to respond to your customers no matter where you are!

How Does Email Work and Look Inside Zendesk?

If you already have a support email address you use for customers, simply start forwarding all the incoming mail to your default Zendesk support email address. If you don't yet have a support email address, you will be provided with one when you sign up for Zendesk, such as You can publish this support email address on your website, business cards, or any other asset that you think would make it easier for customers to contact you with questions.

From the moment you start forwarding your support email, all your communications will be housed in your Zendesk. You will be able to search for and access tickets, chat transcripts, and any other support requests you've received whenever you may need.

You have the choice whether you'd like to use your email or login to Zendesk to interact with your customers. You can respond to tickets directly from Zendesk or your email client, such as Outlook or Gmail. Depending on your settings, you will also be automatically notified by Zendesk when a customer has responded to a ticket.

When a customer email is sent to your server, it is forwarded along to Zendesk's cloud-based servers. The forwarded email will be automatically converted into an unsolved ticket and inside your Zendesk, it will show up in your Views menu. To see unsolved tickets, select over the View tab on the top navigation of the Zendesk interface.

Figure 2 - Zendesk Menu — 'Views' Tab

You can think of Views as multiple inboxes for your support tickets — they can be set up for different types of requests or for agents who handle a certain type of question or are an expert for a specific product. One of the default Views is called 'My Unsolved Tickets,' which houses any ticket that you haven't yet marked as solved.

Figure 3 - Zendesk Unsolved Tickets View

When you want to respond to the customer, simply answer their question and click the submit button in the lower right hand corner. This will update the ticket with all the changes you've made and send the reply to the customer. Zendesk returns you to your Unsolved Ticket View with a message that you've updated your ticket.

What a Customer Sees

When your customers send you emails, they will automatically receive acknowledgement. Later, when your support team has responded, they will receive an email with the full agent response. Customers will not be left wondering if their email got to the right person; both you and your customers will have a record of every interaction. When your support agent has marked the ticket as solved, the customer will be notified and given the option to follow up if needed. You can also set up your Zendesk to automatically send a customer satisfaction survey to gauge the helpfulness of the agent, giving you insight into the performance of your support agents.

How a Customer Responds

Your customers can respond directly to your email from their personal email account, just like they always have. You can optionally set up your Zendesk to require customers sign into your customer support portal. This can be helpful to direct customers to knowledge bases, customer communities, or other documentation that may answer their questions. Zendesk supports Single Sign-On (SSO) with many third-party user authentication or directory access services, including Active Directory, SAML, Google, and Facebook.

How Zendesk Keeps Customers Up-To-Date And Saves You Time

Using Zendesk is fast and simple, by design. However, you may like to know what Zendesk does automatically when a customer sends you an email.

  • Customer's email travels from their email provider's server to your email server and a copy of the email is forwarded to Zendesk's servers.
  • Zendesk automatically replies to the customer email with a customizable acknowledgment of receipt.
  • The email is converted into a support ticket and the system applies rules you have set up to apply to this ticket.
  • If designated, the ticket can be automatically assigned to an agent or another user can manually assign it.
  • When the agent marks the ticket as solved, the customer will receive another email acknowledging the closure of the ticket. The customer is free to reopen the case at any time simply by replying to the email.
  • Optionally, you can also have a customer satisfaction survey sent to the customer to evaluate the effectiveness of your support agents.

Figure 4 - Example of Customer Satisfaction Survey

Importing Your Current Emails and Tickets

Migrating your existing emails to your new Zendesk help desk is easy. Our engineers have built a robust API, including a Mail API that is designed to import backlogs of tickets, emails, and other collateral you may have in your existing system. Setting up this data migration will require a bit of work on your side since most email systems work slightly differently, but the key is that you have the flexibility to add your existing collection of emails to Zendesk from day one.

Reporting Lets You Make Decisions Based On Live Data

Support has different levels — while you can see a lot from the ground level, some things are only visible from a higher plain and Zendesk Reports give you the tools to understand how your customer support functions. This is helpful to see larger trends and patterns in your workflow. For instance, you might want to know how many tickets came in over the past week about a specific issue; or how many problem tickets got created last month vs. how many got solved.

Zendesk is preloaded with the most frequently used report templates to help you retrieve the important information you need to keep your help desk running smoothly. For example, you can run a 'Resolution Times' report that measures how quickly incoming issues are being resolved. Within the 'Reports' tab of Zendesk, you can set the data sets you'd like to monitor and set the span of time you'd like to see a report on. For more information on building reports, see Monitoring ticket activity and agent performance with reports.

Figure 5 - Data Set Menu in Zendesk

Like any high-level tool, Zendesk Reports is most useful when reviewed regularly. Building a resolution time report and ticket backlog report, then integrating them into a weekly meeting or performance review, is a recommended best practice. You can also get insight into how your Zendesk is running by viewing data in the Reporting dashboard. The Reporting dashboard shows data about your ticket volume and management, community activity, and agent performance. It also enables you to compare key ticket metrics within your Zendesk, and further compare your Zendesk to industry averages.

Figure 6 - Resolution Time Report

The Next 24 Hours

What's next? In just 30 seconds, you can sign up for Zendesk and quickly begin experiencing the benefits of a dedicated, purpose-built customer service platform. You get a 30-day free trial and we have many excellent resources to help you determine if Zendesk is the right solution for your business or organization. Already have a Zendesk account? Attend one of our webinars. Or, download the mobile app for your smartphone!

Zendesk has a number of resources to which you can turn when you need help or just want to learn more:

  • Using Zendesk has definitive documentation on all the Zendesk features.
  • Zendesk holds regular webinars - live demonstrations and Q&As about how to use Zendesk and many of its features.
  • The Zendesk Community is an active area of discussion about best practices and new features.

Below are some specific resources that might be of interest to you after this guide:

Gaining business insight with support reporting & analytics:

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