We’ve all had the experience of being on the receiving end of hideous customer support. That’s why industry-leading SaaS provider Zendesk exists: To build better customer relationships through more meaningful, personal, and productive customer interactions. Having mastered digital customer service interaction, in 2010, Zendesk was ready to expand its offerings by layering VoIP into its application solution set.
Adding voice was not only the next natural step for Zendesk, it was clearly something its customers needed. Despite the advancement of digital channels, voice is still the preferred method for customer service. People like to talk to other people.
So when Zendesk sought to bring its strategy of adding voice to reality, it found Twilio to be the path of least resistance. “We have many missions at Zendesk, but the guiding North Star for us is to democratize business software so it’s accessible, inexpensive, and easy evaluate, acquire, and roll out for any company,” said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk CEO and founder. “That’s why expanding to digital voice was so critical for us and our customers.”
“Communications channels today are evolving at a faster pace than ever. So when you talk about customer service and engagement, being able to expand and easily embrace new channels as they evolve is incredibly important,” said Svane.
Even as businesses get smarter about using and optimizing digital channels, voice still represents a personal connection to customers that goes beyond what digital processes can offer. Zendesk was surprised to learn that nearly 80% of its customers were already using voice for customer service—the old-fashioned way, through decades-old analog systems. “When we talked to our customers, we learned that they didn’t see voice as a progressive support channel. They would take a customer call and leave a sticky note on their co-worker’s desk, saying, “Hey, call this customer back.” They weren’t really thinking about how to bring voice along with all the other digital channels that they had,” said Steven Yan, Zendesk’s director of product management.
To the team at Zendesk, it soon became clear that simple voicemail integration was not the answer to better customer service. What customers wanted was a solution that enabled them to take phone calls through Zendesk and treat it exactly as they would an email ticket. That’s when Zendesk realized it needed to expand its offerings to include full-blown call center functionality. It wanted customer support reps to be able to take a phone call, respond to a chat, SMS, or email ticket, and go back and forth between channels in whatever way customers wanted.
When Zendesk began to evaluate voice integration, the team was understandably reticent. “When you take a look at the infrastructure investment required, it would have been completely cost prohibitive,” said Ryan Nichols, GM, Zendesk Voice. “We needed a partner to manage everything behind the scenes, so we could focus on what we do best.”
The company also knew that integrating voice into its platform needed to be cost-efficient and work as easily as email, web, messaging, and chat functionalities. In other words, Zendesk wanted customers to be able to flip a switch, and offer phone support tightly integrated with every other customer engagement channel.
We needed a partner to manage everything behind the scenes, so we could focus on what we do best.
In 2011, Zendesk reached out to Twilio. After an afternoon of brainstorming and hacking with the Twilio team, Zendesk got a working prototype up and running. And for the next 3-4 months, it ran beta.
“At the time when we were looking at which APIs and platforms were out there, Twilio was the most fully-featured and had the most flexibility for us,” said Yan. “We weren’t just looking to offer a better web-enabled call center to our customers—we wanted to marry voice and web to actually change the nature of call center’s offer itself. And for that, we needed a flexible platform like Twilio.”
With Twlio’s platform handling the routing, calls, recording, and the entire voice infrastructure, Zendesk was able to deliver on all of its imperatives:
Global infrastructure: With nearly half of its business international, Zendesk needed to offer its voice product worldwide. “We launch our products internationally first. Some of our fastest-growing geographies are voice-centric. With Twilio, we were able to very quickly turn on additional geographies and additional numbers as we grew, and make those available to our customers,” said Svane. “The experience of going to the Zendesk Voice and signing up for a phone number in 40 different countries is pretty incredible. Our customers can pick a phone number and be able to offer phone customer service in 5 minutes.”
Integration: It was easy to integrate the Twilio product stack directly into its own product stack, which proved to have tremendous value for Zendesk’s customers. Adding voice became a seamless experience without the need for hardware or to adopt another piece of technology.
Transparency: Twilio’s transparent pricing aligns with Zendesk’s own pricing philosophy—no surprises and no hidden fees. “There’s complete transparency end to end,” said Svane. “We’re anticipating a great deal of growth this year, and when I look at the cost of what is it going to take to support that growth, being able to rely on the published pricing of the Twilio API means we can plan for that.”
Developer-friendly, enterprise-grade: “Over the last 5 years, Twilio’s platform has evolved from being a very developer-friendly tool to an enterprise, world-class, carrier-friendly platform. And that means that we have had so much functionality, scale, and freedom because we early on invested in that platform,” said Svane. “Our customers have told us they’ve chosen Zendesk Voice because it’s built on an industrial-scale platform they know they can run their business on.”
“Since launching Zendesk Voice in 2011, we’ve accumulated 4,000 companies in 40 different countries, doing millions of minutes every month,” said Svane.
Partnering with Twilio meant that Zendesk was able to enter the market for voice on a pay-as-you-go basis, without a massive upfront investment in infrastructure. That allowed the company to offer Zendesk Voice as a pay-as-you-go solution to customers. And customers can seamlessly upgrade to more advanced call center features, all without massive investments in integration, consulting, and implementation.
For customers, Zendesk Voice needed to be simple from start to finish:
Fast launch: To get started, customers can simply sign up for a phone number—anywhere in the world. Even international clients can get set up to deliver international phone support in 5 minutes.
Flexible configuration: Set up any phone tree, record greetings, route to the right agents, and that’s it—customers are live. What used to take months can now be done in a single afternoon.
Customizable: Customers can add a call dashboard to see agent status, such as availability, time on call, or length of queue. They also can gather reporting all in one place—there’s no need to stitch together disparate systems to extrapolate critical business intelligence.
Instant customer information: When the call comes in through the Zendesk browser, agents see the customer information instantaneously on their screen, including the steps taken to get them to this stage—just like a digital interaction. The call is recorded and added to the ticket, along with the resolution.
Creating virtual call centers: “The Twilio client allowed us to embed the phone call and the agent phone console directly into our interface and make it behave exactly the way that we would expect an integrated agent phone experience to be,” said Yan. “Browser-based voice means our customers can construct distributed workforces and faster onboarding practices.”
When Zendesk got started with Twilio, it was all about the core call functionality. As the company has grown and built out Zendesk Voice, it has been able to take advantage of more parts of the Twilio platform. “Offering conferencing, GLL—global local latency—and being able to turn those capabilities on quickly has gotten us to where we are today with the product,” said Svane. “And we’re just getting started.” Now, as the company looks to the future, it’s focused on new channels, like video and SMS, to bring down other barriers that prevent companies from becoming even closer to their customers.
“One of the great things about the Twilio platform is that when Twilio turns on a feature, we have instant access to it, and we can build that right into our product. It may not even be something that was on our roadmap, but when we see how easily we can just weave it in and make it available in the same environment. It becomes a no-brainer,” said Svane. “With SMS, we don’t expect any different. We expect it will be a very close collaboration around the use cases and also how we actually go to market with SMS.”
For Zendesk, the path to the fulfilling its customers’ journey towards better engagement with their consumers is clear. “We want our customers to be able to go from a conversation that starts in an email or chat, move to a phone call, where you work out the issue, and then you wrap it up with an email that contains links to additional information,” said Svane. “Our vision for the future of customer engagement is truly multichannel.”
And now, your moment of zen:
Twilio helped Zendesk find its voice. We can help you find yours, too.