Zendesk provides a number of important benefits that go beyond traditional CRM help desk functionality. While native CRM help desk functionality can certainly provide a financial return to companies, Zendesk can provide even greater overall business benefit for many help desk scenarios. The recently released integration, Zendesk for Salesforce, allows Salesforce users to create and manage Zendesk tickets directly inside of Salesforce.com. In addition, selected Salesforce Account, Contact, or Lead fields can be viewed within ticket records within Zendesk. If needed, Zendesk tickets can also be converted to Salesforce cases. Ok, but since Salesforce.com has built-in case management, why wouldn’t a company just use the help desk functionality that’s available within Salesforce? Why deploy two separate technology solutions if the CRM help desk has case management functionality? Below are six reasons. Comments about the capabilities of CRM systems are based on general observation and do not apply to all CRM solutions.
1. Subscription Cost Price, of course, isn’t everything. But, if an organization or a group within an organization initially has a small support team, its support users can get started with Zendesk for a fraction of the cost of CRM system license pricing. Even as a support organization grows, Zendesk user license fees are generally less than the average online CRM user license price. Since Zendesk is pay-as-you-go, it means it supports elasticity for both adding and subtracting users. One of the great promises of cloud computing is elasticity, but many CRM systems are more elastic on the way up than they are on the way down.
2. Simplicity Zendesk has made application simplicity an art form. A new Zendesk customer’s help desk team can begin interacting with customers literally within minutes of creating a new Zendesk account. Configuration options for business rules, such as Triggers (which are predetermined workflows automatically applied to tickets when created or updated) and SLA service targets, are easily accessible from a single menu and are modifiable via an intuitive, fully graphical interface. As simple as Zendesk already is to configure and use, the company is focused on continually raising the bar on its ease of use, which translates into saved time and greater application effectiveness. Even though most CRM systems are instant-on, it can take some time to configure the customer-facing ticket management options that may be available. Many CRM help desk systems on the market are primarily designed for internal users. Therefore, customer-facing functionality tends to be an afterthought to the original, internal-use application design. This can means more setup time and less streamlined functionality.
3. Email Workflow With customer-facing functionality a major part of its DNA, Zendesk’s design is inherently more oriented toward managing email-originated case workflow compared to what is normally found in CRM systems. In Zendesk, the interactive customer engagement thread is the functional and visual core of a ticket. In many CRM systems, the customer engagement thread is more of a secondary item to the core CRM lists and forms motif. A CRM user may need to drill down one or more levels to review customer messages and then reply to a customer by email. The inability for support staff to view the entire communication thread in the main screen and respond from that screen can result in longer resolution time.
4. Customer Login Access Zendesk provides an easy way for customers to log into a rich user interface. There’s no extra subscription fee for customers to access all their logged ticket information. The more limited, free customer portal access provided by certain CRM systems can be somewhat inflexible. For instance, some CRM vendors charge extra for full customer portal access. Also, since CRM help desk systems can hold a lot of data across different functional areas such as sales, marketing, and customer service, it can take extra effort to set up table and record level security so that end customers are not inadvertently given access to information that they shouldn’t be able to view.
5. Community Forums Zendesk has created a way for conversations with customers and conversations among customers to be integrated into its help desk environment via the Forums area. Forum categories, which can be customized, are all listed on a single page. Here’s an example of the Forums page of one of Zendesk’s customers. When used properly, Forums decrease the number of incidents that need to be handled by a staff member. Most CRM systems do not have this type of free-form, interactive customer communication functionality built into their help desk areas.
6. Social Media Integration Not all companies have customers who post customer service issues on Twitter — yet. However, end-users of a company’s product or service are more likely than ever to take the immediate action of posting a tweet about a problem rather than taking the time find a support email address or site. Zendesk has worked with its San Francisco neighbor and customer Twitter to develop tweet-to-ticket, or “Twicket” functionality, which is needed when the customer conversation needs to be taken off Twitter. Customer or prospect engagement can shift from a public conversation on Twitter to a private conversation within Zendesk. Some CRM systems allow for monitoring for relevant customer tweets from within the UI, but have not yet developed the same level of interactivity with Twitter. Twitter integrations will likely become increasingly important over time for customer engagement and retention.
The All-in-One CRM Suite Approach
Using two, separate products and then connecting them to one another can still be perplexing to some. There are a number of scenarios in which the relational database and integration capabilities of a CRM help desk system are important, if not necessary, for fully managing an organization’s customer support workflow. One example is a call center, in which telephony integration is often desirable so that an agent gets an automatic screen pop with caller information before picking up a call. An agent may need access to a caller’s order history — data that’s been fed into related CRM tables from a legacy ERP system. Another example is an equipment manufacturer, where a ticket needs to be related to an installed product record containing warranty data and even sub-assembly child records. These equipment records, in turn, may display field service history that a support tech can review. The same system may even be used to manage preventative maintenance schedules for which field service technicians with the optimal skill set and appropriate geographic responsibility are dispatched. As with any technology buying decision, buyers should first assess their organization’s needs and then determine which solution or solutions will best address those needs. If purchasing from more than one vendor is the appropriate path, it’s important that those technologies can be integrated with one another. Steve Chipman is the founder and president of Lexnet Consulting Group, based in San Francisco. Lexnet is a leading value added reseller for CRM (customer relationship management) and email marketing solutions. For more information, read our Guide to Integrating Zendesk for Salesforce.