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How we Work part 5: Zendesk and the art of customer service

How we Work is an ongoing series where we talk about the software and services we use every day to communicate, collaborate and generally get the job done. In this fifth instalment we’ll take a look at Zendesk, the web service that helps us to deliver the kind of customer service people deserve.

Zendesk-iconHi folks! Ben Lucier here from Ting customer service. As part of our ongoing series about how things work at Ting, I’ve been asked to share a little bit about how we manage our customer service interactions using Zendesk.

Before I talk about Zendesk though, it might be helpful to paint a bit of a picture for you around our support volume and what my team is responsible for.

As our customer base grows, so does our support volume. As I write this, we handle somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,000 customer interactions per day. These interactions are a mix of phone calls, tweets, online chats, Facebook, discussions in the Ting community forums and yes, even email. Our top three communication channels in order are phone, email, and chat.

Chances are, you’ve had the misfortune of having to deal with companies that force you to press “1” for sales, “2” for billing, or “3” for technical support. We don’t work that way.

The Ting Customer Experience team is different from other companies in that we’re trained to offer real support. Some companies have separate teams trained in sales, billing, retention, technical support and logistics (shipping/receiving devices). At Ting, a Customer Advisor is trained in all these areas.

ting_zendesk_sample-ticketSince we’re trained to help explain a recent bill, help choose the perfect device for you or a family member or to troubleshoot activation issues, it means we can do things like ditching those silly phone trees. We don’t need to figure out where to direct your call: Any Customer Experience team member that picks up the phone has the tools and the autonomy to help. We have a single toll-free number and a single email address for support.

Ok, now on with the show…

With so much effort going into hiring and training the right people, it’s equally important that we chose a help system that doesn’t get in the way of us actually helping our customers. That’s why we chose Zendesk.

Zendesk’s clean interface, powerful email handling and integration options to our back-end systems using their application programming interface (API), has helped us grow from just a handful of customers a couple years ago to tens of thousands of customers today.

When you call Ting, one of the first things we’ll do is look you up in our system. That helps us figure out a bit about you without you having to give us all the history. If you have an existing help request open, the advisor you’re speaking with can very quickly get up to speed by looking at the help request notes.

A status for every occasion

There are a few status types that Zendesk uses: New, Open, Pending, Hold, and Solved.
A help request with a status of New means that it is waiting to be assigned to a customer service advisor. A request would be set to Pending if we need more information from you, or if we think we’ve solved your problem and we’re just waiting for you to tell us that everything is “A-OK!”. If everything is answered to your satisfaction, we’ll mark the request as Solved. Hold is a status that we use when we need to do more investigation with another group. For example, if we needed to troubleshoot a problem related to your cellular signal with a network engineer.

Of course, it’s important to collect feedback after we’ve solved a case, and we do that after a help request is marked as Solved. We send a follow-up email that invites customers to share their level of satisfaction when we solve every help request.

A View into our customer requests

ting_zendesk_triggersZendesk doesn’t have ticket queues per se, but rather Views that show a list of filtered requests. Each advisor will spend 95% of their time in a View called MyQueue. This View has a list of help requests, sorted by latest update. This ensures that customer requests are responded to in a First In, First Out (FIFO) priority. This view has a mix of new (unassigned) and existing (open/assigned) requests. Because of this setup, each advisor will have a slightly different view, since they’ll see a neatly ordered listing of new requests, intermixed with open tickets that customers have responded to.

Triggers and Automations

In addition to Zendesk’s powerful email handling, much of Zendesk’s value is realized through their simple, yet extremely flexible, triggers and automations. Put simply, a trigger performs a specific action when something happens on a help request, where an automation does something on a regular schedule. For example, we have a trigger that will automatically respond to a customer when a new request has been received. An example of an automation would be an email reminder sent to a customer about a pending help request that we required more detail on, but on which there hasn’t been any action for 24 hours.

The Zendesk API

The awesomeness of the Zendesk API could easily fill ten blog posts, so I’ll do my best to keep this short.

A good example of where we make use of the Zendesk API is how we execute on some of our marketing and sales related programs. When a potential customer asks us for help to find them the perfect mobile phone, we make use of the Zendesk API. It pulls the important details from the Personal Shopper survey form. This means that our marketing efforts are tightly integrated into our daily workflow, and we have a single window into everything we’re doing.

Another example of our tight integration with back-end systems might be how we handle billing failures. When a payment failure occurs, our back-end systems automatically create a help request, tagging it as a billing failure. The customer is notified of the failure, and most of the time will immediately log into their account and correct the problem. Sometimes, they’ll reply to the help request with some important detail so we can help them. When payment is collected, the back-end system automatically updates the request, noting the successful collection, and the request is closed.


In the end, perhaps the biggest benefit of Zendesk is its scalability. It’s the system we chose when we were just a small team with a commitment to the kind of customer service people should be able to expect from their cell phone company. It’s the system we use now to keep with that commitment, now that the Customer Experience team has just about filled the top floor of the Tucows office and we’ve opened a satellite Customer Experience office a couple of cities over. All signs point to it being the same service we use as the team grows even further.