Zendesk Enterprise: Help Desk Software With Twist

New lightweight user interface lets more employees collaborate on customer service issues--without requiring per-seat fee for the full version.
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Now that it has gained more than 10,000 customers in 100 countries by emphasizing simplicity, Zendesk is breaking down and addressing enterprise complexity.

"We knew this was going to happen sooner or later," said Zack Urlocker, chief operating officer at Zendesk, which introduced its Zendesk Enterprise Plan Tuesday.

Zendesk is help-desk software that emphasizes Internet channels including email and social media, offered on a subscription basis as software as a service (SaaS). That's a model particularly attractive to small businesses and startups, but midsize to large enterprises are now buying into it. "We're seeing more customers with thousands or even tens of thousands of employees," Urlocker said, and with that size come additional demands. Now, Zendesk wants to address those more sophisticated requirements and still "not make the product too complicated for smaller companies," he said.

Zendesk Enterprise includes an alternative, lightweight user interface that allows employees across an enterprise to collaborate on service and support issues without paying the per-seat fee for the full agent desktop. Zendesk will also provide enterprise customers with more options to customize user and administrator roles and to support multiple brands from the same account.

The requirement to support multiple brands arises even with some small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that operate in multiple markets, or market themselves with a few different faces. For example, ZenDesk customer CareerArc Group operates several differently branded websites, including CareerSearch and Previously, customers that wanted to run multiple branded support sites would have to run multiple ZenDesk accounts, one for each brand, even though support for all of the brands was provided by a single help-desk team, Urlocker said. Now, a single Enterprise Plan account can be configured to support multiple brands through the same instance of Zendesk.

Zendesk is also obtaining more customers whose requirements go beyond the simple built-in user and administrator roles of its base system, Urlocker said. Now, they will be able to define custom roles, for example, to identify a team of users responsible for servicing a particular region, or for handling customer chat sessions but not email, or to designate fields on a customer record that can only be changed by users with the right permissions.

More importantly, Zendesk is now extending access to support tickets and the discussions around them. "The most disruptive thing in this release is the unlimited internal usage model, which enables people in different departments to collaborate," Urlocker said.

Many organizations have come to Zendesk with the desire to include more people in the discussion on service and support issues--perhaps as part of an approval process for the resolution of a complaint, or to get input from engineers or accountants or lawyers, Urlocker said. Yet none of those people needs the full Zendesk agent desktop, nor do their companies want to pay for the additional licenses. As a result, many of those discussions would wind up being conducted by email or through some other collaboration system, meaning that they were not tracked in Zendesk. At that point, "you kind of lose the traceability," he said.

The new, unlimited-access Web client for Zendesk allows any employee to view service tickets and participate in the discussion of how to address them, without incurring the per-seat licensing fee. This lightweight client doesn't provide access to all Zendesk features, but it's not supposed to, Urlocker said. "This is more for the casual user, in a different department, who needs to be able to view tickets and respond to internal discussions. They can't close a ticket or resolve an issue with a customer--that's for the agent to do. But this allows the agent to say, I want to get legal to tell me what I can say to this customer."

Zendesk has recently promoted other ways of broadening access, such as ticket sharing with other applications using a standard it promotes with partners through

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