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Zendesk, a Non-Profit's Dream.

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I'm going to generalize and say that most non-profits lack the ability to experiment with their tech infrastructure.  It's not their fault, they're just not as nerdy as Matthew and I. As I write this from my JetBlue gate at San Diego International Airport, I can't help but romanticize about closing tickets.  What I'm referring to is the act of responding to inquiries that get triaged by my staff and I.  It's become second nature.  I know that when I check my iPhone, there could be a Zendesk push notification.

So, what the hell is a Zendesk?

When I first pitched it to my staff, which doubled from 2 to 4 in 2012, I told them it was first a helpdesk ticketing system.  Inquiry comes in, ticket created, notification pushed, correspondence takes place, and then the ticket is solved.  Secondly, it's a glorious FAQ knowledge base that you can custom tailor to your needs.  It also includes the ability to have a blog-style dialogue at the bottom of each FAQ page.

Why can't I keep using my free Gmail account that my whole staff shares which catches all of the e-mails that come in?

Chances are you have one, or many, e-mail addresses that catch your general inquiries.  (I have at least 6.)  You've created aliases, consolidated, and have any and all stray e-mails land in this Google safe haven.  If this sounds like you, you're not exactly doing it wrong, but you could be doing it better...with Zendesk.

If you're not doing this, and have some other crazy MacGuyver'd setup, you may be past saving.

Why do you use it?

As I mentioned, I have at least 6 e-mails for inquiries to come in through.  Over the years, we've created these e-mail addresses for various purposes, in an attempt to do something that I can't remember because it probably didn't work as well as we had thought it would.

Keeping with their mantra, we've been in a zen state since February.  Once we went live with ZD in February, in came the tickets! (YAY) We also realized that there was a lot of spam linked to these accounts, which subsequently drove our new ticket number up and resulted in us having to spend some time pruning.

Here's what I hoped for/expected when I signed up for Zendesk:

  • One general inbox to rule them all. A place to keep inquiries and action items that isn't my personal g-mail which coexists with my work e-mail.
  • Easily redirecting inquiries based on which bucket they landed in. Gone are the time sucking e-mail introductions - with one click of a button, I can reassign a ticket to a coworker.
  • Serving our constituents faster and more efficiently.  Oh yea, those guys.
  • Improved customer service.  We operate a rapidly growing online store.  Questions, comments, exchanges, and the occasional "WHERE IS MY ORDER??????"
  • Living, breathing FAQ's.  Finally, a place to put all of our policies and hopefully reduce the number of inbound FAQ's.

Here's the reality:

  • You get what you pay for. Zendesk is definitely an investment, but it's worth every penny.
  • Use it wisely. Zendesk is a leg of your communications strategy, but it's doesn't come with autopilot. (Do create macros, though!)
  • Know your audience. Some people might be turned off by getting a ticket number assigned to them.  Others may not understand their role in the process.  If they're a legacy member of your organization, they just won't be expecting it.  Keep on truckin'.
  • Limit your back and forth.  I once tried to coordinate a calendar meeting using Zendesk.  We wound up going back and forth at least 10 times.  There will be times you kick it old school and switch over to e-mail.  Zendesk makes it easy to compose right from your dashboard.
  • Feedback can be amazing.  We've never had a "quick survey" tool.  You can enable your Zendesk to send a followup e-mail to rate your customer service.  I have mine set to 2 hours after I mark a ticket solved.  Negative feedback is the single best gift someone can give you - it helps you do it better the next time.
  • Creating FAQ's can be both hard and easy.  Your FAQ's are not the same as people who are just learning about your organization.  Crowdsource them and throw yours out of the closest window.
  • FAQ pages can be fun.  This is not your standard Zendesk front end.
  • Accountability. Based on the size of your team, you can see who is kicking Zendesk's butt and who is slacking.  You get full metrics about individual response time and the quality of their individual support.

There's definitely more to the story, and each Zendesk will have its own challenges and opportunities.  As with any tech investment, you get out of it what you put in.

Nonprofiteer of the Year 2013