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AiThority Interview with Abhishek Deshmukh, VP of Engineering – Zendesk

Hi, please tell us about your role and the team/technology at Zendesk.

As the VP of Engineering, I lead product development for the Zendesk Support Suite, which brings together our products Support, Guide, Chat, Talk and Social Messaging into a single omnichannel solution. The Suite Team is a globally distributed team of talented professionals who build amazing products for our customers.

In my capacity as MD, I oversee operations for Zendesk Singapore, with a key focus on product development, government relations, university partnerships, community engagement, employee experience and brand. Our Singapore office is home to 200+ employees from 30+ countries who have made Singapore their home. Despite having a distributed workforce, we continue to reinforce a fun, vibrant and inclusive culture.

How big is your engineering team at Zendesk APAC? How are you helping businesses deliver the experiences their customers want?

Zendesk has been expanding and our team – including the product and engineering functions – has experienced 33% year-on-year growth across APAC. In Singapore, our local product and engineering teams have led the end-to-end development of our live chat product, Zendesk Chat, since 2014. Most recently, the team expanded its role to include the global development of new features for the Support Suite.

As the pandemic unfolds, we’ve been observing a growing trend of customers expecting easy, fast, and personalized support experiences.

In fact, our research shows Singaporeans (62.4%) are significantly ahead of Southeast Asia (48.6%) when it comes to adopting AI-enabled customer support channels. Ensuring reliable, seamless support for our customers continues to be our top priority, minimizing the need for face-to-face interaction in a ’new normal’. This can be done through the deployment of automated solutions like chatbots, or messaging apps and social media. We are also currently exploring new ways to leverage analytics so that we can better empower enterprises with insights to deliver positive experiences for their customers, especially during uncertain times.

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Customer Service platforms are transforming the APAC retail and B2B Commerce space. How is Zendesk empowering the customers in their transformational journey?

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated digital transformation, forcing brands to embrace virtual alternatives.

With customer behavior constantly changing, being able to observe and understand customer data has become even more vital.

In fact, our Benchmark data shows customer requests in Singapore’s retail and e-commerce industry had a 16% year-on-year increase since late February. This means that businesses need to constantly be on the pulse of customers’ changing expectations, so they can equip themselves with the right tools to help them deliver on their customer needs.

For example, Zendesk Explore helps to plug businesses into these insights by streamlining real-time customer data for benchmarking against performance metrics, such as first reply time and resolution time. This helps support teams spot and take tangible action to address service gaps and challenges across the Customer Support, Marketing and Sales functions.

During the pandemic, what are the most challenging aspects to execute a service-first approach for customer relationships?

One of the biggest inhibitors to a service-first approach during the Covid-19 pandemic is to create empathetic and authentic connections amid increasingly distributed customer support teams. As businesses recalibrate their operations in the face of uncertainty, the pressure on remote support teams is rising as customers’ desire for immediacy, intimacy and engagement still stands. Thankfully, technology has made it possible to create empathetic experiences, allowing customers to trust and feel heard. Customer-centric brands are able to refine and streamline their customer touchpoints to provide the most effective support, through the most efficient channels, and in the shortest amount of time.

For example, Singapore-based Robo-advisory StashAway has adopted the use of WhatsApp, which is now used for 60% of all incoming customer inquiries. Messaging has become the preferred engagement channel for their customers due to its easy accessibility and capability to reduce the first response time by half. Despite challenges imposed by the pandemic, StashAway continues to respond to inquiries quickly within 2-3 hours, giving customers better peace of mind by ensuring that they are always accessible when needed.

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Why is it important for enterprises to centralize customer data for analysis?

To keep up with rising customer expectations for good experiences and immediate support, businesses need to be faster and more flexible.

Centralized customer data puts power directly into the hands of teams and decision-makers. By collecting and measuring every customer interaction, you’re able to amass a database of customer touch points and team performance. What’s important is the next step: having the technology and tools that help you transform numbers on a page into actionable insights. By tapping into this sort of customer analytics toolkit, businesses can optimize their processes to adapt to changing needs and maximize customer satisfaction.

How enterprises can monitor and act on real-time trends in customer support data, especially against the backdrop of Covid-19?

We believe that any great customer engagement strategy starts with understanding the customer – where are they spending the most amount of time, and do they prefer to talk to an organization or find answers themselves? Live feeds with the most recent and relevant data can help businesses craft personalized customer interactions, increasing the efficiency of various support channels. Visibility into real-time data, such as spikes in calls or backed up queues, allow businesses to redistribute their resources so that support agents can be where they’re needed the most.

Real-time data becomes even more crucial during a pandemic, where customer behavior has subverted familiar patterns and expectations. During this period, we’ve observed shifts in customers’ preferred channels of engagement – WhatsApp usage spiked by 101%, followed by live chat (+34%), and texting (+30%) since the last week of February this year. Customer analytics tools like Zendesk Explore can be used to help businesses integrate data across every channel to measure customer-brand interactions, helping them meet their customers wherever they are. By identifying trends and metrics to track success, they become better equipped to monitor and act on customer data for personalized support.

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Tell us more about various Zendesk dashboards and integrations with other platforms that improve marketing and sales efficiencies?

Dashboards allow you to see the most important information at a glance, helping leaders make the best decisions based on data insights.

With Zendesk Explore, you can customize charts and build dashboards with our drag-and-drop interface, allowing you to visualize, understand, and implement meaningful business change – without writing a single line of code. Being able to slice-and-dice customer metrics and trends to match your brand works alongside collaborative tools that enable the whole team to easily get on board.

Of course, it integrates seamlessly with every Zendesk channel, so your team always has the data they need. In fact, marketing and sales planning can benefit from support data too, whether it is to introduce new sales channels as customers rapidly shift online, or make adjustments to advertising campaigns so they can directly address pain points of potential customers during the pandemic.

Ultimately, it’s important to be adaptive and respond to the changing needs of your customers.

Tell us more about your data privacy initiatives at Zendesk APAC. How do they compare against GDPR and CCPA benchmarks?

While Zendesk does not necessarily help businesses comply with data privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA, CRMs play a huge role in enabling businesses to elevate customer experience and stand out from competition. We’ve undertaken a myriad of measures to help our customers maintain control of their privacy and data security.

For example, customer data is only shared with third parties when disclosure is necessary to provide the services or as required to respond to lawful requests from public authorities. Zendesk solutions also have an advanced set of access and encryption features to help customers effectively protect their information.

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When customers are picking convenience over experience, how is Zendesk ensuring consumer data privacy in the digital space?

Convenience is definitely a key consideration for customers, but it can go hand in hand with creating great customer experiences. Self-help solutions like AI-powered chatbots or knowledge bases are great examples of how historical data can be used to personalize customer experiences by making proactive recommendations.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 76% of customers expect some kind of personalization using data.

Stricter privacy rules provide an excellent opportunity for businesses to be more transparent about how they process and use customers’ personal data and advocating greater transparency could lead to greater consumer trust. This potentially encourages customers to become more willing to share specific data in exchange for better service, and by extension, building deeper customer relationships.

At Zendesk, we take security very seriously and use a combination of enterprise-class security features and comprehensive audits to ensure that all customer data is always protected. Any data that Zendesk uses is also completely aggregated and anonymised, ensuring total customer privacy.

Thank you, Abhishek! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Managing Director and Vice President of Engineering at Zendesk

Zendesk is a CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships. From large enterprises to startups, we believe that powerful, innovative customer experience should be within reach for every company, no matter the size, industry or ambition. Zendesk serves more than 150,000 customers across hundreds of industries in over 30 languages.

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