Zendesk is a service-first CRM company that builds support, sales, and customer engagement software designed to foster better customer relationships. From large enterprises to startups, Zendesk believes that powerful, innovative customer experiences should be within reach for every company, no matter the size, industry or ambition. Zendesk serves more than 160,000 customers across a multitude of industries in over 30 languages.
Wendy Johnstone, SVP & COO, Zendesk APAC is responsible for driving operational excellence across Asia Pacific and ensuring global and regional alignment for all of Zendesk’s business functions and offices in APAC. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion and is a fierce advocate for women in leadership and technology, currently serving as the global executive sponsor for the Women at Zendesk Employee Resource Group (ERG). She also serves on the President’s Leadership Council at The Asia Foundation, helping to increase its profile, resources and effectiveness.
In a recent chat with Wendy Johnstone, SVP & COO, Zendesk APAC, wherein she talks about her entrepreneurial journey, the unique aspects of Zendesk and the company’s latest endeavors.
We’re here to help reduce complexity in customer service and we do that by helping companies digitize customer experience. We provide tools and technologies that drive agility, and this helps companies engage with their customers in a seamless way. In the 15 years we’ve been in operation, we’ve connected more than 100,000 companies with customers and we power billions of conversations.
Tell us about Zendesk, its specialization and the services that it offers.
We believe that every good relationship stems from a conversation between a customer and a company - and our products are designed to foster better customer relationships. We also recognise that every interaction with a customer is part of a continuous conversation. What we do is help businesses of all sizes set their teams up for success with the right balance of simplicity and sophistication. We do this through our Support and Sales solutions.
For a single, contextual conversation thread with customers on multiple channels including messaging, chat, email, phone, and everything in between we have the Zendesk Suite. With a unified agent workspace, it sets teams up for success, enabling businesses to operate on an open and flexible platform that is quick and easy to implement. For enterprises, it reduces costs through faster deployments as our platforms enable companies to iterate in real-time.
Our products also enable SMBs to scale and adapt to customer preferences, and streamline workflows between support and sales, with the right insights for strategic decision-making.
The need for workforce strategies, which ensure that women of all backgrounds advance and are empowered to become leaders in engineering?
Diversity is about enabling everyone to be their true self at work and bringing the best they have to offer to an organisation. It’s important for organisations to build a diverse workforce because it’s good for business. This is something I personally believe and it’s also embedded in the culture of Zendesk. McKinsey’s research shows that companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion efforts outperform their less diverse counterparts. Having more women leaders from diverse backgrounds can reduce gender discrimination in recruitment, advancement and retention of employees.
It’s also important to create psychologically safe environments in which women can speak up about the challenges they face and the support they need. In line with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, breaking the bias requires safe spaces for women and the resources to eliminate the things that stand in the way of women being given the opportunity to rise in their chosen fields.
At the end of the day, having a diverse workforce brings a wonderful mix of differences and perspectives to the table, from culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. It enhances creativity and encourages dialogue, which ultimately leads to better decision making and outcomes.
Please tell us about the recent developments in your organization?
The last few years have made it clear that in a digital-first world, customer relationships are anchored in conversations. Zendesk is helping businesses embrace this new era of conversational customer relationship management, where customer service can become an engine for growth. Our technologies now connect and integrate front and back offices for better support and also provide intelligent, real-time data and services to build better customer relationships. Customers want to engage businesses on their terms and on channels they prefer. Our products now offer conversational automation with sophisticated chatbots, conversational data orchestration, analytics for smarter sales and service, omnichannel routing and conversational channels.
Zendesk Suite has additional capabilities like integrated self service, case management and Zendesk professional services. It offers a unified platform for HR, Finance, Operations, IT and other support teams. At a time when employees are facing tech fatigue, the unified platform removes repetition and unnecessary administrative processes, making it easier for employees to access critical information, resources and services; and insights to understand trends that leads to better employee experience.
Going into this year, will there be any change around IT budgets or in terms of the consumption model due to the post-pandemic situation?
Just two years ago, most organisations prioritized crisis response, employee health and the virtualization of work as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses find themselves facing new challenges - while they are ready to recover and put their growth plans back on track, inflation is causing consumers to be more wary of spending. In India alone, 80% of customers want to save money and are shying away from spending more. This means it’s more important than ever that businesses protect the relationships they have with their customers and deliver value in the way they engage with them.
Since customers are cautious about where they spend their money, it is the best time for companies to dig deeper and analyze the historical customer data, collected over a period of time through their interaction on different channels like social media, chatbots and emails. This will enable businesses to know where to focus those engagements and how best to deliver value.
Customer service is not a backroom operation anymore but a key driver for growth. It is now a key differentiator between companies, a top consideration for customers, and a profit-generating force in its own right. Whether you’re a well-established firm or a small business that wants to scale and grow, a successful customer service team will help foster better relationships and protect existing ones, attract new business, boost retention, and increase sales among your existing customer base.
How can tech companies benefit from women’s STEM networks?
Networks have been an important source of support and learning for me over the years. Women’s STEM networks are crucial to every organisation as they create a supportive community to discuss, explore and share best practices for women in their respective fields. For instance, Zendesk’s Women in Engineering Employee Resource Group is a space for women engineers to collectively use their talents to innovate, improve and grow to achieve professional success. These networks create safe spaces for women to discuss their needs and they go a long way in building confidence in their abilities.
The lack of visibility and recognition for women in STEM has left women without enough role models to look up to. Networks specifically for women are great for mentorship, and increasing their visibility. These are crucial to ensuring more women seek out careers in STEM fields and also achieve greater success. Ultimately, empowering women in STEM brings fresh perspectives for companies and as always, diversity is good for business. With every female talent excluded from the industry, businesses are losing a massive opportunity to grow. From gender to culture, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds, diversity is important for organisations as it enhances creativity, leading to better decision-making and better outcomes.
How has the definition of “Customer Experience” evolved in the last 6-8 months?
Expectations have risen. Customers no longer view online and offline shopping as distinctive experiences; they expect everything to be connected — all the time. Customers expect quick, efficient, rich and experiential and more importantly intuitive experiences. And they expect companies to cater to their personalised needs while also living up to their social and environmental responsibility claims or they will take their business elsewhere. 75 percent of customers in APAC expect personalised experiences, while 71 percent of APAC customers are willing to switch brands after one bad experience, according to Zendesk’s CX Trends Report 2022.
Digital tools are a necessary part of any shopping experience and customers expect stores to be digitally enabled and for brands and retailers to support hybrid shopping journeys. In APAC, 79 percent of customers expect artificial intelligence to make their life easier, while 74 percent expect AI to improve customer service.
Today’s customers are digitally confident and purpose-driven and they demand more from brands. Customers are looking for empathy, always on-support and streamlined conversational experiences — whether they are talking to humans or a bot. They expect their purchasing journey to be easy and free of roadblocks, especially on the support front as 79% of customers in APAC expect companies have information handy so they don’t have to repeat themselves.This means that businesses looking to drive sustainable growth need to focus on integrating AI and automation with conversational customer service.
What factors have contributed to this dynamic transformation of CX in marketing, sales and customer support?
CX is the sum of a customer’s interactions with a brand. CX has evolved from mere sales, marketing and support mechanisms to a conversational and collaborative effort, where business processes work in tandem to deliver the best experience. CX in 2022 is data-driven. It involves using customer data to generate personalised and intuitive experiences. For instance, customer support teams generate massive amounts of actionable data, especially when customers reach out through multiple channels like social media, chatbots and emails. Insights from customer support can be used to tailor products or services to suit customer requirements, thereby delivering exceptional experiences.
Indian consumers largely feel that customer service is an afterthought, but they are also overwhelmingly willing to spend more with companies that deliver a positive experience. Indian businesses agree there is a link between customer service and business performance and they’re empowering agents with training. For better collaboration between marketing, sales and support teams, businesses primarily need to create convenient customer conversations at scale by connecting processes, data and custom logic. Data analytics can help sales teams turn conversations into revenue. Adopting technologies with custom reporting capabilities enables teams to manage high volumes and analyze historical trends to provide better staffing on the channels customers communicate on. CX-driven growth is long-lasting as businesses put customers at the heart of everything they do.
How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead? What changes for Zendesk? (General overview)
As online and offline environments continue to merge, businesses need conversational tools to build better relationships — with customers and employees. We aim to enable businesses to generate long-lasting relationships by turning conversational customer support into an engine for growth. We see the opportunity for the future of CX in conversational CRM, as it removes the friction of communicating between businesses and customers.
With the future of work being hybrid, employees have new needs. Employee support teams also need an efficient, easy way to evolve the way they work through simplified workflows and automation. What we’ve done is take our 15 years of experience in building customer service tools and combine that with additional capabilities to develop a solution that can drive better integration and efficiencies. What we’re giving employee support teams is solutions that provide a single source of truth cross-functionally, a way to streamline processes and better insights.
In India, specifically, the combination of a fast growing, service-driven market powered by the government’s Digital India initiative positions us well in the market. As we see companies in India shift from traditional to more modern ways of doing business, we are focusing on what we do best — through solutions that empower businesses to communicate seamlessly with customers and employees. This makes India a key market for Zendesk and one of the largest markets in the APAC region. As the fastest-growing major economy, India’s digital focus makes it a great market for growth.