Thoughts on what businesses actually need from the Cloud, not what vendors wish they needed.

Chris Bliss

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20th century customer service consisted of packed call centers, phones ringing off the hook, and large, convoluted databases of information to manage a never-ending stream of support requests. Cloud computing, and the introduction of powerful, business-specific software solutions, has changed that.

There are hundreds of systems out there for handling contact management (CRM), project management, and sales workflows: likewise, there are more than a couple systems built for customer service. The best of the bunch is Zendesk, and we are psyched to award it an A+ and our seal of approval. Read on for our full review…

The Quick and Dirty Verdict

In our opinion, the best part about Zendesk is its applicability for small, medium, and large customer service teams. It can be configured and customized to streamline both basic and complex support workflows. Whether your support requests come through email, website, phone, social media, or chat, Zendesk can make your helpdesk a lot easier to manage. We’re giving it a 93/100 for its robust handling of support channels, eloquent and intuitive triggers, automations, and macros, and its customizable and powerful reporting, views, and usability. It also has a HUGE list of integrations and an open API supported by a robust Zendesk and user forum with best practices and tips. What’s not to love? Read on for the full review…

The Details

Functionality = 28/30

Zendesk boasts all the features you would expect from a helpdesk solution, as well as some innovative and powerful ones that are less common. Ticket fields are (almost) 100% customizable and can be setup to be only visible to agents, visible to both agents and end-users, and/or required for either party. What’s even better is that standard and custom fields can be included in email notifications to anyone associated with the ticket (requester, agent, manager, etc). That helps CS correspondence feel less robot-like.

Other cool features include triggers, automations and macros. Triggers are based on events (i.e. “If ticket is changed to Pending and Priority is High then send email to _____”).  Automations are based on time (i.e. “if ticket has been open for 4 days and has not been solved, then email _____”). Macros are canned actions/responses that work wonders on improving efficiency; if you get a lot of the same requests over and over (“where’s the ‘ON’ button?”), you can create a macro to standardize how the ticket is categorized (which tags, and fields to fill out), and even include a canned response to send to the user. Looking for better helpdesk efficiency? Zendesk has you covered.

Additionally, the recent introduction of Zendesk Voice is truly innovative. No need to integrate with Google Voice or manually add phone call requests to the system; Zendesk brings it all in-house with its native voice system. Procure your own phone number, setup your rules, and join the helpdesk revolution where all support channels are included.

Two areas that we hope will be improved in the coming months? You can’t add custom fields to end-user pages, so you’ll have to include additional information in the Details and Notes boxes.  And, dynamically populated ticket fields are not possible without some basic Javascript work (which, by the way, Zendesk makes very easy to figure out).

There are other minor quibbles (users can’t belong to more than one organization, for example, and Googler Apps integration is limited), but overall, this is one robust piece of software. Zendesk has been amazing in listening to user feedback (check out their new Lotus agent view) too, so I’m sure its minor shortcomings will be addressed. 28/30 for features.

Usability = 17/20 points

Setting up and customizing your helpdesk is very intuitive, and Zendesk offers some great forum and training manuals. The features are so robust that it can seem a tad confusing at first, but once you know what each piece does (see above), you’ll be blown away by its usability. Once the system is setup for your needs, customer support seems gravy.The agent view is simple and easy to learn, but the new Lotus view is a huge improvement (see screenshot below).

The most important thing for support agents is open and pending tickets, which is the focus of Lotus.  Zendesk’s customizable “Views” make it easy for different agents to setup different views that they need on a constant basis, and these views are cleanly displayed in Lotus.

The usability for the end-user is a perk also; you can set it up so that end-users never have to login to the helpdesk and simply submit and communicate in tickets straight through email. Or, you can direct your end-users to the helpdesk so they can check the status of open tickets. Either way, it’s easy to use and straight to the point. 17/20 for usability, with 3 points docked for the inevitable learning curve that comes with robust software.

Security = 20/20 points

Zendesk is another example of how well-engineered cloud applications offer high-level security. As of September, 2011 Zendesk entered into several voluntary data privacy programs that cement the software as safe and reliable for business use. If you’re interested, you can read their full privacy policy. Overall, Zendesk is as secure as any other system out there, and it’s something they take great pride in. 20/20 for security.

Integrations = 10/10

Zendesk features one of the most extensive integration lists we have seen, and it seems to constantly grow. The best part about their integrations is they cover basically every aspect of most business workflows (analytics, CRM, automations, authentication, e-commerce, CMS, frameworks, communication, and management).

A few of our favorites are its integration with GoodData (for robust reporting), Formstack (for easily embedding a Zendesk-integrated webform into your website), and all of its social integrations (Twitter, Facebook) for social ticket channels. Check out the list yourself; we bet you will be blown away by how many integrations they offer.

If you’re looking for custom development for an integration that’s not on the list (yet), the Zendesk  API is well documented and robust. The user forum is also filled with sample code, best practices, and tips on using the API.  We give it a 10/10 for a truly impressive integration set.

Price = 8/10

Zendesk’s pricing model is on par with its competition, but stands out in some of its included features; for example, charges users more for full web portal customization and an additional $99/month for phone support (not cool). Zendesk offers full CSS rebranding and included CSS and Javascript widgets with every account, and phone support is included in the Plus and Enterprise accounts.  Our only knock is that we wish every level of membership could do full CSV exports (and not just the top two tiers) – it’s the customer’s data, after all. 8/10 for price.

Support = 10/10

Zendesk has an active and helpful user forum community that answers many of the questions you will face while setting up your helpdesk. Zendesk employees frequent the boards to offer their insights, links to relevant forum topics, and updates on software improvements. Zendesk’s knowledge base is also filled with great information for new and experienced users. It is updated frequently and is another valuable resource (they’re smokin’ what they’re sellin’). If you still need some tips or guidance on setting up your Zendesk, we may know a team of professionals who could help you out ;-) .


We review a lot of business software but only pursue partnerships with some. Most software we see gets one or two things right and fails everything else – that’s not great for businesses who need reliable, functional tools.

Thus it’s rare that we find systems that deliver on all of their promises, but Zendesk fits the bill. It’s a beautiful blend of robust features, usability, top notch security, unparalleled integrations, and a high level of support.

Whether you need to manage the support requests of thousands of internal employees located across the country, hundreds of clients in one city, or just those few needy accounts, Zendesk is your solution. It truly is “the fastest way to great customer support,” and it is 100% worthy of our seal of approval. From our experiences with the software, our communications with their team, and our own observations, it’s a product that’s only going to get better, too.

VM Associates is a New York City cloud computing consulting firm. We help companies transition into newer, better, smarter software. Contact us to talk about your business, the cloud, and how we might help.

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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.