“If you don’t reach them on channels where they communicate, you’ll lose them,” Mikkel Svane told me in an interview three years ago. It was at that time when Zendesk’s chief executive detailed how the customer service and support landscape was changing. “You have to embrace all the platforms, but you have to find out what’s best for the business,” he said. “Businesses need to have an agnostic approach to channels.”
Taking this to heart, Zendesk is offering a new tool that lets customers bypass using its dashboard when it comes to interacting with their users. Called Sunshine Conversations, this developer platform is a rebrand of Smooch.io, which Zendesk acquired in May, and lets brands incorporate “social and direct messaging” into their own apps and websites, catering to the workflows of customer service agents.
A part of Zendesk’s Sunshine CRM platform, Conversations lets developers have a continuous conversation regardless of channel, be it Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, Twitter, Telegram, Viber, Kakao Talk, SMS, or through the web. Among its features is the ability to integrate bots and AI capabilities so that interactions are personalized; enabling the building of “rich, interactive” experiences so users can browse products, make reservations, or make payments within the messaging interface; and letting businesses share the chat data so multiple team members are given the complete context about customer concerns.
The race to dominate conversational commerce
“Messaging is evolving from a simple communication channel into a new interface for businesses to connect, engage, and transact with customers,” Warren Levitan, Zendesk’s vice president of conversational business and a Smooch.io co-founder, said. He also described the impact of using bots and artificial intelligence to improve the transactional experience. Essentially Zendesk seeks to be a dominant player in conversational commerce, a space filled up with the likes of Twilio, Facebook, and many others.
With Sunshine Conversations, developers should be able to empower customer service agents to continue customer chats no matter the tool, whether it started from SMS, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp, inside their own application. Comcast could, for example, continue assisting a customer who complained through a Twitter direct message in their own Comcast app, or at least reference that conversation next time that specific customer raised hell about poor service.
Zendesk isn’t the first to market with a chat unification play, as Salesforce launched a similar offering called LiveMessage in 2016. Both companies are clearly butting heads as they intersect in both the CRM and the customer service area. It also increases the pressure on other competitors such as Intercom, Drift, and Freshdesk which offer similar offerings.
Sunshine Conversations shouldn’t be unexpected though, as it ties in with Zendesk’s efforts to help brands be more proactive. And as I’ve written before, for those companies looking to move upmarket and reach the enterprise, it’s less about tech providers keeping users on their properties, but opening themselves up so that they adapt to their user’s workflow — not the other way around. This ties in with what Svane said in 2016 when his company underwent a rebrand:
“For too long, business software has been built for businesses at the expense of customers. It’s been built for department silos and separate ‘clouds,’ not the seamless experience customers expect today…We’re changing that with products built for relationships first.”
Community building with new Gather tool
Besides giving brands a streamlined way to keep tabs on interactions with their customers, Zendesk has also launched Gather, a tool that it says lets customer service agents create their own communities (similar to Ning?) that can be customizable. While a forum may suit most brands, there might be occasions when space is needed where customers can interact with one another without forcing them off to a social network like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google. Instead, Zendesk Gather is a dedicated space where brands can have interactions with customers around a dedicated topic: their product.
“Customers expect relevant and real-time support, which can be challenging to provide at scale,” said Shawna Wolverton, Senior Vice President, Product at Zendesk. “Gather is a way to leverage customer and product experts to provide service representing a wide variety of viewpoints. It’s a place for companies to capture, organize, and share feedback for teams across support, product, engineering, and more. Using a community tool to listen to customers will improve relationships and ultimately their experiences.”
Inside these spaces, community managers are able to feature popular articles, pin posts, and users are able to search for posts that are not only in that space but also across help articles. Although there’s a free trial, Zendesk charges $9 per agent per month to use Gather.
Both Sunshine Conversations and Gather are available today.