The customer service revolution is here and now – Interview with Mikkel Svane CEO of Zendesk

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Following on from my recent interview, Reinventing customer experience in the legal sector – Interview with Karl Chapman of Riverview Law, today I want to share with you an interview that I recently conducted with Mikkel Svane, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Zendesk, a fast growing and venture-capital funded cloud based customer service platform.

This interview makes up number twenty-two in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that I think that you will find interesting and helpful in growing your businesses.

I caught up with Mikkel as he took some time out from the Le Web conference in London last week.

Below are highlights from our interview:

  • Zendesk are a cloud based customer service platform that has 15,000 businesses using their service allowing them to serve more 100 million end users and deal with around 100 million customer service transactions a year.
  • Originally a Danish company, Zendesk moved to San Francisco 3 years ago. They now have 250 employees, London is their European HQ and the largest market in Europe. Europe makes up 25% of Zendesk’s total business.
  • Most of their customers are small to medium sized businesses but they do also have very large companies as customers like Thomas Cook
  • Zendesk is now expanding it’s reach and has just announced that customers in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands will be able to use the software in their own language.
  • The advantage of being cloud based is that they can serve the very largest and the smallest firms with exactly the same technology.
  • They have ‘consumerised’ their app/technology so that all sizes of organisations can have access to it whilst also making it easy to set up and use.
  • Mikkel believes that we are in the middle of a customer service revolution.
  • The drivers of the customer service revolution are:
    • The use of social technology that gives customers more of a voice and an audience that enables them to gain attention and influence firms
    • But, Mikkel believes that the bigger trend is that we are moving more into a subscription economy, where the focus is on building long term customer value through the length of a whole relationship rather than focusing on how much I can sell you here and now.
  • If you are tuned into the mindset of point two of Mikkel’s drivers then a long lasting relationship is all that matters for your numbers or your financials. Suddenly, then, it is all about customer service and this becomes essential if you want to deliver the right experience and retain your customers.
  • It doesn’t make sense that when firms say that they are customer service or customer focused that their call centre agents or those on the front line delivering an experience are some of the lowest paid employees in a business.
  • Companies are realising this and starting to make changes.
  • We are seeing this with the reversal of much of the outsourcing that has gone on in recent years with moves to more ‘insourcing’, bringing back in house much of the customer facing operations.
  • Customer service is moving from being something that you could put in a department to something that is part of the culture of the organisation.
  • You can do that by making things transparent so that the whole firm knows what is going on. For example, when someone is having a bad customer service experience that should be shares so that it becomes the whole company’s responsibility to engage them and solve that problem
  • But, it is one of those things that is easy to say and harder to do.
  • Moving the responsibility for dealing with customers away from just a department to the whole organisation can be a way of sharing the pain and the effort.
  • To do that you have to get the whole firm to drink it’s own ‘kool-aid’, as it were. It’s like getting the whole firm on a fitness programme. That may not be fun and may be a lot of hard work but will deliver benefits around making you fitter, helping you become more able to deal with things, more energised, focused etc.
  • Being or becoming customer centric is a tough decision and something that doesn’t happen overnight. It is something that you need to get into the rhythm of.
  • At Zendesk they don’t call their people ‘customer support’, they call them customer advocates, where they are there to advocate on the customers behalf and to act in their best interests.
  • Some of the best organisations are really good at exposing both the great and the bad customer experiences across the whole organisation so everyone knows what is going on.
  • That’s what they do at Zendesk. So, when someone has a bad customer service experience they blow it out to the whole organisation so that everyone can see it, everyone can react to it and everyone can act on it.
  • We are in the middle of ‘what’s next’ where many traditional companies are being disrupted by new entrants with very different business models and that are focused on a better product and customer experience.
  • The mobile phone is playing a huge part in this, as a new platform and a tool, and is allowing companies to provide a great experience or service wherever they are.
  • Small firms with with these new type of tools and the right attitude can now compete at a level where old traditional companies just can’t compete
  • The best story from one of Zendesk’s customers about the craziest place they have used their iphone app to provide customer service was when one of them was caught in an elevator during an earthquake. However, using their app they could still provide customer service to their clients via their Zendesk iphone app.

About Mikkel (from bio on Zendesk’s website)

Mikkel Svane Zendesk

After an inspirational trip to San Francisco in 1995 Mikkel launched what was one of Denmark’s first horizontal community portals. Less than a year later the portal was acquired by a Danish newspaper and Mikkel founded Caput, a software company specializing in standard software components for community building and social networks. Serving as its CEO until 2002 he became General Manager for the German service management consulting group Materna. His tenure there reunited him with former friends and colleagues Morten and Alex with whom he founded Zendesk and launched it in October 2007. Mikkel holds a BSc(Econ) in Market Economics from Denmark, is a frequent Twitter user and loves spending time with his wife and kids when not working with his awesome team and Zendesk customers.

Note: Thanks to Katharine Simon of Ballou PR for great blogger outreach and helping with the set up of the interview. Also, thanks to Cordy Griffiths (@cordyg) for sitting in on the interview – you might hear Cordy in the background at one point.

Thanks to adria.richards for the image.

23 comments On The customer service revolution is here and now – Interview with Mikkel Svane CEO of Zendesk

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  • I like very much the idea of a business being subscription based.

    If every CEO had had the experience of running a newsagents and delivering papers every morning the world would be a better place

    James

  • I’ve been working on the customer support industry for years now and Zendesk is a good powerful tool for email support. I love the feature where it can be integrated with an Android or iOS device so I can take my work wherever I go. Zendesk has indeed helped customer service and ff you’re looking to hire outsourced customer support reps to handle the customer support, I recommend our site: Staff.com, you can hire a full time customer support rep for around $700 per month.

  • Hello Adrian

    I loved this point:

    “It doesn’t make sense that when firms say that they are customer service or customer focused that their call centre agents or those on the front line delivering an experience are some of the lowest paid employees in a business.”

    Why? Because this is my acid test of the customer-centred orientation. What standing to the people who actually serve customer – the people in the stores, the people in the call centre – have in the organisation? How well are they paid? What is the turnover rate? Are they even part of the organisation? How are they celebrated? How much time do managers spend in the call centre every month?

    Maz

  • Pingback: Justin Bowser ()

  • I agree with Maz Iqbal. The statement, “It doesn’t make sense that when firms say that they are customer service or customer focused that their call centre agents or those on the front line delivering an experience are some of the lowest paid employees in a business,” impacted me as well. Truly valuing customer service, customer satisfaction, and customer retention means demonstrating value for those who provide the customer experience within an organization. For customers everywhere, I hope this cultural revolution takes hold.

    • Hi Michael,
      Well said and I echo your comments. If we all keep making the case the revolution can only gather momentum. Thanks for adding yourself to the cause 🙂

      Adrian

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