Brushing up against the limits of what can be fixed is a rite of passage every support agent experiences. Some accept these limits, or rationalize that working on a longer-term solution takes time away from solving more immediate problems. Many support leaders pine for access to engineers who can build bespoke solutions. Then, there are those, like Zena Hirsch, who become the engineer they know their team needs.
After working as a video specialist on Vimeo’s support team for 4 years, Hirsch started dabbling with code to automate certain tedious tasks, gather better metrics, and improve reporting. This was before Vimeo moved from Desk.com to Zendesk. That dabbling allowed her to move into the role she has today, as Vimeo’s dedicated community operations engineer. Hirsch is something close to a genie for the operations and support teams: she collaborates closely with her colleagues to design, build, and iterate on custom solutions to meet Vimeo’s needs. The work she does integrating tools and data sources enables Vimeo to be at the cutting edge of agent experience.
So far, it’s turned out to be an outstanding decision: “I love my job. As an engineer, it's a dream job, I think, because I work on a small team and I have the freedom to innovate. I'm not just a ‘code monkey’—we come up with ideas as a group and I can show other teams what I am working on and get their feedback,“ Hirsch said.
Hirsch acknowledges that not every company thinks about support the way Vimeo does. When she’s spoken with people who have worked in customer experience at other companies, they often say that whenever their support team needed a new tool or engineering resources, they had to “beg and plead.” But this leads companies to be “stilted in their techniques,” she said. Especially when a little can go a long way: “Just having one engineer who's familiar with the Zendesk Apps Framework is enough to get a lot of work done.”
A smarter, smoother agent experience
Hirsch works with her counterparts in Community Operations and Support to think through how they can present agents with the right data at the right time. This helps agents to stay present with the task at hand, limiting disruption.
“Philosophically, we’re thinking about moving towards a system where backend processes are controlled through more polished apps or automatic workflows,” she said. For example, the first app Hirsch built for the team, Rap Box, brings user information into the ticket view. This includes details like subscription level and whether the email has been verified; it also links directly to Vimeo’s password reset tool so that agents can start password resets from within the ticket view. Hirsch has also made Rap Box available in Zendesk Chat by enabling the "chat_sidebar" location in the app’s manifest and having a modified version of the “ticket_sidebar” code running as well.
Hirsch architected and open-sourced the popular Ticket History app, which allows agents to quickly see a user’s most recent tickets. “We built it because it was something that we needed in our workflow,” Hirsch said. “It seems like lots of other Zendesk users are getting benefit out of it as well.” She’s right—the app is currently live on 1500+ Zendesk accounts.
From idea to app, using the Zendesk platform
More recently, Hirsch built an app using the Zendesk Sunshine custom objects feature to parse out how tickets are categorized by end-users and agents. “We needed to have some kind of dynamic switching so an agent could choose a category and then have the sub-category change; there are some existing tools, like conditional fields, for making that happen, but we needed it to work slightly differently.”
The app she built has both a category and sub-category custom object. Sub-categories can be related to categories, and categories can be related to groups in Zendesk. A user’s group membership determines which categories are shown in the sidebar app. Now, when agents select what a ticket is about, what’s shown next in the ticket form or agent interface dynamically changes. “The most important part is that our agents, who aren't developers, can access and manipulate the data without me,” Hirsch said.
Hirsch also uses custom objects to store “specialist satisfaction” ratings which are given by specialists who take cases escalated by other agents. Custom objects allow Hirsch to relate the agent rated to the escalated ticket. An external script runs each week to pull the latest ratings into a CSV file that’s sent out to managers so they can review outliers.
Reaping the rewards
Before deciding to create an app, or even after having built one, Hirsch questions whether the app should exist, and whether she should invest her time and Vimeo’s resources toward it. The support and operations teams are her customers, in effect, and as she sees it, part of her role includes asking tough questions to determine whether the best way forward is a custom app or another, existing solution.
“There have been a couple of examples where we spent a lot of time building something, and then towards the end of it I'm like, ‘I think there's actually a better pre-existing solution for this.’ What's most important is getting the best solution, not necessarily the one that's coolest,” she said. It’s all part of thinking through solutions and charting new territory as a support engineer. At the forefront of these decisions is the agent and user experience: “We really consider how important each piece of information is and where it should live. Ideally, an agent just has to glance over an inch from where they're working to get any information they need.” This helps agents solve for users faster—important considering the real-time nature of the support requests they work on, including tickets about live streaming.
Hirsch enjoys the freedom of building solutions for her team. “The tools that Zendesk provides are really fun for me,” she said. “I enjoy learning about the new features and being able to create new things. I enjoy that everyday.” Hirsch says her job is “almost too good to be true” because she has the satisfaction of improving the jobs of her fellow co-workers. “If I was going to be an agent, a support agent at any company, I'd want it to be at Vimeo for sure because we do have a lot of resources dedicated to that experience.”
This has a tangible impact when it comes to retaining and growing talent. “There are people I work with who have been here for many, many years. They stay and grow in their roles and are able to find their niche and flourish,” she said.