Welcome to the age of conversation

For the first time in over two years, Zendesk welcomed employees, customers and partners back to Zendesk Relate - it’s much loved annual user conference.

Published May 13, 2022

For the first time in over two years, Zendesk welcomed employees, customers and partners back to Zendesk Relate - it’s much loved annual user conference. More than 8,000 people joined virtually from around the world, as well as in person in San Francisco and London, to hear about the evolution of customer experience (CX), and the key principles of conversational CRM — “a commitment to seamless, digital-first, continuous conversations with customers.”

In his opening keynote, Mikkel Svane, Zendesk CEO and founder, underscored how paramount CX is to a company’s business. “Human patterns and behaviors have changed forever since the world shut down,” he said. “Even as we return to normalcy, online transactions are still so much easier. At the supermarket, there’s no search bar reminding you of the things you bought before.”

We have entered the “age of conversation”, where the customer drives the interaction and digital-first is table stakes. So what does that mean for businesses, customers and support agents?

Digital interactions are the new front door of business
Today, online conversations constitute 90 percent of a customer’s experience with a business, across different channels, at their own convenience — and businesses have to meet them there.

“Customers used to walk in the front door of a business, and that was how they started a conversation and checked things out,” said Svane. “The last few years have made it obvious that digital is the new front door, convenience is paramount, and relationships are anchored in conversations.”

Zendesk’s 2022 CX Trends Report showed a big shift: in addition to online channels dominating the conversational experience, customer expectations have also changed.

“People have zero patience and zero loyalty. We have no scruples moving on if we’re not getting the service we want, and if companies are not interacting with us in the way we want today.”

Meeting customers where they want therefore requires an entirely different approach - one that prioritizes conversations and centers the entire customer journey around them.

“People expect their product history, past interactions with your agents, and recommendations to follow them from one platform to another — that’s the new bar that’s been set for businesses,” said Mike Gozzo, senior vice president of product at Zendesk. “Every experience should flow as a seamless, digital conversation.”

Conversational CRM must be both personalized and fast
Personalized, natural-feeling conversations are essential to keeping customer loyalty. Marco Trecroce, chief information officer and senior vice president at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, explained how he has applied this philosophy via Zendesk’s new messaging layer, which makes it easier for the customer to get what they need.

“You don’t have to work as hard anymore as a guest to connect with services,” he said. “As a result of that, our guest satisfaction scores are much higher. We were particularly impressed by the language capabilities, which allow guests to communicate in their language from anywhere. It emulates what we do in our everyday conversations with our families and our friends, it’s the way of the world.”

Put simply, customer experience teams need an omnichannel plan and the right algorithms to enable natural conversation. Sales teams also need the ability to have a conversation all in one place, access customer histories and jump right in to solve problems, all without burning out.

Tools that grow conversational relationships
The Zendesk Suite and Sell offering now incorporates conversational automation with more sophisticated bots that enable businesses to expand automation to messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Zendesk also introduced new conversational data orchestration capabilities to allow agents to facilitate intelligent customer engagements by connecting customer processes, data and logic for a seamless conversational experience.

Candace Marshall, director of product marketing, demonstrated how agents can connect AI bots to external systems, such as customer channels and order tracking, and also utilize immediate conversational mobile experiences so they don’t have to wait to deliver the best customer service possible.

She also shared why Zendesk Suite and Sell’s new updates put conversational CRM at the front of every stage of the sales process: “From consideration, to evaluation, to purchase - throughout it all, we saw that conversations really are the glue to those great relationships.”

New features that scale and protect CX programs
Businesses can now monitor performance and conversations, staff teams and change to adapt to customer needs across any channel at scale. Plus, starting this summer, additional capabilities to set group SLAs and orchestration will roll out and enable even more team control over the experience.

In addition, Zendesk’s new customer reporting capabilities empower teams to take advantage of data gleaned from customer conversations, manage high caseloads and improve the time it takes to close a sale. Agents can dip into the systems to make recommendations in the middle of a conversation, check histories and run custom business logic on top of Zendesk with low-code integrations utilizing developers’ existing skillsets.

Paxton Cooper, Zendesk’s global head of product, said the new capabilities in Sunshine are a “huge step forward” for handling the complexity of conversational CRM, from the development process, to the sales conversation, to every level of compliance all the way.

To that end, he acknowledged the importance of layering customer engagements with security, trust and safety. “Attachments, like photos and documents and files, which can actually enhance a conversation, unfortunately can’t always be trusted at face value, due to the preponderance of malware,” he said. “To better address these challenges, we’re also announcing new phishing and malware scanning services to keep your customers - and your customer conversations - safe and secure.”

Last year, Sunshine powered more than 4 billion conversations across more than 20 business channels and handled over 1 trillion API requests to make conversations more natural, convenient and productive. That progress will continue as the new updates to Sunshine make it easier to center customer conversations.

Services that empower agents to deliver and improve the employee experience
Lisa Kant, Zendesk’s head of product marketing, unveiled new offerings for the employee experience that helps businesses take the processes they use for customers and expand them to help employees adapt to a workforce that is more distributed and more changeable than ever before.

“From recruiting and onboarding, to legal, IT, security and more, every department is affected by this change,” Kant said. “They’re doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got, but those are designed to change once every few years - not once every few months. It’s time to invest in our most critical asset, employees, and give them a better experience.”

Customers including GitHub, Instacart, Homebridge and Virgin Pulse have already put Zendesk Suite and Sunshine to use to automate processes for thousands of employees, saving time on daily tasks and giving them more time for valuable work.

Conversational CRM experiences in real life
Throughout Relate, Zendesk customers shared how these new solutions are helping them harness conversational CRM, improve the sales experience, and future-proof their businesses.

For example:

  • Stanley Black & Decker uses Zendesk Suite to grow its business and adapt its CX approach. According to Orlando Gadea, Stanley Black & Decker’s global vice president of customer experience, the company now pushes 20-30 updates daily on average through Zendesk’s technology to give agents the flexibility to meet customers wherever they are.

  • Staples Canada turns to Zendesk Sell every day to support long-lasting customer relationships across channels, with automation capabilities powering its ability to reduce repeatable tasks and insights to make every interaction impactful.

  • Nobu, DHL, Alliants and many others are working with Sunco Labs to transform their sales strategy, centering it on the conversational CRM experience.

Mikkel Svane, CEO, introduced Sunco Labs, which is working with leading brands to design conversational customer experiences.

As Svane said, CX will never go back to the way things were. Instead, businesses will need to prioritize conversations and ensure their CX and CRM technologies are up to the challenge. Customers and agents have new expectations, and Zendesk’s new features will meet them.

Watch Relate here on demand.