Zendesk CEO Shares What Every Startup Should Know About Winning With Customer ServiceJanuary 02, 2013
by Max Nisen
Customer service is absolutely essential for businesses, especially small ones. If they have any hope of surviving, they have to get customers to come on board and stay. Great service is the key to that.
More and more small businesses are looking to build a strong online presence, which brings a whole array of new challenges. Remote or digital customers have the same expectations of service as anybody else, and it's essential that small businesses know how to deliver.
We spoke to Mikkel Svane, the CEO of Zendesk, the leading provider of cloud based customer service software, on the role of technology in customer service and what he's learned while building his business
How has customer service changed in recent years?
When we set out to build Zendesk (in 2007), the world of customer service was very different. There wasn't the same level of attention or the same amount of focus on customer service as something essential for your long term customer relationships.
It was very much about costs, it was all about how could you pay less for customer service. It was something you kind of needed, but the less you spent on it, the better. It wasn't about engaging with the customer and I think, and that in many ways, that was all background for our growth, we simply wanted to create a product was beautiful, that was simple and then enabled people to really focus on the customer.
We talk about how it's a subscription economy now. Businesses are changing their revenue models from being very transaction based to being much more about buying over time, or a subscription. It's not about per-transaction numbers, it's about the lifetime numbers. To nourish that relationship, customer service is essential. That’s another kind of big trend that has defined this industry and has helped us tremendously.
How does a focus on customer service inform your management and leadership philosophy?
We use some of the same principles in building our company that we do in our product, trying to remove the exotic, trying to remove all of the friction in the business processes so its easy to engage and communicate. We try to have a simple elegant structure in our company and product.
We’ve tried to live up to the idea of great customer service for some time because we try to reflect it in the product. We tell our customers about it, and we try to live up to it ourselves. In all relationships between people, and I think that a customer service relationship is very much a person to person relationship, It’s all about trust and it’s all about talking to each other at eye level. Being, open, transparent, and being honest. I think that we try very much to live up to these standards ourselves and in our business.
It's where the name Zendesk itself came from. I always compare it to that feeling that when you clean up your desk. You have all these piles of papers and unpaid bills and statements from the school and your insurance company and all these different things and they just start to pile on your desk. You remember most of it, but you there are some urgent things in there. It's that feeling and sitting down and organizing all these things and dealing with what needs to be dealt with urgently, archiving all the other things and putting together a to-do list of all the things you still need to do. The kind of peace of mind that comes with that, we try to reflect that in the work of Zendesk.
Those are the values that we have in our company and also in our product.
What's something you wish you knew back in 2007 when you started out?
I think that most of our customers have realized that customer service is really really hard. It’s hard to put together relationships when customers are in a lot of different regions and countries and time zones. You have treat each of them respectfully and try to make the best out of any situation.
All of these different things are really tough, and it's not something you can go out and learn, like studying for an exam.
I like to compare it to starting running. For most people, it’s not super pleasant getting up at 6 A.M. in the morning in the rain and running for 10 kilometers. It’s not the most pleasant thing, but once you get into it, once you get into the rhythm, and start kind of enjoying it, you kind of get addicted to it and it becomes part of your DNA. You understand how it makes you better, how it helps your body and your soul, and I think that customer service is also something that is really tough and really complicated. But by getting up every morning and embracing your customer relationships, I think you could build a culture where you understand and appreciate the value of spending time with your customers.
How do you succeed in a difficult business environment?
Even though the company’s only five years old, I think we’ve seen enough world crises to realize that things go up and then things go down. You know, after autumn comes summer and business finally has its season.
I think that new companies like ours are and much more agile, much more flexible in terms of dealing with the new economy. There are so many good technologies out there. Building an infrastructure in the cloud, pulling that new generation API and your business application to your browser or mobile device, it’s relatively cheap and to do that today, and you can work with an organic workforce spread across the continent and across the world. I think it has never been a better time to build this kind of company.
You’re a company that focuses its business on customer service I’m curious about whether you apply those lessons to your own clients?
I thinks that's critical. We don't go out and preach, we don't out to our customers and say, "this is how you should do customer service." But we try to give them tools and enable them to take their customer service to a totally different level. When you bring technology into your house, a home entertainment system or something like that, good technology enables you not to spend time on the technology, but on the actual experience. We just try to make it really easy for our customers to focus on their customers.