First days with Zendesk

by Sebastien Mirolo on Thu, 4 Oct 2018

Adding a thousand users in one day, many of them working across the spectrum of fortune 500s companies is a strong incentive to build a professional customer support organization. The first step being to sign up for Zendesk. Here was we learned in the first couple weeks.

The first day

Zendesk supports the two channels we are mostly interested in: e-mail and phone. The pricing is unclear except that it is per seat. Since they offer a 30-day trial, we will have time to figure out costs later. First we have to make sure the basic workflows match our expectations.


I registered with a work e-mail but not the correct one. Here you have to understand DjaoDjin supports multiple products. There are some "branding" package in Zendesk but it is unclear if that is the feature we want to use or if we should just create two accounts with two separate e-mail addresses. On a side note, Stripe took a while to get it right but with one e-mail we have access to multiple organization accounts there. On DjaoDjin, the feature is implemented with User, Organization and Role models.


I like the idea of pre-population the on-boarding screens based on the registered e-mail address. Zendesk on-boarding and embedded tutorials along the way are really nice, though not absent of a few technical glitches. Sometimes the on-boarding takes you through a click-by-click setup and then forgets it did, and asks again for you to take those steps. It is confusing. Hopefully everything is configured correctly.

On a slow connection the initial dashboard shows a blank page for about 3 minutes with no spinner. I thought something was wrong until I jumped into the Browser developer tools and realized the page was still loading. I experienced the same kind of issue on Zeplin. This seems an inherent problem with the front-end technology.

Email setup

Following the steps to connect the support e-mail address to Zendesk is straightforward. You need to redirect incoming messages to a e-mail address at zendesk dedicated to your organization, and you setup a classic SPF record in your DNS for outbound e-mails from Zendesk on behalf of your support account.

Phone setup

When you get started with Zendesk Talk, you are assigned a phone number. I couldn't find an option to get an 800- number. Maybe it is not as important today as it was a few decades ago. The assigned number is still a US number so it is good enough for now.

I was stuck for a while, and went through the on-boarding again a couple times until I noticed there was an answer button at the bottom of the page, below the fold. Once I picked up the test call, I was able to move forward with the setup.

Zendesk Talk requires WebRTC so I switched from Safari to Chrome and continued the setup by going to voicemail and listening to all default messages. They are all good and professional. We will keep them as-is for the time being.

DjaoDjin is a fully distributed team. The number of support requests is significantly more than a few years ago but not yet that it requires a full dedicated call center team. Even then, we are looking to keep a very flexible work from anywhere, make your own hours policy. I am personally traveling to three continents on a regular basis. GoogleFi is great for that. As soon I land and disable the Air Plane mode, my Android phone greets me a "Welcome to <Country>". Nothing else to do. My US phone number rings as if I was still in California. Zendesk has an Agent forwarding feature as well as an Android App. Here it gets a bit messy:

  • The Zendesk Android App shows e-mail tickets but has no options to deal with Zendesk Talk.
  • Your computer needs to be powered on, you must be logged into your Zendesk dashboard and marked as "available" for the calls to be forwarded.

This makes the Agent forwarding feature pretty much useless. It is also very cumbersome to remember to turn "available" on, even when sitting in front of the computer at a desk. The voice message is nice. It is better than the Google Voice solution we had before.

Because of the way the Agent forwarding feature works, in the rare cases calls actually get forwarded, they are also showing up coming from the support phone number. This helps because at this point, there are so many bots calling, I am not picking up if it is an unknown number.

After a couple weeks of usage

In the first day, we hit an auto-response loop. That is what happens when you work with large corporations. Everyone is encouraged to set an "out of office" or other "we received your request" auto-response. Since by default Zendesk sends an e-mail on every ticket open, a loop is created. We disabled auto-response in Zendesk and relied on our staff to be quick responders. In many cases it works.

Until now notifications related to the performance of the site were also going to the support e-mail. The whole developer team was on the support e-mail list. With Zendesk "capturing" the support e-mail, we were quickly forced to re-design internal and external support notification workflows.

The Android App for all its shortcomings is great for notifications of new tickets being open. Even when at a desk, Zendesk running in the background, it is often the case that the phone notification is what triggers me to look at the ticket in a browser window on the computer.

It started to be cumbersome to delete e-mail messages and clear phone notifications on each new ticket. I disabled e-mail notifications and relied exclusively on phone notifications. It would be great if a phone notification would pop up once (maybe once an hour) if there are still unsolved tickets and not one notification per new ticket.

In the webapp, updates seem to a recurrent problem. You submit a ticket as solved. This lands you back on the ticket list page, and here you are seeing your ticket marked as "New". I end up reloading the entire page to make sure my updates were accounted for.

A lot of support tickets require copy/paste of template responses. I haven't found a way yet to set this up - if the feature exists at all. We moved to full production shortly after signing up with Zendesk. Every day is ticket, ticket, ticket. Trying to keep response time under an hour is really hard. When peak season is over, I will have to revisit and learn more about Zendesk features. In that respect their follow up e-mails are pretty useless. Yes, I want to learn more about the fancy features. Just later. Right now I have a ticket to solve as fast as possible. [UPDATE: After 6 months I received a useful e-mail about creating macros which lead to find out to how to use macros to update tickets]

It is still unclear if End-user can sign into Zendesk and what for. I haven't figure out what it is all about and if it should be disabled.

Learning about Zendesk product and pricing plans, taking into account our own company roadmap, it became best to rename the organization subdomain we used previously on Zendesk to the product website and open a second account.


Zendesk meets the basic needs of our organization to jump on tickets quickly and keep customer happy. None-the-less I was surprised some of the basic features to create an efficient workflow are just unreliable (refresh of ticket list) or missing. Maybe I expected better from the leader in the space.

It is also clear that Zendesk caters to bigger support teams, with full-time support staff employees.

DjaoDjin customers, micro- or boutique SaaS businesses composed of a 2-3 people team still require to deliver 24/7 support. Many times the success of niche products requires founders to go the extra mile when it comes to support. Just on pricing, there is space in the market for other players that do not charge per-seat but instead adopt a pricing model that accommodates support teams organized in the same way as Uber drivers and other gig-economy participants.

If this article gave you the idea to launch your own CRM product, targeted to your community, please contact us. We can help with hosting, accounts and billing workflows so you focus on the product.

by Sebastien Mirolo on Thu, 4 Oct 2018

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