Nov
13
2018
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Zendesk shifts to platform play with Zendesk Sunshine launch

Zendesk has always been strongly focused on customer service in the cloud. They began to look at this more broadly in September when they purchased Base to move into sales automation and CRM. Today, the company announced Zendesk Sunshine, a new platform for creating customer-focused applications on top of Zendesk’s toolset.

All of this appears to be with an eye toward shifting Zendesk from its core customer service mission to a broader customer management business. Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO at Zendesk, says Sunshine is about moving his company toward a platform play, something that many cloud companies have aspired to. “Sunshine is a platform for building your own apps, and also for managing and storing and connecting all your customer data,” Svane told TechCrunch.

For starters, Zendesk is partnering with AWS to act as the infrastructure services backend for the applications built on the Sunshine platform. “You can build apps on top of Sunshine, typically customer experience or customer relationship apps, and it’s built natively on AWS, so that you have access to all the AWS services. And of course, all of the applications rely on the Sunshine platform for information sharing, etc,” he explained.

He says they deliberately chose the public cloud because they believe that is where developers want to operate today. “We believe that businesses and developers should take advantage of the public cloud paradigms and use frameworks such as Sunshine to build these applications,” he said.

Svane says for starters, this approach is aimed at helping Zendesk customers build applications to take advantage of the data they are collecting inside of Zendesk as a natural byproduct of doing work with the service, but over time independent developers could begin working on the platform too.

He sees today’s announcement as a first step toward expanding the company’s set of products and services, and it’s something they plan to build on in the coming years. “You’re going to see a lot more on our roadmap over the next couple of years to truly embrace our platform mission and our ultimate goal is to be a ubiquitous CRM platform where anyone who wants to can build any kind of customer-facing application, and really benefit from the public cloud and from the Sunshine framework and have data flow seamlessly between services, vendors and applications,” he said.

We saw customer experience take center stage this week when SAP bought Qualtrics for $8 billion. The customer has clearly become increasingly important and Zendesk has access to a lot of customer data, which developers can take advantage of to build customized customer-centric applications. The only thing that’s truly surprising about this announcement is that Zendesk didn’t make a platform play sooner.

But perhaps as a more mature vendor, and with Base in the fold, they feel they are more prepared to make this type of move now than they were in the past. Whatever the reason, every enterprise cloud company worth its salt has tried to be a developer platform, and with today’s announcement, it’s Zendesk’s turn.

Sep
10
2018
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Zendesk expands into CRM with Base acquisition

Zendesk has mostly confined itself to customer service scenarios, but it seems that’s not enough anymore. If you want to truly know the customer behind the interaction, you need a customer system of record to go with the customer service component. To fill that need, Zendesk announced it was acquiring Base, a startup that has raised over $50 million.

The companies did not share the purchase price, but Zendesk did report that the acquisition should not have a significant impact on revenue.

While Base might not be as well known as Salesforce, Microsoft or Oracle in the CRM game, it has created a sophisticated sales force automation platform, complete with its own artificial intelligence underpinnings. CEO Uzi Shmilovici claimed his company’s AI could compete with its more well-heeled competitors when it was released in 2016 to provide salespeople with meaningful prescriptive advice on how to be more successful.

Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane certainly sees the value of adding a company like Base to his platform. “We want to do for sales what Zendesk has already done for customer service: give salespeople tools built around them and the customers they serve,” he said in a statement.

If the core of customer data includes customer service, CRM and marketing, Base gives Zendesk one more of those missing components, says Brent Leary, owner at CRM Essentials, a firm that keeps close watch on this market.

“Zendesk has a great position in customer service, but now to strengthen their position with midmarket/enterprise customers looking for integrated platforms, Base adds a strong mobile sales force automation piece to their puzzle,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As he points out, we have seen HubSpot make a similar move with HubSpot Apps, while SugarCRM, which was recently sold to Accel-KKR, could be shopping too, with its new owner’s deeper pockets. “This is almost like a CRM enterprise software Hunger Games going on,” he joked. But he indicates that we should be expecting more consolidation here as these companies try to acquire missing pieces of their platforms to offer more complete solutions.

Matt Price, who previously had the title of senior vice president for product portfolio at Zendesk will lead the Base team moving forward.

Base was founded in 2009 and boasts more than 5,000 customers. It’s worth pointing out that Base was already available for sale in the company app marketplace, so there was some overlap here, but the company intends to try to move existing customers to Base, of course.

Zendesk has indicated it will continue to support all Base customers. In addition, Base’s 125 employees have been invited to join Zendesk, so there will be no blood-letting here.

Apr
03
2018
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Zendesk hits $500M run rate, launches enterprise content management platform

Over the last several years, Zendesk has been making the transition from a company that caters mostly to small businesses to one with larger enterprise customers — and their revenue reflects that. The company announced it has crossed the $.5 billion annual run rate since its last earning report in February. It also announced a new enterprise content management product specifically geared for large customer service organizations.

The company was just shy of the goal after its most recent earnings report (pdf) with $123.4 million for the quarter. They say they have since passed that goal, but have not announced it until now, based on revenue that closed March 31, 2018. The company is projecting between $555 and $565 million in revenue for fiscal 2018, according to its last earnings report. When you consider that when the company went public in 2014, it was at $100 million in annual revenue, reaching a half billion dollars in 4 years is significant.

Zendesk reports that 40 percent of its revenue now comes from larger enterprise customers, which they define as 100 seats or more. The company is predicting it will cross the $1 billion run rate by some time in 2020.

“When we IPOed, our run rate was $100 million. We had great momentum, but we were seen as SMB scaling to mid market. To reach a half a billion dollars shows momentum for building up enterprise market and enterprise products,” Adrian McDermott, Zendesk’s president of products told TechCrunch.

As for the new product, it’s called Guide Enterprise and it’s designed to provide those larger customer service organizations with a knowledge base and a content management platform for editorial planning and review. The idea is to empower customer service reps to write up solutions to problems they encounter and build up that knowledge base as part of the natural act of doing their jobs.

Zendesk Guide Enterprise. Photo: Zendesk

That gives organizations a couple of advantages. First of all, the reps can find their fellow employees’ notes and not have to reinvent the wheel every time, and the notes and articles they write can pass through editorial review and become part of the permanent knowledge base.

When customers hit the site or app, they can access solutions to common problems before having to talk to a human. The platform also includes reminders to check the content regularly so the knowledge base stays fresh and stale content is removed.

Finally, the company is applying AI to the problem. The artificial intelligence component can review the corpus of information currently available in the entire knowledge base and identify gaps in content that the company might want to add, allowing for proactive content creation.

The content management idea isn’t new to Zendesk. McDermott says they shipped the first content management product years ago, but what’s different is that this is geared to larger organizations and that the AI piece allows for some automation of this process. “The new workflow brings rich AI concepts like content analytics into the publishing flow,” he said.

Mar
12
2018
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Twilio launches Flex, a fully programmable contact center

Earlier this year we reported that Twilio was going to launch a full contact center solution called Flex on March 12 — lo and behold, today is March 12 and Twilio today announced the launch of Flex at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando. Flex brings together virtually every part of the existing Twilio infrastructure and platform for developers that already power nearly 40 billion interactions a year and bundles it with a rather slick user interface for companies that want to set up an out-of-the-box contact center or update their existing deployments.

Twilio’s expertise has long been in providing backend communications services and its design expertise is mostly in building APIs, not user interfaces. With this move, though, the company is giving enterprises (and this product is meant for the kind of companies that have hundreds or thousands of people in a contact center) a full stack contact center with a full graphical user interface.

As the company’s head of its contact center business Al Cook told me, though, the main design philosophy behind Flex is to give users maximum flexibility. He argues that business today have to choose between going with products that they can’t customize themselves, so that they have to rely on expensive outside vendors that will do the customization for them (which also tends to take a lot of time), or a SaaS contact center that can be quickly deployed but is hard to scale and lacks customization options. “Think of Flex as an application platform,” Cook told me. It takes its cues from Twilio’s experience in working with developers and gives enterprises an easy API interface for customizing the service to their liking, but also provides all of the necessary tools out of the box.

“The reason why APIs were very transformative to the industry is because you are unconstrained in what you can do,” Cook explained. “Once you put a user interface on that, you constrain users.” So for Flex, the team had to ask itself some new questions. “How do you build user interfaces in a fundamentally different way that gives people the best features they want without constraining them?”

Out of the box, Flex supports all of the standard messaging channels that contact centers are now expected to support. These include Voice, video, text, picture messaging, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, LINE and WeChat. The service also supports screen sharing and co-browsing. Twilio is also integrating its own intelligent TaskRouter service into Flex to automatically route questions to the right agent. A single Flex deployment can support up to 50,000 agents.

Cook argues that getting started with Flex is a one-click affair, though once it’s up and running, most users will surely need to customize the service a bit for their own needs and embed chat widgets and other functions on their websites and into their apps (think click-to-call, for example). Some of the more in-depth customization can be done in Twilio Studio, the company’s drag and drop application builder, too.

Most large enterprises already have contact centers, though, so it’s maybe no surprise that some of the thinking behind making Flex as… well… flexible as possible is about giving those users the ability to mix and match features from Flex with their existing tools to allow for a slow and steady migration.

As we reported last month, Flex will also integrate with all the standard CRM tools like Salesforce and Zendesk, as well as workforce management and optimization tools that are currently in use in most contact centers.

Before launching the product today, Twilio already worked with ING, Zillow, National Debt Relief and RealPage to test Flex. In addition, it lined up a number of tech and consulting partners to support new users.

Jan
19
2017
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With a $1.5M seed round, Eloquent Labs mixes AI and Mechanical Turk to fix customer service

widget_on_store Keenon Werling would be the first to agree that conversational AI is regularly overhyped. So instead of taking the traditional approach and gloating about a glitzy new deeper learning algorithm to pitch his new venture Eloquent Labs, Werling instead opted to differentiate by optimizing something far more low-tech, people. The startup’s special sauce is embracing a mix of AI,… Read More

Oct
26
2016
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Zendesk expands beyond the help desk

Customer service rep on phone. Zendesk has always been known as a customer service cloud application, and while its focus remains on the customer, it is attempting to expand the mission using data to drive communication and understanding about the customer. The company wants to make sure that everyone involved has the whole picture of the customer experience and hopes to provide assistance whenever and wherever people… Read More

Aug
31
2016
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Salesforce shares face plant despite beating analyst expectations

salesforce Salesforce earnings came out today! They’re not great, either, and it looks like a weak outlook for the company’s third quarter is doing some damage to its shares, which were down as much as 8 percent. For a company that literally defined the phrase “software as a service” — basically, running your business online — and one that’s had a decent year… Read More

May
10
2016
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Customer support via SMS is about to get a lot easier, courtesy of Zendesk

cycling-and-texting Customer support powerhouse Zendesk is broadening its ever-expanding number of support channels today, as the company announced a brand new native channel for customer service over the text messages. SMS may be 20-year-old technology, but there’s a lot to be said for short bursts of asynchronous exchange of information. Read More

Apr
12
2016
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Salesforce and Zendesk want to help brands manage Facebook Messenger traffic

Blurred image of customer service people working at computers. No sooner had Facebook announced it was opening up Messenger for developers to build bots, when two players with an eye on sales and service in the enterprise — Salesforce and Zendesk — announced new products to manage Messenger traffic on their respective platforms.
Salesforce announced Salesforce Messenger, a way for customers to communicate directly with brands through the… Read More

Oct
21
2014
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Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane Reminds Startups That Luck Takes A Lot Of Work

Mikkel Svane (Zendesk)-5 “Being lucky is just so much work,” Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane told our co-editor Alexia Tsotsis during a fireside chat at TechCrunch Disrupt London today. As a startup, you always have to try to embrace luck, Svane argued when asked about what role luck plays in the life of a new company. “As an early startup, there is no way around trying to open all the doors,” he… Read More

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