How to Optimize Zendesk to Deliver Both Effective and Efficient Customer Support


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Just a couple of years ago I was working at a contact center outsourcing company where nearly half of our clients were Zendesk users. Part of my job was to regularly work with our managers and clients to share best practices for implementing and using the popular customer support platform.

In fact, I found this old blog post with six best practices for using Zendesk. While I still stand by these recommendations, I always found it ironic that I never actually had a chance to use the platform or put some of these recommendations into practice myself.

That all changed when I began my new role as Director of Customer Service and Experience at NumberBarn several months ago. During my interview process, I learned that the company had upgraded to using Zendesk as their platform for interacting with customers. And while they saw some positive impact on their customer support operation, they also wondered if they were getting their money’s worth from the upgrade. We identified some key opportunities to optimize the platform that included:

  • A desire to better understand and build the right reports to ensure that the team is optimally staffed and productive.
  • Integration with our other systems, adding appropriate automation to make supporting customers easier and more efficient.
  • Ensuring that customers can self-solve their own issues as much as possible.

As customer support leaders our ability to maximize the use of our helpdesk system and optimize our operation is key to delivering our desired customer experience and justifying our customer support budget, both for tools and personnel, to the rest of the organization. In this article, I’ll expand on how we’ve addressed the three opportunities mentioned above. And as you’ll see, I’m already super excited about some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish.

1. Establish consistent reporting

One of the first things I did when I got my Zendesk login, was to go to the reporting section to begin to understand the performance of our operation. A good system should give you both a robust set of out-of-the-box reports as well as the ability to build custom reports specific to your contact center application. Here are some of the key reports I focus on:

Total volume – I wanted to understand total ticket volume by hour, day, week, and month. This represents the pulse of our contact center — helping us to become attuned to peaks, valleys, and major volume spikes. This was one of the first clues as we looked to right-size our staff and schedule our team most effectively.
Volume by issue type – We have some specific case types that we handle and the ability to break our volume down by type helps us see if there are any spikes for certain issues.
Average handle time – This one is tricky for email support, and I’m not the sort of person to hold my team to hard and fast handle time goals that might cause them to rush unnecessarily with a customer. But understanding the average time spent handling each ticket helps us understand how much work each team member can complete during their shift.
Team productivity – I look at two different metrics to understand productivity. One is cases solved, or completed, and the other is total responses sent to customers. The two in balance with each other give me an idea of roughly how many responses it’s taking to resolve a customer issue and the quality of those responses.
Service level – And finally, we established a service level goal, setting a standard for how quickly we would respond to customers. For email, we set our goal at 80% of tickets responded to within 4 business hours or less. Now that have the monitoring in place, we can adjust schedules and hiring to meet our goals. We can also compare this with our customer satisfaction results to determine if that’s a reasonable service level target.

These reports are emailed to our leadership on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis so we have an idea of both team performance and customer needs. And we’re currently working on building out a semi real-time dashboard to better monitor the operation.

Recommendation – Reporting should not be a random activity. You should be regularly monitoring individual and team performance. Only then can you truly be prepared to respond to the needs of your customers.

2. Automate and integrate as much as you can

In my last column, I shared much of my passion for macros or canned responses. Yes, they yield many benefits when it comes to helping a customer support team be more efficient. But there are many other efficiencies to gain by using triggers and automations (these are Zendesk terms) to enhance case routing and security. And a well-placed integration can also save a ton of time. Here are some of the ways we’ve been able to automate and become more efficient.

Automatically close autoresponder emails – While looking at our volume report, we discovered abnormal spikes in our ticket volume that could be attributed to various autoresponders from other ticketing systems contacting our support email address. In the past five months, that roughly comprises 5% of our total ticket volume and it takes a team member 1-2 minutes to close each of these. Creating an automation to close those tickets automatically has saved us approximately 24 hours of work.
Automatically triage specialized cases – How much time does your team spend opening cases and immediately sending them to another department. We’re now automatically routing cases from premium customers, advanced billing issues, sales inquiries, and more directly to the people who can handle them rather than requiring our frontline team to manually process these.
Integrate other tools – It was relatively simple for one of our engineers to integrate our account control panel into Zendesk using their API. Where a team member previously had to copy and paste the customer’s information and then make several clicks to access their account, they can now see important account information like status, balance due, and other information and then easily click into the customer’s account. Fewer clicks means more time saved.
Credit card redaction – Sending credit card information that can be stored in a help ticket is a big no-no. But that doesn’t stop the occasional customer from doing just that. With a simple plugin, we can redact credit cards and other personal customer information automatically, keeping customer information safe.

Recommendation – It may seem simple for team members to quickly triage and/or close cases, but that time adds up. The more you can automate common, repeatable actions, the more you free your agents to handle the more complex customer inquiries.

3. Bring the knowledge base front and center

Even before I joined the company, our team had done an incredible job at building out a robust knowledge base with well-written answers and video tutorials for many potential scenarios that would come up. With approximately 13% of our customers contacting us for support monthly, we wondered if there was more we could do to promote this content. Here are key actions we’ve taken:

Consolidate self-help content – When I started, our internal employee knowledgebase and customer-facing knowledge base were in separate systems. Zendesk gives us the ability to blend the two into one system, making it easier for customers and employees to find answers.
Empower everyone to contribute to the knowledgebase – We’ve also implemented a process where everyone on the team is empowered and encouraged to recognize and highlight missing and out-of-date content and submit new articles. Someone on our team still reviews each article before publishing to ensure that the style is consistent and everything stays organized.
Dive into knowledgebase reporting – How many people are geeking out over knowledgebase reporting? It’s incredibly powerful to see what customers are searching for and the top results for that search. For example, we found that a lot of customers were searching for “login” and it was directing them to an irrelevant article. In response, we created an article instructing customers on how to login to their account and ensured that this is the first result that pops up if someone searches for “login” in the future.
Put self-help content in a can’t miss location – A terrific knowledgebase doesn’t do much good if customers can’t find it. When I started, customers could go to our “contact us” page and get our email address. Now they are instead directed to our help center where they complete a support form that suggests knowledge articles before they submit their request. As a result, our customer contact rate has come down from 13% to 10% and our overall ticket volume was 7% lower over the past 6 months than the previous 6 months after implementing these changes.
Explore AI – This is still TBD but now that we have a robust body of knowledge and a great system for keeping it up to date, I’m excited to begin testing artificial intelligence to make it even easier for customers to self-solve their issues.

Recommendation – Your knowledgebase IS your front line support. Build it and continuously tune it so customers and agents can find answers and resolve their issues. Also, realize that there’s a whole lot you can do without ever implementing an artificial intelligence solution.


There are a couple of things I hope you take from this article. First, the above recommendations, as I’ve mentioned, are not new. I’ve made them previously in one form or another in past columns and articles. But I hope you sense my increased confidence, now that I’m back in an operational role, that this stuff really works.

Second, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve talked about Zendesk because that’s the system I currently use. I’ve also focused primarily on email support because that’s the main support channel we offer at NumberBarn. But I firmly believe that many of these solutions, with a bit of thought and creativity, can apply to other helpdesk systems and customer support channels.

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of your top tips for optimizing your help desk system? I’m always looking to find new ways to improve!

Jeremy Watkin
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Support and CX at NumberBarn. He has more than 20 years of experience as a contact center professional leading highly engaged customer service teams. Jeremy is frequently recognized as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working he's spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis.


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