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Zendesk for Service – Review 2021

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Since we last reviewed it, Zendesk has again changed the name of its help desk platform, this time to Zendesk for Service. The updated name reflects a new direction that bundles several products beneath the Service umbrella, adding new capabilities around messaging channels, workflow management, and more. However, the change has also bumped up Zendesk’s pricing, and the product still falls a bit short in customization. So while it remains a fine product and well worth considering, those two weaknesses keep Zendesk behind our customer-facing Editors’ Choice winners in this category, a group that includes Freshdesk and HappyFox.

Key New Features

Along with combining products under one banner, Zendesk has expanded Zendesk for Service’s capabilities. For one thing, the Zendesk Marketplace is now even more significant than last we last checked, offering around 1,200 third-party apps and integrations. While these may add to your cost, they also provide an impressively easy customization path for companies looking to solve common vertical or compliance problems.

Other new features include messaging, a flow builder for creating workflows, an updated agent workspace for managing conversations across multiple channels, and advanced knowledge management improvements. Zendesk has also added new technology for what the company calls “rich conversations.” This includes opening as many channels as possible for communication with customers and mining those conversations for context and insight using internal dashboards and hooks to third-party analytics tools.

Zendesk Pricing and Plans

Zendesk for Service’s updated pricing starts at $49 per agent per month for the Team level. This is the lowest tier and provides the most basic capabilities aimed at small to midsized businesses (SMBs). The growth tier is the next step up, which costs $79 per agent per month and adds features including light agents plus self-service and automation. Above it is the $99 Professional tier, which adds deep collaboration tools, more complex routing rules, and in-app analytics.

The Enterprise tiers are at the top of the stack, consisting of three different levels. These start at $150 per agent per month, for which you get features like a more robust set of APIs for internal customization, up to 1,000 “light” licenses (meaning people who can access the system without full agent rights), and customization around individual agent environments and branding.

At the Enterprise Plus tier ($215 per agent per month), you have access to artificial intelligence (AI)-driven answer bot and advanced features around data collection and routing, as well as enhanced compliance and security capabilities. The third and highest Enterprise tier is entirely customizable, requiring a discussion with Zendesk to match your needs to a bespoke price.

Comparing the lower pricing tiers with its competitors puts Zendesk for Service at the high end of the SMB spectrum. The $49 per user per month entry-level tag is more expensive than the top, enterprise-oriented pricing tiers of our value picks, Freshdesk and Zoho Desk, which come in at $49 and $40 per agent per month, respectively.

While Zendesk’s overall functionality is definitely at the high end as well, there’s a definite cost disparity between it and its rivals, so you’ll want to match your feature needs to the final price tag very carefully before purchase.

Interface and Key Features

Zendesk for Service focuses on bringing all customer communications into one place, which can not only help service agents but improve other systems such as your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) since exporting relevant data to such apps is more straightforward. It’s easier still if you opt for Zendesk’s own Zendesk Sell CRM entry, but the company does support third-party integrations via its broad app marketplace.

Tickets from all channels are funneled into the same workspace so agents can see them easily. Agents can also chat with other support team members without leaving the primary ticket screen using a feature called Side Conversations. This tool makes it simple to fire off an email or post something to Slack directly from a Zendesk for Service workspace. Agents can quickly change the conversation channel or medium to move between chat, email, or even your company’s voice over IP (VoIP) phone.

While that sounds great, it also sounds as if you’ll need to wade through a sea of configuration and customization settings. To be sure, there is some complexity here, but Zendesk has gone to considerable trouble to make the process as easy as it can. The platform consolidates all support settings into the Admin Center so the IT pros in charge of customization, testing, and management can at least get to everything in one place.

As this review was being written, Zendesk added a new Admin Center search feature to help you find things quicker without wading through multiple menus. For existing Zendesk customers who might be used to the old way of doing things, the firm says the legacy settings will remain in the product for a transition period as the new features roll out.

Zendesk Ticket Management

Zendesk lets users initiate trouble tickets in various ways, including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The same goes for popular chat apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. You’ll still find the old-school methods available, including email, phone support (via integration), and a bundled self-service portal. In addition, there’s now business messaging support via Slack and Apple Business Chat, which handles conversations across macOS and iOS. As of this writing, there was no word on whether Microsoft Teams would also be added.

Zendesk organizes all these channels using the concept of Views, which lets agents and managers organize and group tickets based on specific criteria. Views are entirely customizable and give agents the flexibility to arrange tickets in the most convenient way. Depending on how you’ve organized your help desk staff, an agent might group her tickets according to product, the customer’s geographic region, or even the nature of the problem. Alternatively, the agent’s manager could organize tickets at the department level the same way.

Scheduling tickets is one way to add repetitive tasks into the system and track their progress. This may include scheduled maintenance for printers and other devices requiring regular servicing. The Ticket Scheduler App walks you through creating a new schedule with appropriate entries for fields such as Requester Email and Name.

Zendesk for Service provides an application programming interface (API) that gives customers a way to programmatically add tickets individually or in bulk, especially for tickets coming in from other systems such as email or your phone system. This also comes in handy for anyone migrating to Zendesk from another help desk system while keeping existing tickets or moving over historical data for tracking purposes. The Zendesk developer’s website will give your programmers comprehensive help on using the API along with code examples.

Zendesk for Service query builder

Reporting and Data Export

To handle analytics, you’ll work with the Zendesk Explore reporting tool, which is now included in the upper tiers. Explore includes ready-made dashboards to display the most common information in graphical format. Enterprise-tier users can create editable copies of these dashboards to customize as they choose.

You can export dashboard data to Excel or CSV formats or as image and PDF files. The export form allows size images to fit on different devices. Overall, while export is functional, we expected a little more considering Zendesk’s price tag.

Using CSV and Excel, you’ll be able to import data into third-party analytics tools, but that’s at least a two-step process, not counting any data cleaning. Even the free tool Spiceworks Cloud Help Desk has a downloadable, direct plug-in to Microsoft Power BI, which can also be had for free. That’s a whole lot of visual power you can get in one go without spending a nickel, so Zendesk ought to be adding more reporting muscle for the money, especially around visualizations. Having to resize reporting images for different screens manually is an extra step that Zendesk could easily remove with a more responsive report builder. To be fair, a new Dashboard Builder is currently in beta, although you can try it out now.

(Editors’ note: Spiceworks is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)

Viewed solely as an in-app analytics measure, Zendesk Explore does reasonably well. It uses queries to drive all reporting and dashboards, running queries against specific datasets that agents can define, such as support, talk, guide, chat, and the Answer Bot. Most agents and managers will use the primary dataset in the general support repository.

This dataset contains everything you need to know about tickets, SLAs, ticket updates, and backlog history. A set of default queries comes as a pre-built dashboard, which agents can modify to fit their needs. Or you can build a new query from scratch. While other products have similar capabilities, we found this tool comprehensive and easy to use, as long as you don’t need your data outside of Zendesk.

Zendesk for Service basic reporting view

Full-Featured But Pricey

Zendesk has added considerable functionality to its original help desk platform by consolidating several of its products under a single name while also enhancing some of its underlying features. That’s resulted in a very feature-rich platform, but also one whose cost has gone up significantly.

You’d expect that from the perspective of multiple products bundled in a single package, but compared to competing stacks, it still puts Zendesk at the high end of the pricing spectrum. And if you want all of Zendesk’s bells and whistles, you’ll need to purchase an Enterprise tier, which comes at such a premium that you’ll be spending a multiple of what’s asked by many competitors.

Zendesk is an excellent help desk tool, but you’ll need to be careful about matching the features you need to what you can afford before pulling the purchase trigger.

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