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Zendesk & Trends in Customer Experience–Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series

In this special episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast, The Interview Series, Daniel Newman welcomes Zendesk’s Shawna Wolverton, SVP of Product, and Sarah Reed, CX Leader/Event Creator. Together, they discussed the latest trends in customer experience, what customer experience leaders should think about for years ahead, and more.

First, Shawna and Sarah went over what Zendesk is and how it differs from other CRM companies. In particular, Zendesk helps companies deliver great customer experiences, with founding principles that center on a simple user experience that lets every agent come on board and start solving customer problems quickly.

One of the ways Zendesk does this is by making it easy to get all the data that agents need about customers to help them. When you ensure that agents have data across all systems—including what articles they’ve viewed and how they prefer to communicate—customers have a better experience. After all, it means you don’t have to make customers talk to numerous agents many times, explaining their needs over and over again. This provides better customer interactions overall, which is what Zendesk is all about.

Zendesk recently published the Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, which Dan pointed out has some similarities to Futurum’s Digital Transformation Index. Zendesk’s report found that 80 percent of people leave a brand after a few bad experiences. So, how does Zendesk prevent those bad experiences from becoming the norm? Shawna and Sarah explained that the company takes into consideration the agent’s experience and doesn’t try to overcomplicate things. After all, the harder it is for the internal team, the more challenging it is to create good customer experiences—and the less likely it is for people to stay loyal to brands.

They also mentioned that things are changing and people don’t always want to talk to a human. For this reason, there is more AI—such as chat bots—available to let customers get answers in seconds, rather than requiring them to send an email or make a phone call. Zendesk is aware that customers want to communicate in several convenient ways, and that they don’t really care how they get the info. They just want it fast!

The main trend from the report though is that customers really want to be loyal. Sure, they’ll jump ship after several bad experiences, but they are coming from a place of good intentions and want to like the companies they do business with. In fact, the report found about 75 percent felt loyal to a particular brand, and over half go out of their way to buy from their favorite brand. Basically, we want our favorite brands to get more innovative and treat us well.

The report also said it’s important to let experience have a seat at the table. So, what does that mean? Shawna and Sarah explained that customer experience isn’t a one-person or one-department job. The way customers experience brands is across several touchpoints. All interactions—even down to hold music on the phone—add up to how customers feel about brands! So make sure every touchpoint is easy, thoughtful, and offers the necessary information. Create a culture of customer first that transcends from the CEO to all employees.

So, what actions does Zendesk recommend for 2020? Shawna and Sarah responded that brands need to interact with each other. They should network and learn about practices with other industry leaders, since all businesses today are competitors—not just the ones in the same industry. This is because customers consider and compare all their customer service experiences, regardless of industry.

Basically, humanity should take center stage. And brands can see this for themselves at Relate, Zendesk’s annual global user conference, March 3-5 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

At Relate, Zendesk brings everyone who cares deeply about customer experience together for a deep dive into our industry. After three days of talks, the latest innovations, thought leadership, and networking with industry leaders, you’ll go home inspired, educated, and connected. Consider attending to learn more about customer experience, or at least listen to the full podcast with Sarah and Shawna from Zendesk.

Listeners of this podcast can take advantage of the special discount code FTPZD50 for 50% off* registration to Relate 2020! Save your seat and help your company become the next customer experience leader.

Register today.

*Final price including promo code will be $749 for conference only. It may not be applied for training or certification.


Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast, FTP. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst and Founder at Futurum Research and I am excited to have a partner today in Zendesk to join us to talk about customer experience and the trends of customer experience and what CX leaders need to be thinking about in the year ahead and the years ahead. Now, before I bring our esteemed guest onto the show, I need to go ahead and do a quick disclaimer that this show is for information and entertainment purposes only, so while we will talk about many companies, sometimes they are publicly traded companies, this show in no way is providing or soliciting investments or giving investment advice.

All right, onto the show, excited to have two guests here from Zendesk, Shawna Wolverton and Sarah Reed. First of all, you know what? Welcome to the show, how are you guys today?

Shawna Wolverton: Doing great, thanks so much for having us.

Sarah Reed: Yes, we’re doing great.

Daniel Newman: I’m excited, I’ve got two of you, you’re both in the same room, see, nobody can actually see this on video, but we’re on video so I can see them. I can see them, I can see if I say their name wrong, I see them wince, all those things are really achievable for me right here and now, but Shawna and Sarah, I’d love for you to introduce yourself really quickly and talk a little bit about Zendesk, so Shawna, I’ll have you go first.

Shawna Wolverton: Sure, so I am Shawna Wolverton, I am the SVP of Product here at Zendesk, just wrapping up my first year in this seat. It’s been tremendous to join Zendesk at this time in our evolution from a sort of service and customer experience company into a customer experience first CRM business.

Sarah Reed: I’m Sarah Reed, I’ve been here for about four years and it’s amazing that we’re bringing in talent like Shawna and others into the organization at this point. My background is actually in customer support, around contact centers for like 20 years and now I run events here at Zendesk, so I’m a little excited to talk about what we have coming up from an event standpoint.

Daniel Newman: Yes, we’ll definitely get to that because you guys do have an exciting event coming up and we will tease that throughout and talk more about that at the end, but welcome both of you to the show, I’m really excited to have you here. I’m excited to talk about kind of where things are at the state of customer experience. It’s something I’m very focused on in the books I’ve written, Futureproof, The New Rules of Customer Engagement. I’ve been studying this topic for a long time, if you’ve read my Forbes column, you know how much and how passionate I am about customer experience and it’s great to have people that are living it, doing it every day and working closely with customers and enterprises.

Now, speaking of customers and enterprises, Zendesk, they’re a growing company, a very quickly growing company with a lot of velocity, a lot of momentum and people are starting to hear the name more and more. Becoming a household name is its next evolution, so I’d love for one of you guys to give a quick background for all the listeners here on the Futurum Tech Podcast, what is Zendesk? Who is Zendesk and why Zendesk?

Shawna Wolverton: Who is Zendesk? It’s such a fantastically fun existential question. No, like I said, I think who Zendesk is, we’re a CRM company that is really differentiated in this idea of sort of coming to market first and our real deep roots in helping our customers deliver great customer experiences. We have some founding principles around ease and easiness, this whole early success around a very easy web try-buy experience, simple user experience that let every agent come on board really quickly and start solving customer problems.

What you’re seeing now is a sort of evolution of Zendesk into a full CRM offering with both a support and sales offering in the market as well as a platform. That platform, Sunshine is a huge reason why I decided to join Zendesk and that’s this idea that today when, as an enterprise company building out a new platform, you really get to take advantage of the public cloud.

Zendesk completed its transition last year from our own data centers into the public cloud. It’s something we’re seeing in our high growth tech first companies and customers. We want to be where our customers already are, it’s not a walled garden, it doesn’t take proprietary languages, builds the things where you already are in the public cloud and we’ll make it super easy to get at all of the data you need about your customers to really help them have great experiences.

Sarah Reed: That’s exactly it, I mean, as Shawna talked about, we are in such an evolutionary stage right now, the company’s roots, I don’t know if you know the history of Zendesk, but we were founded by three Danes and so everything about our company down to the aesthetics of our buildings and our offices to our product itself, it pulls in that beautifully simple concept that the Danes are so prolific about.

We take great pride in that, and it’s also like where we started, the whole concept was to start and build something really simple for customer service, so that agents and their customers and therefore, companies and their customers could connect to each other so much easier and build this really nice relationship, which, let’s face it, a lot of the technology out there, particularly 10, 12 years ago was really complicated.

Now, in our evolutionary stage, we’re moving from just being something that support organizations can use and benefit from to something that entire organizations can use and benefit from. That is allowing the entire company to really be a part, a holistic part of that customer experience.

Daniel Newman: What I noticed straight away was that the company sort of was founded on being a service first organization, and so we’ve entered this age of the platform. Shawna, you mentioned platforms, so in the beginning, when you’re kind of doing one thing, you’re sort of a suite or a software or solution, but as we start to see all these converged concepts, you start to see sales and service and different offerings that are plugged in and live in the cloud but are basically built on the platform.

You start to kind of realize that this is what companies are going through and this is what companies need. They need a platform, they need to be able to add modularly to what their businesses requirements are, and one of the things that I found very interesting about Zendesk in my early analysis of the company is that it is built as a service first company, which uniquely positions it to be focused on CX, because CX is something a lot of companies talk about, but I feel like it’s a lot of talk.

I feel like it’s a lot of throwing the word out there, let’s be customer centric, let’s be customer first, but what does that even mean? In terms of creating a platform for that, if you’re just adding modularly onto an old ERP solution or an old sales CRM solution, you might not be as customer first as you might be sales first or finance first, and so that’s been my take of kind of what Zendesk is doing.

Shawna Wolverton: Yes, I mean I think you absolutely nailed it, and I think, when I had sort of thought about what makes Zendesk feel so much different than some of the other CRM companies where I’ve worked, it really is so much about that our roots are in helping, and that’s a really different motion than say, servicing an IT team, or interacting with a VP of sales who’s really about high pressure, that is not a collaborative, helpful relationship usually.

I think how we think about CRM and customer relationships and a customer journey and what it feels like to interact with customers and how you can provide, really, a great customer experience through all of the different parts of that journey are, to me, the exciting feature of Zendesk.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely, so I want to move on. You guys published an interesting report, an annual customer experience, CX trends report for 2020. I love reports like that, we do a digital transformation index like that and they’re so much fun and they create so much momentum. I was looking through it, one of the things I thought was really interesting was that people are going to switch from one company to another, so loyalty can be lost after just one bad experience, and 80% of people leave after just a couple of bad experiences. Talk to me with that in mind, let’s use that as a jumping in point for the next question.

How does what you guys are doing, what Zendesk is doing, really prevent and reduce these bad experiences from becoming the norm or becoming a regular problem, and really help companies get away from this and the attrition that comes with it?

Sarah Reed: Well, I’m going to take it from the agent perspective for just a moment, because having run centers for so long, they were the individuals that I cared most about for so many years. What I love about Zendesk is that we take into consideration what the agent experience is in every single thing that we build. We try not to over-complicate it from their perspective, because the more you make it difficult for a customer support agent, or a salesperson, or even a marketer to actually communicate with their customers or to communicate back into IT, if you’re utilizing us from an internal supports perspective, the harder you make it on your internal teams, the more challenging it’s going to be for them to create a good customer experience.

As we’ve now moved into the CRM space and we’re now expanding out further and deeper into organizations, we’re seeing that we can create such a better collaboration and better communication between all of those stakeholders. That to me, is one of the things that helps us from allowing those bad experiences from happening and therefore keeping those customers loyal back to the brands that they want to be.

Shawna Wolverton: Yes, and to add onto that, I think a lot of what we’re doing and how we’re thinking about the platform is making sure that all of the data you have about your customers, from who they are across all of your systems, what their prior interactions are with you, maybe what they’re doing on your website, what articles they’re looking at, maybe even you can hook up visits and distorts, that kind of evented data. What we’re doing is surfacing that to agents at the time of the interaction, so that they have the information they need, so that you’re not doing that horrible thing where you’ve gone through a phone tree and you’ve said your name and your account number a thousand times and the agent picks up the phone and says, “I’m sorry, could you tell me your name and what’s your account number?”

It’s about really giving agents and empowering agents to have the information they need so that those interactions are successful. Then conversely, when you think about end-users, one of the other things we found in the benchmark is, especially as demographics are changing in this country, they don’t want to talk to a human, they want to get this answer themselves, so we’ve invested a tremendous amount in our knowledge based product guide as well as some AI technology around answer bots, so that customers really can find the answer to their question in a few seconds, rather than having to send an email or find a form or pick up the phone.

Sarah Reed: We have to stop being so naive that customers only want to communicate in one way. Customers want to communicate in any channel, any opportunity that’s convenient for them and likewise, they don’t really care how we get that information. They just want to make sure that the person that they’re talking to, regardless of where they are in the company, has all the information that they need about them.

Daniel Newman: Yes, I’ve always said nobody will complain about an experience that’s too good. That’s actually one of the ways to circumvent a lot of people’s concerns about data and privacy, is if the data is being used in a way that enhances someone’s experience and interaction, people tend to be okay with that data being utilized. People start to get frustrated when it feels like it’s very invasive, like you said, when you’ve given data and people don’t know who you are and you’re repeating yourself and giving the same information over and over again, it’s really frustrating.

As an analyst of the industry, it kind of makes me laugh that we’re still here. What you just said, I wrote a book, I think back in 2013 or 14, and I literally said we have to meet the customers where they are, and I’m not talking about the way Andy Jassy said it from AWS talking about cloud. I was literally just talking about if a person’s on Facebook, you need to be there. If a person’s on text, you need to be there, if a person’s on email, that’s where you talk to them. I always said talk to people in the channel that they want to be talked to, especially if you want to talk to them, so if someone prefers a phone call, call them. Don’t tell them that you prefer email cause that doesn’t matter.

That’s a really great take and I appreciate both of your views on that. I want to kind of keep going on this report though. You know, there was a number of different trends that were outlined in the report. Some of them were around harnessing data, some of them were around seamless conversations, which we’ve kind of touched on. Another one was on artificial intelligence, I’d love to hear a little bit more from both of you on which trends sort of stood out to you from that global report.

Sarah Reed: For me, it’s that customers actually really want to be loyal. You mentioned that customers will jump after bad experiences, particularly if you continue to provide a bad experience, they’re out of there, but I think it’s really important to remember that customers inherently are coming from a place of good intention. They want to like the companies that they work for or that they do business with, they want to stick around. They’re not going into every customer support or every sales interaction with you thinking, “It’d be really great if you did something so I could get out of here and go try somebody else.”

We found in the benchmark that 74% report feeling loyal to a particular brand, so it’s almost three quarters of people out there are saying, “Yes, I have loyalty to somebody” and 52% report that they go out of their way to actually buy from their favorites. They’ll actually put in a little bit more effort in order to work with the companies that they want to.

Even as we’re being socially engineered constantly with, “Try this, buy this, move over to somebody different” we get this from everything. It’s like cosmetics, fitness regimens, the clothing lines that we all like, even our bank accounts, somebody is always trying to get our business, but we really, really just want our favorites to stay innovative. We want them to do good things and then we want them to treat us right.

Shawna Wolverton: I just got my United Global Services welcome pack yesterday. I know about loyalty.

Sarah Reed: You’re in, right?

Shawna Wolverton: I’m in.

Sarah Reed: That’s it.

Daniel Newman: Yes, I do the same thing for American Airlines, although sometimes I feel like we get trapped into loyalty, because once you’re in, you can’t get out. I think loyalty is not just a moment, but it’s a continuation, and I think one of the things, loyalty is created by both parties, and that’s something that the study definitely indicated and if you’re a brand or a brand CX leader is sort of how do you as a brand create loyalty and then how do you earn or build that sort of loyalty and advocacy that kind of comes from loyalty, where Shawna here is talking about United and saying, “Hey, if you’re at a hub for United and Delta, you really want to go United” and it’s amazing, because these are very small and subtle things that most brands think about but don’t quantify very well, but in end, those end up having massive implications and influence over what decisions people actually end up making.

I want to keep moving, though, because unfortunately I could talk to you guys for hours. I try to slate these shows for 20, 25 minutes max, and so I’ve found another comment in your report, and it really caught my attention. In Futureproof, I talk about this concept of culture and with Digital Transformation I always say, when people always ask, we’ve got the seven key pillars and it’s technology and it’s change and it’s people, and innovation. People always ask me the which pillar to start with, and I always say culture, start with culture, because if you have the culture, you can drive everything else.

In your report, you talk about experience at the table. It’s kind of like the way I say about bringing culture to the table and putting culture first. You guys are sort of really telling CX leaders and CEOs that read this report, “Don’t have CX as a department that kind of just rolls up into marketing, have someone in the big meetings, in the important meetings that is really thinking entirely about experience.” Maybe that’s a chief customer officer, maybe that’s just someone that’s delegated that role, but I would like to get a little bit more on your meaning. When you say let experience have a seat at the table, what does that mean? What should that look like?

Shawna Wolverton: Yes, I think we fundamentally believe that customer experience is a full company motion. This isn’t one person’s or one department’s job, it’s not just of the people who answer the phone or just your customer success managers. The way your customers experience you is across thousands of touch points and if you don’t have someone at the table, at the seat level, it’s easy to sort of lose track of this. I think for a while that we’ve sort of been in this transition from customer success evolution out of tech support. I answered the phone, I’m a call center, I’m diligently tracking my cost per call and timed resolution to really seeing those experiences in every way, calling for help, calling for sales, all of the interactions. Everything from your events to your office space, to your customer support hold music.

These are the kinds of experiences that holistically all add up to the way people feel about you. It’s critical in this age where things like it’s easy to switch, loyalty is incredibly important. These are the kinds of things, this isn’t any longer a bottom line cost. It’s a top line differentiator.

Sarah Reed: That’s exactly it, because customers touch you across so many different ways, as Shawna was talking about, they come to you on the website, so your website has to be easy and thoughtful and truthful and have all the information that they need, all the way down to the events that we’ll be doing in a month from now. Customers of ours are going to be interacting with so many people at Zendesk. They will talk to product, they will talk to technology, they will talk to marketing, it doesn’t matter, we all are part of that customer experience.

Daniel Newman: Yes, and I think that’s a great point, it’s not one person, and it circles back to what I meant about culture. If you’re a culture of experience, if you’re a culture of customer first, it sort of transcends from the CEO to the frontline employee that everyone puts value into customer experience and there’s some great companies out there. There’s plenty of examples, I won’t name names right now, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t want to do commercials for anybody, but I think everybody, when you mentioned that people have loyalty to those brands, if you stop right now as a listener, just to think of what are one or two or three of those brands that you’re extremely loyal to, you’ll think of who they are. They will instantly come to the top of your head and even when you fill out a survey like the one that you guys put out, those are the brands you were thinking about when you were answering the questions. I promise you, stop, ask yourself if those were the brands you’re thinking about, okay, I was right, we agree, perfect.

All right, I want to move on here. I’ve heard about the trends, let’s talk a little bit about action, you two are leaders in the company at Zendesk, you’re dealing every day with helping companies and running events for Zendesk where you’re interacting directly with customers and users. Talk to me about some actions that the company’s really recommending for companies to become these customer experience leaders, besides just getting that seat to the table, what should companies be doing and thinking about in 2020?

Sarah Reed: A big thing that they can do is interact with each other. It’s all about networking and learning best practices and spending time with the other industry leaders. The cool thing about business today is we’re all competitors with each other because customers look at us and view your customer experience in the same light as the best customer experience they’ve ever had. Your competition isn’t just someone in your industry, it’s someone in every industry and that’s why bringing them together at an event like Zendesk Relate, which is happening March 3rd through 5th at the Miami Beach Convention Center, little plug there. That’s why user conferences like Zendesk Relate are so very, very important, because individuals get to come together with their peers, they get to come with industry experts, they get to talk to trendsetters, executives like Shawna will be there.

Everyone’s traveling from around the world to just spend time together and learn from each other. We’re not just there to talk about Zendesk tools and Zendesk products, it’s really about how do you take your CX strategy, how do you take your CRM strategy and really take it to the next level for 2020 and the next few years?

Daniel Newman: You’ve absolutely got the hook on me there, I want to hear more, but before I actually fall for your little hook there, and I gave you that moment to share, I just want to say when you said every industry becomes a comparison point for experience, that is so true and I’m so glad that you said that. For the longest time, people have always come to me and talked to me about their competitors and said, “How do we compete with company B, company C?” I would always say the problem is most people think their biggest competitors are… They think they know who they are.

I said, “Your biggest competitors are, don’t know and do nothing. Your third biggest competitor is going to be don’t care, so don’t know, do nothing, and don’t care, apathy, and apathy comes in many forms, end up being your biggest competitors” because people will literally say, “Why can I order coffee from my front door, jump in my car, drive through the drive through, have my favorite cup of coffee, personalized with my name on it, and I can do that every day from an app, but your CRM that we spend six, seven figures a year on, I can barely figure out how to order a stapler for my administrative assistant?”

I think that’s just such a great example of experience and making sure people really take to that, that it’s not just others in your industry and others that make what you make. It can be anybody that’s creating an experience that sets the bar for everything that you do. All right, now relate, I’m excited, I’m interested, I’m a customer experience junkie, I speak at a lot of conferences. I will be there myself, I won’t be on the stage, but I do want to hear more. If you’re a CX leader, or a CMO, a CEO, even a CIO, why would you tell them to come out to relate?

Sarah Reed: Because you’ll be able to make all those smart decisions around CX and CRM after you leave Zendesk Relate. One of the things as an event person who puts us on for people who used to be my peers, I want to make sure that technology and humanity take center stage. You will get to talk to Shawna and her entire team and they’re going to teach you what to prioritize from a technology standpoint, what to implement and why. There’s a lot of breakouts and conversation around product, but you’re also going to get that necessary guidance that you’re looking for around leadership, because what we do is fundamentally a people business.

You’re also going to hear from companies like Radical Candor around their leadership principles, you’ll get contact center best practices from companies like ICMI and thought leaders like Jeff Toister, and then you’ll get very practical and real business talk from leaders like Sara Blakely from Spanx, the first female billionaire, self-made billionaire. We also have Gus Balbontin from Lonely Planet, Guy Raz. As a podcast host, I’m sure you know exactly who he is, How I Built This with is so well known for talking to great brands and great leaders.

Then you get a chance to network. We’ve got people from Four Seasons, Peloton, Ingersoll Rand, Postmates, so many other amazing companies that do just what you were talking about, they provide that next level customer experience.

Daniel Newman: That sounds terrific, did you say Peloton?

Sarah Reed: I did.

Daniel Newman: I love Peloton, I’m going to go get on my Peloton right after we’re done here.

Sarah Reed: I ride it every day.

Daniel Newman: That was terrific, I’m sold, and by the way, I said I wasn’t going to do any plugs, that was completely free. No, I really appreciate it, Shawna and Sarah, terrific insights, great story. For everybody out there, I’m going to go ahead and put a link down in the bottom to the CX trends report and we’re also going to share a link to Relate. I hope everybody that’s looking at their calendars and what events they’re going to attend, I hope you check it out.

I definitely put it on my calendar, I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to hear more about where CX is heading, customer experience is leading, experience is leading so many narratives from so many great brands around the planet, so no company should really be leaving themselves out of that discussion and that conversation.

I want to thank Zendesk for going ahead and being a part of this podcast. I think you both had just terrific insights, if anybody wants to get more insights, we’ll make sure that we put some information in the bottom of how people can do that and how people can get ahold of Zendesk, but for now, for the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, I’m Daniel Newman, your host. I want to thank you all for tuning in, hit that subscribe button, we’ll see you all very soon.
Thank you for joining us on this week’s Futurum Tech Podcast, The Interview Series. Please be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes and stay with us each and every week as we bring more interviews and more shows from our weekly Futurum Tech Podcast.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Image Credit: Forbes

Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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