Zendesk is a hosted customer help desk service that's easy to deploy while remaining quite amenable to customization. The service supports multiple methods of providing support, multiple channels through which customers can access that support and multiple routes through which an organization can access and interact with the underlying data.
Organizations running a Zendesk-powered help desk can accept
new tickets via e-mail or through a Web-based form interface, as well as create
tickets by flagging Twitter messages or forum posts and escalating these
communications into support tickets. On the help-desk agent side of the
equation, support personnel can view and process open issues through e-mail, through
customizable ticket views or via mobile applications on Apple's iOS or Google's
What's more, all data stored within Zendesk is accessible
and open to modification through well-documented application programming
For my tests of Zendesk, I tapped the company's free 30-day
trial offer to create a help desk of my own and populate it with data from our labs.eweek.com
had no trouble importing user and issue data from a MySQL database through
Zendesk's bulk import and API features.
Companies in search of a no-hassle help-desk solution would
do well to evaluate Zendesk, which is priced in three tiers of functionality,
starting with a $9 per agent, per month Starter edition, a $29 per agent, per
month Regular and $59 per agent, per month Plus editions. The Regular and Plus
editions expand on the Starter edition (which allows a maximum of three agents)
with added customization and scalability options. For a full rundown on the
three editions, see http://www.zendesk.com/compare
As one might expect, Zendesk eats its own dog food when it
comes to providing help desk, forums and knowledge base services for the
Zendesk product, and I found that interacting with the company's help-desk
resources gave me a good feel for the product from a user perspective.
All told, I found Zendesk's help-desk resources informative
and easy to navigate. However, when I first attempted to comment on a forum
post, and was redirected to a log-in page, I couldn't figure out why the site's
authentication dialog wouldn't accept the credentials for the account I created
alongside my trial help-desk instance. It turned out that the account I created
was associated only with my trial help desk- I had to create a second account to act as a user of Zendesk
itself, even though, as the creator of a trial help desk account, I had, by definition,
already registered with Zendesk as a user.
With that said, I was happy with the variety of authentication
options offered to users- I could
create a typical account with Zendesk, sign in with my Twitter account or
provide an OpenID account URL for authentication. As Web applications
proliferate, I find it increasingly annoying when services require that I
invent a new user name/password combination. All told, the forums/knowledge base
setup worked well. While reading up on the service's pricing plans, I noticed
what appeared to be a typo on the service sign-up page, and added my comment to
the forum post, along with a screen grab as an attachment. About an hour later,
I found in my e-mail an "updates in topic" notification, in which a Zendesk
support agent acknowledged my minor bug report.
The Zendesk service's knack for encouraging organic
knowledge-sharing among users, with apparently auto-generated related topics
lists to aid in navigation, is a definite benefit, but it requires a certain
amount of "gardening" to weed out confusing or outdated information. For
instance, a recent "what's new" forum post in the Zendesk forums was displayed
with a list of related content that included a feature request for SSL support
across all account types. The thread, from 2008, was from a time when the
lowest-tier account type lacked SSL encryption beyond the log-in pages and
offered no indication this had subsequently changed.
When it came to customizing my test help-desk instance, I
opted for a business process test case similar to the one I used in my recent
review of Bonita Open Solution. With the goal of ensuring that product pitches
we receive through our labs.eweek.com
considered by the Labs' staff, I set about importing vendor representatives
into my Zendesk test instance as users, and then importing those vendors' pitches
into the system as tickets.
In the Zendesk management console, I found a tool for
importing user lists in the form of a CSV
(comma separated values) file, which was easy enough to do by querying our
MySQL database and exporting the result in the proper format. I included a
dummy password with each account, to prevent Zendesk from e-mailing each user
to obtain a password for logging into the system. Alternatively, I could have
configured the service to authenticate against an external source, such as Active
Directory, but I did not test this functionality.
I noted that Twitter user names are not among the supported
user fields for the CSV update, so I would have to add those in a second step,
either manually or through the service's REST-based API.
Importing the product pitches as tickets also required the API,
which I found fairly straightforward to operate, by fetching or sending data in
X M L format using the command line tool curl. I used Talend Open Studio to
convert the product entries I meant to load into Zendesk from MySQL query rows
into individual files formatted according to the documentation at
zendesk.com/api, and tapped a simple shell script to send each entry into the
With a healthy set of user accounts and support issues in
place, I was able to assign tickets to individuals or to groups, which, by
default, would generate e-mail notifications for the relevant agents. It was
easy to customize the tickets that would appear on a particular page by
creating views- based on arbitrary
search criteria- which could apply
globally or to particular users or groups.
I took the iOS Zendesk application for a spin on my iPod
Touch, and managed to view and update the same lists of issues and views that I
found on the product's Web interface- as
long as I remained connected to the Internet.