interview Michael Hansen is the Asia-Pacific managing director of software as a service firm Zendesk, which offers a Web 2.0-style hosted helpdesk solution. Zendesk has recently expanded strongly in Australia, hiring staff and announcing that it has 1,000 Australian customers. In this interview, we ask Hansen about the company’s local expansion plans.
How would you characterise the performance of Zendesk in the Australian market over the past 12 months?
Amazing. We have always had loyal customers in Australia and expected opening a local office would help, but our exceptions have been exceeded. Over 1.4 million Australians have submitted tickets via Zendesk to our Australian customers; that’s over 6% of the population. This large number of users is helped by us having nearly all the group buying business as customers in Australia like Groupon who have a good portion of the over 6,000 Australian tickets submitted daily to Australian Zendesk customers.
Have local adoption rates increased, and by how much, since the company opened a local office in September 2011?
Our adaption rates have accelerated significantly. In the first 4 years of Zendesk we partnered with 600 Australian customers and in the last 8 months we have attracted 400 more, that’s a rate of 67% growth!
What customer demographic are you mainly targeting?
We target everybody, or rather everybody comes to us. We recently passed 15,000 global customers and do not do traditional sales and only work with people who have signed up for a Zendesk trial. We believe every business, whether large, medium or small, should use Zendesk to improve their customer engagement and service; be this B2C, B2B or internally through an IT help desk. Less than a year ago when we reached 10,000 customers, we released a detailed analysis of where these companies were. This showed us that companies large and small use our software.
Can you name any high-profile Australian customer wins over the past 12 months?
We have attracted many hot local start-ups and Web 2.0 business like Mifi, Connect2Field and BugHerd.
As well as this, telcos like Vodafone, local, state and Federal government customers like Royal Children’s Hospital and NSW Government Licensing Service, big media companies like News Limited, “traditional businesses” like Kwik Copy and new school Australian business going global like REA Group and Servcorp have all joined the Zendesk family.
Our 1000th customer was a “traditional” business; McLarens Young International. They do loss adjustment for global insurance and claims management, and number 1,001 was a hot mobile software business Appointuit.
Have you achieved any ‘swap-outs’ of competitive solutions in that period, and if so, which platforms were swapped out?
We’ve had many, with traditionally installed old school help desks and add-on solutions from CRM vendors, but also a growing number of swap-outs of Web 2.0 customer solutions from our direct competitors.
What products do you believe are your main rivals at the moment in this space?
They are everywhere. Everybody is trying to get into the customer engagement game, but most come from different backgrounds like CRM. For us, this has all we have ever done and our only interest is in providing the best customer service tool for our customers to successfully engage with their customers.
What do you consider to be your key differentiators compared with other solutions in this space?
Speed of implementation. You can set up Zendesk yourself in 5 minutes. Agility is another one – you can change and improve how you handle your changing customer support requirements on the fly; and lastly affordability. You can get 3 Zendesk agents for $20 a year and if you go our Enterprise Plan the most you can spend per Agent is $100 a month.
I note that Zendesk has relationships with a number of local Australian startup incubators. Can you detail what the aim is of those relationships, and how they function?
We love start-ups – Zendesk is still one and we can remember being very poor and unable to get the best tools to help grow our business. Our relationship to the incubators is that we give their start-ups free use of Zendesk. Our ulterior motive is hoping that they will keep using Zendesk as they grow and make integrations to Zendesk, so that their customers might also select Zendesk. A good example is hot local start-up BugHerd that have build a Zendesk integration.
What sorts of uses are Australian customers such as LJ Hooker, Servcorp and News Limited putting Zendesk to?
LJ Hooker use Zendesk to support its network of franchisees and staff. Servcorp use Zendesk for its internal helpdesk and a managed IT helpdesk service for customers. News Limited has multiple Zendesks used by several business units, as well as using it for multi-channel, multi-brand customer support.
What trends within the software as a service industry are most affecting Zendesk?
Acceptance. I remember 3 years ago having to convince people that SaaS was the way to go. I never do that anymore. Now it is all about the solution and how your customer can implement it fast and efficiently as part of something bigger where Zendesk is integrated with other systems. We have spent a lot of effort on providing a great open API that our customers can use for their own integrations or use one of the 100 “out of the cloud” integrations with Zendesk for anything like CRM, marketing or phone.
I believe Zendesk is hosted offshore. Have you suffered any problems with Australian customers concerned about the jurisdiction in which data is held?
Not all of Zendesk is hosted offshore. We have a CDN in Sydney to provide fast reliable service. About data concerns, our customers are savvy and smart, and understand how to work with data across jurisdictions. We have written a document explaining clearly how we comply with relevant Australian legislation.
What technological trends within support agents is Zendesk currently seeing?
Multi-channel. You need to support your customers how and when they want to be supported. Gone are the days when customers accepted being force through an IVR system during 9-5 on business days only. Zendesk supports email, web, Twitter, Facebook, mobile devices and in North America and Europe, direct phone. We have a number of Zendesk phone beta customers in Australia and hope to roll it out to everybody soon.
What are your business growth and headcount growth aims within Australia?
We have just added one more to the team in Melbourne, bring us up to 8. My hiring plan is to double that number by September of this year.
Image credit: Zendesk