Zendesk bundles customer support services as cloud contact center

Zendesk has combined its products into an omnichannel cloud contact center offering. The CRM vendor also released a new tool for sending automatic alerts to customers.

Zendesk has bundled its customer support products into an omnichannel cloud contact center. The vendor also announced the availability this week of Zendesk Connect, an automated platform for proactively reaching out to customers about potential problems.

The cloud-based Zendesk Suite includes voice, email, chat, social media and self-service help desk contact channels. The unified suite will simplify the back-end interface for customer service agents and help customers switch from one channel to another, without having to start from scratch, the vendor said.

That move will bring Zendesk into more direct competition with traditional contact center vendors, even as the customer relationship management (CRM) vendor -- best known for its help desk platform -- continues to coexist with those same vendors inside many organizations.

"A lot of businesses are interested in having a single provider that covers their entire customer experience and having that tightly integrated," said Adrian McDermott, president of products at Zendesk, based in San Francisco. "At the same time, some people have large-scale investments in telephony that they don't want to depreciate too rapidly, and we respect that."

Zendesk Connect, which integrates with the vendor's help desk product, allows businesses to contact customers before those customers contact them. It could be used, for example, to automatically warn customers that a flight might be delayed or their bank account is almost overdrawn. 

Zendesk first released a preview of a product called Zendesk Connect in fall 2016. Last year, the vendor acquired and said it improved upon that startup's software to build the Zendesk Connect platform that was released this week.

Bundling cloud contact center services makes sense for customers

Zendesk will be able to deliver the same services at a lower cost by bundling its products into one offering, said Kate Leggett, analyst at Forrester Research. Businesses typically prefer to buy customer service software from a single vendor, making it easier to deploy and integrate, she said.

"The bundling is a better customer experience," Leggett said. "It eases contract negotiation and vendor relationships. So, it's a win-win for Zendesk and their customers."

The predictive outreach capabilities of Zendesk Connect are not new, but most services like it on the market today are used for marketing and customer success engagement, Leggett said.

"What you don't see are these capabilities being offered together for customer service," she said. "Zendesk is very good at identifying scenarios to build trust and loyalty in customers and packaging them up for easy consumption."

New vendors disrupt cloud contact center market

Telephony used to separate contact center vendors from CRM vendors, because the latter didn't have the hardware to support voice services. Today, the cloud has removed that barrier, said Jon Arnold, principal at Toronto-based research and analysis firm J Arnold & Associates.

"As everything gets pushed into the cloud and voice becomes a lot easier to do, that is no longer a barrier for the CRM vendors," Arnold said. Those vendors are able to take advantage of the fact that their software contains the customer information already relied upon by contact centers.

The cloud contact center market is now crowded with new entrants -- from cloud startups like 8x8 and Five9, to CRM vendors like Zendesk and Salesforce, to communications-platform-as-a-service providers like Twilio. The competition has forced legacy vendors Avaya, Genesys and Cisco to develop better products.

"The legacy vendors, their value proposition has to ramp up in other areas," Arnold said. "That's why they are pushing so hard into artificial intelligence."

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