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22 Questions: Here’s What Our IT Community Asked Zendesk Senior Product Manager Max McCal


February 22, 2017

8 minute read

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BetterIT, our Slack community for forward-thinking IT professionals, is closing in on 1,000 members. To celebrate, we brought in Zendesk Senior Product Manager Max McCal for an exclusive AMA (which is essentially a text-only Q&A).

Below you’ll find the Zendesk AMA in full (edited for clarity). But first, a few housekeeping items:

  • If you’re interested in finding out why BetterCloud <3s Zendesk, register to get a personalized Zendesk demo today.
  • For those unaware, BetterIT is a free-to-join, IT-only community. Imagine the best IT conference you’ve ever attended, except it’s online and accessible anywhere at anytime. Join here if you’re in IT.
  • Lastly, if you’re a Zendesk customer already and want to learn how BetterCloud can help you incorporate Zendesk into automated onboarding and offboarding processes, schedule a personalized BetterCloud demo today.

This is the BetterIT community’s fourth official AMA and the first featuring a fellow technology vendor. If you’re interested in reading our previous three AMAs, check them out here:

Meet Max McCal: Zendesk Senior Product Manager

Max McCal, Zendesk Senior Product Manager

Max and his Zendesk counterparts answered a wide-range of questions ranging from the Zendesk product, improving helpdesk efficiency, and the future of support. Max has been one of Zendesk’s product managers for the past four years and change. He joined the Zendesk team almost six years ago where he started as a support manager. Max now focuses on the Zendesk Support, most closely with email and ticketing.

1. I see SMS support was just introduced. What is the next channel you plan on introducing?

We are currently working on a new product, Zendesk Message, which will integrate with Facebook Messenger at launch. Other messaging platforms will follow.

Thanks to the Channel Framework, third-party developers can introduce new channels into Zendesk that function just like the native channels built by Zendesk.

2. What are some of the more interesting ways you’ve seen organizations speed up how their agents work on tickets? (An agent using Slack to interact with tickets, for example.)

This depends entirely on what is involved in the support process. Zendesk Apps are a great way to be more efficient, especially when using other tools and systems.

Also, one thing that I’m always impressed by is teams that do a great job responding to tickets using macros. I’ve seen teams get impressively fast at bulk applying macros to easy-to-triage issues, and clear out most of their tickets in minutes.

3. I am in the education world. What ways can you help us enable teachers and even students to get help or establish a better working relationship together?

By having good content in the knowledge base. Many student questions can be easily deflected. You can also integrate with LMS systems like Litmos to recommend courses to the student. On the flip side, you will get lots of data on the type of requests you receive, which can guide you to building a more effective support tool.

Coursera is a good education example.

4. Are there plans for a robust in-tool scheduling, alerting, or escalation system so that one doesn’t need to partner with third parties outside the tool to handle urgent tickets and escalations? Or perhaps a Zendesk preferred partner for making sure that all eyes are drawn to an urgent issue (like PagerDuty)?

This depends on the level of complexity of the scheduling workflow. Simple scheduling workflows can be handled by Zendesk using triggers and custom fields. However, getting access to someone’s schedule and booking the time will require an integration with a third-party service that offers this functionality.

However, Zendesk does have an integration with PagerDuty and many others.

We do know that we need to explore Notifications more, in particular. We actually have research already underway in this arena.

5. What are the main pillars of focus for Zendesk Support development in 2017? I know there is work going on around macros and views to allow them to be assigned to multiple groups, but I’m curious as to what else is in the pipeline as the product grows.

We have a lot of work to do this year, but as far as pillars go, we’re definitely continuing to work on business rules (triggers, automations, etc.), improving email experience for end users and agents, and continuing to raise the bar on agent experience.

We’re also striving toward a more flexible agent experience where fields, forms, and everything else reacts to who you are and what you’re doing.

6. Pineapple on pizza: An abomination, or taste revelation?

I’m a fan of pineapple. Especially with jalepeño.

7. In the past, Zendesk has been proud of the lack of ITIL-compliance claims of other products, while still lauding the team as being ITIL-native. How does this play out in your product development, and how do you convince ITIL-adherence advocates of the efficacy of the Zendesk solution?

In the current market, labels such as ITIL Compliant, ITIL Verified, or ITIL Ready cling to help desk- and ITSM products like bees to honey, implying that these products will support all requirements your ITIL processes demand.

But products that claim the ability to support all ITIL processes are breaking one of the key principles of good product design: You can’t be good at everything. The ITIL processes may vary.

We’ll be in-family and tightly connected but that doesn’t mean that one tool fits all family members.

Many of the businesses you know follow ITIL best practices, and while Zendesk is designed to accommodate these practices, we’ve also taken the route of simplifying or at least opening up customer support to more lean and nimble ways of dealing with customer issues.

ITIL was created with IT helpdesk needs in mind, but the role of IT has changed dramatically in recent years with the introduction of cloud services, outsourcing, and increased consumerization.

Further reading: So, You’ve Implemented ITIL? (Pants on Fire)

8. When is the move from GoodData to BIME happening? Will there be a cost associated with the move?

There’s a launch for Zendesk Explore coming up. This will be a Zendesk product that’s built from the BIME product. There are currently no plans to force a move or migration yet.

Explore will have a cost, but that’s still TBD.

9. Tacking onto the question above, will you be able to connect additional data sources to the integration?


Below is an image of the additional data sources for Zendesk Explore.

Screen Shot 2017 02 17 at 11.07.46 AM

10. The online Knowledge Base model hasn’t changed much, even as other support tools have evolved to stay ahead of the cloud and a more technically literate customer base. Are there any interesting enhancements in the works for Zendesk Help Center?

Coincidentally, I was just in Copenhagen working with our Knowledge Base team. We have a big launch coming up and are working toward a whole new model. Not only in terms of better tools to build and update documents, but a tighter integration with the Support product.

11. Are there plans to introduce “round robin” ticket assignment to Zendesk?

Routing of tickets (and phone calls, chats, etc) to agents is a big challenge. We are spending time in research and design.

I don’t think it’d be fair to say “round robin,” but we’re very interested in how we can improve Agent productivity by smartly routing the right interactions to the right people.

Note from BetterCloud: If you’re interested, BetterCloud Director of Technical Support Mike Stone created a clever way to use a round robin ticket assignment system with Zendesk.

12. We use Google SSO exclusively for end user sign-in to our Zendesk instance. Will we ever be able to hide the username and password fields on the Zendesk login page so they don’t confuse our users?

At present, we don’t offer the option to disable Zendesk Login (for end users) unless you’re using JWT or SAML SSO. I’ll be sure to pass this onto my counterpart who works as PM for Security.

13. How can we set up, with Zendesk, an email address that multiple team members can access but can also be used to send customers emails? We want these emails to come from the same Zendesk email address. In other words, emails to customers always have the same Zendesk contact email, but multiple team members in Zendesk can work in the conversation like a normal Zendesk ticket.

With Zendesk you will automatically get a “support” email address. All requests sent to this email will create a ticket which can be accessed by agents. When agents respond to the requester via the ticket, the email will be sent from the same email address originally used.

You can also forward your own existing email into Zendesk, and use any address you like. Here is a link to the documentation.

14. For sure, but can Zendesk users email a customer first without the customer emailing the address? From what I have been told customers have to initiate a conversation/ticket and the support email address can’t email an outside address first without an existing conversation/ticket.

Two things: First, you can create a new ticket at any time and send an email to the customer that way, so you can initiate the ticket as an agent to begin the conversation using your support address. Second, if you’re using your own email address, you can send an email from that inbox, and the replies will create a ticket.

15. Any beta features we can opt-in to test out?

We announce betas all the time in our forums. The best way to stay on top of this is to subscribe to our announcements.

16. I’ve been using Zendesk Chat and Support for about a month. Any favorite Zendesk tips/tricks that might be helpful to a new user like me? Also, the embedded chat widget on the Zendesk chat dashboard is great in theory but in practice, I’ve found it much easier to run chat and support in their own dedicated tabs. Are there any plans to further integrate the chat and support interfaces?

We’re continuing to tighten the integrations between all of our products, including Chat. I don’t know what kind of exploration there’s been around a single interface for both (there are definitely trade-offs that make having a dedicated interface superior in some ways), but I know that things like routing, agent-availability status, and the creation of tickets from chats, and chats from tickets have been thought about quite a lot.

Note from BetterCloud: Check out these 7 Tried-and-Tested Tips for IT to Get the Most Out of Zendesk.

17. What’s your favorite part of working at Zendesk? What’s been the biggest challenge?

For me, the greatest thing has been seeing the company grow and change. I joined when about 45 of us worked out of a single office, and we’re well over 1,000 people now.

My biggest challenges have been finding ways to address the complexity of our growing product and now product family, while still helping the people who use it to feel like their job is easy, and everything is right where they need it.

18. Any plans to expand project management functionalities within Zendesk (i.e. tasks, assignments, etc.)? I’ve seen some plugins in the past, but nothing native.

That hasn’t been explored too thoroughly, no. The App family continues to expand and offer new options, but we don’t have anything ongoing here. A few of my upcoming projects may be looking into new ways to interrelate tickets, though, which might make those apps even more powerful.

19. Do you prefer the Zendesk Buddha or the new logo?

Homer Simpson Back Away Slowly Gif

20. What is the most commonly requested Zendesk feature?

Tough to say. One of the oldest, most frequently asked for features is one that I’m getting ready to launch in the next coming weeks: the ability to start a new ticket as an agent with a Private Comment.

21. How is Zendesk Chat being used in-app on mobile (iOS or Android)?

We have a Chat app available on both of these platforms. You can learn more here. Here are two case studies you can use to learn more about using Zendesk on the move: Wharton School and Sure, a telecom company.

22. What’s the most commonly requested feature for IT-focused helpdesks?

More integrations to IT-related services like co-browsing, asset management, etc. We have several screen sharing and co-browsing apps in the pipeline coming soon. See example here.

If you’re interested in our next IT-focused AMA (special guest TBD), don’t forget to join the BetterIT community!