Zendesk's Adrian McDermott talks about building a virtual call center and dispels myths about phone support

At the 2011 Twilio Conference, Zendesk’s AdrianMcDermott presented the Twilio-powered Zendesk Voice. Zendesk Voice uses Twilio Client to build VoIP capabilities into Zendesk’s customer support software, turning Zendesk Voice into a virtual call center. Thanks to Twilio Client’s click-to-call capabilities, a consumer can reach a support agent with a single click or call a prominently displayed phone number. Twilio Client also makes it possible for support agents to take calls directly through their web browsers or actual phones. In theory, a Zendesk Voice call center could be entirely virtual, with agents answering phone calls directly from their home PC or phone.

The vision for Zendesk Voice partially emerged from a small anomaly that Zendesk’s support team noticed one day: After experiencing a sudden 40% increase in call volume, Zendesk’s support team was mystified – no major changes seemed to have been made. But then they noticed that their webmaster had simply moved the company’s contact phone number to a more visible spot on the homepage.

The team dug into the data and discovered that if given communications options, 79% of customers want to hear a human voice when contacting a business, and 69% prefer web-based phone calls if hardware phone communication isn’t an option. Zendesk also found that people trust Internet companies more when they prominently display their phone number.

Zendesk then surveyed the landscape of hot technology companies and found that a large number of them are withholding the voice channel from their customers. At the recent Twilio Conference, Zendesk’s Adrian McDermott called out these companies, which include Twitter, Asana, Mailchip and Zaarly for “fearing a voiced planet.”

To be fair, the idea of offering phone support doesn’t gel naturally with a software developer’s intuition. Since contact centers base performance metrics on completed tickets, it’s logical for developers to believe agents handling 300 emails and chats simultaneously will be more productive than agents taking individual phone calls one-at-a-time. But according to McDermott, the assumptions these hot tech companies hold are false.

Data shows that email support involves numerous back-and-forth Q&A’s, so email tickets are rarely resolved in a single interaction. This increases the total ticket count considerably and leaves the customer with a disjointed service experience.

Zendesk’s research found that when customers connect with agents over the phone, tickets are more likely to be resolved in one shot. Even better, sales go up. It seems that the synchronous phone call experience empowers agents to work through a single issue instead of task-switching between many, ultimately reducing the total time it takes to help an individual customer.

Zendesk concluded that voice communication actually reduces total support costs, increases customer satisfaction ratings and adds to total sales.

As a result of its research, Zendesk hired an entire sales force to communicate via phone, walk customers through the sales process and provide demos.

The results have been stellar.