Q&A: Zendesk's Michael Hansen

The new MD for APAC talks innovation, startups and the role of customer service in the Cloud

Zendesk's Michael Hansen

Zendesk's Michael Hansen

After launching Zendesk's Asia Pacific head office in Melbourne this week, new managing director Michael Hansen says that Cloud, customer service and mobility are important for startups to succeed.

What is your role at Zendesk and can you give me some background on what the company does?

I’m Michael Hansen and I’m Zendesk’s vice president and Asia Pacific managing director. Zendesk is Cloud-based help desk software that is the fastest way to enable great customer service in rapidly growing companies. We are so easy to use that support teams and customers worldwide love us.

More than 10,000 organisations including Adobe, MSNBC, Sony, and Groupon trust Zendesk with their most valuable asset: their customers. With Zendesk, organisations can deliver exceptional support across the web, email, and social media. Since the mobile device explosion, we’ve created even more opportunities to help customers anywhere, any time. Zendesk is also available across devices such as the iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android.

Why has Zendesk opened an office in Melbourne and how many staff are located in Australia?

With more than 1200 customers across the region and with 700 in Australia and 200 in New Zealand, it became clear to us that the Asia Pacific region is experiencing an upward growth trend. We currently have seven staff and plan on being 20 in a year.

What industry trends have you seen emerge with more and more startups like Zendesk beginning to dominate the market?

The largest trends we’ve seen have been around the rapid rise of social media channels, mobile devices and apps, and embracing Cloud based technology.  

Today’s customers expect to have immediate and direct conversations with their service providers and demand a fast, satisfactory response. So they need a choice of multiple touch points, whether that is via the web, social media or mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the world is becoming increasingly dependent on mobile devices. Half of the devices on corporate networks will be mobile devices and the North American market for mobile office applications is expected to surge to $6.85 billion in 2015. It’s safe to say the vast majority of these mobile apps will be Cloud based.

Using Cloud based technologies, such as Zendesk, businesses are realising they can deliver great customer support, fast. It’s easy to use, cost effective, and can be introduced without disruption to current customer service systems. Gone are the days when companies had to make the major investments in hardware, software, professional services, and training that have traditionally been dictated by enterprise software vendors. This is a very appealing alternative to purchasing on-premise packages or attempting to build “home grown” applications.

In-depth: Legal issues in the Cloud.

What advice would you have for up and coming startups trying to make their mark?

One of the best pieces of advice we have for startups is to stay true to the purpose of your product. As you begin to develop your product’s functionality, it’s easy to go off course.

It’s also important to listen to your user base and engage with them. We closely monitor our Twitter feed, Facebook page, and our forums to hear what our customers are saying and respond to them accordingly.

Who are some of your local customers?

Lonely Planet, REA Group, Servcorp, and NSW Government Licensing Services.

How do you maintain innovation in a sector with so many different companies?

The trick to being innovative is again, listening to your customers. Beyond monitoring your social media channels, one way you can really get your finger on the pulse of your user base is to check in with your help desk. Your help desk shouldn’t be an island in your company; oftentimes, it’s the eyes and ears of your customers. They know what your user base wants and what they are struggling with before any other department, and then you can create your roadmap accordingly. Knowing what your customers want and then responding this accordingly is how smart companies stay ahead of their competition.

The other trick with innovation is to keep sophisticated features quick and easy to do. You can create the most complex, state-of-the-art, world-changing product or feature for that product, but if your customers can’t begin using that product or feature immediately, they are going to ignore it.

Lonely Planet spoke about its move to Zendesk earlier this year, saying it turned to the company for online customer feedback and implemented help desk software to streamline information from its forums and wider community.

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