Zendesk held a product launch event today. Streamed live from New York, they announced a lot of exiting new features under the title The Next Big Zendesk AI Drop.
I didn't really know what to expect from this event. Calling it the next BIG thing, made me think they had to have a card up their sleeve that was more than just more intents, agent tools or additional insights based on OpenAI.
And well, it seems my gut feeling was right cause they did announce a major new feature: A fully Generative AI-driven Zendesk Bot that takes your existing Help Center content and turns it into a conversation. 🤯
A few days ago I listened to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg on The Verge where halfway through the conversation he said something quite interesting:
Yeah, so our view is that there’s actually going to be a lot of these that people talk to you for different things. [...] let’s say you’re a small business and you want to have an AI that can help you interface with customers to do sales and support. You want to be pretty confident that your AI isn’t going to be promoting your competitor’s products, right?"
And that last sentence is exactly what Zendesk delivers here. Customers can converse with your bot, the data it uses is solely pulled from your Help Center content, but it's powered by OpenAI and the powerful AI models Zendesk trained on their 8 billion tickets.
Can't wait to get my hands on this one, especially since it comes with tone of voice built-in!
Let's dive in!
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Good Morning! With an intro that had very strong Tim Cook vibes, CEO Tom Eggemeier started off the keynote and set the scene for the rest of the event.
He focussed on how AI makes us rethink how to approach CX, and the impact of Zendesk AI on their customers. Liberty London saw a 73% decrease in first reply time, and shared a story of an unnamed entertainment company that saw a 10% reduction on incoming tickets on day one of turning on Zendesk AI.
Not bad 🥳
After focussing on a few core concepts like the way Zendesk makes it easy to make your entire business better by offering solutions for customers and employees alike, he passed the stage to the product announcements.
The biggest chapter of this keynote was the new Generative AI announcements, as shared by Lisa Kant together with Candace Marshall, both from the Product Solutions and Marketing team.
They gave context to the new releases by focussing on three big topics: Lend agents an extra hand, upgrading the Zendesk Bot experience and offering new customisation options for bots and intents for both customers and employees.
Level up agents to resolve requests faster and more consistently
The Agent Productivity section of the new announcements felt a bit like a rehash of the previews we got at Relate 2023 with a few additional niceties thrown in the mix but with a focus on the fact that this improves the quality of life for your agents, improves agent retention rates and a hard focus on the fact that the role of agents will not go away.
Zendesk isn't reinventing their product with the new Zendesk AI for Agents releases. It's the same Agent Workspace we already know, but with some ✨ magic fairy dust 🪄 sprinkled here and there to surface additional context to agents, or make their life easier. It's subtle, but the added features do offer a lot of small benefits that, combined, do save agents a lot of time per ticket in the aggregate.
Generative AI for Agents (EAP)
We already got a preview of this one at Relate last April, but it's still a rock solid, addition to your agents' toolkit.
The Generative AI features allows agents to Expand or Tone Shift their comments before sending it to the customer. Or in other words, it takes an existing comment and rewrites it with additional context from the conversation, or changes the tone to be more serious or friendly with the click of a button.
I've been using this one for a while now, and it literally changes how I reply to the easy questions:
1. Use a macro that says "Hey, thanks for your email, to get your issue sorted..." and puts the ticket on pending/solved
2. Open the Knowledge Panel via
3. Select the right article and paste the URL into the comment
4. Select a useful paragraph and append it to the comment via the ... dropdown
5. Press Expand in the Enhance Writing menu in the comment field
And boom, my badly copy-pasted job of a reply turns into a nicely formatted email with context and the right sentiment. Time to reply: seconds. (It also works nicely to turn my terrible French replies into good ones 😇)
Similar Tickets (EAP)
The next release is a new feature for the Intelligence panel. We already got contextual information like sentiment, intent, language. The summary block offers anyone who looks at the ticket a short overview of the conversation. And the suggested macros offer the right macros for the ticket.
New this time is an additional tab that surfaces Similar Tickets to the agents. It reminds me of the Related Tickets app of old, but this new feature is powered by the new Intent engine and doesn't only rely on keywords or matched phrases like the old one does.
So whenever an agent gets a ticket routed to them, the Intelligence Panel will now surface related solved or closed tickets for them. They can check out how the issue was resolved there, maybe copy over some troubleshooting steps, and get to a resolution quicker.
This combined with the Macro Suggestions for Admins will make solving and surfacing recurring issues a lot easier!
Generative AI for Voice
To conclude the Agent section of the announcement, Zendesk Voice (Talk?) also got some love. Scheduled for November, Zendesk will generate a transcript and summary and intent/sentiment analysis of every phone call (if you've got recordings enabled)
I assume this is powered by Whisper, and will make it a lot easier to escalate incoming conversations to second line, or to capture the nuances of a phone conversation in a ticket.
Kinda makes me wish for a Zendesk Voicemail that turns voicemails messages into written tickets and drops the entire Talk to someone in real time part of a phone call 😅.
Bots and Automation
Scale self-service with less effort and create more natural conversations
The core of Zendesk's self-service and ticket deflection strategy has always been your Help Center articles . Even before Zendesk AI it powered your Help Center, they got included in Answer Bot as articles offered to the customer in response to a email or chat conversation, and they show up in the Knowledge Panel right next to tickets in the Agent workspace.
So the logical next step is to use that treasure trove of knowledge and apply it to your bot conversations. Instead of just offering the customer a list of articles based on their inquiry, Zendesk will now leverage your content to have an actual bot converse with your customers and offer them replies, just like your agents would.
Generative Replies for Bots (EAP)
To refer back to the Zuckerberg quote at the top of this article: the main difference between this bot and eg ChatGPT is that this bot generates answers based on your Help Center content, and no external resources.
The new generated answers are available whenever you have no custom build Zendesk Bot flow, or when you map specific intents to the Generate Answers flow. So whenever the customer asks a question that you don't handle explicitly in a real flow, the bot will step in and offer an article summary in response. This way you don't need to build a custom flow for every intent, but can still give special attention to your most important flows.
By using generative AI, the Zendesk Bot now allows for a more human like conversation experience with the additional benefit that it can quote that specific paragraph of information to your customers, instead of just returning a long article.
The replies of the bot are usually a short (~100 words) long summary of the article with a link to the entire article. The answer is always followed up by a 'was this helpful - yes/no step.
Bot Persona (EAP)
Alongside the new Generative Bot answers, Zendesk also introduced Bot persona. This feature allows you to tweak the tone of voice of your bot to align with your company. You can have a professional, friendly or casual voice for the generated replies. This not only allows you to make sure the bot sounds like your company, but is also consistently applied to all automated messages generated by Zendesk within the bot.
Intent Suggestions for Bots
And finally, the last big Zendesk Bot related release is a new dashboard in the Admin Center that shows you an overview of the Intents triggered by customers. For each intent you can see the parent category, the frequency its been triggers, and the ability to map each intent to a specific custom build Answer, o the new Generated Answers via Zendesk AI.
Since this new screen is available for a few days now I've already explored it a bit and this seems like a very useful tool to use for a weekly or monthly review. Just open this view, filter to only see Intents that have been triggers a lot without an assigned answer, and then make sure to either map to the right answer or create a new one. And then also go over the top 20 intents and make sure they are all still mapped correctly. In other words, this offers an easy way to keep your intents and answers up to date, and make sure the most popular requests get mapped and routed correctly.
Zendesk AI for Admins
Drive intelligent workflows based on your business needs
Although Zendesk reorganised their product in to "Meaningful connections", "Scalable service offerings", "Flexible change" as the three main pillars, I always like to think of the product as customer-agent-company. Customer is omnichannel, proactive bots, self service,... Agent is the Agent workspace, providing context, make work easier, and Company means insights, processes and integrations.
It might be an old way of thinking but for me it structures the way I build a Zendesk instance and "see" a ticket move from customer all the way to reporting.
So where the first two parts of the announcement where focussed on Customers and Agents, this third one is focussed on the backend: admins and team leaders.
AI for the Knowledge base
The Zendesk Help Center got a big upgrade already this summer with the introduction of Semantic Search, replacing the old search engine with a more modern (and better working) version.
Today's update doesn't focus on the end-user experience however, but introduces Zendesk AI into the article editor.
Similar to how agents can expand and tone-shift their comments, Zendesk Guide got that same fairy dust 🪄 and you can now select articles or paragraphs and rewrite them with AI. Or you can turn a bullet list of topics into a cohesive and well written article.
I'm still waiting for the next penny to drop however: take the content agent write and turn them into full Help Center article suggestions, similar to how the Macro suggestions now work. Not today, but maybe the next AI drop?
And finally, to conclude the Zendesk AI section of the presentation, Zendesk announced some powerful new additions to the Intelligent Triage and intents feature with an upcoming ability to edit or translate the predefined list of intents to better match the language and terms used in your company.
Zendesk also previewed the availability of custom intents and custom intent models in the future, so there's more to come in the future.
Zendesk AI for HR and IT
Zendesk isn't just for customers. With the new Intents for HR and IT companies can leverage Zendesk AI to make sure employee questions are routed to the right team. This can be combined with existing features like Private Groups to make sure that sensitive tickets are one visible to a select group of people.
Advanced Data Privacy & Protection
Safe. Secure. Responsible
Leading the way with new AI trust and privacy standards
At Relate 2023 Zendesk had this awesome quote on their slides. And now, half a year later, that concept is turned into a new SKU in their line-up: the Zendesk Advanced Data Privacy & Protection Add-On.
This add-ons makes a lot of security features available to companies that every company should have, but not every company needs.
It offers solutions for four elements: Automate what data you show and keep, identify and prevent risks, choose how you encrypt data, responsible AI.
Existing Zendesk Enterprise users already have access to an Audit log that keeps track of changes in their instance. This new Access Log feature expands that idea with a list of which agent viewed which data in the instance.
Data retention policies
Soon every Zendesk customer will get access to an automated deletion feature for unused data. The default version will have a few parameters to tweak the deletion behaviour. Users who buy the add-on will get a very granular way of managing their deletion and retention policies.
Easily remove personally identifiable information (PII) like email, name, and bank number from customer conversations automatically and in bulk, expanding the existing credit card-only redaction feature available in Zendesk Suite Growth or higher.
Filter sensitive data in Zendesk by hiding it from (specific) agents. For example: not every employee needs to see a customers' data of birth or email address to resolve inquiries.
This is a big one. Some companies require, for policy or regulatory reasons the ability to encrypt their Zendesk instance with a key that only they control. If you fall into this category: this add-on is for you!
This was quite the event, and I really hope I can one day visit one in person. Was I there only one who had very strong Apple Keynote vibes from this event?
In April I was a bit skeptical about paying 50$ per agent per month for Advanced AI. The features released were cool, especially on the Agent Workspace side with the expand and intent triage options, but the self service side felt a bit lean to me since it only added automated intent mapping.
Now, half a year later, this event feels like an Act II that adds a lot of missing pieces and makes the entire idea of an AI add-on worth while. The automated intent mapping combined with Generative AI makes it possible to empower an entire new Zendesk Bot experience that will change the way customers interact with your Self Service offerings.
As always, there's still stuff I'd like to have seen like automated replies via email, an API endpoint for developers or custom intents, but that's for a next time!
From a production standpoint, I really like these new Zendesk events. They're fast paced, high production quality and interesting to watch.
Zendesk itself has really picked up the pace in adding new features to their product. This blog, if you allow for some self promotion, is a testament of that. My Monthly Roundups are often quite long articles, and the Zendesk release notes often give inspiration for weeks of content.
So, what's next? For me it's getting access to the new features and EAPs and start testing them out.
See you at Relate in Vegas next spring?
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