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ITechnology Interview with Wendy Johnstone, Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk APAC

ITechnology Interview with Wendy Johnstone, Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk APAC

“Trust is an extremely important factor when it comes to customer relationships and should be the foundation for every CRM-related solution that businesses implement. When organisations respect their customers’ privacy, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.”

Hi Wendy, welcome to the iTechnology Interview Series. Please tell us about your role at Zendesk and how it has evolved during the pandemic?

Thank you. I’m the Chief Operating Officer in the APAC region at Zendesk. In this role I oversee operational excellence across the region, and ensure global and regional alignment for all of Zendesk’s business functions and offices.

The pandemic has taught us the value of agility. We’ve had to embrace emerging trends and shifting demands during this time, and I help to ensure our teams can navigate through these challenges. In this regard there were a couple of key initiatives that became a focus for me – one was the execution of our Digital First Playbook which helped employees embrace a new way of working. The other was identifying and providing support in ways that mattered given the unique and personal impact the pandemic had on everyone.

What has been the biggest challenge for you leading the business during these months? How did you overcome these challenges? Any advice for the business leaders that you would like to share?

Much like our customers, we have also felt the challenges created by the pandemic, especially in the early days. It quickly became obvious that customer demands are changing, and we’re experiencing a new wave of digital transformation across many industries. Speed, simplicity and agility have become key factors in how we overcome these challenges.

Through these shifting timelines and pivots, we have realised that consumers really just want to communicate better with companies and use platforms they are already familiar with. Putting the customer first has never been more important, and business leaders who recognise the importance of CX will place their organisations in the best position to deal with these changes. This was part of the inspiration for our focus on building a conversational CRM.

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CRMs have evolved so much in the last 5 years. Could you point out the most enticing features of a modern-day CRM that make customer support teams more effective?

Messaging has grown faster than any other customer service channel, and will remain the dominant channel for both self-service and more complex conversations for years to come. To enable a seamless experience when it comes to customer service and support, robust modern-day CRMs should be fast, convenient and personalised.

Tell us a little bit about Zendesk Conversational CRM. What are its unique features that empower support teams?

Our approach puts conversations at the centre of everything. We’ve focused on connecting the front line of service to everything it needs to be successful in delivering an exceptional experience. That means access to a full range of intelligent, real-time data and services. Customers want to engage on their terms and preferred channels. And they want these engagements to happen with speed and convenience. 

We unveiled new solutions that align with this approach at the recent Zendesk Relate event, including conversational automation with more sophisticated bots across various messaging apps (Facebook, WhatsApp); omnichannel routing; conversational data orchestration, and analytic tools that drive smarter sales and service. We ultimately want to provide businesses with the ability to staff support teams appropriately, and deal with changes in consumer demand with flexibility and agility.

Automation and system integration features dominate the CRM platforms. Could you please tell us how Zendesk Conversational CRM brings automation workflows to its users?

We’ve integrated automation through our omnichannel routing solutions, which means conversations are automatically routed to the right agent to ensure queries are met appropriately. Our conversational bots also utilise AI-driven automation to ensure queries are dealt with quickly and with a high-level of accuracy, with insights backed by robust data analytics.

What are the benefits of using this type of automation in today’s hybrid world?

We’ve seen how today’s customers are increasingly demanding efficiency in their conversations with businesses. The ability of intelligent automation bots is extremely valuable to improving efficiencies and lowering costs, as they allow for repetitive tasks to be delegated. This means CX agents and employees can better devote their time to tasks that need a human touch, such as those that require higher-order thinking or collaborative effort, and will allow for a higher volume of tickets to be resolved at a much higher efficiency. Our continued investment in AI and automation is in line with our goal to make lives on either side of the conversation better – whether you are a consumer, user, citizen or agent, advocate, salesperson. 

Traditional IT systems pose major challenges to the way CRMs are integrated and upgraded in the modern enterprise technology stack. What kind of IT support does Zendesk provide to its users to seamlessly deploy CRMs within existing IT architecture?

One of the common challenges that we try to solve is the gap in specialised technical knowledge. This can make it hard for businesses to integrate the existing IT architecture, CRMs and seemingly complex AI and automation solutions. We aim to eliminate the complexity and bridge those gaps by offering out-of-the-box solutions that require minimal configuration. We also provide additional and bespoke support to businesses, creating customised solutions that will integrate seamlessly into existing systems, without requiring an overhaul.

What’s your take on data management and data privacy frameworks governing CRM and Conversational experience management platforms?

Trust is an extremely important factor when it comes to customer relationships, and should lay the foundation for every CRM-related solution that businesses implement. When organisations respect their customers’ privacy, it’s a win-win situation for both parties. As such, CRMs and conversational experience management platforms need to be governed by strict ethical policies and transparency, and solutions need to ensure customers’ privacy and data rights are enforced at all times. This builds trust so customers feel assured when sharing important data.

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How do companies deliver meaningful employee experience and user experience in an ever changing hybrid workplace? What has Zendesk learned from its customers in the last 2 years?

We have definitely seen a shift as businesses embrace hybrid work environments that blend remote and in-office work. Employees have new needs and expectations at the workplace. Personalised, data-driven service in a timely manner isn’t just for customers; employee support teams also need an efficient, easy way to transform the way they work with capabilities such as simplified workflows and automation. The best way to provide quality CX and prevent burnout is to provide our own teams with the right support, tools and expertise for them to do their jobs. A data-driven approach equips the CX agent with insights that will allow for more informed decisions – and when we help them do their jobs better, it increases job satisfaction as well.

We’ve also recently shared details on our Employee Experience offering, which helps companies modernise their internal operations in a remote-first environment. By bringing together the Zendesk Suite with service packages led by experts who will set up Zendesk for HR, Finance, Operations, IT and any other teams who are crucial to connecting employees with internal services, we bridge the communication gaps between teams to allow for seamless knowledge sharing, making collaboration between teams more efficient and productive.

Your predictions for the future of CRMs and the role of data analytics/ AI in customer support management:

We believe the future of CRMs – and CX as a whole – will revolve around the development of AI and its integration into conversational CRM. Looking forward, we believe that all customer service will be AI-first by 2025, and eventually AI will automate enough tasks to replace a majority of front line customer interactions by 2030. Business leaders are beginning to recognise the critical role AI technology plays in building customer experiences that will drive bottom-line growth. However, without a smart strategy for AI implementation, businesses won’t just disappoint customers, they will lose revenue. As with each new technology that rewrites the customer service handbook, businesses must be intentional in their approach to AI and commit to it as a long-term investment. 

Also Read: ITechnology Interview with Mathivanan Venkatachalam, Vice President, Product Management at ManageEngine

Thank you, Wendy! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

[To participate in our interview series, please write to us at]

Wendy Johnstone is the Chief Operating Officer for Zendesk APAC, based in Singapore. A business leader with more than 25 years’ experience in the technology sector, Wendy is responsible for driving operational excellence across Asia Pacific and ensuring global and regional alignment for all of Zendesk’s business functions and offices in APAC. With an excellent track record in transformational leadership, driving growth and building high-performing teams, Wendy is driven by putting the customer at the heart of the business and helping them embrace digital transformation.

Zendesk Logo

Zendesk started the customer experience revolution in 2007 by enabling any business around the world to take their customer service online. Today, Zendesk is the champion of great service everywhere for everyone, and powers billions of conversations, connecting more than 100,000 brands with hundreds of millions of customers over telephony, chat, email, messaging, social channels, communities, review sites and help centers. Zendesk products are built with love to be loved. The company was conceived in Copenhagen, Denmark, built and grown in California, taken public in New York City, and today employs more than 6,000 people across the world.

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