Zendesk and the art of Mailchimp’s customer support operations

Image courtesy of Mailchimp and Zendesk

Mailchimp is one of the world’s largest email marketing platforms — it sends billions of emails every month on behalf of its 11 million+ customers, and counts among its users enterprises all across the globe, especially in Small-Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. The 2001-founded US-based startup has bootstrapped its way to US$700 million in revenue last year.

The pandemic-fueled e-commerce and online marketing boom has only increased the engagement of the emails Mailchimp sends — and presumably, also increased its client base. Over 50% of Mailchimp’s customer base is located outside of the United States, and its customers in Asia use the bulk email and audience management features extensively.

Mailchimp uses Zendesk as its customer service platform, and with over 200 agents involved in handling over 35,000 tickets per month, the mechanics of servicing this volume of customers seems like a rather daunting task. We speak to Liz Pastor, VP of Customer Support at Mailchimp and Wendy Johnstone, Chief Operating Officer, Asia Pacific at Zendesk on precisely how the two companies work together in addressing this.

The pandemic period

Mailchimp saw an uptick in support requests since the pandemic began. Much of the increase was related to its investments for small business customers through price discounts, product upgrades, and add-ons. In addition, it provided $10 million worth of services for existing customers who wanted to continue using Mailchimp but needed some financial support.

Mailchimp averaged an 18% increase in tickets from customers from March to May compared to last year. “We’ve since leveled back off to similar volumes received in 2019. The additional volume we saw was customers leaning on us to help meet their marketing needs while so many small businesses were trying to figure out how to take their businesses online,” Pastor says.

The setup

Mailchimp uses a homegrown CRM that accompanies its various instances of Zendesk to manage Mailchimp prospects and customers through email, talk, and chat. Pastor explains: “Multiple instances of Zendesk are managed by various departments, based on these use cases: Customer-facing requests are managed by our tech support, compliance, billing, education team (Webinars, Strat Svs), Sales & Partnerships teams. We also leverage Zendesk to manage internal requests—teams like our IT helpdesk, facilities, and legal teams.”

Zendesk data is aggregated with Google Big Query and Looker to visualize, analyze, and interact with so that Pastor’s team can translate data to insights and insights to better outcomes for its customers.

“Zendesk has provided opportunities to expand our support capabilities and access data needed to drive the business and scalability into new channel offerings for our customers such as phone and chat,” says Pastor.

Customers had requested phone support for many years, and using this channel within Zendesk provided Mailchimp the ability to expand this support channel as a premium product offering. The integration capabilities made the phone channel, workflow, and reporting creation process simple, allowing Mailchimp to focus on training its teams and surfacing the option to its customers in less than six months. 

Removing data silos

The key to successfully implementing great processes and technologies is senior level support, according to Johnstone. Having that in place sets the direction and opens the door to invest in data and analytics. “A data-driven culture that empowers employees to grasp and interpret data benefits the business in the long run. This involves equipping employees with robust skills and technology that allows them to effectively leverage customer data across all parts of the business,” says Johnstone.

“Nothing harms an organization’s potential more than siloed data. Businesses stand to gain a wealth of insight by simply bringing the data together on an open and modern CRM platform so it can be easily accessed and analyzed. For leaders and team managers, integrated dashboards can provide a complete view into customer interactions and operational insights needed to optimise the business in real time.”

The best advice Johnstone has to give to any company faced with siloed information flows is having systems, tools and products built on an open and flexible CRM platform. Doing so enables them to connect and understand customer data in whatever format, wherever it lives, she argues. It also gives them the freedom to customize according to their needs.

“For our customers such as Mailchimp, centralized data and metrics help leaders see trends over time and look at the big picture,” says Johnstone.

Working together

Pastor reveals that Zendesk and the agents using it are central to Mailchimp’s ability to collect, analyze, and share insights with Mailchimp’s product team. “Each and every interaction our team has with a customer provides us with tremendously useful data that helps us better understand what is and isn’t working for our customers, in real time. We are able to see what topics are trending with our customers and get a sense for the level of effort required to complete a task,” says Pastor.

Zendesk data becomes even more powerful when combined with other data sources, according it Pastor, giving them a multi-dimensional view of how users are interacting with the Mailchimp marketing platform and where they may need the most help. Mailchimp has a dedicated team of Support Insights Analysts (SIAs) whose primary objective is to analyze Support data—a great deal of which is Zendesk data—surfacing the most impactful insights and opportunities that will help its users grow their businesses.

Zendesk tickets that require the product team’s attention get turned into Jira tickets, are prioritized by SIAs through data informed decision making, and become a part of the product team workflow.

The SIA team members are members of the Support team, but they’re embedded into the Product ecosystem. In this way, they are not only intimately familiar with customer issues, but can also speak the language of the product strategists and ensure that Mailchimp’s existing customers have a living voice in the product development process every single day.

“None of this would be possible without the work of our passionate Support Agents and Zendesk’s powerful tooling,” reports Pastor.

According to Johnstone, great customer experience (CX) is about how companies engage customers by understanding their needs and behaviour. Regardless of the type of business – e-commerce or not – CX strategy should focus on meeting customers where they are through various touchpoints and designing an easy, seamless experience.

“What I love about technology is its ability to level the playing field. Not only does it support the explosive growth of startups, providing them with scalable solutions to engage customers, it also enables more traditional enterprise companies to transform digitally, helping them to respond and compete with agility. In today’s fast-paced world, a company’s overall CX philosophy is much more important than its age,” concludes Johnstone.