As Zendesk’s customer base and product offerings have grown, so has its community. The Zendesk community started in 2008, under the support organization, as a space for people to ask and answer questions about using the product. Since then, it has shifted departments multiple times, leading to changes in KPIs and core purpose.
Nicole Saunders, the company’s director of community, joins the show to explain how she has navigated these challenges. Tune in for her approach on thoughtfully managing change and expectations within your community and inside of your organization.
Patrick and Nicole also discuss:
- Why the comments are open on Zendesk’s knowledge base articles
- You can’t tell people to contact support in Zendesk’s community
- Handing some conversations in the community off to other teams
Going from scrappy to resourced as your community team grows and develops (04:36): “[While community was part of the support organization,] we were functioning very scrappy, very much like a startup team within a larger organization. … Being within [the] integrated marketing organization let us connect to a lot more pieces and parts of the business, which as we built our strategy became increasingly important.” –@NicoleinMadison
Participate in the community you serve (14:20): “I’m always encouraging my team to [step] out of the ticket queue on a regular basis … and just wander around [the community] and try to have that same experience as the end users to make sure we’re not missing anything, make sure that the queue isn’t keeping us in just a transactional space.” –@NicoleinMadison
Why you can’t tell people to contact support in the Zendesk community (24:58): “We were getting a lot of people that were just saying, ‘You should contact support for this,’ and what it was doing was discouraging other users from jumping in and trying to help. A lot of these were questions that people could answer for one another, and … it was short-circuiting the community conversation.” –@NicoleinMadison
The knowledge and value that community can offer (26:17): “You’re going to gain so much more out of talking to somebody [in the community] who has done what you are trying to do, than someone who knows what functionality you should use to try to do it. Even the best support agent in the world probably hasn’t done exactly the thing that you’re trying to do. There’s actually a real benefit to talking to other users.” –@NicoleinMadison
About Nicole Saunders
In over 12 years as a community professional, Nicole Saunders‘ experience has ranged from consulting to launching communities for startups to currently leading the community team at Zendesk. She’s built communities across forums, social media, and offline. Her background also includes social media management, event production, communications, and freelance writing.
Passionate about building community both in her work and in life, Nicole engages in several volunteer efforts, including mentoring for the Wisconsin Women’s Network, singing with the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison, and teaching dance fitness classes.
- Nicole Saunders on LinkedIn
- Zendesk community
- Zendesk knowledge base
- Zendesk’s community code of conduct
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. Our guest is Nicole Saunders, director of community for Zendesk. We’re discussing community being passed from department to department, leaving comments open in your knowledge base, and not allowing community members to tell people to contact support.
Thank you to Serena Snoad, Jenny Weigle, and Jules Standen, who are among our Patreon supporters. To learn more, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle. I also wanted to recognize Community Signal’s producer, Karn Broad, who recently passed seven years in that role. His work is felt throughout the program and deeply appreciate it. Thank you for all your efforts, Karn.
In over 12 years as a community professional, Nicole Saunders’ experience has ranged from consulting to launching communities for startups to currently leading the community team at Zendesk. She’s built communities across forums, social media, and offline. Her background also includes social media management, event production, communications, and freelance writing. Passionate about building community both in her work and in life, Nicole engages in several volunteer efforts, including mentoring for the Wisconsin Women’s Network, singing with the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison, and teaching dance fitness classes.
Nicole, welcome to the show.
[00:01:21] Nicole Saunders: Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.
[00:01:23] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. You’ve been at Zendesk for over five and a half years, all in community, from manager to senior manager to director, and in that time, you’ve been in at least three departments. You started within support and moved over to communications, and after a VP in that department left, you moved to a field experiences team that was created during COVID. On top of all that, you reported the SVP of Integrated Marketing, which sounds like its own thing also. I’d love for you to talk about that shuffling of departments and the challenges that it’s represented for you as a professional.
[00:01:54] Nicole Saunders: Yes. No, it has been a really interesting ride and I’ve gotten to learn and experience a lot of different things in my community time at Zendesk. When I joined the company, we were in the support department, basically on what was a newly-formed self-service support team. The way that Zendesk’s community product is structured, it is tied in with the knowledge base. The community had been launched early in 2008, I believe, when the product had launched, so had been around for a while. I joined the company in 2016, I guess early 2017. I interviewed in 2016, and so I was coming into something that had been around for eight years, living in the support space.
When I got there, my job was literally to make sure questions got answered in the Q&A discussion topic in the community and they had four communities at that point in time, one for each product, so I worked for those first couple years really on some of those foundational pieces. We started with just basics of how can we reduce response time. How can we make sure we’re getting better answers in there? Everything like that.
It became clear pretty quickly that having separate communities for each product didn’t make a ton of sense. If customers were using multiple products, they had to log into different websites depending on which thing they were asking a question about. The next thing we did is went ahead and merged those all together and did some things there, so we continued working a lot in the support space and how we could operationalize things there.
I eventually took over strategy for all aspects of the Q&A, not just the support piece, so that included product feedback as well as best practices discussion, that kind of thing. At that point was when I really started applying a broader community strategy lens to it, less just about serving a public ticket system and much more about how do we integrate this across the business. How do we really work truly cross-functionally?
Of course, when COVID happened, like so many companies, we decided to really double down on the community experience, recognizing that it was an important way to connect with our customers digitally when that was all we could do. I had been working for about a year on a cross-functional project with the marketing team around how could we refresh our community experience and bring together…There were other little communities that had popped up around the company and it was really clear that we needed to unify all of this.
Marketing was attacking it very much from a branding angle of how do we make sense of this whole ecosystem. I came in and said, “Hey, let’s take this one step further and actually connect them. Let’s build a hub page that links to all of these things so it’s easy for people to find it.” When COVID came about and we had to bring on that cross-functional project, it just seemed to really make sense at that point to move our team from the support organization over to marketing.
There are a couple of reasons behind that. One is, support is traditionally seen as a cost center and so there weren’t a ton of resources for community. We were functioning very scrappy, very much like a start-up team within a larger organization. Moving over to marketing allowed us to resource a little bit better as far as bringing in more of how do we brand this? How do we connect all these dots? How do we make this all work together? Being within that integrated marketing organization let us connect to a lot more pieces and parts of the business, which as we built out our strategy became increasingly important. It was just a really logical move. It was funny because we had started, as you mentioned, over on the communications team. That was the team that we had been working with on that one project. That VP got a great opportunity not long after we moved over to marketing. They departed and there was some reshuffling of all of the teams where there was a VP that had some time and energy to spend with us, being new to the marketing organization, was actually the person that had been originally in charge of global events.
Being on an events team seems like a weird spot for a community team to sit but we were doing a lot of community events and webinars and things like that with our community members so it made a lot of sense. Then that has evolved over time to be a little bit more engaged with the broader integrated marketing team. We are really just trying to be threaded through every part of the business at this point. We’re pretty pleased with where we’ve landed so far.
[00:05:53] Patrick O’Keefe: People listening to that are going to believe that everything that has happened for you at Zendesk has been great and that everything was very smooth, and that as a professional, you never faced any challenge. I’m not saying that’s not the case, and maybe that’s the case at Zendesk and you’re one of the fortunate and if so, that’s wonderful. I would be remiss if I didn’t poke at the idea that I’ve been in roles where I had multiple bosses within a short period of time, shuffled into different teams, had people change how they viewed the value of community, and had that work against me.
I once had three different key metrics within the period of 12 months, which ultimately was toxic, kind of, and really because we would drive toward one. Then as we were driving toward one, we would get sent a new GPS coordinate and then be judged on that in the short term. That was a frustrating thing in that role. Maybe things are awesome, maybe everything was great and perfect, but were there any challenges that you’d call out just as an individual, as a person, as a professional working in community that stand out to you?
[00:06:52] Nicole Saunders: No, it’s all perfect.
[00:06:53] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
[00:06:53] Nicole Saunders: [laughs]
[00:06:54] Patrick O’Keefe: All right.
[00:06:55] Nicole Saunders: No. No. there’s definitely been some big challenges. The point that you made about having different KPIs and the goal post moving, that was a huge thing. When we moved from support over to marketing, marketing measures things in a really different way than a support organization. Looking at just like, oh, how many questions are we getting and how many of them are getting answered by other users? Marketing wanted to know things like how much is participating in the community impacting customers’ satisfaction and retention. How much is this helping us expand our brand presence?
One of the most, I think, significant things, and we’re still working on this two years later, we moved the community team from support to marketing. How do you move the community itself from being a support community to being something broader? That is a huge cultural change, especially for community. It’s been around for 15 years. We are really looking at what are those different KPIs. What are going to be the most meaningful metrics? How do we retain the core of what has brought our community together to date, which is that support motion, but then build upon it in a way that starts to support more initiatives than just case deflection? Those have been really big challenges.
I think I’ve spent a lot of time going around to other teams and talking about what the community is and what it isn’t and what it does. There are a lot of misconceptions. For example, people assuming that, oh, only your SMB customers are going to be in the community because all of your bigger accounts have account reps and other resources they can participate in, but we actually see some of our larger accounts do participate in the community, do engage in that space, and find value there. We really needed to go around and socialize that with all of the teams across the company and help them to understand what our role is and what we do.
[00:08:48] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned the knowledge base before, and Zendesk has an extensive knowledge base of articles that cover the product and all aspects of the product. If you had to take a guess at the total number of knowledge-based articles, where would you ballpark that?
[00:09:01] Nicole Saunders: Oh boy. We actually did a big cleanup effort about a year ago to remove anything that was out of date or thin articles that weren’t getting a lot of views and things like that. I don’t know exactly, but I would guess we’re around 10,000 articles in that knowledge base. It’s pretty extensive.
[00:09:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. The reason I ask that isn’t to have a specific number but to highlight the fact that before the show, you mentioned to me that the comments on these knowledge-based articles are open and that the community team manages those conversations, “The same way we manage conversations in the community.” What’s the motivation behind keeping that channel open to comments?
[00:09:38] Nicole Saunders: Gosh, I love this conversation topic because it’s something that we’re really in the thick of evaluating right now. We’ve always had those comments on articles, and the original idea was that users would be able to let us know, “Hey, there’s a link broken,” or, “Hey, this article might be a little bit more clear if you included an image,” or something like that. Very quickly, what started happening is users providing product feedback and asking questions and these are a lot of activities that you would normally want to have happen in your community, but what we came to realize was that it’s very low customer effort.
When customers are able to read an article and ask something right there, rather than needing to go over to the community and search and find things, it makes it a lot easier for them to engage and interact, and what we’ve heard from customers is, “Oh, sometimes I have a question when I’m reading an article, and then I scan through the comments and I find the answer right there. Somebody else has asked that question, somebody else has already answered it.”
That’s the positive. It’s great having those comments on, having people be able to engage in that space, it’s good low-effort. It does present some unique challenges though. I would say about half of the engagement that we manage as a community team is actually happening in the knowledge-base articles. As a little bit different environment a little bit different functionality than our community.
Now, Zendesk Guide and Gather, Guide is the knowledge-based product, and Gather is the community product, are the two halves that make up the Help Center. I think it’s an interesting thing that we’re doing bringing these together where you have one account for both spaces, so your avatar, your badges, your stats carry across both spaces. It is challenging sometimes from a community strategy standpoint of having these things so spread out instead of driving everybody to one place.
I often use the metaphor of a party and being a party host when we think about community management, and I always joke, you wouldn’t have a party and be like, “Okay, our first guest is going to the kitchen, and the next one is going to go in the back bedroom,” right? No, you put everybody in the living room and you start opening up other spaces when it gets too full. Here we have a party where we have people in every room of the house, and they’re all full, so it’s an interesting challenge.
I like the way that we are thinking about what reduces customer effort, what puts the information they need right there on the articles, but we are starting to do some of the scaling challenges. What happens when you don’t have everybody going just into one place in the community and how do you scale that as a team, and how do you scale it in a way that, we end up with these really long comment threads? How do we manage you can clean those up? We don’t have answers yet. We’re still evaluating it. It’s a little bit different about our Help Center experience, but a lot of organizations do.
I know you said you’re thinking about it, but right now, tactically speaking, how do you monitor those conversations assigned and respond to them? How do you process that just on a ground level this person does x spaces?
[00:12:54] Nicole Saunders: We have an integration between our Help Center and the Zendesk ticketing systems. My team is actually able to work out of a ticket queue, you add a new ticket every time there is a new conversation created, or if somebody posts a comment in a thread that’s been quiet for a while. Basically, we think of it as each ticket represents a conversation, whether that’s a top-level conversation or reopening of an older conversation so new topic.
We’ve got two community managers who triage this multiple times a day. We say a lot of times in our community, our community managers read everything and they really do, they would get every single thing that comes in every day and then we’re able to leverage that ticketing system to determine, hey, this is where we need to draw in a product manager. This is where we need to bring in maybe one of our support agents because this isn’t a question that the end users are going to be able to answer for one another.
We have a Slack instance where we engage with our community moderators, which are our super users in the community space, and so we’ll send some questions over there. We use that ticketing system to label everything and say, “Okay, well, this is the action we’re taking and this is who we’re trying to bring into this conversation. This is what happened with this conversation.” It’s been a really powerful tool for us to be able to monitor and review all of those things.
[00:14:04] Patrick O’Keefe: It makes a lot of sense that Zendesk would use a ticketing system.
[00:14:09] Nicole Saunders: There’s pros and cons to it. I will say that one of the things about working out of a ticket queue is I think it does keep us a little bit more in that mindset of support community and support-type engagements in the community. One thing I’m always encouraging my team to do is make sure that they’re stepping out of the ticket queue on a regular basis to and going into the front end of the community and just wandering around and trying to have that same experience as the end users to make sure we’re not missing anything, make sure that the queue isn’t keeping us too much in just a transactional space, but that we are also going out and being more conversational and focusing more on the engagement of the other half of our work too.
[00:14:42] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned putting yourself in the support community mindset before you talked about shifting departments and how you could go from support KPIs and supporting the support, or to marketing integrated marketing, digital experiences, et cetera, and having different KPIs. Has that triggered any difference in the conversations that, I want to say you are seeing or you want to see in the online community.
I know you talked about events, but in the online community itself, a support community, obviously, oftentimes very Q&A, I have this problem, sometimes people stick around, answer the question. Our community team support teams monitored for unanswered questions, answer the question, on and on, and on. With the digital experiences team, marketing team, however, you want to view that, are the conversations changing at all? Would you like them to change, or are they going to be very similar?
[00:15:30] Nicole Saunders: I love those questions, this is what I’m thinking about most of the time. The answer is that we would like the conversations to shift a little bit. We never want to lose that core of support. The Q&A, that aspect will always be there, and we’re always going to hope that our customers are offering each other great support, and we’re always going to be bringing in our own experts into the space to help with those technical questions or the break fixes.
Our community also has always been really great at things like customizations or how do you build a report, and putting those recipes together, and that kind of thing. One of the things that we would like to lean into more and where we’re really –– I mentioned that challenge of like, how do you shift the culture and the direction a little bit, of a really established, really mature community? We’re hoping to get more into things like best practices, and not just talking specifically about the product, but talking about the challenges of customer service organizations.
It may integrate with the products and bring that into the conversation but helping people solve not only their product challenges but some of their business challenges. I think that’s one piece of it. The other one I think is just bringing more conversation into this space. Being a support community, it has tended to be a little bit on the transactional side of, “Hi, I have a question, here’s an answer. Cool,” end of conversation. We would really like to help our users recognize the opportunity that they have in our space to be more in-depth, have more of a round table discussion, get multiple perspectives on a way to solve a problem.
Now, typically with our product, there probably is just one or two possible solutions, but when you start getting into some of those broader business challenges, you’re able to bring in a little bit broader ideas and different approaches and that kind of thing. That’s the direction that we’re trying to head in. I think that there are a few functional things about the way our community is set up that we need to shift to encourage that kind of conversation, and then there are some broader cultural things. We’ve really been focusing on building up our community programs arm, as a way to start to shift the way that our customers relate to each other.
[00:17:32] Patrick O’Keefe: This probably relates to what I’m going to talk about now, which is something you mentioned in our pre-show chat, which is, you said that you are working on, “shifting the community team itself from being the people who do all the work to being the team that enables others across the company and the community membership to do a lot of work. We’re finding we’re having success, where we’re bringing other teams, and not just asking them to help, but training them and supporting them, and taking a lot of the execution and interactions. It’s a big mindset change for the team though, and not always the most comfortable one.” What sort of discomfort are you seeing?
[00:18:03] Nicole Saunders: For example, the two community managers that we have on the team right now are both very long-time employees. One of them has been with us 11 years, one of them has been with us seven years. They’ve both been on my team for a couple of years.
[00:18:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Both people you inherited, it sounds like.
[00:18:15] Nicole Saunders: They were people that I hired from other roles internally.
[00:18:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you.
[00:18:19] Nicole Saunders: They both started out early in their careers at Zendesk as support agents and so they tend to still approach a lot of things from that support agent lens. On the one hand, it’s excellent because they have so much technical knowledge, they are so well networked internally, they know who to bring into conversations and how to solve those challenges. On the other hand, between that and working out of a ticket queue, I think it’s very easy to just fall back into our habits of being support agents and approaching everything from that lens.
I think one part of it, is helping everybody shift their mindset, and shift the way that they’re approaching things, and that’s just one branch of our community team, but it’s a microcosm of it. I think a lot of this has to do with how the community industry is maturing too and helping people understand that there are different ways to divide up the labor of community management.
The other piece of it is, I mentioned that when we started out, we were a little startup team within a company. We were pretty self-contained. We did a lot of very scrappy things ourselves. As we have matured, as we have grown, as we have leveled up our program, it’s really come to be one of those things where we can’t just do everything ourselves. We used to go into Canva and make our own artwork to use for our marketing campaigns or to promote something. Now it’s really important that we actually engage our brand team and creative team, and bring them into it, and help them understand everything that we need.
One of the things that we’re looking at, for example, I’ve got a community event specialist who built our community event program from the ground up. He has run every event we have ever executed. It’s awesome, but now we’re starting to figure out, okay, we can only do so many events every month with the team that we have. If the community needs or wants more events, how can we start to enable some of the other teams across the company to do this?
One of the things that has been really popular has been bringing in our product managers to do roundtable discussions. One of the things that we’re really working on is how can we teach them how to do these events where we can have a little bit lighter touch on it and the product teams can have a little bit more engagement with it so that we can offer more of these. The only way that we can do things at scale is if we really start to focus on enabling other teams to support these things because we’re not going to be able to hire out, continue building headcount just within the community team.
The other thing I love about this approach though is not just being able to scale, but it’s also that it really engages the rest of the company in the community. It helps a lot more people get into the space, understand it, have it be something that is valuable if not indispensable to them and their programs. That I think is where we have matured the most and where we’re starting to see the most success.
Another program we did this year is working with our customer marketing team on our brand advocacy and connecting that with some of our community programs and supporting that. That has been a great collaborative project as well. All of these things are really helping raise the profile of community across the organization and help everybody understand just how powerful this program can be.
[00:21:18] Patrick O’Keefe: You hit on something that I wanted to dig into there which is that I imagine that the best conversations those other teams have in the community where they are the most motivated to jump in are the ones where something about it will benefit their team or the work they are doing or the goals that they have. That just makes sense logically.
What is an interaction, as an example or two, that you’ve been able to successfully hand off to another team that occurs in the community, that the other team is like, oh, that matches really well with what we need, what we’re doing, what we know? It makes perfect sense for us to step in there and take those as opposed to a member of your team, the community team.
[00:21:55] Nicole Saunders: One thing that’s really happened over the last couple of years that’s been great is we have shifted developer support to be almost entirely in the community. There’s been a whole developer support team that has been built out within the support organization. What they used to do is focus on building content and fielding tickets from developers, but then the developer questions in the community, what would happen is we would try to engage them and we would go on Slack and engage with the developer support team and then come back over to the community and we were playing the game of telephone a lot.
We worked with the support organization and eventually had it got set up where the developer support team works directly in the community and they engage with people right there and they’re able to make those connections. That’s been a really effective way that we’ve been offering better support, better engagement for our developers, and also, that developer support team now has a broader scope than just sitting behind the scenes and advising everybody. They’re actually engaged with it.
I think another really obvious one is product feedback. We’ve always had a product feedback feature request space in the community and that used to be something where we looked at those conversations and we packaged it all up and fed it over to the voice of the customer team, and the voice of the customer team synthesized it and fed it over to the products team, and then eventually, a roadmap would come out and things that the community asked for might be on there or might not. What we’ve been doing is trying to, again, play less of that game of telephone and processing things and actually bringing our product managers directly into the community.
It benefits them to engage with customers and be able to ask us follow-up questions. They used to come to us and say, “Can you ask them about this?” We were like, “You could ask them about that. Why don’t we teach you?” There was a lot of fear at first. A lot of people are afraid of having those very public conversations. That’s why we really realized it was our job to teach people here’s how to respond in the community. Here’s how to be empathetic, here’s what to say, here’s what to avoid saying. We don’t either inflame people or get into legal gray areas or anything like that, especially when you’re dealing with roadmaps. That’s been a really beautiful team.
First, we started bringing the product managers in, and then as the company matured, a product operations team was spun up, and now they’re even taking on some of the additional work around some of the reporting and accountability work that we were doing for the product teams. It’s really great to see that and it’s really great to see so many people that have a stake in making the community successful because at the end of the day, that’s what makes community successful is having a lot of different people that are all working together on making it a great space that functions for everybody.
[00:24:28] Patrick O’Keefe: I was reading through your community guidelines and I wanted to ask you about one of them because I like to talk about specific community guidelines.
[00:24:34] Nicole Saunders: All right. Let’s do it.
[00:24:35] Patrick O’Keefe: What the motivation is there. There’s one, “Do not advise other community members to contact Zendesk support unless they’re posting about a bug or billing issue.” Can you talk about the intention there?
[00:24:47] Nicole Saunders: Yes. I think a lot of those guidelines came out of things that we were seeing in the community. There are so many things you don’t know that you need a rule for until somebody does something you don’t want them to do and then you really need to add it. We were getting a lot of people that were just saying, “Oh, you should just contact support for this. Oh, you should just contact support for that,” and what it was doing is it was discouraging other users from jumping in and trying to help.
A lot of these were questions that people could answer for one another, and when everybody was just recommending, oh, we should go email support or just call support, it was short-circuiting the community conversation. That was the primary reason that we were seeing that. The other one, of course, is that a big role of the community is to offer self-service support and try to, we don’t like using deflection so much, we like talking about intercepting tickets. Obviously, the peer-to-peer support link, that’s one of the good benefits to the support organization is users can go there and help each other instead of going and talking to a support agent.
Because at a certain point, you can’t scale your support organization so that every single user in the entire world can get through to a support agent immediately. It’s just not something that is feasible once you get into an enterprise-level environment. I personally think the support the community members offer each other is really, really important.
There’s I think a tendency and a reflex to just pick up that phone and call the support organization or fire off that email, or jump in that chat window. Here’s the thing, you’re going to gain so much more out of talking to somebody who’s done what you are trying to do, than someone who knows what functionality you should use to try to do it. Even the best support agent in the world probably hasn’t done exactly the thing that you’re trying to do. There’s actually a real benefit to talking to other users. We put that in that guideline to really encourage people to try to talk to each other in the community and not just fire everything back over to the support agents, kind of defeats the purpose of the community itself.
[00:26:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I like to point to guidelines that I think the average person might read and say, “Wow, that sounds harsh,” but that I think are coming from a place of experience. When I started, there’s the phpBB forum software, once upon a time, the most popular forum software in the world, not the case anymore, but very popular, tons of users.
I ran an unofficial resource or phpBB called phpBBHacks.com for over a decade. One of the things that bothered me about phpBB.com among many things was just how consistently people were told to search all the time, were told to search, and they would lock a lot of topics. I understood it from their perspective because there was a lot of volume in that community. I understood it, but I didn’t like it.
When I started this community, I added a guideline that said don’t tell people to search, and we enforced it. When people would tell folks, “Use this search function. Go to this website. Go search,” we would stop them and we would not let them do it because ultimately, for those same reasons that you mentioned, it was a poor experience. It’s best that people receive help in the moment, link them to where they need to go, don’t tell them to search was basically our overall strategy.
If you’re listening to this and you hear any baby sounds in the background, that’s just my baby, Patrick, who’s joining me for some podcasts these days and is overall a very good boy. He’s a good boy now, but often has something to say, so please, disregard that. Long story short, I love guidelines like that. That makes a lot of sense.
[00:28:08] Nicole Saunders: It’s an interesting challenge, right? There are so many things that we as community managers, we’re like, “Oh, this would work so well if everybody just used it this way.” I think that there has to be a constant conversation with your community on, “Hey look, this is the way that this works best operationally, but we need to balance that with what works best for you all.” That ties back to what you were talking about with the knowledge base comments earlier where operationally, would be a lot easier for us to just not have comments on the articles, and push everyone into the community and just have one system that we use, but we’re trying to also be really conscientious of what is going to be that best customer experience.
Then you have to weigh all the different factors of that experience. Is it a bigger pain to be told to behave differently versus, well, what if doing that different behavior gets to an answer faster? Which thing is more important? Those are the things that we’re constantly looking for feedback on and talking to our teams about.
[00:29:02] Patrick O’Keefe: What I’d like to close on was one of the challenges that you were thinking about right now, which is to quote you, “How to really build the infrastructure and operations of an enterprise community team so that you can scale without losing the integrity in the organic core of what brought people in the community in the first place.”
What do you think the biggest threats to that will be? I’m sure you see a trend here. I asked you about discomfort, I asked you about challenge, I asked you about threat. What do you think the biggest threats will be to maintaining that integrity and organic core as you grow?
[00:29:34] Nicole Saunders: That’s a good question, Patrick. Boy, you are good at challenging in your questions, but that’s where the interesting thing is, that’s where we all learn. I think there’s a couple of things. I think one of them is that there’s a big trend, especially in support right now, around leveraging bots and AI, and it’s certainly something that Zendesk is leaning into.
We’ve been building out our AI technology a lot because it’s required to scale and to do things at that level. At the same time, the whole point of a community is that you’re not talking to a bot. We’re not just throwing macros in there and we’re not just evaluating the community activity based on these high-level numbers, but we’re actually looking at those individual interactions.
I think finding ways to do both, to lean into AI and machine learning and all of the things that can really help you optimize your support at scale, while still making sure that you’re having organic and authentic conversations in the community, that’s a really interesting balance to be striking, especially when we’re thinking about things like how do we have the bot direct people to the right spots in the community for non-bot conversations? How do you make that experience one that doesn’t feel bumpy and doesn’t have a lot of friction, but actually works really well?
That’s one part of it. I think the other one is just coming back to community data. Every community team, I have talked to struggles with having access to data and understanding what are the right things to measure. I am so, so careful with what data we use and what metrics we speak to because it can have downstream impacts. If somebody comes in and says, “All right, well, how many committee engagements are we getting, and how much are our support agents answering that versus end users?” If we feel like one is too much than the other, you can end up making big changes that really downgrade the community experience because you’re trying to optimize for a certain number or certain metric. I think it’s super important to be really thoughtful about those pieces and what you do with it.
I think those are the biggest things that I’m seeing is really, how do you scale? How do you lean into these technologies that help you scale? How do you still be human about it and how do you still make decisions that are going to really have the individual moments of engagement, keeping those the way that you want them?
[00:31:53] Patrick O’Keefe: I think that we’ve had a good individual interaction here. Nicole, I’d like to thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate you spending some time with us.
[00:32:00] Nicole Saunders: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I love the show, and it’s an honor to be here.
[00:32:03] Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you. Appreciate that. We’ve been talking with Nicole Saunders, director of community at Zendesk. You can find her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/nicoledsaunders and visit the Zendesk community at zendesk.com/zendesk-community.
Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Thanks for listening.
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