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Introducing Textback, born in our hackathon

Von Kate Crane

Zuletzt aktualisiert: August 29, 2017

With Textback, the new feature of Talk, you can now add an option to your IVR system, or phone tree. Callers will be able to choose text support instead of waiting for an agent. For example: “Press 4 to receive a text message.”

It’s simple to use. Customers love SMS support. And it’s beneficial for efficiency: Forrester has found that many businesses see faster ticket resolution in cases handled by text, reporting that the “pervasiveness and familiarity” of texting makes it perfect “to win, serve, and retain customers” who need assistance. Textback lets customers get support in an asynchronous fashion, and when your agents can text knowledge-center links to customers, your ticket-deflection rate could also benefit.

So—texting and phone trees. Not quite as exciting as sliced bread? Actually, we find it pretty thrilling. Textback was born not at someone’s desk, not over a conference call. Rather, it came about through an event that’s at the heart and soul of what we do at Zendesk: our annual hackathon, the Zendevian Cup.

Rewarding cross-team collaboration

For anyone in tech, hackathons are a familiar concept. Coders stock up on Chinese food and hack through the night, for 24 to 48 hours. You might not realize it, but some of the things you might use in your life outside your agent role—Facebook’s Chat and “like” button, for instance—were born in hackathons.

The Zendevian Cup, which debuted in 2014, is fairly atypical as hackathons go. Yes, participants of the annual two-day event (given that the company spans many time zones, it’s closer to three days) definitely work through the night across 10 to 12 offices fueled by snacks of debatable nutritional value. But the company’s engineers have a great deal of company, and their projects encompass more than code, culminating in a short, fun video. Organized interdepartmentally, this 500- to 600-person undertaking encourages cross-functional collaboration and communication and is designed so that anyone can contribute. “You get engineers working with salespeople directly, you have marketing people working with project managers directly,” says Douglas Hanna, general manager, Developer Platform. “When you shift some of the focus from just raw code to more the presentation, you get an event that’s more interesting to a broader audience. I think that’s really valuable.” Teams with more diversity (in terms of team member functions) receive more points.

“I love features that make something less complex but enable deeper usage.”
– Douglas Hanna

Internal innovation—not optional

Innovation matters, on so many fronts. A report from the Brookings institute cites benefits of innovation that include economic growth, higher wages, more affordable personal technology, and even longevity. Despite a good track record of interesting things coming out of the Zendevian Cup, by no means do Zendesk’s primary innovations exclusively come out of it, says Hanna—he guesses the events yield more like 1 percent or less of product ideas. “Good results in terms of products are great to get,” he says, “but the process is potentially more interesting than the results.” Prioritizing process, some experts argue, can pave the way to stellar results. James E. Smith, director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications at West Virginia University says that “innovation is a complex process where invention is an initializing element.” In most situations, says Smith, “invention is a spontaneous part of the process. It’s hardly ever scheduled, but it can be planned for.”

Past results of the Cup include Pathfinder, the product that tracks customer and user movement around a website or a help center. Zendesk’s SMS channel feature also started in the hackathon before being developed into a feature of Zendesk Talk. Both are core products that customers find useful, says Hanna. Someone came up with a morse code transcriber for Zendesk tickets. “We’re never going to ship that, we’re never going to make money from it,” says Hanna, “but it’s a cool thing to do.” Staffers still got together and played with different parts of the product they hadn’t used before; they had a good time and they worked with people they may not have known before. Hanna: “I consider those things successful even if they don’t have direct customer impact at any time in the future.”


A barometer for culture and engagement

Another winning feature of the Zendevian Cup is its power to reflect internal zeitgeist. Hanna calls it a good cultural barometer: “There’s a sense of how engaged people are feeling, how excited they are to take time outside of their normal jobs and do this and be engaged and come up with ideas.” Such information may not be as tangible as a product release, but it’s imperative. A Gallup survey found that only 37 percent of engaged employees are job hunting, compared with 73 percent of employees who are actively disengaged.

Winning in 2017

This year’s cup produced a feature that brings together two different channels for customer support. “Textback takes something that that product needed and comes out with an elevated solution to it,” says Hanna, adding that it’s straightforward for customers both to understand the value from it and likely to be more advanced users of Talk when they’re done with it. “I love features that make something less complex, but enable greater and deeper usage of the product.”

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