Zendesk Relate Recap – 2024


They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but when it comes to Zendesk’s assortment of new AI-infused features, what started in Vegas will be coming to an instance near you in the very near future.  We sent our Lead Zendesk Architect, Brandon Tidd, out to the show to gather intel, connect with Zendesk customers and staff, and learn more about how best to configure Zendesk’s newest CX enhancements.

Day 1: Viva Las CX!

I’ve been excited for months to be back in person at Zendesk Relate.  From the moment they announced the location, I knew this wasn’t going to be just another user conference.  Walking into the Venetian’s conference center Tuesday morning, the vibe was electric.  Zendesk went all out in preparing the space for 3 days worth of CX content, and even though I arrived early, the Expo Hall was already teeming with activity, and security (the latter may have had something to do with the scheduled Keynote speaker, Michelle Obama).

After grabbing a cup of coffee and saying hi to a few Zendesk friends, we badged into the main theater, where Kelly Waldher, Zendesk’s Chief Marketing Officer, was waiting to introduce us to the world’s most complete CX solution for the AI era.  Leading off with a powerful reminder that “the customer is always human,” Kelly proceeded to outline Zendesk’s take on where CX stands in 2024 and, more importantly, where it’s going thanks to an injection of AI. In the keynote, Zendesk proposed a future where customers don’t have to repeat themselves 562 times; Where100% of interactions invoice AI in some form; Where 80% of interactions will be resolved without a human agent and where NPS and CSAT numbers actually improve because of it.  

According to Tom Eggemeier, Zendesk’s CEO, the prevailing thought is that “when done right, AI will have a dramatic improvement for everyone involved” and that Zendesk is on the forefront of democratizing AI for CX.  After Tom spoke, Zendesk’s SVP of Product & Marketing, Lisa Kant took the stage to introduce AI Agents.  As she put it, “Like everything we build at Zendesk, you don’t need a massive budget or a team of experts.  Our AI Agents work seamlessly with your existing knowledge, no training required.”  She went on to unveil Zendesk’s Patent Pending Agent Copilot, which makes Macros look like childsplay.  

Per the official Early Access Program (EAP) announcement, Agent copilot will proactively use generative AI (powered by OpenAI Enterprise) to suggest & draft replies, as well as other potential actions to the Agent given the context of the ticket.  If the Agent accepts the proposed steps, Agent copilot will go to work on executing the tasks, saving agents time and freeing them up to focus on more meaningful and complex tasks.  Agent copilot’s EAP is available now to anyone who has already enrolled in Zendesk’s Advanced AI add-on, with select customers being tapped to participate starting mid-May.

On the heels of these dramatic announcements, the Zendesk team welcomed Michelle Obama to the main stage to talk about life, her book, and parallels that she noticed between her time at the White House and Customer Experience. The former First Lady shared “The [White House] staff had to find a way, whether they liked the administration or family, to show up every day.  You can’t be a good customer service representative if you don’t believe in the core mission.”  She also shared that it’s been “a while” since she’s personally had to contact customer service.

After the keynotes, it was time for a delicious catered lunch.  I’ve long said if you leave a Zendesk event hungry it’s your fault, and this conference was no exception.  Thankfully, the lunch was prepared by the hard-working event staff at the Venetian, and not AI.  

Tuesday afternoon brought more breakout sessions than any one admin could possibly have time for.  Thankfully, Zendesk does record the sessions and make them available on-demand to conference attendees, so there is no need for FOMO.  The session that I chose to check in on was all about the new AI agents (powered by Zendesk’s recent acquisition of Ultimate.ai).  Speaking in the session were Ultimate’s Co-Founders Reetu Kainulainen and Sarah Al-Hussaini.  Together, they shared their vision of exactly how you can automate 80% of your conversations with AI agents, as well as examples of how customers like Taskrabbit, Stitch Fix and Discover Cars are leveraging AI in their workflows, with Discover Cars clocking in at a mind boggling 96% automation rate.  That translates to 440 Agent hours saved each month!

I wrapped day one by picking up a ‘relatable’ hat at the Zendesk swag shop and then heading out to enjoy our first night in Vegas.  For the first night, I was afforded the opportunity to hang out with other customers in the Zendesk Luminaries program, as well as take in a little Topgolf with Zendesk for Startups, where I serve in an advisory role.  Despite an incredible day of product announcements and engaging content being shared from the main stage, sometimes the best conference conversations are shared over drinks.  

Day 2: SMBs, Sponsors, Sound Baths and Citrus?

Wednesday kicked off bright and early with kickboxing and sound healing wellness classes, as well as conversations over coffee and orange juice.  One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Zendesk is their sensitivity to different dietary needs.  That said, whoever made the decision to label the orange juice vegan had to be doing it ironically, right?  

When I’m not rocking conference swag, one of the other hats that I wear is running the Zendesk SMB User Group. Normally our events are virtual, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to hold an in-person event for conference attendees.  In this 30-minute session, I discussed recent trends in the AI space as it relates to SMBs, including the fact that, according to Aircall, more than half of a support rep’s current work-week is spent on busy work, training and other admin tasks, whereas only 4 hours per week is spent on meaningful customer conversations.  AI is poised to change that, but you’ll have to join the user group to learn more.

After our meetup, I spent some time getting to know the many sponsors and business partners that were in attendance, including several 729 Solutions partners (Salto, EZO, Knots, and Qvasa to name a few).  Salto gets bonus points for having arguably the best swag, Knuckles the Beaver, of which my three year old son has since taken ownership.  I also took time to share a commitment on the One Tree Planted tree, which Zendesk was supporting through a popup in the expo hall.  My commitment may or may not have been to learn more about AI before the next Relate.

Another huge benefit of attending Relate in person is the one-on-one conversations that you get to have with Zendesk staffers  From product marketing to customer support specialists, Relate was overflowing with matcha-lanyards, indicative of an attendee that was actually a Zendesk employee.  I know it’s easy to say in the forums and webinars that they listen to customer feedback, but based on first-hand conversations (and follow-up email threads) that have come out of this conference, I can tell you that the Zendesk employees really do care about doing everything within their power to solicit feedback and signal boost that content upstream to whomever needs to hear it.  We’ve seen real change come from these conversations, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from all of the multi-colored sticky notes adorning this years walls of feedback.

Wednesday’s Keynote came to us by way of Former Zappos Culture Strategist and author, Robert Richman.  Robert shared his keys to success in front of a standing-room only crowd.  After Robert finished speaking (and another quick trip to the Relate cafeteria) it was time for my next breakout session.  One of my favorite things about Zendesk is that they eat their own ice cream.  That is to say, they are users of their own product.  As such, one of my favorite sessions at any Zendesk conference is “Zendesk on Zendesk.” This session, which was focused on building and scaling operations, focused on four pillars of success: Customer Listening, Continuous Improvement, Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) and, of course, AI and automation.  And while Zendesk will always have access to additional features first (I’m looking at you, multi-topic messaging), it was refreshing to hear some of the best practices from a company that is continuously redefining what exceptional customer service looks like.

To put a relatable twist on an old classic: CX Hard, Pl-AI Harder.  These words define Zendesk Relate.  After two full days of learning and talking about customer support, we were all in need of a break, and boy did Zendesk deliver! Tao Beach Club rooftop terrace and swimming pool was the perfect locale for an AI-inspired party.  Between the DJ accompanied by live musicians, aura readings on-demand, stilt walkers and an open bar, there really wasn’t a better way we could have put a cap on the second day of the conference.

Day 3: New Friends And Next Steps

The third day of a conference like this is always a mixed bag.  Those that stick it out are generally running on empty, and there are only so many times you can say AI in a 72 hour period.  That said, the enthusiasm exuding from the conference booths could have easily been confused for the first day.  After connecting with some of my fellow user group leaders in morning networking sessions, I spent the remainder of my time on the Expo floor, deep diving on some of Zendesk’s recent acquisitions, including Tymeshift (rebranded as Zendesk WFM), Klaus and Ultimate AI. I also had a chance to talk to the product specialists at the Expert Bar about some persistent challenges brought to us by our customers.  I even had time to sneak in a professional headshot and a quick lego build.  

In just three days, I was able to make over 50 meaningful connections with other Zendesk enthusiasts, employees and engaged customers (and walk over 25 miles).  But now, the real work begins.  With every Relate comes a plethora of new features to unpack and understand, as well as new workflows to architect that weren’t possible before.  The AI product offerings will continue to evolve over the next year, and the other recently acquired brands will become more integrated into the product.  And where there are new elements to connect and explore, 729 Solutions is committed to being on the front lines, with and for our clients, to assist in maximizing your ROI and efficiency with the tools that are available to you.  I’ve never been more excited to be a part of Zendesk’s journey, and I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone (and you?) at next year’s event.  There’s a 50% chance my body will have fully recovered by then. 

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