Zendesk introduces Sunshine Conversations for customer messaging

The customer service and engagement company also launched Gather, a tool for building online community forums.

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Zendesk on Thursday is introducing Sunshine Conversations, a new API-based platform that lets businesses use social media and messaging services to communicate directly with their customers. The new tool comes as a time when messaging services and social channels are increasingly used to connect brands to customers.  

"What we're seeing around the world -- and it's fair to say the future is here, but it's unevenly distributed around the globe -- is this shift toward conversational means of doing business," Adrian McDermott, Zendesk's president of products, said to reporters this week. "It used to be your website... was the anchoring experience that you had with your customers. If we look to WeChat in China and the enrichment of many of the conversational platforms, the conversation becomes the application. In WeChat, I can order lunch, book a hotel... do all these things without leaving the conversations I'm having with these companies." 

While conversational commerce first took off in China, it is a worldwide trend. A survey of Americans earlier this year showed that younger generations are more inclined to build positive relationships with their favorite brands over social channels. 

While customers are adapting to this style of interaction very quickly, McDermott said, "The challenge for business is to be able to tool up and build interactions that can be had in a conversational manner."

The new Sunshine Conversations is part of Zendesk's open and flexible CRM platform, Zendesk Sunshine. Launched nearly a year ago, Sunshine is built completely on Amazon Web Services, on the premise that businesses are looking for a way to bring together customer data from a variety of different sources.

To that end, Sunshine Conversations allows a business to share conversational data across the organization, ensuring sales, service and marketing teams all have the same context for customer service.

The platform also allows businesses to  integrate bots and AI services into conversations. It also allows for rich experiences, letting customers take actions like booking reservations or making a payment directly within the messaging interface. 

Businesses can use it to interact with customers across basically all popular messenger services, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, Telegram, Twitter DM, Viber, Kakao Talk, SMS text, RCS and through native web iOS and Android apps.

Developers can also use Sunshine Conversations' SDKs to build customized messaging and integrate it natively into their businesses' websites and mobile apps. 

Zendesk on Thursday is also rolling out Gather, a new product that helps businesses build online community forums. A trusted and transparent community forum, Zendesk posits, allows customers to engage directly with each other and build up an in-depth knowledge base about products and services. It also can help a brand capture feedback directly from customers, "to measure popularity and understand the zeitgeist of your user community," McDermott said.

Gather lets administrators, or agents, set up communities, brand them and create special user roles and permissions. Separate communities can be created to serve different audiences, regions or brands across a company. The tool gives admins drag-and-drop functionality, but they can also use APIs. 

Meanwhile, moderators on Gather-created forums can come from inside or outside of the company. Admins can give moderators permission to flag, hide, edit or move user posts.

For users, Gather-created forums offer the ability to create posts, up-vote posts, follow threads or leave comments. 

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