How GitHub is building an integrated and unified support platform using Zendesk

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GitHub is a platform that software developers use to host and review code, manage projects, and build software alongside a community of 50 million fellow developers. Back in 2008, when Co-founder Chris Wanstrath created the first code commit, little did he know that it would become the world’s leading platform for software development. Today, organisations of all sizes and sectors take advantage of GitHub's repositories, communities, workflows and more.

GitHub initially relied on home-grown solutions to manage support requests from customers and internal employees. As the business grew, it became too costly to keep dedicating engineering resources to maintaining these systems. GitHub’s goal was to implement a more manageable, scalable, and adaptable support platform so its engineers could focus on developing GitHub’s core offering.

Unifying support models for customers

Various support teams at GitHub were using different tools, which made it impossible to get a consistent, global view of the company’s support operations. The enterprise support team at that time had been using Zendesk Support since 2012, and the developer support team was using their internal tool Halp. “When I joined GitHub in 2015, support was actually three siloed teams. The documentation team was part of support, and we also had an enterprise team and a developer—or dot-com—team," says Barbara Kozlowski, Senior Director of Global Support, GitHub.

When Barbara became the head of support, GitHub decided to unify its support model across the organisation. The company was growing and they needed to scale quickly. She realised that if the entire organisation used the same tool, everyone could look at the data in the same way. “Our customers are the most important thing to us as a company, and having a seamless, unified way to support our customers is really critical,” she says.

With 100 percent of its support team working remotely, the company also saw in Zendesk the opportunity to streamline communication and support, not only for its customers, but across the GitHub organisation, providing more fluid ticket routing and collaboration. GitHub rolled out Support for non-enterprise customers in 2019 and gradually has been moving additional teams, including IT, HR, security, and legal, off the Halp ticketing system and onto Zendesk Support.

Relying on Professional help to grow

Although the support organisation is still in the process of unifying teams and workflows, they moved from Halp to Zendesk in record time. GitHub had kicked off this project a few times before, but wasn’t able to take it over the finish line until now. "Our team is very technical, and like many developers, have strong opinions about the tools they use and how they are implemented. What we really needed was a strong project manager to drive this to completion instead of waiting to find the absolute perfect solution," says Barbara.

That’s where Zendesk professional services came in. “We would not be where we are now without them.” It was nice to have a team with an outside view looking at the overall project and being able to say with technical expertise, ‘This is why you want to do these things,’ versus coming kind of from the bottom up and saying, ‘In our team, we do it this way, so we should do it this way across the organisation.’ It’s been amazing, honestly," she adds.

Premila Anand, Director, Support Operations at Zendesk says that the best part about using Zendesk has been the professional services engagement. “This was not a one-size-fits-all migration and ramp-up. It took a deep understanding of how we work and guiding us toward a best-practices implementation that took into account our unique requirements. It was just great," she says.

Benefitting from the integration advantage

Being a company founded by and for developers, GitHub has made extensive use of the Zendesk API to integrate with various functions across the organisation. Given the deeply technical nature of GitHub’s customers, for example, it’s no surprise that the first line of defence for support is the vibrant developer community itself via a community forum and Twitter. Zendesk Support is used when a question cannot be answered by the community.

The most important integration they use is the API for ticket creation. All of those tickets—for both enterprise and developer support channels—were created using the Zendesk API in mid-2020. GitHub also takes advantage of Zendesk’s native integration with Slack to enable collaboration between teams that may not be in Zendesk every day, allowing people to remain in their primary environment while engaging in cross-team discussions using Side Conversations. “A lot of cross-team collaboration occurs in GitHub, but when we need a lightweight option for transient discussions, our teams rely heavily on Slack. Side Conversations lets us initiate these discussions in either a Zendesk ticket or in Slack,” says Premila.

Additional integrations include a custom app that allows support engineers to pull documentation as needed from GitHub HelpDocs, open issues in GitHub, and utilise the problem/incident model to facilitate handling of DMCA takedown requests. An urgent-ticket process for enterprise support automates ticket assignment via ChatOps, built with GitHub’s open source automation bot, Hubot, and the Zendesk API to assign tickets to the next available person in the queue.

Teams across GitHub are exploring Zendesk Guide, Talk, Chat, and Sunshine to further streamline and unify operations as the company grows. “In the future, we’d like to explore the possibility of aligning customer health data in Salesforce and Gainsight with Zendesk using custom objects to surface this information in the ticket or the user profile in Zendesk,” says Premila.

The way forward with Zendesk

“What we’ve gained with this move is a better understanding of baseline metrics,” Premila says. “ Before the move to Zendesk, it was difficult to understand key metrics like the number of one-touch resolution tickets by category, response times, and CSAT. What Zendesk has allowed us to do is put together a really solid strategic plan moving forward to address those areas.”

Its support operation now has the visibility, planning, and collaboration tools necessary to keep its growing user base of 50 million developers in the fold. GitHub has been able to maintain an average Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) score of 90 percent and they're able to solve 20,000 tickets every month.

GitHub’s data is cleaner, because it’s not in disparate systems; support is able to track lots of things that it was not able to previously, so the company can begin understanding trends, discovering overlaps, looking at response times, and adjusting support resources based on ticket volumes.

The move to a consolidated platform that provides coherence is giving GitHubroom to keep growing its support operations, without heavily relying on engineering resources.

“Halp was created almost 10 years ago and worked perfectly well when our user base was much smaller. GitHub has grown so much since the launch of Halp that it became really challenging to scale and plan for growth,” Barbara says. “We also weren’t able to survey customers following interactions with them.While we lost some GitHub-specific things when we switched over to Zendesk, we gained a lot of great customer experience tools that we could layer on without a huge engineering lift."


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