CXperts Ep 7: Matt Price: SVP at Zendesk - Managing and Empowering Agents and Managers for Optimal Performance

We meet with Matt Price, SVP at Zendesk, to discuss using continuous conversations to drive successful customer interactions, versatility as a manager, and measuring success for remote teams.

Last updated on: 
August 10, 2023
Josh Witty
Josh Witty
May 12, 2022
17 min read

CXperts is a video podcast hosted by our Chief Customer Officer Ramon Icasiano, who is a former CX leader at Earnin, Netflix, Zynga, and Verizon. In each episode, Ramon dives into hot topics around customer experience with a guest industry thought leader.


This week’s episode: Ramon Icasiano meets with Matt Price, SVP at Zendesk, to discuss using continuous conversations to drive successful customer interactions, versatility as a manager, and measuring success for remote teams. 

Matt is a SVP at Zendesk, a service-first CRM company that builds software designed to improve customer relationships and connects more than 100,000 brands with hundreds of millions of customers over telephony, chat, email, messaging, social channels, communities, review sites and help centers. Matt has 20+ years leading marketing and customer service teams at Zendesk, Troux Technologies, and ATG.

Watch on YouTube or listen on Spotify or Apple Podcast.




Ramon Icasiano 00:27 

Welcome. I'm Ramona Icasiano, chief customer officer at Pathlight. Today on CXperts podcast, a podcast by operators, hosted by operators, for operators, I'm blessed to have an amazing guest today, Matt Price. Before we go into our backgrounds, let me tell you a little bit about my experience. I was early on at Verizon, Zynga, Netflix, Earnin.

I've been blessed in being able to help small startups become household trusted brands. With me today is someone with just similar experience around building customer trust and engagement and experience is Matt Price. Looking at his LinkedIn, it's just amazing truly.

Matt, it looks like you started off in the marketing realm at ATG, started making some strategic changes to it, become a CMO and a VP of sales at True Technologies, started investing in some really cool companies, which I looked at, which were really more around technology and using data in a way to drive business results, sat on some boards.

Then what's really interesting in terms of the CX space, your time at Zendesk really today. You started off basically as VP and general manager for EMEA then became SVP of global marketing, which is probably a very interesting role here we can talk about. SVP of product portfolio, SVP and general manager just in the core product at Zendesk in general.

Looks like you're doing some interim coverage for the customer service team, which is great. We'll talk about that. Then something that's new it's SVP of Sunco Labs. Is there anything before we get started, anything in that history and experience that you want to bring out and proud to talk about a little bit more deeper than what I just did?

Matt Price 02:35 

No. Except to say, when you list it all out like that, it seems like a lot of stuff. I'm just obviously blessed to have had opportunities to work on many different aspects. It's what I love doing. Especially aspects where a part of transformational change or growth and just love being a part of those different things.

Obviously the opportunity to lead the Zendesk customer service operation in the last year or so has been particularly exciting and very illuminating as well.

Ramon Icasiano 03:09 

That's awesome. At your time managing the CX teams, is there anything that's worked really, really well for you during this period? Like especially during this whole new norm of the hybrid workforce and COVID, folks working from home, customers who are really much more intense around their issues being resolved.

Anything from your perspective, and working with thousands of companies that might be helpful for our audience to hear that's worked well for you?

Matt Price 03:43 

I mean, I think that we were lucky in a way that we were in many respects already set up for distributed and remote working around the clock and obviously we had a platform that could support that. Really, I think that a big focus for us as we've been going through COVID is really starting to figure out, okay, how do we think about employee welfare within that context?

Then also trying to keep a close eye on what are some new and unique things that might be coming from clients that are different from what we were experiencing before. I don't think we saw anything too different. Obviously very early on in COVID, we had a lot of customers that were in immediate financial distress before government bodies were able to provide support.

We had a very unique situation there whereby we had to enable our frontline teams in order to support those customers. As things have progressed apart from a real growth in online business and supporting customers doing that, we haven't seen a huge number of material changes.

Ramon Icasiano 05:01 

That's great. Now, I want to dive in a little bit on your macro view. You had said you look at how customers are using and the things that they're going through around your platform. But taking a step back, what trends have you seen in the last few years that have impacted maybe how you think, or how Zendesk thinks about customer experience?

Matt Price 05:26 

I think the big rise from a consumer perspective, and now this is filtering into businesses very strongly, is the rise of messaging and messaging channels as a way of interacting, the way people have gotten used to texting with each other. Now, obviously that was moved on to other messaging platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, WeChat and how that metaphor now is starting to be translated into business.

From a customer service perspective, we've seen a lot of early benefits and early advantages for doing that. We see this from customer service on a number of sites, not least because you can keep a continuous conversation going with the customer.

If we think about the tenets that are very core to customer service about trying to respond with context to a customer query, trying to be where a customer is, trying to respond at a rate that matches the customer's priority or matches their urgency, then messaging is really very, very good at doing all of those things and delivering a continuous stream of support context into the business. Really it's blending.

We had this very distinct world before between synchronous and asynchronous. Classically, we were set up as contact centers for being voice-based, which is a live conversation. Then a lot of organizations moved quite heavily towards email, which is obviously a very different metaphor and then switch back again towards live chat.

Now we're moving into this world of messaging where it's a combination of both, and a lot of learning going on in those areas, not least within our own organization too.

Ramon Icasiano 07:26 

Right. Yeah. What you described made me think of a matrix. Like there's verticalized ways for people to get through, right?

We would call that maybe omnichannel, but then you're making me think, "Well, across those they might skip." They come in one way and move over here, so there's more horizontal data going across the customer experience.

Now, technology's driving a lot of that and consumer demand. But I want to focus a little bit on as a leader or as a manager of a frontline team, if I'm a leader, someone in your shoes managing that verticalized input, plus the horizontal complexity of all these channels, what skills do you think the frontline teams or managers need to be successful in that hyper-fast, hyper-intense, technical, complicated environment?

Matt Price 08:26 

Yeah. It's a really good question. It's changing a lot. The skills required to handle a synchronous versus an asynchronous case are quite different in many respects. The core domain skills might be there, but those other skills that we expect from agents such as being sensitive and empathetic towards customers in different modes, being able to understand when escalation is required, et cetera, come into play.

But they get applied in very different ways, according to the channel that's in place. I think ultimately what's really coming to the fore recently is the versatility. The ability for an agent to be able to manage change either through a method of working, acquiring new knowledge around a new product or around a new particular domain and the willingness to put themselves on the front foot.

I think it's interesting because when somebody's hired into a customer service role, the first three to six months can be as intensive as any other role. You've got all this domain expertise. You're putting yourself right there out in front of the customers as an agent.

It can be quite challenging. After a while, it's very tempting to just move into a mode where we're not seeking change. I think that's the biggest challenge for organizations is, how do you keep your teams ready to support that? That works for managers as well.

I think the interesting thing from a manager's perspective is really how do you manage performance in an environment that's become remote and distributed, that has new metrics on this is not just call handles but how do you understand the different complexities of different cases, modes of operating? When does first response time become important or next response time?

Giving the managers the tooling that they need and reporting they need to understand if somebody's doing well, or if they need help up is really important. That level of dashboarding. Typically, we just think of dashboarding as queue lengths in many cases.

If we're using some tooling, we can be looking at quality management and other aspects, but distilling that information into a package that a manager can use to support their own teams is becoming more and more important.

Ramon Icasiano 11:24 

Yeah. As you know, Pathlight, that's why we were born, right? Is to solve that exact problem, is helping teams at scale drive the right proper business results through engaged and well-aligned teams. How do you  think about empowering and enabling managers to be more impactful in this matrixed ambiguous realm? I know you probably see a lot of companies in that same scenario.

You're probably no different in a lot of ways, but just curious from your perspective being an operator yourself right now, and then also working with other folks around empowering and enabling managers to be more impactful in their roles.

Matt Price 12:12 

I mean, the first word that you used was empowering. I think we need to think about how we set up so we truly empower a manager. What can they be responsible? Is it a specific territory or a specific slice of time or a specific channel? But can we make it such that they really own something and they can measure how well they're doing in owning that? If we can empower managers to do that, that's important.

I think we talked a little bit before about escalation, empowering managers to handle escalations and empowering them to escalate further or not. These are disciplines that we can really put in place. Like I said, dashboarding performance management tools.

As you refer to, there's a lot of tooling now that's available that can actually help people do this, but do it at a manager level rather than a macro level across the business. When you've got 500,000 agents, a lot of information is hidden by rolled up metrics. You just break those down and really understand what's going on at a personal level.

Ramon Icasiano 13:34 

Yeah. I love that. I mean, we've all checked into different levels of hospitality where someone greets you and they actually walk you all the way up to your room and into your room. Some are, "Here's your key and find your room." Right?

I think the balance is around the value that you're trying to create for that customer at that time. It sounds like you guys are empowering your teams to do that more and more. Hey, I'm going to take this up normally beyond how I normally do and own it through a little bit more.

The thought I want to share with you is around that whole dashboarding and tooling, because it's similar to the horizontal where they've come in different channels, but they expect you to know the whole experience. Has that changed how you measure success for a remote member? There's not clear ROI now, like in terms of average handle time or time to resolve.

It's really around resolution or maybe ultimately it's net promoter score or something. How have you thought about that?

Matt Price 14:52 

Yeah. We worked around this a lot with our teams, especially when we implemented the new channels, things like messaging, trying to understand what was valuable and what's not. Again, there is a lot of tooling and a lot of rolled up metrics and KPIs you can look at. Ultimately, the best knowledge that we obtained was by reading and reviewing interactions between customers and agents.

We actually implemented a quality management process where we would take samplings of this and established around quality rubric. There are AI tools that can help with this, but just reading forward to back and including any body interactions that existed. Just really, there's nothing like that to understand how the full conversation with the customer hangs together.

Then you can start to distill that knowledge of what you're seeing, because as humans we're very good at instinctively reading something and say, "That was good or bad. That customer was mad or unhappy. I'm proud of what we did there or I'm not proud." Our brains are very, very good at doing that. By starting to work around it, we can establish rubrics around, where are our outliers?

Did we ever have a time where the customer's expectation of when we would get back to them was not met? Was the agent able to take the context that they'd already been given either by a bot or by a customer or by customer history, and use that within the conversation? Were they able to understand the tone and sensitivity to the customer on that? Did they escalate correctly?

I mean, I'll get to your example of being walked to your room in a hotel. Sometimes you're tired. You don't want to talk to somebody. You really don't want the 15 minutes guidance around the mini bar, but sometimes actually if you're feeling like you want to explore things, then you do want that guidance. The simple thing there is understanding context.

I think the challenge working across channels is in order to understand the context, you need to know who the customer is. One of the biggest technical challenges to solve is, how do you authenticate that customer? How do you actually figure out... You know who they are when they come in through different channels? How do you do that for as little impact as possible to the customer?

Once you've got authentication in place, then you can start to open up those sort of options.

Ramon Icasiano 17:41 

I mean, I think for our listeners, what I love about this particular point here, it's we have a lot of information processes and systems, but, Matt, what you're saying is you grounded the whole example around actually believing and trusting the customer's feedback through going through the most basic tickets and actually seeing from the customer's words.

I don't want to discount for the audience how important it is, regardless of what industry you're in, the value of actually going through tickets randomized, and seeing that we're actually even capable of resolving this. Did we overstate and underdeliver? Is there some sort of... So there's truth in that. Embrace that truth, even though it may be painful to hear, just go through the process. I love that example.

This may be related to what you're doing now. I want to peel back what you're doing at Sunco Labs a little bit. To me, there's lots of data points and a lot of integrations with systems and CX leaders are going out and buying verticalized tools for their CX management. Is Sunco going to be part of contextualizing some of that and around messaging? Or tell me a little bit more about Sunco Labs and that.

Matt Price 19:14 

Yeah. I mean, Sunco with Sunshine Conversations at Zendesk is a multichannel platform and it can be used in two ways. We use it ourselves to integrate into Zendesk Sell and Zendesk support to provide the multichannel capabilities that allow a customer to come in and get a support inquiry, or allow salespeople to work across multiple channels.

But because it's a platform, it can actually be used in many other ways. What we firmly believe is in the same way that the web browser transformed commerce, the conversation window or the conversation interaction is starting to redefine the way that customers interact with businesses for some of the reasons I described earlier. Not just from a support interaction, but just from a way that customers can interact with businesses and the way they want to.

I'll give you an example, a customer of Zendesk using Sunshine Conversations is Four Seasons. Four Seasons, if anyone's lucky enough to stay there, they have an app but you can also message them. You can just be in your room. You can say, "Can you bring me a pizza please?" They come back and they say, "Well, do you want pepperoni or not?" Or, "Can you help me with-

Ramon Icasiano 20:36 

On the app.

Matt Price 20:36 

Yeah, "Can you help me with ground transportation?" Or, "I need some more towels." The experience there from a customer perspective of not having to pick up the phone, sustain the anonymity, being able to just message from anywhere, whether they're actually on premise in the hotel or off premise is incredibly powerful and a very strong customer experience.

They're really starting to pioneer and look at the way that that works, not just from a service perspective, but how they can use service from a revenue perspective as well. For example, if I make a booking, they can ask me if I want ground transportation. That's an additional service that the hotel can offer. Within a conversation stream I can just say, "Yes, please." They can ask, "What flight number are you coming in on?"

I give them the flight, and then they confirm the flight transformation. What Sunco Labs is all about is we are working with companies and brands who are really trying to push the envelope of where messaging or conversations can go from a customer experience. We're working with them to design new types of customer engagement, customer experience, hence the conversations in the labs.

We really just see this as very early days in the same way that early days of e-commerce was agency-based and people were trying to figure out how best to sell people online. We feel this is very early days for messaging with regards to customer relationships. Incredibly exciting opportunity for business and myself.

Ramon Icasiano 22:15 

Well, in the Four Seasons example, because everyone's on their phone, they always have their phone with them, it's almost having that with you always. Like you said, I might be checking in two weeks ahead of time. There's an opportunity to start talking with that person, you know?

Matt Price 22:38 

Exactly. The conversation can be at the pace of the customer. I gave that example of booking ground transportation. What a lot of concierges have to do at the moment is they'll receive the booking. Then I'll either send an email that gets lost in my inbox or they'll give me a call.

The call can be inconvenient in that it's highly unlikely that I've got my flight details available at that particular time. A conversation metaphor is an incredibly powerful way of carrying on-

Ramon Icasiano 23:13 

I love it.

Matt Price 23:13 

... that conversation with a brand. The challenges for the brand on the back end is how do you manage that when you might have to deal with shifts or different languages or different properties? Something we're looking at a lot is how do you manage the scale of messaging for an operation that has many different skills?

Ramon Icasiano 23:36 

Really from a frontline perspective, it just adds more context around who we're dealing with, right?

Matt Price 23:43 

That's right.

Ramon Icasiano 23:44 

It adds richness. I think it sounds like Sunco Labs for being early on, but really the brands that think about extending their engagement beyond how they're actually being used at the time really can build a more lifelong relationship, emotional connection with their clients. That's awesome. Good luck to you there. I'm really excited about what you're going to be doing there.

To close it out here, just one lighter question, but is there an interesting or memorable personal customer experience you've had either as a customer or as a leader of the frontline team that might be interesting to share with the audience?

Matt Price 24:38 

Yeah. I was just going to go back to the Four Seasons example actually that we used as... I mean, I was lucky enough to stay at a couple of their properties and that personal concierge experience it was a game-changer for me. It's what got me interested more in getting more involved in trying to figure out how we can use this rudimentary messaging capability as in many cases at the moment, and expand that out into other operations.

I have a young child. I made a booking. I said, "Please can I have a crib in the room?" They came back, "Yes, of course, Mr. Price. We're looking forward to meeting you. A boy or a girl?" I said, "It's a boy, his name's Sam." They said, "Yeah, we'll take care of that. No problem." When we arrived in a room, not only was there a crib, they had spelled out his name in little letters, and they put corner protectors on the coffee table. That was an amazing experience. What was amazing about it was I was able to have set that up and they, using a conversational approach, gathered some very pertinent information for me that they were then able to transform into service delivery at the hotel. That's my example. Right?

Ramon Icasiano 26:12 

Yeah. I can imagine next time you check in, they might have a list of things that are age-appropriate activities outside of the hotel that might be interesting. A park, a zoo or whatever, right? That might-

Matt Price 26:22 

That's right. Yeah, because they have that context. They have that context for me now, and that they can look to say, "Hey, look, I noticed that you're traveling as a family again, would you like the same things?" That's right. This ability to then proactively make suggestions and then obviously adjust accordingly is incredibly powerful.

Essentially what you think about is the best sales experiences that you ever have are service experiences, whether with a concierge or a personal shopper. It feels like you're being served, not sold. That's what some of these high-end establishments do very, very well, in my opinion.

Ramon Icasiano 27:04 

Yeah. Personalization at scale really differentiates so much opportunity either on the growth side or the retention or really wallet share.

Matt Price 27:13 


Ramon Icasiano 27:14 

That's amazing. Well, Matt, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. Then please feel free to reach out to Matt. We'll include his LinkedIn profile. Someone absolutely is on the cutting edge of customer experience with Sunco Labs there. Looking forward to hearing more about that, but please feel to reach out to him and myself, we'll have our contact information.

Matt Price 27:40 

Thanks for the opportunity and really appreciate it, and look to hearing from people.

Ramon Icasiano 27:45 

Yep. Thank you, Matt.

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