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  • Writer's pictureAnne-Marie Traas

Best practices for creating and using Zendesk triggers and automations

Picture depicting customer support automation

Zendesk is built for fast-growing businesses to effectively support a rapidly growing customer base. As one way to help their customers achieve this, Zendesk promotes the use of automated customer service.

It’s costly and difficult to scale your business without automation. But setting up automation can be both confusing and intimidating, especially if it’s your new to the world of automation.

If you want to confidently make automation decisions while avoiding negative unintended consequences, start with these best practices for implementing automations and triggers in Zendesk.

The benefits of using automations in Zendesk

Automations are perfect for handling repetitive tasks and dealing with large amounts of data. They remove the potential for human error and free up your support agents for more meaningful tasks.

Using automations and triggers will:

  • Allow your customers to receive help faster

  • Reduce the load on your team

  • Ensure consistency in ticket handling

  • Alert your agents to anomalous activity

Automations allow your customers to receive help faster

When a customer submits a support request, automated processes enable you to immediately point them to your knowledge base or FAQs.

Every support leader knows that customers constantly ask the same questions (over and over and over). A robust, well-managed Zendesk help center will save your agents a lot of time. By surfacing relevant content to your customers right when they need it, you enable them to help themselves both now and in the future.

Frees up agents for more important things while reducing errors

When implemented correctly, automation reduces the amount of work your team needs to spend on repetitive tasks.

According to a 2019 study by Automation Anywhere, 48% of office workers feel that performing repetitive tasks is a poor use of their skills. And a whopping 64% feel a reduction in productivity when they’re required to complete repetitive tasks.

Reducing the repetitive load on your team through automation removes this challenge and frees them up to solve more difficult and meaningful tasks — the kind that really need an expert’s help. And as an added bonus, automation decreases the number of mistakes made (since human error is removed from the equation).

Ensure consistency in case handling

Automated processes help reduce the memory load for your support agents. Billing inquiries, bug complaints, pre-sales questions, and onboarding challenges are all handled differently.

Through the use of automated workflows, your team members don’t need to remember the full process for how to handle every single scenario. Instead, they can focus on their real job — helping customers in a way that creates an excellent customer experience.

Alert your agents to areas that need attention

Automations can also draw attention to customers who are particularly happy or unhappy with the service. The support agent or a manager can then follow up to smooth things over or learn more about why the customer feels the way they do.

Another workflow could alert your team if there is a sudden spike in ticket volume within a certain period. While a rapid influx in volume is sometimes expected, it’s often indicative of an underlying issue.

Understanding Zendesk automations vs triggers

Before we discuss the best practices for implementing automated workflows in Zendesk, we need to discuss some terminology. Usually, in software, workflow and automation are used interchangeably, while trigger refers to the criteria that activate a workflow.

But Zendesk uses these terms a bit differently.

In Zendesk, Automations and Triggers are terms used for two different ways of firing workflows.

Automations kick off workflows due to time passing. Triggers cause workflows to fire due to other conditions being met immediately. More specifically:

  • Automations. Automations in Zendesk Support are time-based. Automations execute at some point every hour. If a ticket meets the automation’s conditions when it runs, the automation will fire on that ticket.

  • Triggers. Triggers are rules that run immediately after a ticket is created or updated. Every time a ticket updates, Zendesk will run it through your active triggers. The trigger only executes if it matches the conditions defined in the trigger.

There’s a lot more to know about the nitty-gritty of these two. If you’ve got time, it can be helpful to read through Zendesk’s support articles about automations and triggers before you start to use them. For a quick overview of what to do (or not do), check out the best practices below.

Best practices for Zendesk automation and triggers

Many of these best practices were learned the hard way — through trial and error. But why put yourself through that if you don’t have to?

We’ll hit on nine important best practices for creating and managing Zendesk automations and triggers:

  1. Plan your workflows before building them

  2. Determine if it’s better to use a trigger or automation for the desired outcome

  3. Choose a naming convention that’s simple and descriptive

  4. Order your triggers in an optimal way

  5. Keep triggers simple yet concise

  6. Use greater than/less than conditions with automations

  7. Teach your agents about automations and triggers that have been implemented

  8. Implement workflows gradually to prevent an increased workload

  9. Monitor and remove or update as needed

1. Plan your workflows before building them

Your automations and triggers will work more smoothly if you take the time to plan them out instead of jumping straight in.

Start by identifying everyone in your company who is using Zendesk and the common tasks they are completing with it. This knowledge keeps you from inadvertently creating workflows that benefit one department while hindering another (I call this the “two steps forward, one step back approach”).

Once you know the players and tasks involved, do your best to break each task down. What are the individual steps an agent would take to answer a support ticket, from the moment it’s submitted until it’s been fully resolved?

Now, where do you see places where automated processes are a natural fit?

You can figure that out by asking yourself:

  • What parts of this process are done exactly the same for every ticket? These are the most obvious steps to automate.

  • What problems frequently arise as a result of doing the process manually? In other words, where is human error often occurring? These are opportunities for an automated workflow to reduce errors.

And don’t forget to ask your team members what kinds of tickets frustrate them! Your front-line staff spend their workdays living and breathing in Zendesk. They’ll know best where you can reap the benefits of automation.

For more inspiration when planning your workflows, Zendesk provides an extensive list of questions to consider in their knowledge base article on the topic.

2. Determine if it’s better to use a trigger or automation for the desired outcome

Remember, triggers fire instantaneously when a ticket is created or updated. Automations are time-based, running once per hour and not necessarily at the top of the hour. This makes automations a poor fit for high-priority situations.

For example, say your automation runs at 11:15, a ticket is created at 11:16, and the automation runs again at 12:12. The system will still see the ticket as 0 hours since created, so the automation won’t fire.

Be clear on whether a time-based contingency is critical before choosing an automation or trigger.

3. Choose a naming convention that’s simple and descriptive

You should be able to determine the function of a trigger or automation based on its name. This prevents the need to open each one to figure out what it does if you need to make an update — and once you have dozens or hundreds of triggers, it saves you a lot of time.

Make the name simple and concise, while still being unique and descriptive:

  • Merge Duplicate Tickets should be a trigger that merges duplicate tickets.

  • Assign to Sales, North America should assign tickets to the North American Sales team.

Be brief, but don’t sacrifice clarity when naming your automations.

4. Order your triggers in an optimal way

The Zendesk system checks every ticket against all active triggers every time a ticket is created or updated. If you have a list of 100 triggers, and your ticket meets the conditions of triggers 10, 45, and 76, the triggers will fire in that order. This means the order of your triggers is highly important.

Zendesk suggests ordering your triggers in the following groupings to help prevent issues:

  1. Triggers that update ticket values.

  2. Triggers that change the assignment of a ticket.

  3. Triggers that send notifications.

Within each of those categories, order your triggers from more specific to more general conditions. This prevents broad triggers from firing over those that are more detailed.

5. Keep triggers simple and concise

Be as targeted as possible when you’re setting up the conditions for a new trigger. This helps avoid situations where two combating triggers fire on similar condition sets. It’s also helpful to remember that the more complex your triggers are, the harder they are to troubleshoot if something goes awry.

That said, there are bound to be times when you need a trigger to kick off a more complex event than Zendesk allows for.

In this situation, Zendesk suggests bringing in a developer to create complex logic with code. That’s an option, but it can be costly and take time. Another approach is to use SwiftEQ’s Triggers+ platform, which gives you the ability to do this without being a dev! Its low-code design makes it easy for less-technical folks to create triggers that parse ticket comments, process attachments, automatically merge duplicate tickets, and more.

6. Use greater than/less than conditions with automations

Because automations only run once per hour, it’s best to use greater than/less than conditions (rather than the is condition,) when possible. So instead of “Time since ticket created is 1 hour” try “Time since ticket creation is greater than one hour.”

Doing this prevents tickets from being missed when the automation runs. Using the is condition in the above scenario could result in the following:

11:15 - Automation runs 11:16 - Ticket is created 12:12 - Automation runs (doesn’t fire on the ticket because it’s still 0 hours old) 12:16 - Ticket turns 1 hour old 13:16 - Ticket turns 2 hours old 13:17 - Automation runs (doesn’t fire on the ticket, because it’s 2 hours old)

The automation ran once within each hour, but the first time the ticket was less than 1 hour old, while it was two hours old the second time around. So the automation never fired on this ticket.

That’s a major bummer and a missed opportunity.

It’s a perfect example of why greater than/less than conditions are often useful for automations, but you still need to be careful. Be sure to add a nullifying condition and action in your automations so you don’t inadvertently cause the ticket to become stuck in an automation loop.

7. Teach your agents about implemented automations and triggers

Your agents don’t need to know all of the details behind every workflow. But they should be made aware of what automations are in play that are relevant to their tickets.

After all, the point of automation is to cut down on the repetitive tasks that your Zendesk users need to do. Not informing your agents of a new workflow could lead to them attempting to continue to do a task manually. In turn, that could lead to a wrong trigger firing, causing more work in the long run.

Your support team should also know how to determine if a trigger or automation was fired. This gives them an understanding of why something happened, such as a ticket automatically changing assignees. When an automation or trigger is on the fritz, your frontline team members are often the first ones to notice and sound the alarm.

8. Push workflows slowly to prevent an increased workload

Say it with me: automation should reduce work, not create more of it! But humans must create the workflows, and that means — you guessed it! — room for error.

You want to be certain you’ve picked the right combination of conditions and actions for each new automation or trigger. So implement workflows one or two at a time, and only for a small segment of tickets at once.

Push a new automation, then wait a day or two (or maybe less, if you’ve got a high volume of tickets and can verify everything is working properly faster). Once you’re certain that only the desired tickets were affected, you can broaden the flow to a wider set of tickets, then turn on a couple more workflows.

This is especially important the first few times you set up workflows, since you’re not as familiar with the system. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to accidentally clone 10,000 tickets…but that’s a tale for another time.

9. Monitor and remove/update as needed

Finally, once you’ve implemented your workflows, watch them and update as needed! You’ll need to deactivate or make changes to triggers and automations that:

  • Produce errors

  • Create loops

  • Lead to more problems than they solve

  • Direct cause lower Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSATs)

  • Are no longer being used

As your product and support processes evolve, you’ll need to make sure your Zendesk triggers and automations are keeping up with the changes.

Automation should improve the experience for your customers and your team

Always keep in mind these three major components when creating your Zendesk triggers and automations:

  • They should create less work for everyone

  • They should reduce errors

  • They should help create consistency

Having a series of workflows that are consistently monitored and updated will help your team provide a more personalized experience to your customers, while simultaneously allowing you to scale more efficiently. It’s a win for everyone.

If you want to level up your Zendesk trigger and automation game today, take a look at the Triggers+ and Merge Duplicate Tickets apps.

Triggers+ helps you create more complex triggers than Zendesk allows for natively, while Merge Duplicate Tickets saves your team from confusion and wasted time when customers submit multiple tickets.

SwiftEQ has developed a bunch of great Zendesk apps for customer service teams, and you can book a free demo today to learn more!


Written by Anne-Marie Hofmann

Anne-Marie is a customer success executive focused on communications and scalability. She specializes in driving process & product improvements, creating thorough and easy-to-understand product documentation, and teaching others how to communicate more effectively through the written word. You can find her on LinkedIn.


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