There’s Nothing Smug About SmugMug’s Support Team, Which Handles 1,000 Requests Per Day

Published May 3, 2011
Last modified May 3, 2011

Pictured above: Members of SmugMug's amazing Support Super Heroes contingent.

Zendesk gave us instant gratification. With Zendesk we were set up in only a few days and it immediately improved the quality, speed and efficiency of our customer service.

--Andy Williams, Chief Operating Officer, SmugMug

SmugMug Case Study - Zendesk Help Desk SoftwareSmugMug is the fastest growing digital photography web site on the Internet. The company caters to both professional photographers as well as passionate amateurs and hobbyists. It stores more than a billion high-resolution professional-quality images on its site, and the business has more than doubled in size every year since its founding in 2002. What’s been the secret to their success? Great customer service.

Moving beyond email-based support

In the early days, the company delivered customer support using email. “Every week there were problems with the servers, or something that needed IT attention,” says Chief Operating Officer Andy Williams.

As the company grew, the problems with a shared email inbox became more significant. It was very challenging to track conversations. Many times customers received multiple answers from different people. In addition, some emails were never responded to and this inevitably caused some serious customer satisfaction issues. Searching through email was also extremely time-consuming. SmugMug knew that they couldn’t scale customer service using email.

“We’re a lean company," Williams says. "We don’t have the resources to manage this type of system on premise. And our employees are in multiple locations. We wanted a customer service solution that was cloud based and could help us scale.”

Robert Scoble, a prominent technology blogger, highly recommended Zendesk, and we listened.

"Zendesk gave us instant gratification,” Williams says. "With Zendesk we were set up in only a few days and it immediately improved the quality, speed and efficiency of our customer service. Our shift to Zendesk was seamless, and customers didn’t notice any change other than better service. Since then, SmugMug has handled more than a quarter million support requests with Zendesk."

Customer Support that never sleeps

SmugMug is both in the consumer and the professional market, and they operate nearly 24/7 (even Smuggy needs a couple hours of sleep!), 365 days a year. The company’s staff of 30 customer service “heroes” are located around the globe: at the headquarters in Silicon Valley, throughout the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, Germany and Slovenia. They enable the company to provide nonstop support to customers worldwide.

Today, with Zendesk, the company deals with more than a thousand support requests per day. Customers get consistent answers in a timely manner and the support team is more efficient and productive.

SmugMug constantly uses Zendesk macros, which are standard responses to frequently asked questions. They allow agents to respond to common issues in one-click, which significantly increases productivity.

“We have dozens of macros available to all our customer support agents and everyone has their own personal macros also. We use macros to save time and we can still personalize the responses with Zendesks’s placeholder fields,” says customer support hero Doc Walker.

SmugMug is also starting to explore the use of Zendesk on the iPad as well as the advanced reporting capabilities of GoodData for Zendesk and the integration with Atlassian Jira, a popular bug tracking system.

Heroes Who Go the Distance

“The holiday season can be quite intense for us,” Williams says. “We have an unconditional money-back guarantee and the heroes are empowered to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy. They don’t have to go through a formal approval process, they can just make a decision. We’ve had cases where employees have printed out customer orders by hand and sent them by US Postal Service to get them to customers on Christmas Day. There’s a lot of emotion in photos and it feels good when you can help a customer.”

“In many businesses, customers have gotten used to bad service, where emails just go into a void. So when they hear from SmugMug and get a personalized response, they’re delighted,” Walker says.

So how does SmugMug hire its heroes? From among its passionate customers. “Our heroes were all users of SmugMug before they joined the company. They know the product and they’re experts. We have people contacting us every week very interested to come and work with us,” Williams says.

Given that SmugMug also has an on site chef who makes lunch every day and a gymnasium with an in-house trainer, it’s a great place to work. And with such a positive company culture, it’s not surprising that SmugMug has a reputation for delivering the best customer service in the business.