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No trading on a great customer experience: How Trade Me puts its customers first

Iconic Kiwi brand Trade Me consolidated 47 different workflows using Zendesk Support and Guide, thereby improving routing efficiency by 80%.

Trade Me
“Zendesk balanced the usability and customer experience with the hardcore metrics and ticketing. Those latter things are all in there, but that’s not what it’s about.”

Andrew Jessett

Head of Internal Systems - Trade Me






Increase in help center sessions


Increase in workflow routing efficiency

In the language of New Zealand’s indigenous Māori, aroha can be translated several ways: it can refer to love, compassion, empathy, or even charity and pity.

Rich in meaning, it’s a word woven into New Zealand’s culture–whether it’s the name of the prime minister’s child, or iconic Kiwi brand Trade Me using it to express its commitment to its customers.

As the island nation’s premier online marketplace for the past two decades, Trade Me has long focused on customer aroha, a guiding principle that informs every single decision made at the company. “It means that we’re thinking about the customer whenever we’re making a process change or we’re designing the help center—whatever it is,” said Anna Lim, head of product and delivery for Trade Me’s Customer Tech team. “Their experience is more important than our experience. So we want our internal constraints and structure to be invisible to our customers. These are principles that we’re working toward.”

Founded in 1999 by software consultant Sam Morgan, who initially ran the site from his Wellington apartment, Trade Me has become a New Zealand institution, giving Kiwis a central and convenient place to purchase and sell motor vehicles, real estate, and any conceivable item under the sun, but also to find gainful employment and maybe the love of their lives.

Just as important, emphasizing customer service has paid dividends. “When we first started, We gained customers’ trust by providing clear and timely support.”

As the company celebrated its billionth listing in 2015, it began noticing some troubling trends that undermined its value of customer aroha. Customers were plagued by long wait times for support, a problem exacerbated by complex internal systems and broken processes that impeded customer service, and even employee onboarding.

“We’re New Zealand’s largest e-commerce platform—we have been for quite some time—and you enjoy a luxury with that,” Lim said. “We realised we needed to ramp up our pro-customer orientation to stay relevant and deliver what our customers want. Ultimately we’ve got to be doing the right thing every day, remembering that we’re only here because of our customers.”

Lim says Trade Me realized it needed to reassess its approach to customer support, and the easy answer—hiring more agents—hadn’t worked in the past and likely wouldn’t in the future. One important step lay in revitalizing the company’s self-service content, she said, which had become unmanageable and was under-used by customers.

By 2018, Trade Me decided to move forward with a new customer service solution, something that was flexible and configurable. Though a few teams had previously experimented with Zendesk Support, the team decided to give its internal developers a challenge: two weeks to dive into a few systems’ functionality to look for a good fit. “We wanted a system that was going to be easy and intuitive for our agents to use,” Lim said. “With other systems, we barely got past the setup in two weeks. So it was obvious to us which solution was going to help us move fast and be intuitive to use—and that was Zendesk.”

Trade Me implemented a staggered rollout of Zendesk Support and Guide to keep up with volume and ensure that agents had time to become familiar with the system. The process shone a light just which operational processes had become muddled and inefficient. “Triage wasn’t automated before we moved to Zendesk, so all the roles were in people’s heads—and Zendesk forced us to really flesh that out,” Lim said.

The team moved 47 different sources of workflow into one. “There was a ton of Gmail and Outlook addresses that people didn’t even know existed,” Lim said. “Putting everything into Zendesk meant we increased the efficiency of workflow routing by over 80 percent.”

The move to Zendesk also revealed just how long customers were waiting for an answer. “We knew that our wait times were long, but we didn’t really know how long they were,” Lim said.

At the same time, the team tackled its self-service. “We did a massive help center project in 2018 and were able to reduce the number of help pages by more than 80 percent,” Lim said. The team started with 597 articles and whittled it down to 112. “All of this began by doing research to understand what customers wanted from their support experience.”

That research and cleanup project led to a 43 percent increase in help center sessions, with markedly improved navigation. As Lim sees it, providing streamlined, straight-to-the-point self-service content aligns with the customer aroha value.

“Our service should be down-to-earth, just like Kiwis are,” Lim explained. “One of the words we’ve dialled down is ‘delightful’, because we have sometimes misconstrued what that means. That’s ultimately not what our customers are asking for. At no point in our research did they say: ‘delight me.’ They said, ‘I want you to give me a fast answer and I want you to make sure that the answer is accurate.’”

Together, the increased transparency, gains in workflow, and Trade Me’s efforts to revamp its self-service content began to bear fruit: it has a 95 percent CSAT.

Trade Me’s external customer experience wasn’t the only experience under the microscope, however. Andrew Jessett, head of internal systems, also made the decision to switch from JIRA Service Desk to Zendesk for IT support. He’d seen the benefits of Zendesk at the company he worked at before coming to Trade Me: Xero. “I was excited because Zendesk was going to be an easy win for the team. I knew that it was going to help our cause, make life easier, and have an instant impact,” he said. Too often, new employees found it tough to get started on day one, which has lasting long-term effects on retention and morale.

In order to remain competitive, Jessett said, Trade Me’s IT department now adheres to an old adage: “Keep it simple, stupid.” While Jessett says this somewhat tongue in cheek, the core truth remains: ensuring a great employee experience means keeping their needs front and center. That can be as basic as improving audio quality in meeting rooms or taking advantage of Slack’s integration. with Zendesk, which immediately raised the level of service the team could offer.

“We went from on-premise to cloud-delivered service,” Jessett said, “and from a basic-looking wiki to a well-presented help centre. And we can leverage Zendesk across other teams with a lot less effort than on our previous system.”

Although these first steps have resulted in palpable improvements, Jessett and Lim see Trade Me’s journey with Zendesk as just beginning. “We’ve got heaps more work to do,” Lim said. “For me, it’s being able to bring the focus on the customer and the focus on what that actually means to our teams. That’s a good problem—and I like a challenge.”