How Zendesk’s 200+ Product Org Uses Research Hub for Self-Serve Customer Recruiting

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2.5+ hours saved per project by consolidating five tools into one

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25,000 Zendesk research participants housed within Research Hub

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ReOps team of 2 can now support 200+ researchers, PMs, + designers

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Miranda Fitts, Manager, Research Operations

Erin Nakahara, Program Manager, Research Operations

Zendesk is the leading customer experience software provider, powering customer relationships and support for over 110,000 brands. To meet growing demand for research among a large and customer-obsessed product organization, Zendesk’s Research Operations team introduced Research Hub to help democratize access to customers and enable self-serve research recruiting.

The problem

Pain points Zendesk was experiencing

  • Keeping up with a high volume of recruiting requests: Just one Research Operations Manager was responsible for manually scheduling sessions for a large and globally-distributed research team.
  • Juggling at least 5 tools to perform a single recruit: Zendesk’s recruiting stack included one tool for email, another for scheduling, a third for participant tracking, a fourth for document signing, and a fifth for incentives—plus, the team needed to maintain internal documentation for all of them.
“We have team members from around the world who are more and more interested in having direct interactions with customers. As the volume of recruiting requests grew, manually fielding them all on my own started to become unrealistic.

I also struggled to set expectations around timing, bandwidth, and response rates—requests were being made last minute, participant criteria would change halfway through recruiting, or a team wanted to connect with a very small group of users that just didn’t respond. In reality, most of what I was doing in the recruiting process was fielding communications between two parties, and it didn’t really make sense logistically for a participant to email me before their interview to tell the researcher they would need to reschedule.

We needed a self-service solution to remove bottlenecks in our previous request process, and empower our team  to immediately act on urgent projects, with enough flexibility to change course when needed, and a straight line of communication to participants.

The old system was time-consuming and difficult to teach. I needed a holistic, scalable solution to democratize participant recruiting.” – Miranda Fitts, Manager, Research Operations

The solution

Criteria used to select a panel management solution

  • Easy-to-use platform with a modern user interface and comprehensive how-to documentation, training, and user support
  • A plan with unlimited users to make self-serve recruiting for a large organization viable
  • Ability to automate document signing and consent forms within one workflow
  • Contact rules to safeguard against over-contacting or over-participation
  • Enterprise security and privacy features required by our legal and security teams
“We were in the midst of a transition to a self-service recruitment model, and User Interviews was key to supporting that transition. We took an iterative approach to rollout, starting first with simpler rolling studies, then driving adoption with the whole UX research team, followed by product design, and ultimately the full product org.” – Erin Nakahara, Program Manager, Research Operations

How Zendesk uses Research Hub

Hub houses a research panel of 25,000 Zendesk customers. Researchers and product folks use it to independently manage recruiting for their studies, which are typically 1-1 user interviews and unmoderated studies. Customer research has informed crucial decisions in some of Zendesk’s recent releases focused around AI-powered conversational experiences, supporting intelligent operations at scale, and offering an open and flexible platform.

Zendesk saves over 2.5 hours per project by leveraging powerful Research Hub features like project templates, so they can quickly duplicate projects already set up with their team's preferences and settings.

The team’s favorite features

  • 🔏 Contact rules to safeguard panel
  • 📄 Embedded document signing and consent forms
  • ⚙️ Integrations with tools like Zoom
  • 👤 Moderator assignments
  • 📆 Participant self-scheduling and suggested times
  • ♻️ Reusable templates to speed up new projects
A favorite feature of the Zendesk team: researchers can allow participants to reschedule their own sessions. You can find this option in the Project Builder under the “Scheduling” section.

The results

Team wins since implementing Hub

  • Significant time savings: Over 2.5 hours saved per project just in recruitment, plus additional time saved from no longer needing to license and manage multiple tools
  • Simplified tool stack: Consolidated at least 5 tools into 1 end-to-end platform that has been purpose-built for research recruiting
  • Improved team effectiveness: Research Ops team of 2 better equipped to support 12 dedicated UX researchers and over 200 product managers and designers
  • Better governance around customer access: Greater transparency and adherence to policies around customer outreach, data consent, and research incentives
“Our team really likes using Hub! An analysis of our previous workflow versus end-to-end recruitment through User Interviews estimated a savings of over 2.5 hours per project. And that’s not including additional time spent on licensing, training, and security reviews involved with subscriptions for multiple tools.

The overall recruiting process in User Interviews is clear and flexible. There is significantly more transparency, and we’ve created a governance framework that requires users to complete an online course and formally acknowledge policies around contacting customers, obtaining consent, managing data, and accessing the incentives budget (available only when people use User Interviews).

A big win for Research Ops is that by democratizing customer recruitment, we’ve led our teammates to have more realistic expectations around timing, response rates, sampling, and time zone flexibility." – Miranda Fitts, Manager, Research Operations

What’s next for research at Zendesk

“We’re working with the team at User Interviews to explore new use cases like incremental incentives for diary studies, and integrations between Hub and survey tools. We also plan to start exploring recruitment with the User Interviews participant panel.” – Miranda Fitts,⁠ Manager, Research Operations
“We’re excited about the new flex incentives feature that User Interviews is launching soon. This will enable us to run more complex research projects at Zendesk, including diary studies, quantitative studies, and possibly even in-person studies.” – Erin Nakahara, Program Manager, Research Operations
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