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Number of queries per week:
First contact resolution
A leading disruptor in the publishing industry, Hindawi Limited is one of the world’s largest publishers of peer-reviewed open access journals.
Hindawi aims to make academic research open to read and use by anyone, anywhere in the world. Open-access publishing has been gaining strides in the last 2 decades, and Hindawi, founded in 1997, has been at the center of this movement.
We spoke to Karl Yates, Customer Services Manager, and Felicity Allen, Operations Manager at Hindawi, to understand how the publishing house manages its support team through Freshdesk while also collaborating with multiple teams internally.
Karl’s team deals with both internal and external customers at Hindawi. “We have a wide customer base, and tend to get completely different queries based on the customer type.”
Hindawi deals with four types of customers:
Authors: These are individuals or institutions submit research to the 220+ journals Hindawi manages and who pay for this research to be published if it successfully passes peer review and Editorial assessment. Their queries typically relate to the status of the manuscript, payment enquiries, etc.
Editors: These are internal customers mainly, with the exception of guest editors that come on board for niche projects. Their queries typically deal with the management and distribution of manuscripts.
Reviewers: This consists of external customers who peer-review the research to ensure that it is up to standard. Their queries typically deal with submitting review reports.
Readers: End-consumers of all research published by Hindawi. Their queries typically relate to the scientific content of articles.
“Our mission is to place the researcher at the heart of everything we do, making sure to remove any barriers that get in the way. It lines up with the philosophy of Open Access as well.” Karl explained, “I do my best to ensure we are always striving for openness and transparency with regards to our customer engagement.”
Initially, Hindawi managed support through Gmail, but they realized that the company was growing too fast for this method to stay effective. “Each vendor staff member had an individual Gmail account and email address, with queries being directed to these siloed inboxes. This meant we had no oversight, or reporting, on any communications being sent by the company,” explains Felicity. The shared inbox setup also meant that there was no clear ownership of incoming tickets. Customer queries were being passed from one team to another and this led to delays in responses and resolutions.
Faced with these challenges, Hindawi began evaluating dedicated helpdesk solutions and that’s when they came upon Freshdesk
“What really stood out to me about Freshdesk was the simple user interface. It’s deceptively powerful with automation and AI capabilities but still simple and easy to use. We’ve been able to set up some pretty complicated workflows in the background with the help of automation which helps us save time and effort.”
Customer Service Manager
The shared inbox system that was in place earlier had its drawbacks, but Felicity and her team wanted to retain the personal touch that it provided. To do this, they decided to leverage a ‘hidden helpdesk’ approach. Some tickets do come in through a common support email ID and are then automatically routed to agents. However, the majority of customer communication is conducted through the ‘hidden helpdesk’ approach where authors are given personal email IDs of Hindawi’s vendor staff. These interactions are also routed through the helpdesk but the use of actual email IDs has helped personalize the experience for customers. “It should feel like you are reaching an individual staff member’s inbox, rather than a centralized help desk,” says Felicity. “They should only see the improvements - faster response times, improved template use and no forwarding of emails between staff members.”
Hindawi operates with a mix of in-house and outsourced customer service teams. “The outsourced team are the frontline staff, but there are also agents in London who help. Freshdesk is a big reason that outsourcing has been a success for us,” says Karl.
Karl went on to elaborate on how collaboration with the outsourced support team has been easy for his agents. “Distance has become a non-issue, really. With the help of Freshdesk, our agents in London are able to add notes to tickets and help answer complicated questions when needed. We’re able to all see a record of the conversation going back-and-forth, and when needed, we’re able to pull information from previous tickets to help solve issues.”
Hindawi also makes use of automated assignment of queries to ensure the tickets get to the right agent without delay, saving time and effort. “We have seen major productivity improvements in terms of customers being redirected to the correct contact person very quickly and being kept informed, with an average first response time of 4 hours for these queries.”
Hindawi uses Freshdesk across several teams including the customer service team, the credit-control team, the content management team, and the Research Integrity team. Felicity and Karl highlight five key features of Freshdesk that have helped improve ticket response times:
Tagging agents and teams
Through Freshdesk, the customer service team is able to seamlessly handover tickets to the credit-control team once invoices have been unpaid for a specific period of time, allowing them to then take action with the customer. “A majority of our queries are payment-related and can typically take longer to resolve.” Karl said, adding that despite this, his team managed a resolution SLA of 84% with a first contact resolution rate of 80%.
Ticket response templates
Hindawi outsources a part of its customer support to global customer service teams. This can often mean that communication sent out by these widespread teams are not always in line with the brand’s voice. Felicity credits Freshdesk’s response templates with helping to address this challenge. “Within our London team we have carefully created a set of templates that adhere to editorial policies. Being able to add all of these templates into Freshdesk, within clearly labeled team folders, helps the vendor staff to send the correct information first time,” she says.
Integration with Jira
Hindawi uses the Freshdesk-JIRA integration from the app marketplace to help make it easier to collaborate across teams through Freshdesk. “We’ve been building a new open-source manuscript admission and management system, which no one has really done an open-source system before.” Karl said, “We’ve created groups on Freshdesk to manage technical support for this system. The customer service team handles tier 2 support, but anything more technical goes through to our product and technology teams who use JIRA to manage all their bugs.” The integration between Freshdesk and Jira has helped improve collaboration between the two groups.
Freshdesk makes it easy for agents at Hindawi to escalate or tag other team members without the customer being able to see it. For example, if a customer is frustrated about an issue, the vendor staff can escalate it to the London team and update the ticket status to ‘Pending’. This allows issues to be resolved faster.
Reporting and analytics
Arguably the biggest benefit that Hindawi has seen from switching to a helpdesk is the advanced visibility into ticket metrics. “We can now see our average first response times, the number of times tickets are passed on to other agents and even common issues that are raised. This helps us identify the root cause of complaints and proactively address them,” says Felicity. Hindawi uses custom fields in every ticket to drive insights. These fields include details on who the customer is, what journal they belong to and what type of query it is. Freshdesk has automated several of these fields, which has reduced agents’ workload.
Like most businesses, Hindawi was heavily impacted by COVID-19 and had to quickly adapt to change. Speaking about some of the challenges the company faced, Karl says, “We’ve had an influx of research surrounding COVID-19, and we’ve had to adapt and use Freshdesk to prioritize this research. This helps us publish critical research faster so the global community can benefit from it.”
Hindawi also faced operational challenges related to the almost overnight shift to remote work. “All training for our in-house teams and vendors had to be done online,” recalls Felicity. “As Freshdesk is such a user-friendly, intuitive system we found this process easier than expected. We created training videos, and implemented many system automations, to make the transition from gmail to Freshdesk as easy as possible.” To evaluate the success of the remote work format, Hindawi sent out questionnaires to its vendors. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Vendor staff particularly appreciated Freshdesk’s system notifications and tagging features as it helped improve their productivity. Hindawi, in turn, is able to monitor the impact of working from home on their remote staff by tracking workloads and reassigning tickets when needed.
Hindawi’s main support channel so far has largely been email, but the company plans to expand to live chat very soon. “Our initial idea is to have a dedicated team who are able to immediately respond to customer queries, reducing the need for our customers to write an email and wait for a response,” says Felicity. To reduce the volume of incoming tickets, the team also plans to publish an exhaustive knowledge base. “We already have a support portal in place for internal customers to submit tickets regarding the new system.” Karl explains. “We plan to populate the portal with articles to try and deflect some of the queries and educate our employees so they can better serve our customers.”
To improve agent performance, Hindawi has two strategies in mind: gamification and AI. “We are investigating ways we can encourage improved customer service through in-system apps, for example highlighting the number of tickets resolved by each staff member a week, and celebrating where customer queries were resolved in the first response,” says Felicity. Talking about the potential of AI, Karl says, “We need to see how we can have AI make use of all this information we’re collecting to help our agents more with templates, articles, and solution suggestions. I’d like for us to be more proactive with our support.”
“Our overall approach is to ensure that scientific best practices are adhered to and that editorial policies are upheld. Freshdesk helps us to ensure that queries are not only answered quickly but that the correct information is provided to customers in the first instance.”
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