Brandon Tidd + Zendesk: How one Luminary helps many
Brandon saw a Tweet about Zendesk offering its software for free to help with COVID-19. He reached out to our Social Impact team to see if any of the nonprofits could benefit from an expert’s help. Three implementations later, he's even nimbler with the platform than when he started.
"COVID-19 accelerated something that was already happening: forced people to upgrade their customer experiences in the online space."
Simply Digital: A Jargon-free Small Business Survival Guide to the Digital World.
Kent State University
Spending time with his family, DJing private events, and volunteering on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Zoomers to Boomers, GiveDirectly, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Brandon Tidd didn’t wait for an opportunity to help with the COVID-19 response. He built his own door by proactively asking Zendesk’s Social Impact team if any of the nonprofits it was working with could benefit from an expert’s help. Using the skills he has sharpened as a Zendesk admin at BrandMuscle, Brandon has helped three nonprofits set up ticket forms, help centers, and macros. That means that, on virtually day three of existing, these organizations can stay organized, be effective, and scale.
We asked Brandon about why helping small businesses matters to him, his own pandemic response, and what it’s been like to work with the high school students behind Zoomers to Boomers.
Faith Hanna: Brandon, a quick Google Search of your name reveals a deep passion for helping small, local businesses. You even wrote a book, Simply Digital: A Jargon-free Small Business Survival Guide to the Digital World. Where does that passion stem from?
When I was in college in 2000, I worked with small businesses, many of them restaurants, to activate their first digital presence ever. Their first basic website. They would offer me money, but I ended up just eating for free in exchange for doing their web services.Every pivot that my career path takes is around helping small businesses grow. I figured if I could put my knowledge into a digital or print book, I might be able to help even more people.
You’ve been a small business owner yourself. Tell us a little about what you learned from that experience.
So much. First of all, I kind of stumbled into it. After I graduated, I realized that I needed money in addition to food. I was in radio sales at the time and as we were selling banner ads and other digital things, and there really wasn’t a solution in place for our clients that were traditionally radio-only. Since then, I have worked to do the same for upwards of 200 small businesses.
With COVID-19, businesses without an online presence are struggling to stay relevant.
Do you think the virus has made it more important for businesses to be online?
COVID-19 accelerated something that was already happening: forced people to upgrade their customer experiences in the online space. It couldn’t be, “Well, I don’t need that because my customers don’t go online, they just walk in.”
They had to really quickly pivot and scale up their response and effort around being available. Some businesses were more well prepared than others to make that shift. But it really kind of accentuated how important online presence is for every business. From the large corporations right down to small mom and pops.
Let’s get into how you started using your Zendesk admin skills to help small organizations respond to COVID-19. How did you come across the opportunity?
I was really trying to think about, “What is my part in this going to be?” I’m fairly limited. I’m not a first responder, I’m not a nurse.
I started looking at what my skill sets are. Being a Zendesk administrator for my company means I understand the inner workings of the platform, am able to work with it fluently, and stand things up very quickly.
So, after seeing what they were up to on Twitter, I proactively reached out to Zendesk’s Tech For Good team.
Absolutely. Tell us about a specific organization that you have worked with.
My passion project is an organization called Zoomers to Boomers. Here’s a bunch of high school kids who said, “We don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we know there’s a need for grocery delivery to vulnerable people,” and then solved for it.
People who get helped just pay for their groceries. That’s it. There’s no delivery tax or tipping. It’s like Grubhub or an Instacart without any of the processing fees.
They started in the Santa Barbara area and just have very quickly scaled to over 20 communities. They recently struck a partnership with the State of California that’s going to infuse them with somewhere around a thousand more volunteers.
I’m used to working with organizations and businesses with IT teams whereas these guys didn’t know what a macro or SLA was. They had been leveraging the Google Suite of products. New orders were coming in via Google forms, going into a shared Google sheet. At 200 volunteers, it was already untenable. We worked very quickly to consolidate all of their forms under one Zendesk submission form. I introduced them to the world of macros, templates, and light agents.
I joke with them that once they are stable, I want to spin up a Zoomers to Boomers chapter here in Ohio…although I’m not really joking.
I have no doubt that you’ll be involved when that happens. But then really ultimately this is about a passion that you have that is igniting change in different communities. And you’re really able to sum up everything you’ve learned and put it into action, which is just incredibly satisfying and meaningful for you.
The one footnote to this conversation, because I always try to give them a plug whenever I can, is the Zendesk Advocacy team. I would not be able to help nearly as many people as quickly as I have been without leveraging the support team and their knowledge.
I’m kind of known for solving my own problems, but I like to talk it through, like over a chat. Sometimes that third-party perspective really helps. And they are there 24/7 to be that sounding board or that resource depending on what I need.
I’m looking at your shirt, which has the Zendesk Community logo on it. As one of our brightest Luminaries, you’ve spoken at events such as Relate, offered product feedback, and now you’re helping nonprofits set up Zendesk. What is it about engaging in the Zendesk community that you most enjoy?
It’s twofold. Obviously I enjoy teaching and educating. I am passionate about helping small businesses. And because so many of Zendesk’s customers are small business owners, I’m able to help bridge that gap between where their knowledge ends and the platform comes to meet them.
The other aspect of it is that I’ve learned more about Zendesk in the past four months of being a community moderator than I did in the year and a half prior. I end up solving problems that I didn’t even know I had with our instance. And so it’s a nice little feedback loop where by helping others, it helps me improve BrandMuscle’s business, too.