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Upwork scales global support with robust APIs and self-service

Upwork, the world’s work marketplace, is where companies can find independent talent to grow their businesses, and independent talent can find work to grow their careers. The team partnered with Zendesk Assist professional services to optimise its CX using APIs and automations, resulting in 58% chatbot resolution with self-service. Scaling with Zendesk has positioned Upwork to handle a huge global support volume and pursue account growth in new international markets.

“Zendesk is a global platform that allows us to connect internally and allows customers to connect with us in a streamlined fashion. It simplifies our workflows and gives us great customer insights.”

Brent Pliskow

VP of Customer Support at Upwork

“Integrating Forethought with Zendesk has resolved 58% of our chat interactions, leaving only 42% to be handled by our support team.”

Brent Pliskow

VP of Customer Support at Upwork

Company Headquarters

San Francisco, California

Talent Earnings 2021


Fortune 100 companies using Upwork


Started using Zendesk



Agent voluntary turnover rate


Annual tickets


Chatbot resolution rate


Support agents

Upwork has established itself as the world’s work marketplace, serving skilled professionals, emerging startups and more than 30% of the Fortune 100. The platform empowers workers with a job network and gives businesses a singular place to connect with freelance or full-time talent.

By 2021, the global talent community had earned over $3.3 billion on Upwork, across more than 10,000 skills in categories such as website and app development, creative and design, customer support, finance and accounting, consulting and operations. The success continued into 2022, when Upwork earned a spot on the prestigious TIME100 Most Influential Companies list for successfully innovating, evangelising and scaling its work marketplace.

Upwork serves as a beacon of innovation in today’s dynamic work environment, where people are seeking more flexibility and company staffing needs are continually evolving. Brent Pliskow, the VP of Customer Support at Upwork, has been closely tracking this trend. “With the Great Resignation happening after the global pandemic, we found that a lot of the independent professionals on our platform were in secure jobs they enjoyed before joining Upwork, but were looking for something new”, he says.

As Pliskow says, “on Upwork, they discovered opportunities from businesses around the world, where they could tap into skills or passions that were previously unexplored. For talent in severe predicaments resulting from recent macroeconomic and other world events, Upwork provides opportunities to support their livelihoods and carry their careers forward”.

Conversely, Upwork offers a much richer pool of talent for businesses to engage. “While a majority of businesses are still in hiring mode, they’re looking for a skilled, talented workforce, which they might not be able to find locally”, says Pliskow.

Upwork drives innovation with a freelance workforce

Upwork has a distributed workforce made up of independent talent, and Zendesk technology plays a huge part in making that unique model work. “Zendesk is a global platform that allows us to connect internally and allows customers to connect with us in a streamlined fashion”, Pliskow explains. “It simplifies our workflows and gives us great customer insights.”

Flexibility and versatility are key to Upwork’s business, and the same applies to its internal teams and processes. “One benefit of having an [in part] freelancer workforce is bringing in talent with a diverse background of experience, culture, and beyond”, says Pliskow. “From that comes innovation, which is actually keeping our agents engaged.”

“Transparency and communication help employees [and Upwork’s workforce of independent professionals] feel like they are truly part of the Upwork family”, Pliskow adds. “Every agent is encouraged to put forward ideas that benefit our customer or agent experience, and they’re rewarded if their suggestion is implemented.”

Remarkably, the voluntary turnover rate for Upwork’s support organisation is less than 5%. Pliskow attributes that low rate to the fact that part of the company’s support team is made up of freelance talent who use the platform. “What better way to support Upwork customers than to connect them with people who have the same day-to-day experience? They can bring more empathy to those interactions”, says Pliskow.


The human touch–from proactive support to dispute resolution

A Zendesk customer since 2011, Upwork currently utilises Agent Workspace and provides support through email, chatbot, web form, Twitter and Facebook. Made up of more than 300 agents, the team handles 600,000 annual support tickets on a variety of customer issues, from basic queries about logins to more complex disputes.

Beyond that, many customers are freelancers looking for an opportunity or clients looking for talent, and they want Upwork’s help to close the gap. “In that sense”, Pliskow says, “we’re providing more proactive support and offering resources that will improve a client’s or talent’s appeal on the platform”.

“We will continue to invest in solutions that allow us to provide a human touch where it absolutely makes the most sense”, Pliskow continues. Specifically, he would like to improve the customer experience around handling disputes. “How do we integrate support directly into our platform so that we’re having conversations with customers and talent the same way that they’re having conversations with each other?”

The solution: an Upwork agent enters the conversation through support channels and facilitates a dialogue between the client and the talent. In that way, Upwork becomes an empathetic third party to the interaction and can help steer them towards a resolution. This three-way messaging model also ensures that customers don’t have to leave what they’re doing, swivel to another screen or replay the entire conversation to get their problem solved.

Next-level professional support from Zendesk experts

Zendesk Assist professional services have become a valuable addition to Upwork’s CX toolbox as the team rolled out Zendesk optimisations, including macros, triggers, automation support and APIs. Upwork also gained product knowledge from Assist pros on how to leverage Zendesk metrics and data reporting, to optimise email channels. As a result, the support team has a better understanding of high email volume and how to route queries efficiently. Moving forward, Upwork plans to leverage Zendesk Premier Enterprise Support for expertise in making additional CX process improvements.

Smart integrations “uplevel the customer experience”

Upwork leverages a range of Zendesk APIs to support its business, including Forethought, GetFeedback and MaestroQA. For customer analytics, UnitQ is the clear choice. Pliskow says “UnitQ helps us get early detection of problems that surface within our environment and allows us to identify long-standing issues that we can carry forward and influence product stakeholders”.

Pliskow continues: “we are also heavily investing in self-service technology that will enable our agents to be more efficient and more effective, and really uplevel the customer experience”. To that end, Forethought is helping the support team achieve its self-service goal and improve the agent experience. “Integrating Forethought with Zendesk has resolved 58% of our chatbot interactions, leaving only 42% to be handled by our support team.”

Self-service as a stepping stone to future success

Going forward, Pliskow would like to further expand self-service and analytics capabilities at Upwork. “We want to be quick to respond, to isolate a problem, to identify trends, and to escalate issues so that customer concerns are resolved as soon as possible.”