In his second guest post for Mind the Product, Customer support executive Rob Armstrong delves into how customers support can be integrated into the product strategy.
In my earlier article “Why customer support is a vital part of brand promise” I talked about the ways in which support that is integrated into product strategy and executed well can become a valuable differentiating feature. Within that, impactful and effective support is the product of intentional business strategy, highly functioning operational capabilities, and organizational leadership that can recruit, empower, engage and grow teams alongside customer-facing tools and technologies to deliver the intended customer experiences.
But, how can organizations actually introduce and integrate support into a product strategy? I have some insights, but every organization will have its own needs, parameters and requirements. Perhaps this can spark new discussions or ideas for your own organization.
Customer support as a product management perspective
One way Product Managers can integrate with Customer Support is as a feature- both literally and as a stakeholder.
- Planfully bring support into the product as a frictionless connect from the UI to resources and content when and where customers may have a need. Intuit is very good with this- where a workflow or element may be complex or confusing, they have a “whats this” tag that links to help content, and then to support contacts if users still need more help. Tools like Pendo and Whatfix make these kinds of integrations seamless and powerful.
- Partner with Support to build, brand and operate Self help, online, interactive and direct support resources. Which might be needed by customers, where might they have questions, need help content, reference or other info and resources. If there are product or related issues, is the UI built to catch and direct them to the needed support endpoint?
- Extend the brand promise through support. If your brand mission/promise is “To inspire and innovate”, are product and support partnering to make the support model innovative? At athenahealth, the brand promise could be summarized as innovative healthcare technology and services to help deliver better outcomes”, and we worked closely across product and support teams to build support that was innovative and delivered better (support and product) outcomes.
- Leverage support data and insights broadly. Support organizations should work to build and deliver robust value through the data that is their best resource. Support is often the highest volume of interactions that customers have (by far) with a product post-purchase- whether your company has 100, 1,000, or 100,000 support interactions a month, these are a source of tremendous insight around customers, product usage, use case, usability and many other parameters. To capture, synthesize, analyze and create value from this, support can partner with product, onboarding, success/experience, sales and other teams to architect tooling, analytics, reporting and engagement platforms that provide shared value and collaboration.
Customer Support as an organizational perspective
As a support leader, I’ve found a lot of success in structuring formal and meaningful points of collaboration across support and product organizations. Many companies are surfacing the need to do so, and can further ignite and empower these through monthly, or quarterly joint business reviews to assess strategies, initiatives, results and ongoing planning. This type of engagement needs to be supported at the organizational executive level, with visibility through internal communications channels.
An even further step that I’ve seen work extremely well is to embed support resources within product or scrum teams. These are well structured and defined roles and responsibilities that work as a bi-directional organizational interface between support and these teams to surface and drive joint strategy, plan and roadmap information with support leadership, while doing the same back into product teams with data from support tooling, analytics, reporting and engagement platforms I mentioned above. At Microsoft, I was in such a role on a database product that was very complex to support, with issue handle times 3x to 4x other products. In working with product on a new release, I brought data on the most intractable customer issues, from which with the product team developed UI “wizards”- step by step setup and configuration aids in the product. These eliminated several downstream support issues and were enormously popular with users- a true win-win.
If you connect customer support to the product strategy and execute it well, it can become a valuable differentiating feature because when they are aligned and work well together, they create enormous brand and customer chemistry with tangible impacts to retention, LTV, NPS and more. Are there opportunities in your organization to do so?