How to Build and Grow Customer Support in a Product-First Company
Does it ever feel like your Support and Product Teams are running in two different directions? Product-first companies see this a lot.
You may know that you're all on the same team, but it sure doesn't feel that way when dealing with an upset customer, or when seeing ticket after ticket regarding the same issue.
Talk to anyone who has been in Support for more than a few months, and you'd likely encounter the same frustrations.
Here's the good news: It doesn't have to be this way! You can make it better.
Change doesn't happen overnight, but read on for some practical and proven strategies to help you grow customer support in a product-first company.
We are all in this together
What's more important: a great product or great support?
Trick question. They're both vital.
Customer expectations are rising across the board, and the results will have a significant impact on the way you do business.
These rising expectations include all aspects of the customer experience - meaning the knowledge they have of your product, and the experience they have with your support team both matter more than ever.
It's easy to forget this, but if you want to grow support at your company, you need to make sure people remember how vital both pieces are.
Here are a few key things to remember:
1. Products need support
Support is never irrelevant. No matter how good your product is, customers will always have questions, issues, and enhancement requests.
Support affects your brand. A customer's first impression may be based on their experience with your product, but the journey doesn't end there. Support interactions influence how customers think about your product, and studies show that customers are often willing to pay more for better customer experience. Every support interaction is a chance to build trust with your customers.
Support knows your customers. Support deals with customers all day, every day. They can tell you how customers use your product, what the pain points are, and what they love. If your product team isn't taking advantage of this, you are missing out on a wealth of knowledge.
2. Support needs product
Customers are continually evolving. Today's top product could be tomorrow's has-been (even purple ketchup was cool once, right?). Customer needs and preferences are always changing, and a great product team is able to anticipate those changes and evolve product offerings to meet them.
Support can't solve every problem. Great support and great product teams share similar skills, but they aren't identical. Support teams need product experts with the technical expertise to build/change/fix/prevent problems for your customers.
Product and support aren't competitors. The product team creates solutions that solve customer problems. In parallel, support facilitates experiences that delight customers. When paired up well, support and product are perfect complements to each other.
This begs a question: If you're a support agent or manager stuck in a product-first company, how can you help others see the light and find ways to grow your customer support?
The recipe for success will vary depending on your situation, but we’ve compiled four essential tips to help guide you on your journey:
1. Have a clear picture of what you're trying to do as a company
"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying 'no' to 1,000 things." -Steve Jobs
Support teams want to help customers. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning, right? While that's super important, it can also lead to serious issues if it conflicts with your strategic goals.
For example, imagine that you work for a company that creates field service management software.
Your goal as a company is to create an easy, simple-to-use, intuitive tool that helps customers manage field service requests.
Awesome! Now here's where it gets challenging: as your customer base grows, you get more and more requests to add different features and enhancements. Each customer makes a compelling case for why adding that fancy new widget will help them get more of your software.
In a perfect world, maybe you could quickly build and release these features to help meet each customer's needs...but should you?
If you give in to temptation before you know it, your simple and easy tool will become a monster. You'll add more and more features and widgets, and while each one may help a customer in some way, the total is likely to be overwhelming.
How can you prevent this? Fight the temptation. Fight to stay focused on who you are as a company. Don't lose sight of what makes you unique and what your end goal is.
Internalizing these principles will enable you to take customer feedback when it's offered, but also to graciously say "No" when something doesn't make sense with what you're trying to do as a company.
2. Get to know your product team's philosophy
Every team has limitations.
There are only so many hours in the day, and there are only so many people to do the work. Your support team has goals to hit and priorities to achieve, right? Well, hopefully, this is no surprise, but so does your product team!
Resource constraints can make decisions hard. This can often cause conflict between support and product teams. Why? Because your support team is usually focused on fixing existing issues while your product team is focused on building for the future.
Rather than fuming at why your product team just won't fix issue X, work with them to understand their goals and priorities.
What are they working on? What's on their roadmap, and what sort of pressure are they under to achieve their goals?
As you learn more about these areas, you'll be able to empathize more with your product team. This will help you understand where they're coming from, and ultimately it will help you know where customer support fits in, and where the opportunities are.
3. It's all about relationships
There is a lot of talk in the customer support world about how important it is to build real relationships with your customers. The conversation is right - building relationships with customers is critical for long-term success.
But do you know what doesn't get talked about enough? The importance of building relationships between your support and product teams.
Everyone in your company wants the same thing, right? You want to delight customers and grow your business. While limitations and deadlines may create pressure and friction, the two tactics mentioned above can lay the groundwork.
If your organization is still struggling with infighting or silos, focus your energy on creating meaningful connections among those teams.
Often, the quickest way to begin seeing improvements in this area is to create clear and easy lines of communication. Can you create a Slack channel where support and product can talk to each?
If your teams aren't remote, put an event on the calendar that pulls everyone together and gives them a chance to get to know each other. If they are remote, schedule recurring video calls that facilitate connections between support and product.
It's helpful to remember that you're all people, and you're all on the same team. There are a million different ways to tackle this issue - the only limit is your creativity!
4. Advocate relentlessly for your customers
Whatever line of work you're in, there is one thing that matters most: the customer.
Sam Walton said it this way: "There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
In the frenzy of dealing with tickets, projects, and people every day, it's surprisingly easy to forget this. Each customer may only make up one small slice of your customer base, but every one of them matters.
One of the most valuable things support brings to a business is a reminder of how valuable customers are. You spend all day, every day connecting with customers and hearing what matters most to them. Don't lose sight of how important this is!
Also, bear in mind that your company will never be able to solve every customer problem.
There will be times where you'll need to tell a customer no, and there will be times where, despite your best intention, things won't go to plan. That's life in support. But as a support team, you also have the privilege - nay, the duty - of making sure your customers' voices get heard.
Aim to make that happen consistently, and you'll find plenty of ways to grow your customer support.
Being product-first and having excellent customer support are not mutually exclusive. With this in mind, it’s always wise to:
Invest yourself in understanding what you're trying to achieve
Build meaningful relationships
Advocate relentlessly for your customers
With a little patience, creativity, and determination, you'll find many opportunities to grow your customer support team.