Product Thinking in Customer Support
These are rough notes and ideas on the relationship between product and support.
1 ― The quality of your products can be traced back to the quality of conversation between your product team and your support team.
2 ― When product and support have conflicting ideas on what matters most to customers, communication can break down. One way to address this is to help the support team become better product-minded thinkers.
3 ― The support team has to learn to let go of the sense of urgency that comes from talking with customers every day, and frame those conversations against the long view of the product roadmap. They need to transition from knowing less of—to knowing more about—what it takes to build products that push the business forward. The job of the product team is to add context for the support team to help paint the full picture.
4 ― As the support team learns to zoom out and switch perspectives, they develop an intuition for what’s helpful and what isn’t while probing for customer insights. When product feels that they can trust the advice support brings to the table, they can start prioritizing projects that are most important to customers. This opens the door for support to take a more active role in making sure those projects meet and exceed customer expectations.
5 ― Don’t assume that new process or tooling will address a communication breakdown between teams. This is where many companies go wrong. They add more tools, more checklists, more data points, yadda yadda. It’s not a process problem, it’s a thinking problem.
6 ― Companies who invest in developing a product mindset within their support team stand to make the best products in the market.
7 ― Having support team leadership report to growth team leadership is a mistake. Why? It unravels the development of a product mindset. What growth teams do for customers and what product teams do for customers are very different:
Growth is about conversions, expansions, and customer success, with up-selling mixed in. Beneath that, the growth team is searching for ways to make profits. To that end, under growth leadership, the support team becomes an extension of every team in the business. After all, the sales team needs as much help as they can get.
Whereas product minded people want to understand, clarify, and fix problems. They have a strong bias toward making sure customers do not have to deal with the same problems over and over. Under product leadership, the support team works with the product team to serve customers by eliminating product frustrations.
8 ― Some would argue that growth focused teams can build a rational product mindset while also doubling down on growth work. I disagree. Sure, every support team needs product expertise—regardless of specialty—to do their jobs. The problem, however, is that life under the growth umbrella alters the headspace the support team occupies while working with customers. It changes the way they think about the product and affects how they view their role within the company.
9 ― There are three problems that stem from support reporting to growth:
- First is that when the team is constantly checking boxes to meet growth “engagement” needs, the job begins to feel more like compliance and less like customer care.
- Second, a stream of growth tasks and input from all sides creates tunnel vision that prevents the team from honing their pattern recognition skills. They never learn to ask deeper questions about why and how people are using the product; they never seem to know when to turn in a good piece of product feedback, or when to let something breath.
- Finally, without deeper questions, the team struggles to put things in a wider context. This leads back to a weird relationship and poor communication with the product team.
10 ― Growth based initiatives are often process driven—they teach the support team how to do. Product based initiatives are often principle driven—they teach the support team how to think.
11 ― There are many benefits to developing a product mindset within the support team. In the broadest sense, the team becomes technical in all sorts of ways: Maybe some people learn to design or code; they work with engineering to define customer needs and help sketch projects from the start. Others become great at research or QA; they mind the details to make sure that every feature is ready to ship. One person might have a knack for copywriting, so they use their product knowledge to keep the marketing team from making things up when describing your product. Or maybe someone from the support team goes on to be your next product manager.
12 ― It’s not that growth initiatives are not important to the business. They are. It’s not that the support team should not take part in those initiatives. They should. And of course—there are many ways for the support team to generate revenue and do right by customers at the same time. The point is that growth initiatives do not matter if your product sucks and your customers are unhappy.
13 ― If your company cares about building great product, fostering a product mindset and aligning your support team with product leadership makes a helluva lot of sense.
Updated November 2019
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