Remember which team you play for

It used to be that customer support was an afterthought. A function sequestered far from product or farmed out overseas to the cheapest provider. But as businesses everywhere began to better understand how customer experience effects the bottom line this has changed.

Smart companies built support teams that gave a damn and were enabled to make a difference. It was their responsibility to act as the advocate for the customer’s needs, wants, and desires. To go beyond answering questions and fixing issues. To guide the user to a successful outcome, whatever that looked like.

And these support teams worked hard as advocate and advisor. They empathized, they fought to get common confusions cleared up in the product and docs, and they cataloged and prioritized bugs to ensure quick fixes. They cared deeply about their customers. Over time, distance between the teams designing and building the product and the team supporting the product widened. No one wanted the teams to lose touch, it was just a natural outcome of so many people, and so much work. And as that gap grew, the support team slowly slid over an invisible line. They lost touch with the end goal. They spent their time outraged on behalf of customers when the product team didn’t fix a reported bug. They sided with customers that “the way the product team designed this feature doesn’t make much sense”. They gathered in chat rooms and forums to complain and commiserate with to each other.

Building a successful business is hard. And the truth is, being successful depends on so much more than simply building a great product. Seemingly straightforward and mundane things like payroll and taxes have the ability to kill a company, and quickly. Finding product-market fit is just the first step on a very long and winding road. Businesses operate under a set of very tight constraints. And it’s these constraints that force all businesses to make trade-offs, knowingly or not. Prioritizing building something new over fixing that bug a VIP customer reported? Not building that feature requested by your users that “everyone surely wants” and “would definitely get me to pay more for your product”? These are trade-offs at work. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace your constraints, but no one said it would be easy.

Support teams should act as an advocate for and an advisor to customers. They should accurately represent where customers are extracting value from your product and where they’re having trouble. They should help highlight constraints and clarify priorities. But support teams also need to remember which team they play for. Without product; and it’s attendant constraints, trade-offs, and tough decisions, there wouldn’t be any customers in the first place.

Make a practice of being positive and constructive, of starting from an assumption that your coworkers are intelligent and hardworking. I guarantee that this one change of outlook will make your job more enjoyable and that you will get more done, with less effort.

American living in Italy. Product & Partnerships at Musing on tech, the outdoors, and lifelong learning.

American living in Italy. Product & Partnerships at Musing on tech, the outdoors, and lifelong learning.