Support is a Product

If it were up to support teams to run a company, there would be no product or business; they would shut everything down, go home, and have a good night’s sleep knowing nothing will break or change to piss off customers. It’s no secret, that out of every team in the company, Customer Experience tends to be the least amenable to change.

The support team’s attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the root of the schism between support and the rest of the company’s “move fast and break things” mentality. This attitude encourages investing in the same tools from 5 years ago, and support teams protect their system of stodgy, outmoded support channels because they’re afraid of change.

Customer Experience Managers, if they were truly concerned about the Customer Experience, wouldn’t be afraid of testing and trying new tools or features, and should seek to offer an experience looking to the future, instead of rooting it in the channels of 5 years ago. Forums, phones, web contact forms, even email, are all outdated. Yes, your customers may currently use a desktop browser to access your product, but guess what? Your mobile team has been pushing for the app to become the hero product next quarter, and you don’t have a plan to support the thousands of users coming to ask for help via the app. It’s not the product team’s job to figure out how to support users in an app, it’s yours’ dear Support Manager. Instead, you’re caught flat-footed, addressing next-generation problems with last generation’s tools.

Outlook for iOS putting contextual support front and center.

Microsoft just recently released a stat: using in-app FAQs reduced support requests by 60% for Outlook Mobile (one of the most popular mobile email clients). They funnel all support requests back to the in-app tool (Helpshift), and help users help themselves. This is not a fluke; it is part of a calculated support strategy that has been discussed and considered by their heads of product and support managers working together to craft the entire experience (support included) from sign-up to adding your 10th email account in the app. Prior to in-app help, you could contact Outlook support via email and phone, both of which are less-optimal experiences in terms of Support resource management, and customer effort. As Kevin Henrikson of Microsoft so aptly observed: “Who wants to start their day by calling Support?”

The next generation of Support tools are going to be predictive, proactive, and data-rich. They will focus on creating the type of experience that you typically only receive at high-end retail operations (Nordstroms, Tiffany, Apple, etc.) They will recognize patterns and present solutions to problems your customers didn’t know they had. The role of the support associate in this environment will shift from answering tickets to a more passive, analytical state that provides feedback to product, and a voice for your customer.

Support is a product; treat it as such. The question isn’t what your role in the customers’ life is today, it’s what value you’re going to provide the customer tomorrow, the next day, the next week, the next quarter, and the next 5 years. Your company’s product is going to change, and so should your support experience.