The Balance Between Customer Advocacy and Product Management
Brandon Wolf at InVision shares how to do honest customer-first advocacy.
Customer advocacy is one of those things that seems like it should be simple. A customer has a problem, someone picks that up and acts as a mouthpiece for that customer, and the problem is fixed by a responsive customer service person, product manager (PM), or engineer.
Anyone who has had a hand in customer advocacy — or customer support — knows that things are almost never that simple. Customer problems are not cut-and-dry. Advocacy can get lost between tickets and tools and teams. And PMs are often in the trenches bettering the product ways that have nothing to do with the customer problems at hand.
Customer advocacy can be difficult and frustrating.
At FullStory we are always looking for ways to make customer advocacy better, which is why we were excited to hear about how InVision does customer-first advocacy from Brandon Wolf, InVision’s Vice President of User Enablement.
Previously, we talked with Wolf about how InVision picks the right tools to manage their support system. Today’s discussion stems from the same conversation but focuses on how companies can keep customers satisfied without feeling like their customers have too much control over what happens and when.
Great customer advocacy starts with shared understanding.
Making sure customers are heard through internal advocates starts with fostering a culture where there’s shared understanding and respect across teams. This way, customer advocates can push product managers without it being taken as an affront. And PMs can push back knowing that customer advocates will buffer the response.
“We try and do some internal calculus between getting our position and doing the customer’s voice justice — but still acknowledging their issue needs to fold into our outstanding backlogs,” says Wolf, nodding to that mutual work and respect.
Shared understanding results in support professionals becoming better advocates for the customers they’re trying to help. “I think that sort of interplay and marriage between support and product managers — and to their counterpoints in engineering — makes that customer advocacy possible.”
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Wolf also notes that celebrating customer happiness and keeping positive customer stories visible is a good way to keep customer experience visible in the company. At InVision, Wolf says, “We have a #customerhappiness Slack channel so people can see a running RSS feed of customer happiness throughout the day.”
Using a Slack channel or sharing customer happiness in some other way (We built a Wall of Love for this purpose) can keep teams focused on improving customer experience without anchoring the business solely to firedrill-inducing customer feedback.
Stay on the level with your customers.
You can’t solve every customer problem, fix all the bugs, and customize the product to exact customer specifications.
When customers have bug problems that won’t be fixed or feature suggestions that will never be implemented, ghosting them by failing to address their issue — not replying — leaves your customer in the dark. When cases come along where the ideal solution isn’t feasible, Wolf says it’s best to communicate plainly, even if it’s bad news. At InVision, Wolf notes, “‘No, but thank you for your feedback,’ is almost always universally well received.”
While what you are telling a customer may not be what they’d ideally like to hear, it should at least be straightforward — candid (And not canned). “I think that as a customer myself, getting an answer back of ‘there really is no ETA for this to be fixed …’ is a far better reply than just ‘Thanks for your message …’”
Sometimes simply being heard is what’s most important. Transparent, frank responses help maintain good standing with customers while tempering their sway on product development.
Listening isn’t just reading complaints.
A key part of understanding how and when to advocate for your customers is harvesting feedback for how they really feel — both the customers who reach out with problems and the ones who don’t. You don’t want to be swayed by a vocally unhappy 5% of customers if 95% of your customers are in love with your product, but you also don’t want to ignore negative comments if they are a good indicator of overall customer happiness.
It can help to see how customers use your product and understand how they feel about it. At InVision, customer success and account managers reach out proactively to “take customers’ temperatures […] in a much more holistic sense,” according to Wolf.
The default, low-touch solution can be as simple as asking how people’s experience is after they reach out to support. “At InVision we have a Zendesk integration, and each ticket involves sending out a comment about how their support integration was.” Wolf said. “And of our solicitations, about 30% of people actually take the time to reply — which demonstrates a impressive level of investment in the interaction — and of that population, we enjoy an industry-leading 98% Customer Satisfaction.”
Watching user session replays (as with FullStory) can also be a good way to understand whether it’s just a single user having an issue or if that customer’s experience is indicative of a larger problem. For example, reviewing customer sessions can reveal a design issue that’s causing rage clicks — indicative of an issue that will affect many more users than those who take the time to contact support. (This also makes for an opportunity for proactive support!).
Customer advocacy is about finding a balance.
Balancing a commitment to customers and customer advocacy can be difficult when you’re trying to build a product and run a company. It’s important for customer advocates to feel like they can represent your users well, but they also need to be judicious about what to bring forward and push.
By creating a culture where empathy for customers is embraced in a balanced way across your organization through customer advocacy can make for a level foundation upon which a great customer experience can be built.
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