Support + Product = ❤

Austin Nichols
Feb 11, 2017 · 5 min read

If you’ve worked in the Support industry, you might be familiar with this situation. The ticket backlog is out of control and customer satisfaction is plummeting. Your entire team is feeling the stress and everyone is staying late to play catch-up. The dumpster fire is burning bright and it’s due to a bug in a critical workflow or confusing new feature that just launched.

As soon as you identify this issue, you pass it along to the product team through a Slack message, JIRA ticket or Trello card. In response, you hear a lot of “we’ll add it to the backlog” or “we don’t have time for that.” You might even see the dreaded will not fix in JIRA.

Support is like…

We’ve all been there, right? It’s a difficult and frustrating position to be in, but it should lead to some serious self-evaluation. Usually, we get a negative response from the product team NOT because they don’t care about users or our stress. Rather, it’s often because support teams fail to advocate for our users. We don’t communicate the severity of issues and struggle to evaluate the big picture.

Product is like…

Why is this so important?

It may sound cliche, but communication is the key to healthy relationships. The same is true for product and support teams. Everyone knows that healthy relationships are hard work. Some might dismiss the value of the support to product relationship. But I believe that it’s critical to customers, support teams, product teams, and your entire company to get this relationship right.

Support teams play a major role in the cycle of product development. Most support teams are sitting on a goldmine of user interviews and feedback. All that information fits into the learn component of the Lean Development Cycle. (For more on that cycle — check out this article). We’re actually helping them make better features and improvements for our users!

Communicating with the product team also helps us get a seat at the table. The table is where all the important decisions happen at your company like what to build next or what to NOT build. Interactions with the other departments are a chance to build or lose credibility. It will make everyone’s lives easier when a support team is excellent at communicating. Especially when they are advocating for certain features or fixes.

If we communicate well as support professionals, it leads to better products. Better products lead to happier and more loyal users. It’s easy to make a correlation between those two things — which means more cold hard cash for your company. And if we’re being honest, it’s pretty important to keep the lights on.

How to Communicate with Product

Product teams live and breathe data. If you find yourself getting shut down all the time, look at yourself in the mirror. Do you scream from the rooftops about singular, isolated interactions? It’s essential to use interaction data from software like Zendesk or Helpdesk. Additionally, error info from services like Sumo Logic or Mixpanel can advocate on their own. A statement like, “We’ve received 200 tickets about this issue in the last month and 2,000 high profile users have run into the error based on our logs” will get you much further than saying “There’s an issue and we need it fixed!”

In addition to using data, you have to know what type of information is important to your audience. For example, imagine you are presenting a bug to a product team that works with the video player on your website. It doesn’t take much research to realize that video views are an important metric to this squad. If that is not obvious, don’t be afraid to ask a product manager how their team evaluates their products.

Once you figure out what is relevant to your product team, you can mold your data to make a bigger impact. This particular bug is causing thousands of missed video views every day. That is going to raise some eyebrows. Most important, the monetary impact can be a huge metric. Let’s say your company makes ad revenue on each one of those video views. You can make a case that this bug is costing the company money by missing out on thousands of video views.

Another powerful tool is to identify where in the user funnel the issue is occurring. Is the bug blocking users from finishing their sign-up flow? Is the bug keeping the user from completing the core activities within your product or breaking the self-perpetuating virtuous loop? (For more on core actions and loops: Data, funnels, and money are the language of business and product teams. Support teams have to learn to communicate in this type of language.

Once support starts speaking in product language, we can leverage user interactions. Communicating user pain can be a powerful complement to data. Attach audio from that angry user complaining about an issue to your bug report. Written communication is even easier. Copy/paste those passionate user testimonies from chats and emails. The magic happens when you can provide emotional context and back it up with hard data.

Communicate this type of user pain…
So users can start doing more of this…

Make It Easy to Find

It should be effortless for your product team to find all this powerful information. Consider making a top 10 list of bugs and user issues. This list should include:

  • A detailed description of the problem including how much user pain it is causing.
  • Total support interactions from this issue.
  • The cost in both reputation and money
  • Specific and compelling user testimonies.

Keep this list in an easy to access place for everyone in the company. I’d recommend sending it out on a regular cadence.

Bringing it all together

Support professionals have a huge potential to build value for their organizations. We have to be effective advocates for our users by being amazing communicators. This leads to happy product teams that are able to rank the issues they’re hearing about from Support. This also leads to support being able to do our jobs effectively and with more credibility.

Most importantly, getting this relationship right leads to loyal users who absolutely love your brand and love using your product. Which at the end of the day, is why both product and support teams are here right?

Have thoughts or stories about communicating with the product teams of the world? Or maybe you’re a product person with ideas on communicating with support? Let me know.

Austin Nichols

Written by

Oh, hi! 👋🏻 Husband and Father. Product Manager @Hudl. I care way too much about Husker Football🎈 Burgers, iced coffee, and beer are the way to my ❤️

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