Customer Support people are the best source of knowledge on your customers.
Full disclosure on this one. I started my career in customer support. I have first hand insight into the work they do and what they know. It’s how I stumbled my way into product. And that background enables me to make one statement with absolute, 100% certainty:
No one in your company knows your customers as well as your customer support team do.
The best product managers, business analysts, researches and CEOs pale in comparison to how well an experienced support team member knows your customers. You’ve got to build a close, trusting relationship with them.
I’ve personally witnessed research teams involving a product manager, researcher, designer and developer spend weeks on a project only to come up with “insights” which any support team member could have told them over a cup of coffee.
The problem is, that a lot of support teams are too busy to, or simply don’t know how to surface this knowledge and share it with product. They think it is just something they need to deal with, tickets to solve or assume everyone already knows it.
There are a few things you can do to help the team leverage this knowledge and improve your backlog with it.
Spend at least 1 day per month sitting with support answering support tickets. Don’t make a big deal of it, don’t create a “schedule”, just clear your calendar for 1 day a month, find an experienced support agent and ask them if they mind helping you out answering some tickets. It is literally that simple. Then next day, make sure to buy that agent a coffee or find another nice way to say thank you.
There is no better way to get close to your customers. As a product manager, this is one of the most important things you can do. There is no valid excuse not to do this.
If you don’t have access to your support tools – get access!
If you don’t know know your support team – get to know them!
If you don’t like talking to customers for any reason – get over yourself!
If you don’t “have the time” – get better at managing your time.
Ask support maintain a monthly list of their top 10 issues they receive tickets on. This list is the top 10 pieces of friction your customers experience. Every month, fix at least one of these issues. Before you make this fix, talk to the support team to ensure that what you are planning will remove the friction for the user and not cause something worse.
Give your support team a method to raise questions with you or your team directly. Don’t make them jump through hoops. Don’t waste their time by making them go through their manager first. Don’t make them fill out a form with the “repo steps”. Just tell them – you can talk to us on #slack-channel, email us at <group email address> or if they are in the same building WALK UP AND TALK TO US.
Treat your support team as stakeholder. This means keep them up to date on what you are working on, what is coming down the line and most importantly, give them a heads up before EVERY product release – especially if that release does anything to change the user experience.
What will happen if you start to do all of these?
By building a close relationship with your support team, spending time with them talking to customers and regularly fixing top support issues, you’ll get to know your customers better than ever, you’ll always know the biggest friction points for your customers, you’ll identify issues quicker, you’ll reduce the number of support tickets and everyone (including your customers) will be happier.