Guest blog from Alexis Fogel, CEO, Stonly
Regardless of your industry or product, your agent support and product teams share one important goal: making your customers successful. That goal becomes 10 times more attainable when those two teams are integrated, sharing knowledge, and working closely together.
And yet, most companies don’t do this. Instead of bringing these two powerhouse teams together, they build siloes. Only 58% of product teams say their customer support teams have an influence on their product roadmap. And two out of three product managers don’t consistently follow up on customer feedback. It’s a waste of talent and expertise, and it’s the customers who ultimately lose out.
If you want to build real customer intimacy that leads to advocacy, your product team should build with input from your support agents. They talk to customers all day, every day about their frustrations, joys, product requests, solutions, and more. No amount of customer research can replace the front-line knowledge of your agents.
Furthermore, if you want to improve feature adoption and usage, equip your agents with in-depth product training. The better they understand your product, the better they can solve customer problems and nudge them toward advanced, high-value features when it makes sense.
Integrating your agent support and product teams can better align your product to customer needs and drive feature adoption. Here’s an eight-step roadmap on how to get started.
Eight ways to integrate agent support and product
Successful integration requires shared ownership. We can talk all day about organizing joint meetings between product and support or creating a dedicated Slack channel. And while those tactics are helpful, they won’t move the needle on their own. Instead, product and support must share specific goals and collaborate directly on mutually beneficial projects. It should be a given that product-related projects involve support, and vice versa.
Require product managers to shadow support once a month
Product managers and their teams naturally need to stay close to their customers. Otherwise, they risk building a product based on what they want rather than what the customer wants. Having your product managers shadow support reps on a monthly basis can help to create the intimacy required for the right kind of solutions. For an entire day, they’ll work together to answer tickets.
The benefits of this are two-fold. First, the support rep can learn from the PM’s product knowledge, particularly if any of the tickets require a specialized answer. Second, the PM can see firsthand what kinds of issues customers have and how reps solve them.
Bonus: Schedule a regular Q&A meeting that includes both the product and agent support teams. They can update each other on projects and discuss findings from these monthly shadow sessions.
Make it easy for support agents to submit feature requests and report bugs
Your support agents have an intimate understanding of what frustrates and excites your customers and what breaks most often in the product. That’s immensely valuable knowledge, especially for your product team.
So it’s important to set up a system that makes it easy for support agents to make feature requests and report any bugs or issues. For a small startup, maybe it’s a Slack channel or a Trello board. For larger companies, it might be more efficient to have the support leader gather all requests from their team and share it with the product team.
Empower your agents to be advisors, not just bug-fixers
Product managers should always empower reps to know not only the “how” of each new feature, but also the “why.” This empowers your support agents to be trusted advisors to your customers, rather than bug-fixers.
Just ask Sébastien Faure, head of customer service and support at Devialet. The French audio technology company takes a hyper-personalized approach to customer experience. They train their support reps (who are literally called “advisors”) to not only solve a customer’s issue, but also show them how to get the most out of the product - like where to place a speaker to get the best sound. That advisor-level knowledge comes from the product team and customer feedback.
«Customer service teams, and the tools they use, are responsible for transforming a bad customer experience into one that builds a positive relationship with your brand. We make CX decisions based on qualitative feedback and NPS surveys, just like we do for product features.»
Sébastien Faure, Head of Customer Service and Support, Devialet
Product managers should help write agent scripts - and make them interactive
Your product people are, by definition, the experts on the product. They built it, after all. That’s why they should write the first draft of any agent script and make it interactive so agents can track performance.
Then have your agents review it with their customers in mind. Will this script (and the interactive pathways inside it) solve their problems? If agents can tell right away that it won’t, fix the product and re-work the script before rolling it out to customers. If it doesn’t survive first contact with customers, repeat the process.
Scripts offer consistency. And when you make them interactive, support agents can gather data on what works and what doesn’t and offer data-driven feedback to product managers.
Support should help develop product onboarding and tours
To create effective onboarding, support agents must be involved as partners, not just consultants. Agents talk to dozens of customers every day, so they know how customers think and how they typically move through your product.
Product teams can use that to their advantage. Bottle your support team’s expertise and their ability to tailor support to any customer, and channel it into your onboarding. Create an interactive onboarding experience that feels like a conversation and adapts to your customer’s answers (as if they were talking to an agent).
Create a tagging system that includes product’s data needs
Tagging tickets is a critical part of any support agent’s job. It enables them to qualify, filter, and measure tickets and improve their own performance. But it takes time to do it right, and it competes with the agent’s time spent on actually solving tickets. It’s most efficient to use a system that lets you tag as you answer tickets. Stonly’s scripted agent guides inside Zendesk can help there.
It’s also important to account for the product team’s data needs. For Cognite, a Norwegian industrial AI SaaS company, that means making sure their support team’s ticketing software integrates easily with the product team’s task tracking software.
“This lessens the burden on my support teams to create custom scripts/guides or manually add tags/labels. It also enables our product team to easily access support ticket data themselves,” said Jodie Kolbeek, director of global support at Cognite.
According to Kolbeek, Cognite’s product teams now have a stronger focus on logged feature requests through support. As a result, the average handling time of a feature request has dropped 16% in the first 30 days and continues to decline. Support is now able to respond to customers faster, and with more complete answers, resulting in a 17% increase in customer satisfaction Month on Month.
Make support part of your release pipeline
Every product launch requires quality assurance, so why not make your support team part of the process? Use them as beta testers. This will help your product team run a final internal validation process before exposing the new feature or product to customers. What’s more, it also gives support reps a chance to get familiar with new features.
“Having support be part of the quality assurance process has helped us with decreasing escalation of tickets to engineering teams. And it’s helped us support product in driving the adoption of new features by being more capable of answering new-feature related service requests,” Kolbeek said.
Consider agent support as part of your product experience
As any product manager knows, not every customer issue should be resolved by changing the product. And not every company has the resources to build or buy solutions to those issues - at least, not immediately. Sometimes it’s just as effective to teach your way out of an issue via agent support. It’s fast, requires zero build time, and yields invaluable knowledge and data for product improvements and scripts.
Whether you’re a startup or in the Fortune 500, your customers should be your No. 1 focus. And the best way to serve them is to make their experience with your product as smooth as possible. By integrating your product and agent support teams, you empower both to align their efforts directly with customers - keeping their needs front and center.