Customer Support is the New Product Development

Hana Mohan

2min read

Today, everyone agrees that investing in good customer support is important for any company. Good customer support earns the trust of your customers converting them into loyal fans and champions of your offering. A lot has been written about delivering faster and better customer support to catalyze this viral growth. However one aspect of customer support that is not often talked about is it's role in product development.

Atleast in the world of startups, most founders start with a vision for what they want to build but lack domain expertise to deeply understand customer problems. This was certainly true of me when I co-founded SupportBee. We had well thought out ideas around staying invisible to the customer and focusing on keeping everything email like (based on our experience in delivering support for Muziboo). However we did not understand how large support teams work together and interact with other teams in the company. We gained this knowledge over the years by talking to our customers and discussing their feedback. For example, these are the features that came out of customer interactions

  • The New Ticket button, SMTP App and then the notify customer via email for new tickets feature
  • Changes to our agent notification emails so everything threads well in your inbox
  • An API endpoint for adding filters and another API endpoint for creating agents
  • Several apps like Pipedrive, Capsule and Audit Trail came out of customer requests.

Over time, we have gotten much better at understanding and discussing customer feedback. We have also learnt that a customer support tool plays an important role in being able to understand and act on this feedback. For example, our feedback loop got much tighter once we started using our Github app extensively. We now create a Github issue for almost every feature request or bug report or usability improvement that our customers write to us about. We then decide to work on it and continue using the issue to attach mockups and code or keep it in the icebox for a later iteration (and notify the customer). We use comments in SupportBee for simpler discussions on support tickets but for anything that needs a lot more brainstorming (including mockups), we use Github.

Github for SupportBee

We also use Flowdock a lot. Since we are a distributed team, Flowdock is where everyone (and everything) comes together. We pipe all our tickets, replies and comments in SupportBee to flowdock so everyone knows what's going on (if they are not online, they get email notifications)

Flowdock SupportBee Comment

Piping our SupportBee activity to Flowdock has had a big positive impact on our quality of discussions. Instead of spending time bringing everyone upto speed on what our customers are asking for, we spend our time on prioritizing the feature requests and working on them. This also has the added benefit that everyone knows why they are building something and how it will improve the experience for our customers.

Craig Newmark of the popular CraigsList still works on customer support. In his own words:

I still do customer service for a living, though honestly, the team doesn't really need me," he says. "However, customer service anchors me to reality, and I plan to do it forever."

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How are you using your customer support to shape your product or service? We would love to hear from you in comments!

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