Why Support Should Have a Voice in Product Development


Where do you begin when you develop a new product or feature? Product development can seem overwhelming.

There are so many moving parts that trying to create something valuable from nothing can seem impossible. And with so many stakeholders to please, whose opinion should you seek?

All too often a product development cycle starts with market research, gets approved by the board, developed and sold by a sales team before support is ever involved.

Almost every department will touch a new feature before support is involved. Does this sound familiar to you?

In UserVoice’s survey of Product Managers, it was found that customer support is involved in product development only 58% of the time.

Customer Support is involved in product development 58% of the time.

Kayako includes our support team early in the product development process. This has driven feature adoption and meant fewer support issues.

Our experience involving support

If you work in product development, you probably wish you could spend all day talking to customers, because you know how valuable that feedback is. Unfortunately, you’ve got a million other tasks on your plate and it’s hard to get as much customer face time as you want.

The good news is that talking to customers is exactly what support does… for 40 hours a week.

Involving support from the beginning of the product development cycle delivers more insight from a customer’s perspective.

Embrace support’s customer connection

Support provides qualitative and quantitative feedback on user needs.

Support know how customers use your existing product, and the questions they ask about how to extend it. Support can pull out anecdotal quotes from real customers and prospects asking about new features. Plus, they provide metrics that show the impact of frustrated customers on contact rate and customer satisfaction.

Reduce friction and support contacts

Support has a super-powered ability to spot friction in user journeys. Friction is that uncomfortable feeling you get when a product is hard to use. Besides driving support tickets, friction and effort drives churn. Of customers who have a high-effort experience 96% say they are unlikely to use the same service in the future.

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Increase product ownership

Support, when involved from the beginning, gains a sense of ownership over a new product.

Instead of supporting a product they aren’t invested in, they are now likely to promote it authentically (which will impress and make sales teams very happy!). This gets customers excited about releases and drives feature adoption.

Gary McGrath, Customer Success Consultant at Kayako agrees that involving support earlier has helped our product team address root causes of pain points, instead of just fixing the resulting symptoms.

Gary McGrath sharing how support can be used to aid product development“Numerous times we’ve provided feedback on the little parts of bigger features which led to much less friction when we roll out our updates to customers. We also provide feedback on which things we are really struggling with and these are typically the same issues we hear from our own customers too.”

Involving support from the start has helped us to achieve a faster market fit for the product, reduce potential support tickets, and increase adoption.

Why support is often left out

If including support brings so many benefits to a finished product, why are they not included in every release?

Many support teams aren’t equipped with the right tools to deliver meaningful insights to product development. Even if the product team asked the support team how many customers requested a specific feature in the last quarter, pulling that information out of a help desk is impossible.

Working with the product team requires support to speak the same language as the product manager. No, we’re not talking Spanish, Hindi or Icelandic. 

It means giving feedback in a specific format that’s useful to product development.

This is difficult for support teams because they specialize in seeing things from their customer’s perspective. They focus on the frustrations of the customer, rather than the jobs to be done by a new product.

At Kayako, we aim to close the gap and help support and product teams meet in the middle.

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Bringing support into product development

“In God we trust, all others must bring data”

Product managers need support members to come armed with data and strong evidence before they make changes to a new feature design.

This data doesn’t come out of thin air though. To prepare, support and product need to create a process for reporting that works for both teams. Ask each other:

  • What metrics are important?
  • What new features are you starting to research?
  • What format works best for feedback?

Being on the same page ensures that no feedback goes unheard. Talking to each other more effectively helps prevent misunderstandings — or the feeling that support doesn’t have valuable data!

This template will help support teams communicate more easily with Product. Dowload the free product feedback template!

But bringing product teams closer to customers is helpful too. Seeing real people talk about their frustrations with the product helps develop empathy.

Our team uses a combination of Collaborators and FullStory to show (not tell) our product team how customers use Kayako.

How collaborators can help communicate what's in Product Development to your customers

By adding our product team as Collaborators, they can view conversations, add notes and grow closer to customers.

We also rely heavily on FullStory for reviewing user journeys that highlight high friction journeys. Support is usually the best team to uncover these unhappy users because they’ve written into them at Kayako about the problems they have.

Conor Pendergrast, Success Coach at Expensify, says that they’ve involved customer facing teams in product development from day one:

conor-pendergrast-product-development“We took a different approach with improving the product: we expect everyone to speak to customers on a daily basis, and use this to inform how our product needs to improve. Our success coaches then do deeper customer research to understand the pains they face, and the problems that need to be addressed.”

He mentions that customer-focused research allows every department to make better decisions.

“[It] opens up the process to everyone in the company, and allows better decisions earlier in the cycle, as engineers can give ideas about complexity, and better technical solutions, and our marketing team can think more about how we’re describe the benefits. It also allows everyone to understand what we can work on, and gives us a better understanding of our priorities overall.”

If you want to hear more about how Expensify and other companies bring support closer into the fold, I recommend Support Breakfast’s podcast episode on Support Meets Product, which Conor hosts.

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A Final Caveat

If you’re in Support and feel like your voice isn’t being heard, hopefully this article can help you begin to build an effective conversation with Product. However, a warning: customer support should influence product development, not drive it.

Even with support’s best efforts, product might make a decision we don’t fully understand. And that’s okay.

The responsibility of a product manager is to see the forest for the trees. Product managers collect information from every stakeholder (including support). Creating a final product decision involves combining everyone’s perspective into the best possible outcome.

Support teams are exceptionally great at their job, and the best teams will help product management succeed at theirs. This means speaking up, advocating for our customers and getting involved in product development. But it also means trusting final decisions — even if they might not fix every individual user problem right now.

Involving support in product development adds another layer of empathy and customer focused feedback to the process. Get working together and see how a more complete view of the customer creates a better final product.

What you should do now

  1. Start your free trial or take the tour to learn more about Kayako
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