Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat

Imagine discovering a newly-launched marketing promotion by hearing about it from…your customers, not from your marketing team. And hey, remember that time when a software developer pushed live a significant change to one of your core products on a Friday afternoon and then left to go *camping* for a long weekend? Oh you don’t? Well, our support team sure does.

Thankfully, all this is in the past!

The above situations are not only highly frustrating, they also make for operational inefficiency and are likely contribute to business losses in the shape of reduced acquisitions, increased churn, and increased support costs. What was missing from all of them was an internal customer advocate – a voice representing the needs of end users.

Creating the role

What’s a Support manager to do? How do you stay on top of recent business decisions and also voice your input, either from the customer’s perspective or from an operational standpoint, all without becoming a huge blocker to progress? Enter the Product Support Coordinator, a role that can help your organization bring customer perspective and end user experience into the decision-making process. It’s a role we created within our own organization, and it turned out to be absolutely critical to our support team’s success.

The role itself went through different iterations, including names and scope – following the evolution of how the company handled development and marketing projects.

In our case, we were focusing on how a Support Coordinator could contribute to improving team and process efficiency by anticipating customer needs and reducing unnecessary incoming requests.

Volunteering to be part of a weekly backlog meeting is a great way to start. You can use this opportunity for advocating for and prioritizing customer-reported bugs and feature requests. If you’re in a (semi) leadership role and have some tenure at the company, you may already have personal relationships with the leaders of other teams, so use those too to improve communication about upcoming changes.

My recommendation is don’t be shy :). Learn your product team’s development and release cycles, become familiar with seasonalities, and use this information to ask the right questions about what’s coming out of the pipeline: anywhere from seasonal sales to service windows.

Eventually, this function could go as far as creating – or contributing to – the creation of an actual role. As the the-Director of Tech Support when we started thinking about this, I was empowered to establish new positions within the team. However, even if you do not personally have the agency to create a new role, you could still play a part by providing an ROI calculation to prove the need and the resulting positive changes. In our case, we were focusing on how a Support Coordinator could contribute to improving team and process efficiency by anticipating customer needs and reducing unnecessary incoming requests.

In our experience, the ideal candidate for the role is detail-oriented, vocal, and persuasive, with a track record of being able to see the big picture when it comes to products and how they might impact the customer experience.

Once the role is established, keep an eye on the early results. If they are promising – like communication improvement between support and other teams, such as Product and Marketing – you know you’re on the right track. Loftier aspirations, like representing the voice of the customer could be something you could start attempting to weave into this partnership you are developing with the rest of the company.

What happens if your company’s structure changes while you’re in the middle of evolving this role? Yes, you guessed right: adapt and evolve with the changes! In our case, our company moved to a more product-oriented organization, which brought the need for understanding what our customers wanted and needed even more into focus. This enabled and encouraged the product support coordinator to share more and more concerns and requests, while also keeping the company’s goals in mind, and considering the customer base as a whole. This also helped us to evaluate requests and incoming bug reports: “Are they just one-offs? Or is there more value there if we dig a little deeper?”

See? Change can be great!

Unexpected impacts: things that were hard

Of course, simply creating this role won’t lead to immediate success for a variety of reasons. Your Support team’s structure might need some work. Your Product or Marketing teams might not be ready to handle the requirements of working with a Product Support Coordinator. Expecting painless adaptation is just crazy town :).

Some of the difficulties we ran into were due to the lack of experience of the person performing the role and learning as they went. Other bumps in the road were caused by non-support teams forgetting that this role now existed, or didn’t necessarily consider the support team as key stakeholder when it came to kickoffs or retros.

Sometimes legacy people may fall back into doing things the way they used to. Of course, there’s nothing malicious about it. It takes time, practice, and repetition to fully incorporate a new process.

Rather than detailing all the things that went wrong as we grew the role, I’ll share some takeaways from the transition. As the person who creates (or contributes to) the role, you must keep an eye on things and perhaps, in the beginning, even double the support presence in meetings, alongside your PSC. This will help you see how they are relating to the process and the other team, and how the other teams are relating to them. Your presence may also help plant the mental seed and have the other teams get used to including the coordinator in any future sessions, as needed. On the support end, be the champion of the role: make sure your team understands the need, the purpose, and the value of the role and contributes by keeping an eye on announcements coming from the coordinators, and by providing customer feedback when requested.

Results

Four years later, and we’ve come a long way. We now have two Product Support Coordinators, with some overlapping and some specific duties. This allows our coordinators to share some tasks and hand things off seamlessly between them as needed, as well as being able to cover more ground and assist with speeding up planned maintenances and product launches.

Some of our notable results are:

  • Improved customer-facing messaging during pre-maintenance and post-launch email and status post communication to increase clarity in process or reduce churn when downtime is involved
  • Faster and better-informed customer service due to Support always being in the loop
  • Up-to-date customer-facing documentation, including actively soliciting customer feedback
  • Orderly post-launch quality control and effective escalations including direct Support feedback to Product for quick adjustments as well as long-term feature and process improvements
  • Regular check-ins with technical teams for a smoother system maintenance

Today our product support coordinators are accepted as representatives of the support team and are our stakeholders across the organization as highly visible and effective liaisons in the product development processes. We were finally able to establish a two-way channel for product rollouts: representing operational and potential customer needs during planning, and then serving as a direct feedback source post-rollout, to suggest – or insist on – adjustments or even rollbacks as necessary. They also continue being a presence in ongoing backlog meetings – some approaches are fine just as they are!

I’m happy to further discuss part of our journey to establish and develop the role of Product Support Coordinator. You can find me in the #product-management SD Slack channel, or directly @andreasilas. If you’re not in the Support Driven Slack yet, you can join the community for free.


Andrea Silas is VP of Technical Support at DreamHost, where her main focus is customer success by providing support 24/7, through various channels and multiple languages. She has been part of creating and constantly scaling a team to handle a growing and increasingly connected multi-country customer base to align customer service with the company’s brand and contribute to reputation management.

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