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Customer Support is Part of UX
Customer support is a difficult role. Everyday, support agents must engage with users who either have fractured product experiences or need help navigating and using the product.
The agent must listen to the user's complaint or inquiry, understand the context behind it, perform a detailed investigation to narrow down on the root of the problem, ask the customer leading questions to determine the scope of the issue and then come back to the customer with an accurate solution to their problem.
Everyday, they repeat this process over and over again as hundreds of customers flood their communication channels with requests. Handling these issues accurately requires an immense amount of patience, attention capital and mental stamina.
Product management is equally as challenging. A product manager working within the context of user experience design is tasked with creating satisfying and compelling experiences for users of a product. They research the business' core user base in a bid to discover unique user preferences, habits, pain points and JTBD (Jobs to be Done)
Drawing upon this quantitative and qualitative data, they then create varied user personas and ideate elaborate storyboards to simulate the users journey interacting with the product. This helps them structure and organize content across the digital product. They combine systems and design thinking with design execution, to produce usable and intuitive user interfaces.
It's a heavy mandate that requires razor sharp analytical skills, excellent attention to detail, empathy, a strong grasp on human psychology and a good understanding of design.
Although it seems obvious, many support agents and product managers don't realize that they have a lot in common. They both have the same needs; a product that users can easily interact with without any friction. For support staff, this will mean that they have to reply to less queries and for product managers this would reduce the need for frequent product iterations or redesigns.
With roles which are so complementary, it should go without saying that collaboration amongst the two teams should be the norm, but this doesn't happen as often as it should. As product people undergo complex user research, conduct heuristic evaluations and struggle to make sense of the results of their usability tests they often neglect the most valuable resource they have sitting under their own roofs; the customer support team.
Support agents possess a deep understanding of the product on a fundamental and technical level. What's more? As front-liners who interact with users on a daily basis they are a rich resource of knowledge about the users constraints, pain points, needs and motivations. Trying to understand your users from the viewpoint of arbitrary data gleaned from hastily executed research can often result in product design that is well-meaning but clumsy.
To create well crafted user experiences, staring at data and parsing statistics should also be proxied by deep thinking, real UX research, seeking real life experiences and a fair amount of empathy. Who is better positioned to assist product managers with this than the customer support team— who are already experts at operating with empathy and have that humane and practical knowledge about how users utilize the product and are constrained by it. The information they hold from working "in-the trenches" is invaluable.
Not only is customer support a treasure chest of unmined user data, they also serve as a fluid pipeline for user feedback. Customer support handle all the complaints users have about the product, so they will be able to tell you exactly what customers do and don't appreciate about the product. You can have an understanding of what features are popular amongst users and which ones aren't exactly so hot. If the goal is to learn about what the users really think about your product, it's best to listen to people who talk to them all day.
Whether it's an inefficient process flow, a vague and unhelpful error message or faulty information architecture, the support team is uniquely positioned to shed more light on cracks in the product.
Another skillset support agents have which can be exported to the UX design domain is their ability to spot problems and come up with solutions for them. Often designers will run into vague problems that need to be defined so as to drill down on the actual issue on hand before proceeding with a solution. In like manner, any support person will tell you that handling vague customer complaints forms a core part of their job. Knowing how to uncover a problem before undergoing a troubleshooting flow is an important tool in any support agent's toolbox.
Customer: Hey. What's going on with my account??
Both the customer support and product team benefit from a closer working relationship. Data from the customer support team gives the product team the insight to design better products and a better product results in a more satisfactory user experience which means less customer queries meaning the support agent's time is freed up to provide personalized and higher quality support.
Customer support is often reactive rather than proactive. After all, it's the job of an agent to respond to users who have had negative product experiences. Doing so effectively will increase your customer satisfaction score and probably lead to higher retention rates. But here's the truth, your users will be more delighted with proactive support—that is, putting systems in place that ensure they don't have to reach out to support in the first place. Making the customer support team front and center of the UX design process is one of those flexible ways to be proactive. It can also bring about a greater sense of purpose and direction for customer support—a role that can so often feel monotonous and tedious. This way, they wouldn't just be apologizing for problems but crafting their own solutions too. Your support team will love you for it and you'll have a better product as well!