Join your troops on the front line

December 7th, 2009 § 2 comments

At the inaugural Product Mavens’ Meetup (#pmm) the conversation turned to support and the challenges we face in that area.

What really warmed my heart was the general consensus within the discussion that everyone in a company, large or starting up, should have a go at fielding support queries. On a personal level, attending to support calls is the single biggest stresser for me. I deeply dislike it when something isn’t working for someone trying to use our products. Usually, unless it is a major issue affecting a big population of your base, it is hard to convey a sense of urgency to the rest of the team. It’s always been my thinking that the process from receiving a support ticket to resolving it would be much improved if only everyone involved had a sense of exactly what is involved in responding to someone facing issues. Not only would everyone have a handle on the bits that are broken, but it supports your support people. And trust me on this – support peeps need all the backup they can get on the front lines. Things can get hairy out there.

Having a grasp of the issues one’s customers are having isn’t only about fixing bugs in the system. It is imperative for a good understanding of who is using your product, why they’re using it, how it fits into their lives, and consequently the direction your product should go in. Let’s be frank here, if your business based on a product, what can be more important? Knowing these things forces you to look at your product with different perspectives. For some, it is the reason they look at their product at all.

Which brings me to another point I think everyone in an organisation should do. Use your product. Simple, no? Yet I have observed a definite lack of practise of this. [I once had a conversation with a CEO of a startup about one of their features, and he had this blank look on his face. He had NO idea what I was talking about. He lost a few competency points in my eyes ;)] If you don’t know what you have, how can you possibly build upon it?

Now, my position is definitely coloured by my community management background. Using the product and answering support calls are part of what I do. I’ll admit that the reshuffle required in large companies for every cog to have a go at customer service is a huge task. There are ways to get around this. I remember someone at #pmm mentioning that there’s a company which makes all new employees serve a support stint before taking up their permanent roles. (Anyone got a name?) For startups, it could be as simple as getting everyone to check in on Jira or ~insert issue management tool of choice~. The point isn’t that everyone needs to be doing my job. The point is that everyone should have a handle on what’s actually going on with your product and customers.

What do you think? Am I off my idealistic rocker?

Oh, and before I end, heads up to the product peeps out there – there’s another mavens’ meetup on the 16th of Dec at the Trinity Bar. Big thanks to @mishymash and @schmediachick for organising!

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