The Value of a Stable Three-Legged Stool: Elevating Customer Support and Experience in B2B Technology

By Gerald Hastie, Customer Support Senior Executive

Chapter 1: Engineering, Product, and Customer Service: A Triad for Success

Have you ever been at a restaurant and the stool you are sitting on is lopsided because one leg is shorter than the others? Isn’t it frustrating trying to eat your meal while you wobble back and forth? For a stool to be functional it needs three equal legs not two.

Like a stool, a well run company needs all equal parts to work together as equals. As a former CX leader at both large companies and startups, I have witnessed this firsthand. What am I referring to are organizations where Engineering, Product, and Customer Service teams collaborate as equals are more effective and efficient. Unfortunately, I've worked at companies where the primary focus is on engineering or product, and customer service is considered an afterthought, or even worse, just a cost center. 

Chapter 2: Real-Life Examples of Successful Integrations

What is the impact of this misalignment? In one of my roles, I was working for a product focused company. They had created a new feature for their product. The support team wasn’t notified of the launch before support was alerted. As you can imagine, there was significant inbound volume related to the new feature on launch day and the support team was caught off guard and unable to assist the customers. This led to a bad customer experience for the launch.

I recall joining an engineering focused company and having a conversation with one of my leaders. He showed me a list of software issues and bugs with the company’s customer facing platform. There were over 100 bugs with several of them having thousands of tickets assigned to it. When I asked how old they were, I was shocked to find out that some were more than five years old. When asked, why haven’t they been addressed or even how they are raised for visibility, my support leader informed me that Engineering creates their own priorities and doesn’t interact with Support. The result of this is the support team continues to report issues that the Engineering wasn’t planning to resolve but more importantly, they were not fixing issues repeatedly being asked for by the customers. 

Chapter 3: The Benefits of a Unified Approach

The above are real life, simple examples of poor coordination and lack of understanding of how customer service operations can truly help drive overall company performance. When there is a true partnership between the three organizations, companies can achieve much greater results. What benefits are derived from a cohesive partnership? In the case of Engineering, gaining insights into the top issues with the product and addressing them will lead to lower contact volume and higher customer satisfaction. Imagine giving your agent the ability to know that an identified issue has been provided to the engineering team and that a workaround or a scheduled solution is determined. The agent can quickly tell the customer that we are aware of it and have a solution in place. How do you think the customer will react? Or when a customer reaches out to ask for a new feature or to bring back a discontinued product. A customer support team that works closely with Product can bring these insights to the team which, in turn, will help the Product team to build a product roadmap with more confidence of success.

Following are three examples from my past experience of how this is achieved operationally

  • At Comcast, the establishment of a Program Management Office (PMO) was key to improving customer support. I know, cable companies are not necessarily the gold standard when it comes to customer service but there are practices that can be learned from the industry. While at my time leading the national call center supporting all commercial customers, we created a Program Management Office (PMO). The PMO reported to the Operations team but worked collaboratively with Product and Engineering. The goal was to ensure all new product launches were tested, operational, and supportable on day one. There were checklists, sign offs and a go/no go for every new feature or product rollout. Any of the three teams (Product, Engineering, and Operations) had the ability to stop the launch if there was an issue not addressed. The result was a reduction of over 50% in ticket volume in the first two weeks of a new launch vs prior to the establishment of the PMO. This cross-departmental collaboration between engineering, product teams, and operations led to significant support ticket reduction and a better customer experience.

  • Evernote enhanced customer support by fostering better communication between engineering and product teams. Before joining Evernote, there was minimal communication between the three teams. This was partly due to the fact that Support Operations was headquartered outside of the Redwood City headquarters while Product & Engineering were in the headquarters. To address this, we created two new standard operating procedures. First, we held annual Support summits. The summit was an opportunity for Product and Engineering to travel to our Support operations and engage with the Support team. The last day of the summit, all three teams would gather and share insights and plans for the next six months. This provided an opportunity to align our plans and share customer feedback. The other SOP that became standard practice was the establishment of a monthly Product Health meeting. Here we would share key metrics and insights. Unlike the summit which was long termed focused, this was much more short term in nature by focusing on immediate fixes. These changes helped to deliver shorter bug fixes and better collaboration among the teams. The result was an increase to 17% ticket deflection rate

  • Pinterest utilized a Product Ops team to bridge the gap between customer support, product, and engineering teams. They sat operationally between Product and Support Ops. Their mission was to work with the product team to understand upcoming product launches and participate in alpha and beta pilot testing. The team would work closely with Engineering as they identified bugs during the testing period and assist in resolving them. The learnings the team garnered from the pilot was used to build out the support structure (processes, knowledgebase, etc.). This helped to provide a smooth transition from pilot to general launch. Post-launch, my support organization had Product Specialists. You might think of them as Tier 3 specialists. Their main role was to own a line of products and become the expert in them. They filtered customer tickets to gather insights and met with the product team quarterly to provide a report on the state of the product. Our Product team loved this as it was a great way to ascertain how our customers where using the product that they had designed

Chapter 4: Reflecting on the Three-Legged Stool: Is Your Company Wobbling?

Unified efforts between engineering, product teams, and customer support drive higher customer satisfaction. With the right leadership in the C-suite in combination with forward-thinking leadership at the operational level, service operations can help to not only improve customer experience but assist in quickly identifying trends and driving product improvements through data-driven insights. Based on my years of experience, the ROI of this collaboration would be a combination of reduced costs, increased revenue (via new customer acquisition or higher retention), and lower costs.

So next time you are in a restaurant or bar and sitting on a wobble bar, I hope you think to yourself, does my company wobble?

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