Learn from your support staff

If you want to be a bad product manager, ignore your support staff. Technical support, customer service, and sales support groups won’t be helpful to you as a product manager. All they do is spend time telling customers how to plug their mouse in, or listening to absurd complaints, or fielding requests from sales. These roles are responsible for supporting the product that you build, not providing any insight into how it should be built.

If you want to be a good product manager, use feedback from your support staff to improve your product. These groups are interacting with current or potential customers every day and are aware of the common problems and desires of customers. It only makes sense to leverage this valuable information as much as possible.

Adrienne Tan has a great post at brainmates that lists her 10 Tips for Product Managers, one of which is to Spend Time With Your Support Staff:

What better way to know what your customers want than spending time with the people who deal with your customers’ problems. If possible try listening to inbound calls. Spending a day a month with your support teams will help you understand the problems your customers are experiencing. These are the customers who have already invested in your product and brand. These are the customers who will provide you either good or bad word of mouth. Your customer base will genuinely provide good feedback. Use it and your support staff will also feel included in the product improvement process.

Technical support feedback is usually abundant for technical products, and it is essential in understanding problems that people experience installing, configuring, and using your product. It also can highlight features that are included in your product but are not explained or publicized well. Technical support staff usually can quickly identify a handful of small changes that would reduce call and email volume significantly.

Customer service, which may be handled by a different group, often hears questions and complaints about pricing and quality. Many times ideas and requests for potential new products flow through them, as well as “miscellaneous” requests (everything from student projects to business proposals) and other feedback on other products or your company in general. This is fertile ground for marketing and product development opportunities.

Sales support and sales engineers know what types of questions customers ask when considering purchasing your product. They are responsible for supporting your sales staff and making the sale, and thus are privy to good information about features of competitive products, needs of customers, and obstacles in the decision-making process. Sales support staff can help identify changes to make the product easier to sell and spot new competitive threats early.

Good product managers need to leverage all of the different roles on the product development and support team. Support staff are often overlooked but can be one of the most useful resources in learning what can be done to improve your product. Spend time with them, listen to their ideas, and keep them informed about the future of your product — especially where changes are because of their help — and your product and your customers will benefit.

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6 thoughts on “Learn from your support staff

  1. Remember too that by understanding the issues that are driving customers to contact support, you may be able to reduce them and thus reduce costs in your organisation.

    Product management has a big responsibility in this area!

  2. Moreover, by understanding frequently asked questions, unaswered questions and knowing your support experts you (as a PM) and your product can greatly benefit.

  3. I believe in data mining the Field Service Engineers and World Wide support teams for customer feedback.

    Sadly my manager believes it’s not his job.

    R&D believe they have a great ivory tower and all the locks are beyond doubt.

    Hopefully someone very high up will fire all the fat and happy freeloaders and give me a boost PDQ..before I quit.

  4. Try actually doing a support roll sometime – either as an escallation or in the direct line of fire. It’s a real eye-opener. I know from past experience that many issues never make it into the product development pipeline – they get dismissed at some point or someone arbitrarily decides that the risk is acceptable – I think it’s very important to interact with the support group – it’s surprising how feedback from support can affect product direction and actually lead to innovation.

    — John

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