Support Folks: Don’t Confuse Your Problems For Your Customers’ Problems

I was talking with my lead, Andrew, about how software companies provide customer support – a standard topic for our conversations.

We ended up on a topic I hadn’t considered much, but it has resonated with me since.

The topic is the important distinction between your customer’s problems and your support team’s problems. 

Or, put another way: the difference between a hard product to use and a hard product to support. 

It’s very easy to ask a member of your support team: “What’s your biggest problem right now?”

They’ll likely reply with some combination of particular features of the product, maybe something to do with billing or receipts, and possibly something about internal communication (which virtually every support team has a 100% legitimate problem with, since virtually no tech companies communicate value well from the support team to the rest of the company).

Especially when we’re leveraging support teams to build more value into the product, the problem is: it’s easy to confuse support’s problem with the customer’s problem.

At the end of the day, the result should be the same: more value for the customer, right? If you solve a problem and it results in better support for your customers or a better product for your customers, well, everybody wins!

The bigger issue is that these two categories of problem have to be solved in different ways.

Consider this: if you’re running a web host, and you ask your support folks to list the biggest problem areas they encounter day to day. The number one reply across the board is “Domains.” 

You might be tempted to direct some UX or Product folks to run through the domain purchase flow, to check on accessibility or mobile friendliness of that particular part of your product – but the right move would be to ask more questions. Specifically:

“Are domains the biggest problem for our customers, or are they the biggest problem for our support team?”

You can see why it is so important to hash out the difference here, yeah?

If customers are struggling to purchase domains, or are struggling to use them correctly, that will take a particular approach – build some better flows, test them, deploy them, circle back to see if things improve.

If support folks are struggling to support domain customers, then you have a whole different job on your hands. Now you need to get into the thick of it – OK, what part of that support process is challenging? Where do you need more information but don’t have it? What tools can we build to make this process easier, faster, more user friendly?

These are questions that good support organizations need to ask themselves, too.

Too frequently we fall into the easy answer, to blame the edge cases, to throw our hands in the air as though our customers are mysterious beings with whom we have nothing in common.

What if the problem isn’t on the customer’s end? What if you struggle to support some part of your product because your tools aren’t good enough? The problem is not always with the customer, it’s not always with the product. Sometimes our own processes and approaches are what’s causing friction.

Next time you say to yourself, “Ugh, classic problem x with customers/our product” – take a minute, step back, and ask yourself: what’s the real problem here?

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