Intercom: Does your support team know more about your product than you do?

Sabrina Gordon, a customer support lead at Intercom shares the value that a support team can provide to a product team.

She highlights the difference between survey feedback and unsolicited feedback.

To define

Survey feedback is when you reach out to customers after the fact. It could be in the form of “How do you like XYZ?” survey sent a week after a customer used XYZ. The danger with this feedback is it’s only regarding what you ask about.

Unsolicited feedback is from anyone directly working with customers. This is picking up on feedback as the customer uses XYZ. Think of this feedback as you’re already interviewing your customers.

Applying this thinking to a product

Say your product team releases a great new feature overhauling the permission settings for your service.

Two weeks after launching, the product team notices it’s not used as much as they expected. To figure out why they send out surveys to customers using the feature to get their feedback. Responses come back and the people that are using it rave about it. At this point, without looping in your support team, they might think they need to market the feature more.

In a world where the product team also uses unsolicited feedback, they would also incorporate going to the support team for the research. Right away, the support team could point an issue that tells a different story from the survey: A small portion of those who use the permission settings are confused on how to enable the new settings. The confusion causes an unknown amount of customers never to enable the new permissions.

This feedback provides the product team a place to go back and fix the confusion. The support team can fit into reducing the uncertainty by improving the support docs on the permission settings.

Tagging Unsolicited Feedback

Sabrina builds on how Intercom uses the Unsolicited feedback.

One of the most important things we do at Intercom is tag every single conversation that comes into our inbox with both a team tag and a category tag. The team tag denotes what product team owns that feature or part of the product, while the category tag describes what type of conversation we had.
Using these tags, our product team can create dashboards, look at unusual spikes, consistent trends, explore conversations and get insights into what we should be working on next.

This allows Intercom to see into the customer journey and where support requests are coming from.

HBR: Kick-Ass Customer Service

An interesting write-up by HBR on what type of person excels in a customer service focused role. In a study of 1,440 customer service professionals, they found seven different personas: Accommodators, Competitors, Controllers, Empathizers, Hard Workers, Innovators, and Rocks.

Interestingly, they found that someone that fits the persona of a Controller excelled the most (lower handle time, higher customer satisfaction ratings). HBR defines a Controller as someone who is outspoken and opinionated; likes demonstrating expertise and directing the customer interaction.

Why do Controllers do better than their counterparts? Our structured interviews revealed that they are driven to deliver fast, easy service and are comfortable exerting their strong personalities in order to demonstrate their expertise. They describe themselves as “take charge” people who are more interested in building and following a plan than “going with the flow,” even in social situations. They’re confident decision makers, especially when nobody’s in charge, and they’re opinionated and vocal. As one Controller explained, “I like to take control of the situation and guide people.”

And as the problems reps deal with have become more complicated, Controllers have turned out to be the best problem solvers. Not only do they proactively diagnose customer issues, but they also consider the customer’s personality and the context of the call in order to customize a solution and present it effectively. Controllers focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do—the aim always being to get to the fastest and easiest resolution. The conversation feels decidedly human and off-script: Controllers tend to shun generic language and prescribed checklists, especially when their diagnosis suggests that customers have already invested significant time trying to resolve an issue on their own.

Consciously or not, Controllers deliver what information-saturated customers want (according to the research): clear guidance instead of excessive choice. In CEB’s customer contact practice, for example, we’ve found that 84% of customers would prefer a straightforward solution to their problem rather than a broad array of self-service channels (e-mail, chat, social media–based service, and so on).

The whole article is worth a read. It dives into hiring, training people to be controllers, and adopting a controller mindset at an organization level.

Reading this reminded me of Buffer cutting back on offering refunds.

In the end, empathy and accommodating a customer’s needs is necessary. But quickly coming to a solution is valued just as much if not more.