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  • Writer's pictureTamara McKenzie

The Argument for Engineering Teams to Participate in Support Work

While ideal customer profiles and personas can be useful tools in our work lives, they cannot fully capture the complexity and individuality of any real person who uses your products and services. The best way to truly know and understand your customers is to listen to them directly. In customer-facing roles, this occurs naturally, but what about the rest of the company?

Is it really necessary for an engineer, accountant, or logistics manager to take time away from their regular tasks to connect with customers? The answer is yes!

  • By interacting with customers, your team can learn how they think and talk about your products and services, which can be eye-opening and educational.

  • Sharing internal knowledge with both customers and staff can lead to more satisfying interactions and provide context for how and why things are done a certain way. This can change a negative response like "I'm sorry, we don't plan to add that feature," to a more informative one like "We're not planning to add that feature, but let me explain why and how the changes we are planning will work for you."

  • Understanding who your customers are and what they care about allows you to make smarter, more informed business decisions with less risk.

  • The customer service inbox can be a valuable source of customer insights, such as their thoughts on your competition, pricing, and challenges they face. It's important to have a way to collect and analyze this information.

How to encourage more outside team members to get into the inbox

Given the numerous benefits outlined above, one may assume that individuals within your company would eagerly seize the chance to engage directly with customers. However, this is not always the case, and you may need to take steps to encourage adoption.

When attempting to increase team involvement in customer interactions, it may be helpful to consider the following possible barriers:

  • Lack of understanding of the importance of customer contact for their role

  • Perception that customer interactions are someone else's responsibility

  • Anxiety about making mistakes while interacting with customers

  • Limited availability of time to devote to customer interactions

  • Insufficient support or encouragement from management for non-customer-facing team members to engage with customers.

It is possible for any company to increase the number of employees who have direct contact with customers or are at least exposed to customer conversations. Here are some suggestions for making this happen in your specific role and company:

Tip #1 - Start with leadership buy-in

Employees look to their leaders for direction and pay attention to what they prioritize. It is ideal for executives and managers to spend time with customers, even if it is just for a short period of time. This practice will be more easily adopted throughout the company. If they cannot make time for customer interactions, they can share stories of specific customers and their experiences with the company. This helps to connect company strategy to real customers and sends a powerful message to the entire team.

Tip #2 - Reduce fear

Some employees who are not in customer-facing roles may hesitate to contact customers because they are worried about their language skills, technical understanding, or ability to follow up. One solution is to have them write a draft response that is reviewed by a customer service professional before it is sent. This can boost their confidence and reduce the risk of sending a low-quality response. Here are three additional ways to reduce hesitation and fear:

  • Offer a view-only option. If your support tools allow it, give employees access to read and follow customer conversations without being able to send replies. This will expose them to customer language and information and show them how other people handle customer questions.

  • Use internal notes. Allow staff to share their insights about how products are built, why policies exist, or any other information they have deep knowledge about, without requiring them to explain it directly to customers. Internal notes are a great tool for sharing this information with frontline teams.

  • Share information with your team. A simple way to increase exposure to customers is to use help desk reporting. Identify what matters most to people in different areas of your company and create relevant reports for them. For example, use tags to collect product feedback and include real customer quotes along with the aggregate numbers. Let your team know they can access the actual conversations if they are interested.

Tip #3 - Reduce the cost of customer contact

If time and effort needed to connect with customers is a major concern, consider the following options to limit costs while encouraging employees to engage with customers:

  • Review your licensing options. Can you add "reporting only" or other limited users to your help desk tools? This might make it more feasible to give access to more people, even if they do not use it every day.

  • Offer time-limited opportunities to learn from customers. An open-ended request for everyone to spend time in the customer support queue can be a hard sell. A better approach is to create specific, time-limited opportunities for interaction. For example, at company retreats, have every team member participate in a couple of "support power hours."

  • Build in customer contact from the start. Have all new hires spend some time reading real customer queries. If it is part of their job from the start, it will be less likely to be perceived as an additional cost.

Keep your teams close to your customers

Overall, the better a company understands its customers, the better it can deliver what they need. Finding ways to keep everyone in the company closer to customers will enable better decision-making, inform your products and services, and help strengthen your customer-centric culture. Our team at Smoothen can help you implement a strategy for exposing more team members to aspects of the customer experience to drive insights that lead to improvements in your product. Contact us our team to learn more!


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