Building with your support team in mind is an often overlooked method towards crafting better user experiences. They know your user better than anyone, can open up key research areas to study, and play a big role in shaping your product while aligning to business goals.
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Building a great user experience is all about working well with cross-functional partners (like your designers) but it can be a tricky relationship to manage.

You do your best to juggle user's needs and business goals but, as you make tough decisions, it's inevitable that your actions will impact other teams.

But there's one team that's affected by virtually every decision you make: the support team.

The people who handle customer emails, chats, phone calls, bugs, even tweets, feel the results of actions that they usually have no say in.

Even though they might have the best understanding of your user's needs, wants, frustrations, and more, most companies still neglect them.

But to conduct more fruitful research, it's vital that you engage with your support team to build better user experiences AND hit business goals.

Action Steps

How simple UX decisions impact your support team

First, let's understand how even well-intentioned decisions can lead to a poor user experience.

Here are some real-life decisions companies have made + how they impacted their support teams:

  • To make it easier to get started, the product team removed some steps in the sign-up process    Many new users were unsure how to actually use the product so they emailed the support team
  • To grow the customer base, the marketing team marketed to people with many different needs than the current users  The support team had to apologize to many new users as the product wasn't built to do what they wanted
  • To save money, the finance team put a limit on how long the support team could spend with a user The support team tried to finish conversations sooner, which led to more negative reviews online
  • To close more deals, the sales team sold product features that weren't on the roadmap Lots of angry customers complained to the support team that the features they paid for weren't ready yet

Keep in mind that none of these decisions are inherently good OR bad. WHAT they did is less important than WHY they did it.

The unique environment you're building in is important to remember when you make decisions.

Action Steps

Talk to them.

As simple as this sounds, the first step to build a relationship is to reach out.

Asking them to connect about their role + share how they approach support around your product is a good place to start.

Sit in on support interactions.

While not every company will agree, ask if you can sit in on a few support interactions or meetings. You'll learn much more when you see them in action.

You'll also deepen your understanding as you can better empathize with their efforts and environment so you can stop making unfeasible recommendations to your stakeholders.

Ask them to occasionally send their ideas directly to you.

Have them consider sharing their thoughts directly with your team. You might be in a better position to affect change within the product/company so use your relationships to push some of their needs forward.

Create a recurring personal calendar invite titled "Reach out to the support team" to  automatically be reminded to engage on a regular basis.

Give support teams credit where it's due.

Make sure to give credit to the support team when applicable. They'll see you as an ally who listens and drives impact.

Saying things like "The support team shared [KEY INSIGHT] with us which helped us achieve [KEY RESULT OR IMPACT]" is a great way to showcase the direct impact they had in your work.

How to build great relationships with your support team

To get ahead of some of these issues, you should build a strong working relationship with the support team.

Candidly, because most support teams are still viewed as a "burden" vs. a vital partner in building great UX, they might be ready and waiting to form these relationships.

Here's how to get started:

Action Steps

Walkthrough your product with the support team BEFORE you start research

Your support team usually has a good idea of what needs to be addressed within the product so walk through the product together noting their concerns.

Use those notes to craft your study to be more actionable as you'll know where to dive deeper as you start your research study.

Read up on past launch data for relevant insights.

Odds are this isn't the first feature or product launched by your company. Track down support data on past launches to give you insights on the next one.

Were support systems overwhelmed? Was there a change in support strategy that you should consider? Even directional guidance can be valuable when shaping the UX today.

Thinking about support before a launch

The best time to engage with the support team is well before you launch as supporting users is a taxing process.

But it's better (and cheaper in the long run) to invest in support considerations upfront vs. down the line or in the middle of a crisis.

To assess upfront support considerations, there are two main scenarios to consider.

But it's important to note that while you might not personally be affected OR be able to help in these scenarios, we share them so you can further empathize with the struggle of the support team to ensure a better user experience.

1) What if this product performs well, hitting key business goals?

The product shipped well, it's getting good traffic, users are happy, and it's supporting your company to hit its broader goals...right?

But with so many new users, your support systems might get overwhelmed with more demand so what can YOU do to get ahead of this "curse of success" moment for next time?

2) What if this product doesn't perform well, missing key business goals?

On the other hand, if the product isn't performing how you'd like, the support team will still pick up the burden:

They'll have to continue to work with disappointed users and manage the product while you work to improve it.

Depending on how fast your company moves, this might be weeks or even months of supporting a less-than-ideal product.

Action Steps

Final note

At the end of the day, your UX decisions will still impact the support team. But if you can bring them into the conversations sooner, if you can meet them where they are, and continue to strengthen your relationship, you can work together to continue to offer great user experiences.

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Listen to "Your Research Character."

The concept of the "research persona" or "research character" isn't something common but is very important to consider. Who you are in your daily life and who you have to become in your qualitative & direct research sessions are (and should) be two separate things.

Laura & Kate dive into this concept and help you understand the line between standardized & human research.

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