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Understaffed: Propping Up Support Teams With a Better UX

Tech Talent Shortage

Maintaining efficient support times is critical to strong user retention, but in the current tech talent crisis, that’s often easier said than done. Experts are predicting that the staffing shortage will last at least another ten years. In the meantime, tech growth continues to outpace nearly every other industry.

Customer acquisition isn’t slowing down, and companies can’t afford to lose their users due to an overwhelmed support team.

As the talent pool continues to reskill to meet the changing demands of the technology labor market, it will be up to product teams to create ever more intuitive experiences that keep users in their applications, and out of the support chat feature.

The average support ticket response time is around seven hours, according to a survey. But what happens when a customer base grows faster than the team that’s there to support it?

Using Support Metrics As Product Indicators

Scaling a support function in an organization is time-consuming, costly, and requires constant training as the product changes. Product support is essential, but it can also be a strong indicator in where the product’s weaknesses lie. A difficult to navigate customer portal leads to more ticket requests. A product with a manual configuration process requires more white glove service. Even something as simple as a poor log in function can create more support tickets and deter users from signing up.

But the data created from these support tickets could contain invaluable insights for product teams who are looking to improve usability and better understand their own product metrics. Where drop off and poor user engagement occur, support team requests can often help to fill in some of the blanks.

Good Product Design Provides Truly Scalable Growth

Simply put, products are more scalable when investments are made into better product design instead of more support resources. When a product has friction points in the user experience that create support tickets, acquiring more users means hiring and training a bigger support team is almost unavoidable.

But when the underlying product issues are solved for and investment is put into data-driven design best practices, organizations are creating more scalable products, and building in the ability to grow faster. 

In the current talent crisis, support teams need not be a costly and sluggish bottleneck. Teams can maintain strong response times when companies allocate resources to proactively solving for user experience issues that are evident in their support logs, and free up their existing support team to offer a higher quality of service to each customer.

Closing the Loop on Support and Product Design

The reality is that though product teams are designing and building UIs, they’re rarely the ones interacting with any actual customers, outside of usability studies. Arguably, those experiences happen in somewhat of a vacuum.

Real, raw customer feedback, often in the form of someone who is less than pleased with something, rarely reaches the ears of the product teams directly, and that slows innovation down. It creates more guesswork, when in all reality, key insights lie directly within those support team conversations.

There’s no one size fits all approach to cross-functional collaboration, but one thing is certain: creating product experiences that reduce the need for customer support can only happen if product and support are talking to each other.

Here are just a few ways to ensure that product and support teams are deriving value from each other:

  • Set up regular standups between product and support. Use these meetings as a way to keep support in the loop on product development, and product in the loop on support inquiry dynamics. Invite support team members to talk about their most challenging or repetitive tickets, and put an idea on the board for the product team to consider.

  • Make UX projects a cross-functional process that starts with a joint-team meeting. All too often, product teams will get ahead of themes to excitedly start developing a new feature, only to find out later down the line that it wasn’t as strong of a priority to their customers. In a perfect world, UX project kickoff calls involve both the product teams and the employees who are on the front lines and engaging regularly with your customers.

  • Share support data with the product team. You can make quantitative use of support ticket data with a solid tagging system. This is a great way to provide insights into patterns that product can then use to decide which user experience improvements to prioritize.

  • Create a glass wall between departments. Collaboration is hard sometimes, but it’s even harder when there’s no transparency in an organization. Cultivate collaboration passively by having more conversations out in the open. Add support team members to the occasional product team meeting, and vice versa. Create shared Slack channels. Make it easy for people to share information, so that anyone with a desire to learn can benefit from being a fly on the wall.

Support Tickets Point to a Need to Improve UX, Not Hire More People

Users don’t want us to hire more people, they want us to make products that are easier to use. Hiring more support staff as a result of an increase in support ticket requests is kind of like buying more buckets in lieu of a leaky pipe; it’s only a solution to a symptom, not the underlying cause.

Aim to reduce friction always, and you may find you change the resources needed to grow your support team alongside your customer base.