Increasing Value Through Customer Support

by Arnold Burian

Depending on the size of your organization, the types of products you produce, and your customer base, the customer support team can become one of your best tools in increasing the value of your documentation team.

This is especially true in organizations that are dependant on repeat sales or license revenues. To establish and sustain a high level of customer satisfaction, customer support needs to overlap and ultimately influence the development process. Their field knowledge and sensitivity to customer issues can drive software updates and product road maps.

If you find yourself in that environment, consider yourself fortunate. Companies that demonstrate a heightened sensitivity to customer satisfaction are often better prepared to survive economic turmoil or competitive challenges than organizations that isolate or devalue the role of customer support.

If your organization values the contributions of customer support, it likely already values the contributions of a documentation team. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your value by leveraging the customer support team.

  • Attend customer escalation meetings. The goal is to collect information that is not readily available otherwise. You may have a write-up of a hot customer issue, but listening to the verbal exchanges within the support team may offer better insight into the true customer pain points. Note any issues or cases that can be reduced or eliminated through a change in documentation, but be more of an observer than an active participant
  • Participate in internal customer support communications. Support teams frequently maintain a repository or communications mechanism that allows them to archive, retrieve, and share information (such as a wiki or mailing list). Periodically check these to assess any potential opportunity to improve documentation. Similar to the escalation meetings, refrain from contributing or participating unless asked, or if a documentation-related issue appears.
  • Identify and respond to patterns in customer issues. As you become familiar with the challenges facing support, identify patterns or recurring issues that routinely affect them. If there were two consistent releases where customers struggled during a difficult upgrade, focus on alleviating that pain for the next release. This not only directly benefits your customers, but demonstrates to the support team that you are sensitive to issues that routinely affect them.
  • Be proactive, not just accessible. The support team is almost continuously under external stress, so it goes without saying that you should be accessible to hear their concerns. But rather than simply being available, reach out to them routinely to determine if any actions by the documentation team can alleviate some of their problems.
  • Provide tangible evidence that the input from customer support directly improves the quality of documentation. You may already have a method that allows customer support to report errors in documentation, such as a bug tracking system. While it’s important to be reasonably responsive in addressing errors, make sure you highlight changes or updates that flow in through other mechanisms. For example, if you see the support team ramping up to prepare for escalations around a difficult procedure, let them know when you’ve made documentation enhancements to alleviate some of that burden. They will come to respect and appreciate your reactions to their challenges.

These techniques will help customer support view the documentation team as an ally in the quest for improving customer satisfaction, which should increase your perceived overall value to the organization.

We would love to hear some of your tips, tricks, and techniques to enhance your relationship with customer support.

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