The UX of Customer Support
Though my coworkers at Recurly have probably begun to tire of hearing me say it, my mantra of late is “Everything is UX.” It’s a simple phrase, but it encompasses a great deal.
Simply put, it’s important to remember that every interaction someone has with your product or brand is a user experience -- or what I call “lowercase user experience.” What I’m talking about here is not the discipline of “UX” and all the assumptions that go with it; but instead the literal experience of a user, a person. And as with all experiences, they’re either positive or negative.
Today I’ll be talking briefly about the close relationship we have here at Recurly between our stellar customer support team and our (equally stellar) design team and how we work together to create great user experiences.
Even before I started working at Recurly, I was hearing amazing things about the customer support team. During my interview process, one employee even told me that the whole reason he applied for a job with Recurly was because of great interactions with Rachel, our head of support.
Customer support is a wealth of information about our customers and they’re on the front lines every day when it comes to interacting with customers. As UX designer Sarah Harrison recommends, “befriend your support team” and you’ll not regret it. Interacting directly with customers, the support team identifies problems for the UX team to solve; working together we’re able to prevent problems in the future.
So how does it work? How does the UX team work with Customer Support and vice versa to improve user experience?
Providing Access to Customers
The customer support team is the fastest and easiest way for us to get feedback from our customers. Because they spend the majority of their day talking to customers, in one form or another, they're familiar with customer pain points and needs. If we want to know if a certain UI is confusing, the support team can quickly ask a user in the app what they think of it. We immediately get feedback and can add that to our research.
For example, today I spent a half hour working with one of our reps to best understand where customers might expect the credit card refund process to start. Do they think of refunds as related to invoices, transactions, customer accounts, or something else? We didn’t want to make assumptions, so we just asked them! After talking to 5-6 customers online, we started to get a sense of how they thought of it and what would make the most sense for their process.
Last week, I spent an hour listening in on a call with a customer and learned that they were slightly confused by our pricing model and for that reason had held off upgrading. We helped them to understand the model and within the hour had made a tweak to the verbiage of the pricing page to make it more understandable.
All of this feedback goes into the assumptions and decisions we make related to improving existing features and designing new ones.
Acting as Project Stakeholders
Another way that our customer support team contributes to a better user experience is acting as a stakeholder during our project design process. Whenever a new feature is being added, or an existing feature improved, we bring together a group of stakeholders from different parts of the organization to best understand the various needs and uncover assumptions about the way it will work.
While we usually include actual customers in this process (by way of interview, survey, or usability study) the support team also acts as a representative for the customer. Because they know how our customers are using the product on a regular basis and where the pain points are, they are eager to share their insights on the best solutions.
Additionally they have a good sense for how upcoming features will impact customers. For this reason, we always include someone from the support team in our research and stakeholder interview process to really dig deep into their understanding of the particular challenge we’re trying to solve. By spending time talking with the customer support team, we can find out what questions are being asked repeatedly by our customers and where they are having the most trouble with the product. On the flip side, we also discover what features customers use most and find helpful so that we know what not to change.
Identifying Beta Customers
As we continue in the product design process, we like to involve our customers as early as possible. This allows us to get real world feedback on the changes we’re making before we roll them out to the entire customer base. While most of our customers are eager to see new features roll out, some of them are a better fit for testing beta features than others.
Because we need to get fast and articulate feedback on our new work, it’s important that the beta customers with whom we work are able to provide it. Our customer support team always has a handful of customers to which they can point me who will reliably give thoughtful feedback in a timely manner. This kind of input is priceless and allows us to design and build more informed features quickly. (By the way, if you’re interested in being part of this elite beta customer group, just drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to the list!)
As you can see, a good relationship with our customer support team is vital for building a great user experience. Stay tuned as we explore the other ways that we’re working to bring user experience thinking to every part of Recurly!