Pillars of Support: Building Product

Important: This post is part of our Pillars of Support: A document from the SomewhereWarm Manual that describes the function and principles of our support team.

In the world of software, product development is an iterative process. Products can continuously evolve to meet the growing needs of users, and companies can quickly adjust to changes in their competitive landscape.

This ability to iterate puts us in a very privileged position. But it’s also a difficult one. Most software companies are faced with low incentives to get the process or product perfect from the start. Focusing on process or quality too much – or too early – is considered as waste. Finding that sweet spot where cost, quality, and delivered value are just right is not easy. It’s a tough balancing act that relies on a solid engineering process and efficient flows of information between customers and engineers.

To build a new feature, we break up work in a series of steps that must be completed in sequence. Our development pipeline typically consists of the following stages:

  • prioritization
  • analysis
  • design
  • development
  • testing
  • validation
  • deployment

To make good use of the resources we have as a team, we always aim to deliver the greatest possible value per unit of effort. To prioritize impactful work, we rely on:

  1. Customer insights, to understand how our products could be made better.
  2. Technical expertise and experience to make accurate effort vs impact assessments.

Customer Support has a vital role to play in this: Being naturally positioned between the product and the customers, it can feed a constant, reliable stream of product insights into our engineering process. By collecting and analyzing this information systematically, we can:

  • better understand how users expect our products to work;
  • focus on the right problems; and
  • deliver more value with less effort.

At SomewhereWarm, Customer Support is seen as a valuable process that exchanges product expertise for product insights: Every customer interaction is an opportunity for product reflection and improvement. We ask not only “what’s the best way to help this customer?”, but also “what is the best product we could build for this customer?”. This creates a win-win outcome for our customers and us.

To develop the skills required to recognize, collect and share actionable information, we rely on both process and culture:

  • Support Engineers are encouraged to ask why our products work like they do today, and why certain decisions were made in the past. The entire Support team has access to product backlogs and can follow every single task through our development pipeline, all the way from analysis to deployment.
  • Important product decisions are communicated to and validated by the Support team. On a weekly basis, we discuss new product insights mined over the last few days, and analyze this data to identify new features and areas of improvement. On a quarterly basis, our Support team is involved in the process of shaping new product objectives. During these meetups, Support Engineers answer to simple questions, such as “what is the biggest pain of Product Bundles right now”, and rate new feature ideas from an impact/benefit perspective.

Fostering a product mindset in our Support team allows it to:

  • Provide clearer, understandable explanations about current product limitations.
  • Shape realistic expectations when customers request features that have been previously analyzed.
  • Advocate for customers and actively seek opportunities for improvement, knowing that they always have a say in what we do next.

As we’ll see in the final post of this series, it also empowers them to have a valuable contribution in the validation phase of each development cycle.

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