Pillars of Support

I am proud to say that SomewhereWarm is a support-driven software company. But that’s usually easier to say than to define — or do.

These days, a growing number of software companies claim to have adopted a customer-first strategy — some of them firmly rooted in open source ground. Despite this, very few share their experience in building support-driven cultures and products. How do the most successful, customer-first companies recruit, train and manage their support teams? Most of the published information is anecdotal, and rarely includes any internal documentation or training resources.

At the same time, it’s no secret that the teams responsible for engineering products are largely isolated from the teams that support them — even in software companies that really care about their customers. At worst, support teams do not collect or communicate valuable insights that could influence short-term product direction. At best, support feedback is analyzed and utilized to set product priorities, but support has no voice when it comes to validating new features or fixes.

SomewhereWarm is a tiny company of 5. At this size, we can quickly build processes and products around our values and needs. We can make drastic organizational changes successfully, change our support operating procedures within days, or rebuild our continuous development pipeline in weeks — and still deliver value at a faster rate than most companies 10, 100 or 1000 times our size. However, I admit that we do not fully understand how some of our processes could scale to work in a company of hundreds or thousands.

Despite our small size, the lack of practical information on how support-driven companies support and build their products leads me to believe that sharing some of our experience might be of value to many companies out there.

Pillars of Support

In the spirit of open source, we decided to share our Pillars of Support: A document from the SomewhereWarm Manual that defines the function and principles of our support team.

Pillars of Support was created over a year ago to:

  1. Introduce new teammates to the principles guiding our interactions with customers.
  2. Help them develop a better understanding of their position in our software engineering pipeline.

In Part 1: Building Trust, we develop the principles that guide every customer support interaction at SomewhereWarm.

In Part 2: Building Product, we explain how maintaining a “product mindset” allows our support team to influence product direction.

In Part 3: Building Quality, we explore the benefits of involving support engineers in validation and manual/automated testing tasks.

As its name suggests, Pillars of Support is not an operating procedure: It only sets the foundation on which our support team operates. If you have a growing support team, my advice would be to maintain at least one more document that describes your team’s operating procedure in detail.

Part 1 contains lots of little nuggets borrowed from the Helpscout blog. If you are looking for tips to improve the way you support your products, it’s a great place to start! We’ve also borrowed a few ideas from the Skyverge Support Guide.

Without further delay, here’s Part 1: Building Trust. The other two parts, Building Product and Building Quality, will be posted over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them!

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