As the name suggests, user experience design starts from understanding user expectations.
For UX specialists, the most common way to understand what users feel is to run UX research, like a user interview or a usability test. Conducting user research means building an algorithm to figure out an answer to the questions the designer has. Any research is a big job that requires money, time, and effort...
… that could have been spent in a more productive way, like designing actual products.
At the same time when UX designers leave no stone unturned looking for problems that users want them to solve, somewhere nearby a customer support agent is sitting on a pile of shiny free-of-charge insights.
Support agents are people who are working at the frontline. They are the first to listen to users who find a bug or complain about the last update. They already know all the problems people want technical UX to solve. So why don't we just draw insights from customer support?
Why even run UX research if support knows all the answers?
In some cases, asking support officers for help is not an option. Like, when you’re designing a product from scratch, it rarely has good end-user support and customer service — the company is just building a technical support team. And even if you are doing research for working products, getting to the truth through support tickets can be challenging.
The role of technical support services is initially one-sided — to solve the customer problem. Help Center may burst with information, but it is usable only when structured, discoverable, and tailored to answer the designer’s questions. In practice, the customer support database usually looks like a barrage of useless tickets design teams prefer to ignore.
Think of a service desk that handles an average of 200 tickets a day. It makes 4,400 tickets per month and 52,800 tickets per year. Conducting a specific UX research would be faster and cheaper than digging through thousands of conversations seeking an answer to one specific question.
The support communication flow can be made two-sided, tailored to solve both customers’ and products problems, but it will require some modifications.
Let’s see how top SaaS companies learned to use their user support to improve customer experience.
How to talk to support specialists and shadow them
The simplest thing you can do is to talk to support officers. When our designers from Eleken agency start working on product redesigns, they always try to interview support people. Thus, they obtain first-hand information on issues that users face.
Setting up interviews with frontline staff works for internal products as well. For example, Shopify designers asked their support colleagues to review the existing buyer personas and explain how they would interact with each persona.
Another way to deepen the general understanding of the product and the users is to spend a day on the frontline, alongside the customer service support team. GitLab, for instance, has a shadowing program available to all team members outside of support to learn, collaborate, and work together with the GitLab support team.
How to detect a problem in a haystack of user feedback
Even the best professionals sometimes deliver designs that are less-than-perfect. Results that make people less-then-happy. When something goes wrong with the product, users vent their frustration to support, and the most natural thing for UX teams is to seek feedback from the support team.
Sure, you can run a survey instead, that may be an easier and more controlled way to find the truth, but would it be accurate enough?
Sabrina Gordon, former Customer Support Manager at Intercom, explains the difference between survey feedback and support feedback in one precise metaphor. Imagine you own a restaurant. A few days after guests visited your place you send them an email wondering how they liked the soup. Compare such feedback to the situation when somebody was eating in your restaurant and then tapped a waiter on the shoulder saying the soup was a bit salty.
So, Intercom prefers to gather feedback from support. Besides, Intercom is a multi-million dollar SaaS company with a customer support team of 55 people running astonishing 22,000 conversations every month. How do they make such an overwhelming information flow actionable for their product team?
One thing that helps Intercom to manage client interface experience is tagging each ticket. A team tag means the product team that owns the feature, and a category tag means a type of request that the user had. Thus, Intercom turns a barrage of qualitative data into data that can be displaуed on a dashboard to track the dynamic and sudden spikes in user activity.
Here's an example to show how it works. Once the Intercom team noticed that the volume in conversations tagged “team acquisition” is consistently high. That meant the customers consistently stuck on something within the onboarding UI and were forced to write to support. Intercom examined those complaints in greater detail to figure out people who are trying to get started couldn’t make a messenger appear.
For the Intercom messenger to show up, users need to take two steps:
- and sign up for one of Intercom’s products.
If you miss either of the two, you’d see nothing. That’s where a lot of users got confused.
The solution was to make a popup telling users when one step was a success and another step is yet to be completed.
How to turn qualitative comments into quantitative data
Shopify offers another way of turning unmanageable feedback piles into actionable dashboards — they made users tag their feedback for them.
It all started from a technical support website content with a feedback form that looked like this:
It consisted of a five-point scale measuring user sentiment and an open-ended field for comments. While the five-point scale worked well enough, free-form comments were hard to translate into actionable insight. Parsing all written comments was fully manual, labor-intensive and time-consuming.
The solution was to turn an open-ended question into a multiple-choice question. The new form proved to map exactly the same trends as those recorded by manual analysis of past results but in automatic mode.
How to be proactive with users’ requests
Users contact technical customer support not only to complain. People who love the product often write to help it become better.
Kate, Eleken’s marketing guru, has been using GatherContent, an app for content management. Once she realized that the app lacked one little feature, like the ability to assign people to workflow steps. Luckily the app had a feature request platform specifically for Kate to share her idea.
Kate’s suggestion has received many upvotes from other users, and a product team started working on the feature soon. Kate could monitor progress on the public roadmap and felt excited when her brainchild went live. Since then, she has shared many other ideas with GatherContent.
Letting users suggest and vote on feature requests is the most sophisticated way to turn user feedback into actionable insights:
- It gives you an instant look at the top feature requests in priority order;
- It shows which customers care about which feature requests;
- It gives you a ton of ideas ready to implement;
- You don’t even have to lift a finger to get those ideas.
Most successful SaaS apps have already adopted such an approach in one form or another.
Salesforce took feature requests to a whole new level with its Trailblazer community of millions of users who team up to learn, connect and share their ideas with the company.
Product designers are ferociously focused on two things: the product and the customers. Customer support is what keeps a strong bond between these two parts of the business. So why don’t we make customer support help UX?
“Data from customer support often indicates low-level issues, like buttons that are hard to find or popup that is hard to read. There’s an obvious solution in making buttons brighter and fonts larger, but let’s not forget about the big picture. Probably we can eliminate the need for a popup at all.”
That’s all for now. If you want to start a project with designers who can see the big picture, let’s make a short introductory call. If your project is something we can help you with, we'll provide you with a designer and a one-week trial free of charge.