The Power of Internal Tools and Docs for Customer Support
There's been a lot of focus on “self service” in customer support over the last several years. Support teams are seeing fewer “easy” support questions and more complicated problems because customers are solving the easy stuff on their own.
I have a few thoughts on why this might be. For one, design and product teams continue to improve their craft. Products are simply better than they used to be. Navigation paths are more clear, experiences are more intuitive. Secondly, the users are more sophisticated and skilled at interacting with technology tools. People are spending a lot more time with software and interfaces than ever before. Our brains are drawing connections between all the different apps we use every day.
Designers call these UX patterns. The idea being that most software users have come to recognize and expect an interface to behave certain ways. So even brand new users have some subconscious familiarity with your product.
In other words: most people can figure out how to change their password.
We are in the era of no more easy questions. This means support teams are facing bigger, more challenging problems.
Bigger, tougher questions would logically mean more time hassling teammates for help. But we think that doesn’t have to be the case. As long you have strong internal tools and docs.
Just like customers should be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to solve problems on their own, support teams should have access to the things they need in order to solve problems without asking others. Now, let's be honest, it's nearly impossible to completely avoid asking other teammates about support questions. But you can certainly do a lot to cover your bases here.
This is where internal tools and documentation come into play. If you’re constantly having to ask for information or favors from your development team, chances are you need to build something, fix something, or write some docs.
At StatusPage, we spend a lot of time on internal tools and documentation. We do this because we all do support and the easier it is to solve problems for customers, the happier our customers will be. We simply can't afford to get stuck on problem after problem.
Internal tools arm us with the power to do things without asking our development team for help.
We spend a good amount of time developing our internal tool set and we do this for good reason - it enables us to help our customers faster, and it allows our development team to stay focused on work without being interrupted. There's a huge cost in being interrupted and distracted by even the smallest things.
The most-used internal tool we have is our admin tool. It’s a powerful, robust little portal that anyone here on our team can log in to. Honestly, I’d say more than 90 percent of our ticket researching and troubleshooting happens here.
It’s basically a user interface for the customer data and internal functionality we already have. Need a page deleted? Need an upgrade added? Great, I can do that in the admin tool. I don’t need to ask a developer to find the account in our database and delete it manually.
Here’s a little bit of what we can do with the admin tool:
- Look up a customer's account
- Change their plan
- Apply discounts
- View logs
- Enable add-on features
There’s much more, too. You’ll see there’s nothing unexpected here. It’s all stuff you’d expect us to be able to do. The difference is, anyone on our team can use a UI to do these tasks without help from a developer.
We also give everyone on support access to logging tools for tracking down emails and other events. Why interrupt a developer to look up something if you can simply do it yourself?
One of the internal tools we recently built is a “Snapshot” page. Our sales and support team wanted a way to see at a glance a customer's high-level information such as which features they're using, is it a private page or public page, how many team members have been added, etc. Within a day, our one of developers whipped this up.
I have to say, I'm pretty lucky. As the only dedicated support person on an all-hands support team, our development team feels the same pain I do. I truly believe we focus a lot of time on internal tools because of the fact that everyone shares the duty of support. I guess you could say there's a lot of empathy around support here.
But, there’s still hope even if you're not practicing all-hands support. Work with your product manager and developers to understand the time and work that can be saved by putting in a little extra effort upfront to build internal tools.
Hopefully you already have a stellar public knowledge base for your customers. Here's ours. But lets face it, not all documentation should (or can) be public. There's a lot of internal knowledge needed to do support successfully. And with a team like ours where everyone pitches in on support, we need a place to store that information that's easily accessible.
In additional to internal tools, we focus a lot on building out our internal documentation, or “wiki.” Our tool of choice: Quip.
Quip is like Google Docs on steroids. It allows us to organize and categorize information in a way that's easy to navigate. We can collaborate with others on documents, share them, favorite them, follow them, and much more.
Some examples of our internal docs include pricing info. How much do certain add-ons cost? What type of discount do we offer non-profits? Do we allow discounts for annual payments? This information is all stored within the pricing folder.
Here are some other ideas for common questions that can be stored in your internal docs:
- When someone requests a new third-party component be added, what is the correct response?
- How can a customer get a signed W-9?
- Can more admins be added to an account?
All decently common questions, all easier to find and answer when kept in the right place. If you get a question from more than one customer, consider putting it in your internal docs.
Since everyone shares the responsibility of support, everyone shares the responsibility of adding information to our internal docs in Quip. If someone is stuck on a support question and can't find the answer in Quip, they find the answer from a team member and make sure it's added to Quip for the future. If the person on support notices information is out of date, they update to it so it's correct. This ensures our internal documentation is always up to date.
How you organize your internal docs is up to you. We tend to organize ours by product area. Figure out what works for your team — just make sure the information is easy to find.
You can easily dig yourself into a hole by not focusing on internal tools and resources. It's easy to say “we'll get to that later” or “we don't have time.” But your customers will thank you when your support team is able to resolve issues quickly. By ensuring your support team has the tools and resources necessary to solve problems, your response times will stay low, your development team can stay focused, and your customers will remain happy.