Support as a Product and Me as a Product Manager

What is a project? Can a project have an infinite life — does it necessarily have to have an end date?

I’d argue there are a lot more similarities between Product and Support than differences. Many differences are tangible (one person writes more codes, another writes more customer emails) whereas the similarities tend to be undergirding and intangible (planning, executing, monitoring, dreaming up better methods, rinse repeat).

Support is always running (like a product) and has a theoretically perpetuity (again, like a product). But it a project in the sense of managing people, to seek an end goal, for the good of the company.

Sure, it’s not necessarily coding a product, laying the foundation for a construction site, or cobbling a shoe — but it sure provides a continual service. More important than that, as Marty Cagan in Inspired says, if a product manager is “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”, then that certainly fits Support. Using this article as a backdrop, if Support is a Product, then we could paint a landscape like this:

Support Stack

  1. Your website (and, thus, “product”)
  2. Helpdesk software
  3. Phone system
  4. Reporting systems
  5. Tertiary systems (Dropbox, Asana, Evernote, Slack, Browserstack, GoToMeeting, Join.me…)

Without knowing the Stack or the tools in your toolbox, how will you know what you can do — what’s capable? Sometimes you’re missing a framing hammer and run to the store and grab one. Or perhaps you already have duplicates and now you’re paying for 2–3 systems: your team is confused because they’re using different tools and there’s a lack of harmony.. Knowing this also helps you make better, faster decisions because of your awareness.

System Architecture

Product — your website, this is definitely first and foremost the centerpiece!

In-product help — walk customers through difficult or confusing pieces of your site (hint: your site isn’t that simple).

Support Contact — phone, email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Different means and methods for customers to get ahold of you.

Knowledge Base — videos, articles, and other documentation to provide methodology, explain, and demonstrate how to complete tasks and projects. Not to mention elaborate on the value your product adds!

Periodic Customer Emails — usually monthly emails. Updates, changes, success stories, hints, and company philosophy.

Customer Success/Coaching — when users don’t reach out for help (many don’t know what they don’t know), that’s where a team initiates the contact to help them. For a lot of companies, this is the Support team.

Webinars — running training webinars, cover new releases and updates, or tips and tricks.

We as leaders and Product Managers can view a disparate list above, or we can visualize each as a component of an overall centralized, holistic, and thematic system. Knowing how each component works makes us much more successful with building and optimizing a smoothly running system.

Big Picture

While knowing some of the components is helpful, let’s not forget what a product manager is: to retain, refine, and promote the central vision of the product. A storyteller. In this case, I want to take the unusual route toward the end of a blog post to look at the overall framework. The PM is many times the initial ripple when a stone hits the water: that one ripple often sets the tone for all subsequent ripples.

We’re in a business to make money. Which means we, as Support product managers, need to make decision based on that. To that end, we do we understand leveraging technology for the sake of the organization? Support has the unique experience of both being a microphone for the customer, and a megaphone for the company. Just like a good sound system, there are multiple speakers for terrific sound (marketing, support, sales, etc.). The different is we’ve handed the customer a mic to speak back into the company: that’s our role. Feedback, though bad coming from speakers, is vital in Support.

As the Support PM, we are the ones developing the voice for the team. In the early stages it can feel like an infant babbling…there’s something there, though quite incoherent. We must spend time tuning our ears to others’ voices and find our own personality. Thence, we can pour out our vision to paper and dedicate as our goal, our mission.

We spread this. We share the vision. Our team infuses it with even more life because you set the boundaries, the borders, and the ideals. Those constraints allow for deepened creativity. The team can blaze new trails, find new hikes, vistas, and take groups on tours to discover this beautiful new land — taking them further up and further in. You crafted the story. You set the plan in motion. Your team can create so much more than you ever thought possible, yet your work is not done. You must keep singing that mission. Harmony is beautiful, but it needs a leader, it needs a manager. Your customers can be that thriving, fanatical tribe. Help them find the melody and discover the unique attributes of your product and make it ubiquitously sung and loved.

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