Your Secret Resource to Get a Better Product: Customer Service
Move beyond the minimum viable product with the help of your staff to develop the most valuable product.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Today's small businesses know that agility is the name of the game. With the popularity of the Lean Startup methodology, entrepreneurs no longer launch fully built-out products with the hope that customers will use them.
Instead, they "ship" the minimum viable product (MVP), a barebones version that gets the insights they need to iterate and deliver the features customers are sure to buy.
Related: The Joy of Constraints in Business
To move beyond the MVP, startups need to quickly and cost-effectively capture and validate customer feedback. What better way than to utilize customer service? As senior vice president and general manager at Desk.com, I hear firsthand how today's startups are using customer service to move their products forward, fast.
Talking to real customers. Whether you have three people or 30 on your support team, they are a crucial link to the world outside the business. Unlike product management or marketing teams -- who only talk to customers from time to time -- your agents talk to real customers every single day.
They can do a whole lot more than just answer questions. They can tell you how customers are interacting with your product and what changes need to be made to make it a "most valuable product." Their insights should drive your important product decisions.
Continually measure satisfaction. Successful startups are obsessed with measuring satisfaction and frequently survey customers to see how they are doing. There are lots of tools for measuring customer satisfaction, so look for the ones that will easily integrate with your customer service or customer-relationship management solutions.
Having an overall satisfaction score is only part of the analysis though. When you comb through all of your ratings -- both the good and the bad -- you can slice the data further to find opportunities to improve on your product or service.
Take an unbiased look at behavior. Anyone who works in research can tell you that people sometimes say one thing, and then do the exact opposite. Maybe they are embarrassed, or they don't want to hurt your feelings.
If you give your customers a self-service portal, you can see for yourself which articles are being read most often. From there you can see if your instructions are confusing or if the feature itself doesn't work or isn't as intuitive as you'd like for it to be.
Dig deep into product feedback. Your support cases contain a wealth of information if you use them right. If you categorize your cases correctly, you can see what modifications and features customers would like to see in your product or what the biggest pain points are.
We recently discovered that our categorizations were really out of whack. Almost 60 percent of our feedback was lumped into one very broad category ("Education"), so the insights that we were getting weren't all that valuable. We did some spring cleaning and created new, more granular categories so we could dig deep into specific feature requests.
Share results with everyone. Many successful startups make it a practice to host weekly or bi-weekly meetings to keep all of their employees aligned and connected. This is especially important for companies that are spread out geographically.
The support team has a standing role at these meetings, sharing trends, feedback on new features and anything of note that they hear. They should put together a "Voice of the Customer" presentation each quarter that summarizes their insights. This keeps everyone at the company -- even accounting, HR and legal -- aligned around customers and working together to take their product beyond the minimum.
When we talk about a most valuable product, it's important to remember that it's not just about the product team. Your customer-support team is a critical part of the innovation cycle. Yes, they should find new ways to provide great service, but they should also be innovating ways to get more insights to help drive improvements in your product.