Imagine a continual stream of customers and potential customers queuing up to tell you what they care about and how they think about your products, your industry, and your competitors. Don’t you wish people would freely offer feedback on your services, your marketing, the wording of your documentation, and your sales literature?
This isn’t a dream. It already exists. You might not see that it’s inside your customer service inbox, camouflaged by the mundane mass of requests for password resets and schedule changes and shipping information.
Every day, your customer service team hears directly from customers and prospects who may have a specific question in mind, but who are also (intentionally or otherwise) providing incredibly useful information at the same time. You simply need to find a way to collect that information and get it to the people who need it.
Some examples of customer insights you can discover through your support team
What sort of information might be already available to your company if you knew where to look? Here are just a few examples, drawn from real experiences.
A mismatch between your product labeling and the names that customers expect
If your site labels a product as a shawl but all your competitors call it a wrap, it doesn’t matter if you’re technically correct. Customers will search for what they expect it to be called. The same goes for giving product features “fun” names that don’t match the names used by competing products.
Customers doing unexpected things with your product
You might think you have built a messaging tool, then discover that paying customers are trying to use it as a CRM. If your product team is not aware of that use case, it is impossible for them to properly understand, contextualize, and prioritize incoming feature requests.
Multiple different customer types
If you only see overview reports, you might not realize that you have several distinct customer groups who have different sets of needs and expectations. Without that knowledge, any planning you do for future improvements could be misguided or actively unhelpful.
How your competition is behaving
Customer service requests often contain insights into how your competitors operate. This might include the deals they offer, how they describe your product and company (and their own), and their product roadmaps.
There are endless answers inside your customer service queues, and you might wonder why your team doesn't share them more often.
How insights get trapped in the support queue
Why would such obviously helpful information not be passed along internally? There are many sticking points, so answering the question for your specific company might take a little investigation. Here are some potential causes to consider.
Easily resolved problems can be invisible
Questions with quick, obvious answers are a gift to busy support staff, who are happy to resolve them and move on. They don’t cause a lot of pain, so they are less likely to be featured in reports or mentioned in conversation. Those fast resolutions can hide misunderstandings or problems that are affecting large numbers of customers.
Customer service teams may not know what is important
Frontline support staff are, understandably, focused on answering the questions they are asked. They don’t always have the full context of what the rest of the company is working on for the future or of strategic decisions that need to be made. For that reason, they may not recognize useful information even when customers offer it freely.
Capturing insights is a skill and mindset that needs to be taught
Past insights have been ignored
Customer service staff may have tried to pass on important information and seen it ignored or dismissed. After a few experiences like that, most will not bother wasting their time any longer.
Metrics that do not incentivize extending conversations
If customer service’s job is mainly measured by time to resolution and the number of responses to close a ticket, then they have little reason to ask for more details or to spend extra time collating information.
There’s no system for collecting information
When a support team member does notice an interesting snippet of information, what should they do with it? Should they tell somebody directly or save it somewhere? If the answer is not clear and explicit, the helpful information is likely to be lost.
5 ways to turn your customer service inbox into a customer insight generation machine
If you’re able to identify how and where information is getting stuck, then you can take action to free it. Here are a few techniques that may help.
1. Teach your support teams how to recognize and draw out insights
Don’t assume that everyone understands what is required. If you can identify someone on the team who already does it well, use them as an example or as a coach. Your founders or product leaders should have some examples of information gathering to share with the team.
2. Let them know what matters to your business
Once they have the skills, direct their attention to the most important questions you are trying to answer. Include support teams in your product design meetings so they know what to look for. Keep an updated list of areas of interest that support teams can refer to.
3. Give them permission and incentives for digging deep
If you want customer service folks to slow down, ask deeper questions, and open up conversations, make sure they won’t be criticized or punished by their performance metrics. Make “collecting customer insights” an official part of their roles, and find ways to measure those contributions.
4. Use tools to facilitate insight collection
The less effort required to collect and share customer insights, the more it will happen. Your help desk software probably has features you can use to reduce friction. For example:
Workflows and tags can be used to automatically group questions about a certain product or feature for others to review. They can also be used to send information off to the right person once it has been tagged by a support pro.
Mentions and notifications let support people quickly call specific conversations to the attention of people who need to see them and then move on to the next customer.
Reporting based on tags and custom fields reduces the effort needed to share conversations or customer insights with people who aren’t full-time help desk users (like upper management and other teams).
Internal notes can be used to share context from support with other teams, as well as for non-support folks to request follow-up questions.
5. Create a business-wide customer-centric culture
Customer insights will be noticed, collected, and acted upon most consistently when customer service staff are confident that their extra effort will be worthwhile. When you create a culture that values both customers and the customer service team, frontline staff will know that their work will be appreciated and that customer-centric action will flow from it.
Your support queue is a treasure box
If we continue to treat our customer service teams as a defensive wall and reward them for “heroically holding back the tide,” then that’s how they will behave. Anything that isn’t an explicit problem that needs to be solved will be ignored and lost forever, at a great cost to our companies and our customers.
Instead, let’s turn our customer service queues into streams of useful insights, redirecting information to the places it can best be used. We will build better, more customer-centric businesses, make the role of support more interesting, and ultimately deliver better customer experiences.