The best insights that can aid in serving your customers may be more accessible than you think.

After spending a week in support—and continuing my habit after it got jumpstarted—I realized the importance of being in the arena with customers, seeing their problems and aspirations firsthand, and devising a solution based on reality, not truisms or keyword research.

Most of my essays thus far have been book and research based. This type of content will always be useful—it gets us to consider elements that we normally wouldn’t, connecting dots that have potential for valuable insights—but nothing, as I am learning, is as practical as speaking to your customers.

And yet, we readily ignore this avenue like it’s some ominous alleyway.

It dawned on me while I was in the support queue. I was listening to a customer talk about her problems and how Help Scout would be a possible solution for her business. Yet there I was, not knowing what to do or say because I had yet to get dirt under my fingernails. I felt like a fraud.

It’s the equivalent of someone criticizing an athlete’s performance, having never stepped in the arena himself. It’s easy to talk to the talk, but it requires proof to walk the walk. The latter opinion carries weight; the former is just speculation at best.

If you are in any way responsible for the growth of your business, heed my words: you must do support. However, your desire will meet resistance, so let’s discuss some of the roadblocks of starting this new habit and ultimately why it’s beneficial for your work.

Knowing Versus Understanding

You might know that you should do support or know you should go to the gym, but you may not understand why. For months, I knew doing support would help me learn Help Scout’s product and become familiar with the user experience, but knowing didn’t push me to close conversations.

When my teammate Greg shared his perspective on the importance of extracting insights from customers and using that to tailor our content, I knew what he was getting at—I was nodding my head—but I didn’t understand where he was going.

It wasn’t until I got pushed into the pool of support to learn to swim on my own that I began to understand why.

Understanding is the connection of dots; it entails knowing a multitude of different factors and how they all conspire to form a deeper knowledge of the subject. Knowing that exercise is good for you is one thing; understanding the benefits it has for your body and overall life is what should compel you to act without hesitation.

Knowing that your customers are a wellspring of insight is a reassuring sentiment; understanding this resource that you have access to right now requires proof that you treasure it.

The Hard Part

Accomplishing anything worthwhile requires work.

Just because you’re doing support doesn’t automatically entitle you to world-class insight. You have to work for it, read between the lines, answer questions beyond your knowledge, and show up every day.

The question is, how do you get this ball rolling? How do you dip into the support queue when you have no previous experience?

The first thing you’ll do is answer the basic questions, perhaps on refunds or billing or something rudimentary that can be found on the website. Then you’ll poke around searching for other easy targets. I know this because I did this for months.

Learning to do support is a team effort, which is why it’s called the front line. You’ll accelerate your understanding of the product by having supportive team members alongside you.

Here’s an idea of how to work with your teammates:

  • Save every response you write as a draft, and tag every inquiry you answer.
  • Create a folder within your mailbox so you can have access to an archive of all your progress.
  • Ping a team member to review your response.
  • Ask for his or her perspective and adjust your response accordingly.
  • Search the archive of closed conversations for similar responses.
  • Search your knowledge base for possible solutions.
  • Most importantly, willfully seek the difficult inquiries that seem way out of your league and work through them.
  • Review your folder at the end of each day and week.

Try Whole Company Support

The way we do it at Help Scout is simple.

Every week, a team member jumps into the queue alongside our two customer champions, Justin and Alex. One of our customer champions tags a handful of emails and provides notes on how to answer them.

Help Scout conversations with Paul tag

There’s a psychological string being pulled here. Seeing your name tagged on a bunch of emails creates a sense of urgency, whereas if it weren’t there, you wouldn’t feel compelled to jump in the queue. This is what I mean by being pushed into the pool of support.

Once I saw my name on a bunch of emails and noticed the times at which they were sent, I felt a greater sense of responsibility that couldn’t be ignored.

Now, every morning, I scroll through the queue and tag a handful of emails myself. I may not answer them right away, but when I return they’re all eagerly waiting for me.

Doing Support Is About Customer Success

Whether you’re a marketer, engineer, or anything in between, doing support is a healthy balance of learning the product and also empathizing with the user experience.

There are times when I’m in the queue and I begin to see patterns—whether for Workflows or docs—and I automatically start scribbling headlines and ideas on post-its because it’s obvious that there’s a problem waiting to be solved.

The purpose of content—whether essays, videos, infographics, etc.—is to clarify confusion and provide tactics on how to use the product to make the customer’s life better, which is the epitome of customer success.

Brian Cervino over at Trello shares a similar view on the importance of marketers spending some time in customer support. He shares how his role changed from support to social media manager and how his past experiences set him up for success in his new role.

He says:

Of course, as with any new position I was excited, yet still nervous, about making the change. I wondered if my social media skills were up to snuff. There was one thing, however, that I realized from day one: my time spent in the support queue was invaluable for my new role in marketing. Support provided me with a knowledge of the product, knowledge of our customers, and allowed me to forge a deep bond with the entire Trello team.

Knowledge of your product and your customers and a deeper bond with the team? How could anyone say no to this?

Like learning to swim or ride a bike, learning to do support is a steady process that involves growing pains. Starting now, not later, is vital, because every day you aren’t in the queue is a day where valuable insights are being missed.

Content is only useful when it helps the customer succeed. As part of the content team at Help Scout, I had to stop chasing fumes and start sitting down with customers and really listening to them. I had to meet them where they were—in the support queue.

Paul Jun
Paul Jun

Paul is head of content at CreativeMornings and a Help Scout alum. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.