Product Support and Covey’s second quadrant

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Here is Stephen Covey’s famous time management grid again. It is a great tool that can be used to explain how to manage your time (but, of course), how to plan your career, how to prioritize requirements in your products, and many more. As always, the most exciting quadrant is the second one – “Not Urgent & Important”. This is where the coolest ideas are, the ones that can improve products, improve customer satisfaction, and even increase revenue, but they are also the ones that move to the back burner due to more urgent matters.

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Given that most product support teams (the single point of contact for customers for technical and functional queries on live solutions) work 365X24X7, the amount of work they have in Quadrant I – “Urgent & Important”– can be mind boggling; that is the biggest deterrent to their giving the necessary focus to Quadrant II. A great product support organization works around this challenge and sets quantifiable targets to their employees for their deliverables in Quadrant II.

What then does the second quadrant hold for product support? Here are my top three:

  • Provide actionable feedback to product management

This is by far the most important for a product support organization in the “Not Urgent & Important” quadrant. While support engineers are great at providing technical fixes to incidents, they must improve their ability to take a few steps back, wear the customer hat, and read between the lines. They must believe that, for each incident raised, there is a great product feature waiting to be explored. It could be a new functionality, a cool usability feature, or a workaround to an annoying problem that the product is just not able to work its way around. The management should stay away from setting targets such as “one idea per month per engineer”; the inevitable result is either poor response or a heap of poor ideas. Instead, they should conduct well-planned and interactive brain storming sessions and attribute ideas to the entire team. For example, in an intense, hour-long brainstorming session that I conducted with a team of around 10 developers and testers, more than 40 ideas were documented. Among those were some brilliant ideas that only a team that works day in and day out with its customers could have come up with and could have never featured in a customer feedback survey or a market study.

  • Go all out to prevent queries arising from functional gaps

Every support organization has “Enquiry” or “How To” in its ticket categorization options. The management should be aggressive about preventing these tickets. The functional experts or business analysts in the team should be given specific goals to reduce the number of enquiry tickets. Common user actions should be explained in short, crisp how-to guides or videos. Recently, when our generic user guide proved to be an overkill, we partnered with a customer to develop a tailored user guide keeping in mind the skill set and knowledge of a specific user base. This proved extremely useful and brought down the number of such tickets from that customer by more than 70%. Like many Quadrant II items, this prevention of enquiry tickets calls for out of the box thinking.

  • Keep a hawk’s eye out for customer churn

Due to customers having management changes, a change in project sponsor, and employee churn, your products may start to fall into disuse. The support function is best placed to identify trends toward disuse and ring the alarm bells when required. Low usage, “radio silence” to emails, or an exasperated voice at the other end of the line are all signs of a customer who might walk out on you. Before the situation gets into the “Urgent & Important” quadrant, the support team should devise effective strategies to prevent customer churn. It should work with other functions such as sales and marketing to develop these strategies. For example, working closely with the sales organization, we’ve cut “dormant accounts” in half, and identified new opportunities with those customers.

 

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