It’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of my “PM 101” articles, so I figured with 2017 just kicking off now is as good a time as ever! Past articles have focused on marketing, sales, and design teams, but this time I want to focus on service teams. These types of teams are your integration specialists, your technical sales people who come in after a deal has closed to help clients onboard, or even your own internal team that uses your product on behalf of your customers. No matter where exactly they sit in your organization, service teams can be a prime source of information and validation for any Product Manager.
Service Teams as Information Gatherers
There are very few teams in your organization who both work as closely with customers and have interests as aligned with customers as your service teams. Whether they’re initial integration teams, working with new clients to set up their integration points with your platform, agency-style teams who use your product on behalf of the customer, or enablement teams that focus on ensuring client success when they use your platform, there is almost always a high level of touch and a strong alignment in focus involved. For this reason, they also tend to be really strong sources of true and interesting customer stories and problem statements — because they’re not just relaying what they’ve heard from the customer; rather, they’re living the pain each and every day, and sharing that pain with the customer (or, best case, hiding the pain from the customer while helping them to succeed). If your service teams are encountering major pain, it’s practically a guarantee that your customers are as well — service teams are familiar with the ins and outs of the product, what areas to use and what areas to avoid, and what workarounds to put in place when something doesn’t quite go right. Your customers have none of that context — and many of them are probably trying to do the same things your service teams are doing, but not complaining when it doesn’t meet their expectations. Go to your service teams, ask them what their major pain points are, and take them seriously — because they’re surely reflecting the same types of pain that your customers are feeling, but are more willing to share since they’re within the four walls of your organization.
Service Teams as Solution Validators
Another excellent way to leverage the alignment between your service teams and your customers is to use them as customer-proxies when creating solutions for customer problems — particularly those that you may have identified through their input. After all, they’re on your own company payroll, work in your own locations and offices, and should be ready and able to make themselves available to provide feedback on ideas, specs, prototypes, and even iterative deliverables. They’re kind of like an inside-line to some of your best customers — but you have to beware that you don’t rely on them too much; after all, your service teams aren’t completely aligned with customer interests, all of the time. They often have a built-in incentive to keep things a little more difficult than they need to be — after all, if the product is too easy to use, then why would the customer pay the premium for your services team’s time and expertise — it’s rare for that bias to show, but it’s essential that you be aware and beware of it as a Product Manager using service teams as customer proxies. Service teams are a great checkpoint and to use as a confirmation that you’re heading in the right direction, but you should always confirm any findings or conclusions with your actual customers before you fully commit one way or the other. Just like what works for one customer might not work for all, what satisfies the needs of your “power user” service teams might not satisfy the needs of your self-service clients.
Service Teams as Customer Conduits
A repeating them in the list of frustrations that Product Managers encounter in their everyday lives is the lack of opportunities to directly engage with clients and customers in many companies. It’s ironic that the role that’s supposed to be the strongest and most powerful “voice of the customer” in strategy, execution, and design, often struggles mightily to justify and secure appropriate opportunities to actually engage with customers, especially within their own work environments. Ironic because that is where we uncover the most useful, innovative, and direct problem statements from which to build our products — we don’t find these through second- or third-hand reports from those whose “job” it is to interface with the customer. And, because it’s so difficult in many organizations to find these opportunities, we should look at service teams as one of these opportunities. Service teams interact with customers all the time — in fact, they can’t do their jobs effectively without regular touchpoints with the customer. And it’s these touchpoints that we can leverage to our own advantage as Product Managers, by building strong relationships with our service teams. We can start as a fly on the wall — just listening in, no big deal — but we need to graduate that into active and interactive communications through the service teams. We need to leverage their relationships to build our own, so that within months, we’re able to call our customers directly and without prior coordination — because we’ve proven our value both to the teams “owning” the relationship and to the customer. Just by listening, then engaging, then confirming direction; it’s really not as difficult as it may sometimes seem.