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Do Agents Require Hands-on Experience with your Products?

“Being able to fraternize with the customer and bring them along the support journey creates an unspoken bond.”

Companies must set their support agents up for success. As the team that speaks most frequently with customers, they need to have the tools and knowledge to create customer experiences that meet and exceed expectations. One way to prepare your agents to support customers is by allowing them to use your products themselves. Giving the team hands-on usage that mimics customer use cases helps build a clearer understanding of pain points, frustrations, and best practices and can significantly improve their service.

However, at many companies, this is difficult or impossible. The product is not something easily accessible or usable in the same way as a production environment. For this article, I spoke with six customer support and success leaders from various industries with different product offerings so they can share techniques you can use to make your team successful.

Introducing our Experts

  • Marc Bindlechner is the Director of Customer Service at Koala. A B2C company re-imagining the furniture sales experience by selling furniture online, without showrooms, and making the process of purchase, trial, and return easier.
  • Melissa Pytlak, currently a Program Manager at PartnerHero, used to be at PASCO Scientific. They have Edtech hardware and software components that sell to science classrooms for grades six and above.
  • Peter Muir is the Manager of Technical Support at Dejero. Dejero is a B2B company that sells a combination of hardware and software. They provide connectivity and streaming solutions typically in the broadcast and first responder/public safety market.
  • Peter Sajevics is the Head of Customer Success at Stylehub, a B2C E-commerce platform, for anyone who wants to run their business online.
  • Regis Eloi is the former Director of Customer Support at Salsify. They provide B2B SaaS solutions for brands and manufacturers globally. Their customers range from e-commerce players to major global brands operating in dozens of markets.
  • Susana de Sousa is the Senior Manager of Support at Loom. Loom is a B2B and B2C video software company.

Use your Products

The consensus from our experts is that using the products the same way as the customers do is not entirely vital, but it is beneficial.

Marc at Koala summarized this position well:

“You give better customer service experiences if you have touched/felt/engaged with the product you are supporting and understand the end-to-end customer journey. But you still can support a customer if you haven’t. It is just that the service will be higher-quality and more relatable the more you have used the product.”

Peter M at Dejero goes further, noting that relationship building is most important to a support team: “Being able to fraternize with the customer and bring them along the support journey creates an unspoken bond.” It’s true. Relationships matter a lot within the support, especially when you’re dealing with customer complaints.

Regardless of how well you can reproduce the use cases, Regis at Salsify highlights that each agent needs to be “familiar with all major features, even though it is important to recognize that you will never completely replicate a customer’s environment. It’s more effective to assume that every customer’s use case is somewhat unique.”

Setting your agents up for success means giving them as much opportunity to be hands-on as possible, even if the product cannot be used precisely the same way and especially when the use cases vary greatly or are custom to each customer.

product experienceSuccess Strategies

There are many strategies to set your agents up for success that allow them to be more prepared to speak with customers about their issues even if they cannot replicate the problems themselves. For example, the teams at Salsify, Stylehub, and Loom all have admin tools that allow agents to have a full view of the customer’s environment as well as various actions and features. This concept has become increasingly popular in SaaS products because all the data is centrally stored, and using your customer experience data is an excellent way to reduce customer effort and frustration.

For hardware products, there are always challenges. Compare Koala and Dejero’s ability to get hands-on: the Koala team goes through a robust onboarding process, including assembling furniture from all of their product lines. With Dejero though, the nature of the product means it’s challenging to get real hands-on experience, especially when people are working remotely, even though have labs and products available in their office. To help mitigate these barriers, they employ software to connect and manipulate devices as much as possible.

Overall, to be set up for success, agents need to be provided with tools like:

Relevant, real-time details about the customer and products usage

Eg. Recent product usage, order/contract information, key specifications of what the customer has (versions, part/model numbers, etc.). Access to CRMs or other customer-data warehouses will increase the context for your support team.

Customer Data Access

Every one of our experts mentioned how important it is to provide a custom admin interface to connect agents with the live customer product or device. Remotely accessing hardware or being able to replicate a software issue is increasingly valuable. Investing time into developing a connected interface will reduce the need for your agent to ask basic triage questions on every ticket, improving the customer experience and reducing customer effort.

Make physical products available

Marc shared that Koala “creates beautiful team spaces where a Customer Service Agent can stand up from their desk, walk a few meters, and touch, feel, inspect, and engage with a product. This enables us to take Phone Customers on a journey during the call to listen to their experience and question, inspect the product live during the interaction, and offer real advice.” Melissa at PartnerHero notes why this is so important: “Not having the right equipment can cause support delays. In one particular case, we were unable to fix a software bug because it was only occurring on a specific iPad version, and we did not have any available to test possible solutions. It sat in JIRA unresolved for 12+ months.”

Screen recording or screen sharing tools can be used with the customer or internally to quickly understand problems

Video is a differentiator for support. It is much more efficient than text descriptions and allows agents to engage more clearly and emotionally with stakeholders. Given Loom’s market space, they know this well. Susana expects every person on the team to use their software to create quick videos to communicate both internally and with customers.

product experienceWhat to do when it’s difficult to get experience

If it just isn’t possible to use the products the same way, there are still techniques you can use to help your agents make educated guesses. For e-commerce, Peter S wants his team to consider “business processes and business impacts to determine the criticality of the problem or incident.” This approach is a significant boost to your support team. Understanding why a customer wants to accomplish a task helps you customize the solution. Customers use your product for a reason. Help produce better outcomes by recognizing the business context of a support ticket.

Susana adds that “creating comprehensive documentation is key. It guides the agent through each step of the product. Even though they may not have access, they can still ‘see’ everything the customer is seeing and guide the customer through a successful interaction.” Knowledge bases shouldn’t just be for external use. Encourage your team to use your knowledge base or have internal articles that add more context to help new hires ramp up.

product experienceEncourage Agent Use

If your agents can use the products, encourage them to do so! There are many ways you can eat your own dog food (or drink your own champagne!), ranging from how you onboard new agents to how support interacts with other teams.

Salsify encourages job candidates to sign up for a Salsify trial. Regis says, “the platform has been leveraged to create all kinds of internal applications it really wasn’t designed for. That allows people to really explore some features in-depth and experiment with what is possible. Great team activity, and great learning opportunity!” For software, this is usually relatively easy. Loom gives everyone access to all the features for free and has no limitations on how they can use the tool while Stylehub onboards new agents with a new account “so the person learns the tool as if they are the customer and they have a goal that they want to achieve with it.” Teaching your agents the outcomes and context of your products will build a stronger connection to the solution.

For hardware, the effort can be considerable, but absolutely achievable. During the pandemic, Dejero gave all of their remote employees a mobile phone with their app on it and one of their devices to continue offering a hands-on experience. Koala gives free products to new hires and discount codes for ‘friends and family‘ and kits out the office with Koala products.

Marc says that he “often sees [his] team chatting with a customer over the phone, sitting on our Sofas, lying on our Mattress, sitting at our Desks, unfolding/folding out the Sofa Beds – all whilst live on a customer interaction!” PASCO encourages the team to be part of the software/hardware QA and new-release testing process as well as bug-review meetings. “Since [the team] aren’t teachers, the use cases may vary,” says Melissa, “but daily usage is still necessary.”

product experienceSupport Agent Success with Product Familiarity

Setting up your agents to be successful is worth the investment. All support departments need to be provided the tools, training, knowledge, hardware, and contextual data to help them hold meaningful, informed conversations with customers.

As we have learned above, how you do that will depend greatly on the organization you work for, the industry you sell to, and the products you offer. Our experts have shown that, no matter what you sell, or who you sell to, you can make this happen in your organization.

Doing so will strengthen your support services, give more confidence to your agents, and drastically improve the customer experience.


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Craig Stoss Craig Stoss

Craig has spent time in more than 30 countries working with support, development, and professional services teams building insight into Customer Experience and engagement. He is driven by building strong, effective support and services teams and ensuring his customers are successful. In his spare time Craig leads a local Support Thought Leadership group. He can be found on Twitter @StossInSupport

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