So far, the posts in this series have stressed that the continuous value delivery to customers, rather than the transactional model, affects all parts of the company. One of the areas often ignored or seen too late as playing an important role is customer support. In many companies, this team is assumed to already have a continuous relationship with customers. In practice, however, most customers may have some interaction when initially starting to use the product and then again when the product reaches end of life and starts to show failures.
When transitioning to continuous value delivery, customer support runs into at least two main challenges. First, the team needs to build up knowledge about the latest software release to the field much quicker than traditionally. Whereas customer support used to have weeks if not months for that, when new software is released every two to four weeks, the knowledge about it needs to be built up in hours and days. Second, as not all customers upgrade their software at the same time, it can easily become difficult to know which version of the software the customer is experiencing issues with and how to best provide support.
The result is that customer support needs to change in three important ways: deepened customer empathy, accelerated knowledge acquisition and proactive support. First, as we build a continuous, rather than a transactional, relationship with customers, customer support has to expand its scope of concern and understand much better the context in which the customer is using the solution. The focus of the customer has always been to achieve certain outcomes and your product has simply been a means to that end. Whereas customer support could traditionally focus on the functionality of the product itself, in a continuous relationship, the team needs to focus on the outcomes the customer is looking to accomplish.
Second, as is obvious from the discussed challenges, if new software is deployed every two to four weeks, the knowledge acquisition by customer support for each release needs to accelerate significantly. Often this requires customer support to become part of the overall DevOps cycle so that they can predict the most likely customer support issues that will come up and prepare for that.
Third, as the product is now connected, we can collect data and consequently monitor the performance of the product. This means that we can implement the biggest shift of all: from reactive customer support where we wait for the customer to call to proactive customer support where we fix issues before the customer is even aware of them. You can then either inform the customer post-hoc or keep things quiet.
In many companies, customer support is viewed as a bit of necessary evil and a cost center that should be optimized for a minimal total cost of ownership. The digital transformation, however, changes the role and nature of customer support quite fundamentally. As a consequence, rather than outsourcing the function to a call center company or something similar, it now becomes important to integrate it into the DevOps lifecycle and enable proactive customer support. In a continuous value delivery model, customer support suddenly becomes your primary interface to the customer and that interface should be as strong and supportive as possible. In the end, as the saying goes, good customer service costs less than bad customer service. That’s even more true in a digital world.