How customer support influences Asana’s product development

Asana’s customer experience is make-or-break. If our customers love and evangelize our product to their colleagues and friends, we get a chance to win our market. If they have a bad experience, we’re in trouble. Because Asana is so intensely focused on the experience of our customers, we’re trying a different approach to customer and product support. We call it User Operations, or UO, for short.

In this approach, we strive to strike a balance of daily customer interactions – like answering tickets – and longer-term projects – like writing help documentation and building reporting systems. We work with engineers to design and build tools that help us do our jobs. We reciprocate that help by using these tools to investigate bugs and other product issues that might otherwise take up a lot of the engineers’ time.

The way we do things helps to avoid UO burnout, but the main benefit is that we can collaborate closely with the Product Team, ensuring that the customer voice plays a key role in product development.

Becoming an invaluable source of product feedback

When I talk to other people who work in support, I often hear complaints that the product team doesn’t listen. For example, the Support Team will have taken a week to put together a huge and thorough report on issues customers are having with the product. This report will include detailed solutions, and the Product Team will ignore all of it. Then the Product Team will go and do the same kind of research all over again.

One interpretation may be that the Product Team just doesn’t trust the Support Team’s analysis, but I think it’s actually because non-product teams find it easier to suggest solutions, rather than frame problems in ways that help Product do its job.

I have found that the best way to approach this issue is to treat the product team like our client. When we, as a support team, adjusted our lens in this way, we (and the customer voice we represent) instantly became more integrated in the product development process. I believe that through this simple perspective shift (and a bit of empathy and understanding) any modern Support Team can become an invaluable source of input to Product.

At Asana, this collaboration has become a two-way street: we ask what the Product Team wants to know; they give us a heads up to look for specific issues that might come up around a launch. Later, when they are trying to figure out how to prioritize new features, they can come to us to get a sense of their demand.

This has became a continual process that happens on a weekly (even daily) basis. It keeps everyone engaged and flexible, and gives UO variety in our work.

How using Asana integrates UO with the rest of the team

Because our entire company uses Asana, our software provides us a way to distribute knowledge in any direction, to any part of the company. Whether it’s in reporting specific issues to the product team, helping engineers investigate bugs, or sharing ideas for help content with the marketing team, Asana helps UO offer our deep understanding of our customers’ experiences to every part of the organization.

UO can file customer bug reports with reproduction steps in an Asana task. PMs and Engineers can be added as followers and help prioritize the task. The bug’s task can then be Hypertext linked to other relevant existing tasks for more context. We can have discussions in comments about how we’ll fix the root issue and when we expect that to happen. UO can see the process and know exactly when we should follow up with the customers.

We also use an Asana project to distribute weekly reports of customer interactions to the product, sales and marketing teams. These reports come from a combination of automated scripts running on our ticketing system and manual interpretation. They contain both quantitative and qualitative information to give a more complete picture of the customer experience.

By using a combination of cross-functional teamwork, custom-developed tools and the Asana product, we have moved away from the traditional, isolated support model. We have become a more integrated and valuable support organization that has meaningful input into the product development process.

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