November 19, 2019

What is Product Support?

Article

In today’s digital age, the definition of customer service is continuing to evolve. Even the term has shifted in B2B landscapes, where customer support is an integral part of a company’s product and not simply an afterthought.

The word support implies an ongoing relationship. It’s something we provide to our families and friends. In the context of technology products, support is essential not just for customer retention but for a company to keep iterating and developing their product.

In short, product support is a key growth factor for a tech company or service provider.

What is Product Support?

Product support focuses on the very tools and knowledge customers need to get the most out of the product. It’s a specific type of customer support that requires a deep understanding of the technology in question as well as the user experience. 

Product support: Support for all the technology products within your ecosystem.

This is important because businesses today depend on technology products for their daily operations. If they’re stuck on a technical issue with your product, it may affect a significant portion of their business.

Many hardware and software products need to run 24/7. They don’t shut off after office hours and constant communication between various systems and products is essential. If there’s a technical problem that can’t be resolved within the hour––sometimes even less––it could be frustrating at best and catastrophic at worst.

If your product support has a slow response time, or they can’t properly help the customer, you’ll lose them quickly. By contrast, if you gain a reputation among your clientele for promptly solving problems, these customers will be happy with both your product and company. What’s more, they’ll recommend you to others who are looking for a company with good product support.

As competition grows in the market, chances are you’re not the only company with that product. If there’s an alternative to be found, customers will gravitate toward the company that can give them the best product support because it greatly affects their business.

What is the difference between product support and customer support?

Customer support is an umbrella term that refers to every aspect of a company’s support ecosystem. From pre-sales inquiries and billing questions to IT troubleshooting, the quality of customer support dictates a good customer experience.

Here are some stats to give you an idea of just how instrumental customer support is for businesses:


 

  • 77% of customers would likely recommend a company after a positive interaction (Source)
  • 62% of U.S. consumers say the support rep’s knowledge and resourcefulness is key to a good experience (Source)
  • 70% of consumers say technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere (Source)

Because technology is such a big part of support for many companies, it’s not enough to use simple customer support systems that focus on answering questions rather than solving a technical problem.

Rather, companies need a dedicated 24/7 product support system using tools built for more complex technologies. The earlier you establish this system, the easier it will be to provide seamless support as you scale, from installation to maintenance. It should be designed to help the customer extract the most value from the product pre- and post-purchase.

When customers consider a product, they evaluate both the features as well as the company itself. They expect a good product support system to ensure they continue to be happy with the purchase throughout the entire duration of their usage as opposed to jumping ship at the next opportunity. 

Below are some things to consider when thinking about building a product support system:

  • Is there an easy purchasing process to make it as convenient as possible for customers to make the decision to buy?
  • Is the onboarding and installation process quick and painless?
  • How can customers easily get the support they need for outdated or faulty parts, maintenance checkups, product updates, parts delivery, operator training and more?

The point of product support is to help customers derive maximum value out of the product for as long as they use it.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Providing Good Product Support 

Understanding why product support is a key growth accelerator is only the first step. To create a good product support system, there are multiple factors to consider.

1. Start as soon as you can.

Thinking about product support from the very beginning can save a lot of headaches down the road. Before you ship the product, address how you want your customers to interact with you. This could even affect the way you design, price, or market your product. 

Ask yourself how easy the support structure would be to scale. Are you designing it for a few customers? Or is it built to handle a large volume of support cases? The last thing you want is to run into the problem of unsustainability. So make sure it’ll be painless to transition from your current volume to a higher number.

2. Identify customer needs.

Not all product support cases are equal. Some require more time and cost. Others less so. When thinking about potential customer needs, determine which factor is a premium for the customer. This will most likely depend on the size of the company and the nature of their work.

Three key metrics to consider are:

  • Reliability: How reliable is the product? Are there frequent downtimes and upgrades? 
  • Availability: Can the customer rely on your support 24/7?
  • Efficiency: How fast can you attend to the problem?

In some situations, efficiency is non-negotiable. A problem with a product must be fixed immediately or it will incur significant costs. A customer in this situation may be willing to pay a premium for fast service. At other times, it’s not a priority and it’s more important to keep costs low. In these cases, a reliable product that doesn’t require much maintenance or support is ideal.

3. Allocate resources with segmentation.

Depending on the above needs, segment your customers into different categories. They can include those who will predictably require regular maintenance under a service contract for a fixed fee, companies whose needs are more sporadic with bigger costs, or those who need support ASAP.

Find out if there are underserved or overserved areas. Maybe you need to allocate more resources to the hands-on customers. Or you’re spending more than necessary in an area that has less demand.

4. Build strategies.

Whether you want to improve your product’s reliability or reduce response times for support needs, having a clear plan helps you to allocate resources, find ways to cut back and adjust costs.

These strategies don’t need to be fixed. In fact, the more flexible the better. If you meet the goal of reducing response times to a key benchmark this quarter, it might be time to come up with a different strategy as reducing beyond that point could be meaningless and incur additional costs without returns.

5. Iterate.

As the market changes, your customers’ needs may change with them. This may require new strategies or approaches to support. Certain measurements become more important. By next year, priorities could have shifted. 

The only way to provide good product support is to continue to anticipate customer needs and find ways to address them gracefully. Companies that fail to do that will see customers leaving for their competitors.

Good Support Needs Good Planning

Prices can fluctuate. Markets changes. Products evolve. But if there’s one constant in all this, it’s that support will never be irrelevant. 

Knowing this, planning for support should be as fundamental to your company as product development. Everything from design to pricing can be determined with support in mind. Invest in a good support system using intelligent software and track how much of your resources go toward support so you can plan ahead without unpleasant surprises.  

As technology gets more and more complicated, so does product support. Today we live in an entire technology ecosystem. To manage this, we need an equally complex network of support systems that are capable of handling intricate technical complications. Building good product support is a win-win for both companies as a driver of growth and customers as a compelling choice over other alternatives.