All hands on support

Why your developers should support customers

Written by on July 21, 2015

In most startups, supporting customers is everybody’s job. Even if it’s the middle of the night, it’s not unusual to find the CEO or CTO troubleshooting customer issues. This helps them learn a lot – about their own product, their customers, and the business they’re in – and these lessons help them take important decisions. But as a company grows and gets a dedicated support team, the importance of every employee spending time on support is forgotten.

That’s why, when we launched CEOonSupport, we said that supporting customers gives CEOs a reality check. And since everyone in business ultimately exists to serve its customers, every employee should get that reality check. The CEO, the CTO, the product managers, the sales people… even the developers.

When developers support customers

The idea of developers supporting customers is not new. Tech support teams that take care of customers’ requirements, troubleshoot issues and fix bugs have been around for a long time.

But we aren’t talking about tech support… we are talking about the programmers who build features spending time on support. An experienced dev is a big asset for the customer support team. Even if they are on support only for brief periods of time.

Developers on support Nick

But how does it work out for the developers? Is supporting customers beneficial for them? How does the “reality check” help them be better at their jobs? Would it be more valuable to them if they use the time they spend supporting customers on building features?

When the questions just kept piling up, we turned to our own developers here at Freshdesk. Most of them take turns supporting customers for a week and they were all too happy to share the reasons they find being on support fulfilling.

Here’s why developers should support customers:

They start seeing the bigger picture

Nearly every dev we talked to had this near the top of their list. Being on support helps them get to know the product inside out.

As a product becomes more mature, devs end up working in silos and focusing only on the features they build. They don’t always have the time or visibility to think about its place in the whole product. It’s only when they spend time on support that they get a complete view of the product and their feature’s place in it.

Spending time on support also helps devs better understand the entire codebase. After a dev has been on support, they’re better equipped to point out ripples – the areas of the product that might be affected when you change one line of code. It also feeds back into the way they build their features; they learn how to better build features that scale.

They sharpen their debugging and coding skills

Being on support duty exposes devs to code written by more experienced devs, devs who built the first, important pieces of the product. At the same time, they learn to figure out the weaker parts of the codebase that decrease the performance of the app.

Developers on support Sridhar text

And they get to use technologies they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to work with. For example, an iOS developer who had to pull up custom reports for a customer got to work with Amazon Redshift on which our reports are hosted. Not only was it a welcome change from her usual routine but it also gave her the opportunity to learn something new.

Once a dev spends time supporting, they inevitably start getting better at:

  1. Remembering the bugs they fixed and avoiding the same mistake in their feature
  2. Following up after their feature released and looking at the error logs
  3. Figuring out the one-off cases where their feature malfunctions and fixing it

It’s a boost to their morale

People rarely get the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and try new things. Support not only has the developers doing things they’ve never done before, but it also helps them gain a new perspective – on the product, customers and their jobs in general.

Not to mention the big morale boost. Devs rarely get to see their features in action, rarely get actual feedback from customers using their product day in and day out. So much so that when they do get to spend time on support, every grateful customer is like an ice cream sundae on a hot day.

Developers on support Venky text

Our developers also mentioned how much they loved spending time with our support reps. They observe the way the support reps talk to customers, the way they break down complex ideas. It’s a break from their routine.

But all of them admitted that the biggest lesson, of the lot, is the realization that there are so many different kinds of customers, with different use-cases, from different industries with different levels of understanding of the product. The realization that what is obvious to them is not so obvious to everyone else.

Developers on support Yogi bear text

You should try this

Developers spending time on support is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Not only are they of great use to support reps and customers ultimately, but it also feeds back into the product as well.

So, to start with, try enlisting two devs to spend time on support for…a day with your support team. You don’t have to plunk them on the frontline; after all, no one wants untrained reps talking to customers. Just let them work in the background and be the ghost agent for tricky issues.

On the other hand, if you’ve tried this before, what did you learn from it? Let us know in the comments.

An extended version of this post can be found in our medium channel.


This is the first in our All Hands on Support series. Find out why Product managers and Salespeople should be on support too.

 

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  • M Durai Rajan

    I agree completely. We have tried this at Mysore Saree Udyog and it works wonders…happy customers and an enlightened Developer.

  • I love the idea of developers doing support. I have headed up our products helpdesk and been involved in testing features before release, and more than once our development team have introduced something that made perfect sense to them but if you try to explain it to a user it quickly makes less sense. If our development team had a bit more experience of the day to day problems of some users they may think twice when writing that next feature.

  • Sarathi J

    Good one.

  • David Smathers Moore

    great article — we aren’t in software development but the basic case for having people in other key roles who don’t usually have direct client contact spending time shadowing/assisting customer service people makes a lot of sense and can easily be overlooked

  • Great suggestions. I try to get my development guys to at least read some of the more complex tickets, so they are always aware of what’s going on. After reading this I’m going to make sure everyone answers at least a couple of tickets per week. 🙂

  • Another big reason is it develops empathy. Empathy comes from experience. Developers can better empathize with their users (and thus be more user-centric in their design) but spending time talking to actual users.