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.
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.
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:
- Remembering the bugs they fixed and avoiding the same mistake in their feature
- Following up after their feature released and looking at the error logs
- 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.
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.
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.