Industry insight

Product support is about pain

When I started working in product support over ten years ago, I knew what my job was: resolving support requests. That was fine as far as it went, and it was satisfying to know I’d helped someone out by answering their question or solving their problem. But I didn’t understand how my job and my team fit into the bigger picture. I couldn’t explain how we advanced the company’s mission and I couldn’t see opportunities for us to get better at it. After a while, handling support requests felt like treading water—they kept coming, we kept dealing with them, but there was no sense of progress.

One day a product manager explained to me that product support is about pain. Resolving requests is treating pain, but that’s only half the job. The way product support helps move the company forward is by preventing pain. Once I understood this, everything fell into place and I saw how product support fits in to the company’s broader goals.

Pain” is what happens when a customer has to spend time or effort on something that’s blocking their ability to accomplish their actual goal. It’s the confusion or frustration that comes from struggling to understand unclear or incomplete documentation, fighting poor UX that makes things more complicated than necessary, or working around bugs, defects, or outright missing features. In short, it’s anything that causes customers to reach out to product support. And that means that any time a customer does reach out to product support, they are already hurting.

The first job of product support is to avoid adding to that pain. The process of getting support should be simple and obvious. Anything a company does to make it hard to get help such as hiding contact info, forcing customers to sit on hold, or putting up obstacle courses of phone trees or tiered conversations with non-experts who can’t go off-script sends a clear message to the customer that the company doesn’t care about their pain.

This is one of the worst things you can do if you actually care about helping and retaining customers. Any customer who gets tired of fighting through barriers to get support and gives up on solving their problem with your product is that much more likely to give up on your product entirely. And even the customers who persevere and take on the extra pain to get support are going to be justifiably more frustrated and on edge, making it harder for support to help them.

This means that product support’s effect on customer satisfaction starts before contact is even made. Support resources like documentation, knowledge bases, and troubleshooting guides should be easy to find and search, and it should be effortless to get in touch with experts when necessary. By ensuring that it’s as straightforward as possible for customers to find and get help when they need it, support can demonstrate that they value customers, respect their pain, and will take care of them.

The second job of product support is the most obvious one: treat the pain. Once the customer reaches out for help, support’s job is to provide it. If they don’t, the customer will find some other way to accomplish their goals, and it will probably be one that doesn’t involve your product.

Documentation and other support resources should be clear and comprehensive. Support agents should be qualified, trained, and empowered to provide meaningful help. They should own issues through to completion and loop in other resources as necessary to make sure the customer can achieve their goals. By ensuring that customers actually get the solutions they need, support can turn pain into success and send customers off with a smile.

The third job of product support is to prevent pain. This is the easiest job to overlook, since it’s difficult to recognize or measure the problems that don’t happen. But in the long run, it’s support’s most important job. After all, the best way to both avoid obstacles to getting help for a problem and to ensure the problem is successfully solved is to prevent the problem in the first place.

Most pain points that customers run into aren’t one-off flukes. Even if surface symptoms vary, root causes tend to repeat. Noticing these patterns enables you to get ahead of them and provide support proactively instead of just reactively by preventing entire classes of problems at once. Ignoring those root causes means accepting preventable pain, which is a clear message that you don’t care about your customers’ pain or the pain of your product support team.

Support agents know customer pain better than almost anyone, because support requests show what pain points customers are actually hitting. A strong feedback loop between support and product development is vital to surface that signal and reveal what changes will have real impact in improving how customers use your product to accomplish their goals. And if those changes don’t get made, support agents will see the ongoing customer pain that results.

As a support agent, repeatedly treating customer pain that you know could have been prevented is a waste of your time, effort, and intelligence. It’s frustrating and boring and will drive away the exact kinds of people you want on a support team: the ones who truly care about helping the customer and who are ready and eager to dive into tough problems to do just that.

Pain points can easily accumulate over the lifetime of a product. If they are left unfixed as features are added or the product grows in scale or complexity, new problems will get harder and harder to diagnose and solve, meaning more and more time spent firefighting. Prioritization is hard and resources are limited, but a company that consistently fails to address recurring pain points today will effectively have fewer resources tomorrow. By providing signal into those pain points as they arise, product support can help ensure the right things get fixed at the right time, preventing headaches for customers and the support team alike.