4 Tips to Help Support Teams Work More Closely with UX

With all the nuances of cross-functional teams, there isn’t any one answer on how to do it best, but there are some universal things to keep in mind.

There’s a common conundrum I like to refer to as “the waiter’s dilemma.” It’s the scenario in which a customer gets their food delivered and it’s less than satisfactory. Since they don’t have a direct line to the chef, the waiter usually gets the brunt of the ire and the chef, sometimes, is none-the-wiser.

Working in support, in any capacity, can lead to a lot of “waiter’s dilemmas.” You’re the front line, but rarely are you building the product, or even having a ton of input about it. It’s kind of an odd set up when you think about it. Support, generally, has the most interaction with customers. So, you’d think they would have some valuable insight into how the product should be designed.

User experience (UX) teams do a lot of testing and iterating, but it’s pretty easy for that testing to happen in a vacuum of sorts. Think of it this way. If you design a house and use all pocket (hidden) doors, it’s very obvious to you how to open and close doors — after all, you designed it. However, if you’re just someone walking in off the street, maybe you’ve never seen a pocket door. You’ll walk in thinking, “where are all the doors in this place?”

Jeld Wen Pocket doors

As almost anyone would tell you, good design needs to be functional. You can have the most beautiful car in the world, but if you can’t figure out how to turn it on, it’s going to sit in the driveway. In those instances, you need perspective. An outside eye that can see what you can’t. In my mind, that’s what customer support (and their data from customer conversations) can be to UX.

In this article I cover four tips to help support and UX work together more closely:

  • Be Deliberate
  • Build it Into the Process
  • Have Clearly Defined Roles
  • Have Shared Goals

Working with members from another team doesn’t happen by accident. You’re going to have to be intentional if you want it to be a success. It’ll be made easier if you already have an idea of how they can contribute prior.

So, if you’re on the UX team brainstorm different ways that customer success may be able to help with projects you’re working on. Do your best to make sure it’s relevant to their current role, but it should vary some. As they say, “variety is the spice of life.”

One way I’ve seen the knowledge of support agents be utilized by UX teams is through helping with persona building. Since support agents have the most regular interaction with customers they can add in detail that a demographic overview may not inform.

Also, it could offer support agents a break from some of their more day-to-day job duties, which can be invigorating. According to research, workers that get to have some amount of variety at work have higher levels of happiness and well being.

You may also consider having them test out a new system you’re developing for onboarding or something similar. Basically, if you’re building something and want to get an idea of how customers may react to it, customer support will probably be a great first resource to use.

According to research done by Duke University up to 45% of our daily decisions are done out of habit. Each time we make a decision it makes it easier to make that same choice moving forward. However, the opposite is also true: the less you make a choice the harder it becomes to make it.

Since working together with another team may not come as second nature at first, it might be a good idea to build the coworking into your team’s process. Perhaps, you could have your UX team add in a step to have support review potential design changes. Or, perhaps you could bring them in when you’re in the iterating process and they could help eliminate an option.

Really, what you’re going for is to make it second nature to interact with one another. The more practice you get, the more comfortable you’ll be and the better you can work with one another. Cross-functional teams can have challenges, so the more barriers you can remove, the better.

Ambiguity is tough to deal with at work. Project managers are there to help, but it might not be an option in cross-team situations. Even within your own team, it’s not always totally clear what may be expected of you. When you add in that you’re bringing people together from more than one team, the confusion can increase. That confusion could quickly turn into frustration, so it’s important to make sure that everyone knows what their role is.

Secondly, define exactly what you need from the customer support team when they are asked to provide input. While asking “how do customers feel about X” at the watercooler might get you some anecdotal stories, you’ll get better customer feedback if you give support managers time to pull the data. Understand what input you need from customer support and make a specific request (with time to respond) so that both teams benefit from the collaboration.

When you’re working across different departments there can be some conflict. Jobs and priorities vary and create the lens through which you see work. Reconciling those different viewpoints can be a challenge.

One way to squash those issues is by having a common goal you’re trying to achieve. It’s probably going to be quite obvious why you’re working together, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll have specific measures of success. Without them, it can be difficult to know if you’re doing well or having an impact.

For example, you may know that you’re helping the UX team develop a new gamification process for onboarding, but that’s pretty vague. A more specific goal — perhaps you want to increase product adoption rates in the first 90 days of each account — gives the team something tangible to work toward and can help unite you further.

According to research done by McKinsey, having set goals can help improve employee engagement which, in turn, elevates performance. So, not only can goals unite the team, it can also help them work better. Achieving those goals, and celebrating them, together could lead to closer bonds and make working together in the future even more likely.

Bringing two teams together can be a tough task. There are obstacles and it takes commitment from both sides to make it work. With all the nuances of cross-functional teams there isn’t any one answer on how to do it best, but there are some universal things to keep in mind.

Be deliberate when starting your project. Having a solid reason to work together could help reduce some potential friction. Build working together into your normal working processes. The more you can make it a habit, the easier it will be to continue to make the choice moving forward. Once you’re working together, make sure everyone knows their roles. It’ll help improve efficiency, and lower your chance of failure, once you start your joint projects.

Having shared goals can help unite your teams. Knowing that you’re all working to achieve the same thing can improve engagement and increase happiness. As we mentioned above, working with another team can be tough. There are going to be some areas where you naturally overlap, so try and find those opportunities. The more you practice, the better it’ll get, and the bigger return you’ll see.

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