Innovation to Help Engineers Get Closer to Customers

As a consumer, you may commonly hear yourself express your frustration with software, a website or an app. “What were they thinking?” you may ask when something doesn’t work as you think it should.

Some companies involve customers during the design phase, holding focus groups, talking to end users, or watching how customers use a product during beta testing. But few (in my experience), make a concerted effort to increase the designers’ understanding of current customers’ issues. SurveyMonkey has taken this approach as part of their customer-centric philosophy.

In a recent discussion, Jill Sonderby, SurveyMonkey’s Senior Program Manager, Talent Development, shared two programs that help engineers — as well as anyone in the company — have a greater connection to their customers’ experience.

Case Support Program

The newly launched Case Support Program pairs engineers with Customer Operations team members to give them a glimpse into each other’s roles. Under the supportive tutelage of the Customer Ops professionals, engineers read customer inquiries and learn how to respond politely and professionally to customers’ emailed product issues. These engineers are trained in the tools these professionals have available and how to craft a great response before hitting “send”.

Since “Listen to Customers” is one of SurveyMonkey’s core values, it’s paramount that customers be treated with utmost care. Engineers not only experience the types and frequency of customers’ challenges with their product, they also learn how to finesse their response using SurveyMonkey’s voice and tone strategy to best meet the customer’s needs.

Even though the program is new, its popularity is spreading. Participants gave it an 85 NPSTM (Net Promoter Score) when asked if they’d recommend the experience to others. They have a revitalized connection with customers because of their personal interaction. Engineers reported it has increased their empathy and advocacy for their customers.

Sonderby shared, “It’s a great way for engineers — who are often buried in coding — to have a better understanding of the customer’s perspective. They get to understand our customers’ challenges in real time.”

Shadowing Program

The quarterly Shadowing Program is designed to allow anyone in the company to schedule 45 minutes to work with selective Customer Engagement Reps to get a window into recent support inquiries. This, too, is hugely popular and the slots fill up quickly. It has an NPSTM of 100, which means that every participant enthusiastically gave it a “strongly agree” when asked if they’d recommend the experience to others.

While less intense than the Case Support Program, the Shadowing Program broadens the perspective of anyone in the company, not just engineers. Senior executives, salespeople, HR, admin staff, and others deepen their understanding of the customers by seeing the challenges they face. This helps the staff be even more aware of how their jobs affect the customers’ experience.

“We know that great customer service happens when teams work together,” says Sarah Young, Program Manager for the Shadowing and Case Support Programs. “Which is why we’ve built a program that allows teams to #listentocustomers. The SurveyMonkey Customer Shadowing Program provides a lens into the daily customer experience for those who otherwise would not have the chance. Regardless of the participant’s role, they’re bound to walk away learning something new and might even find new opportunities to impact the customer experience through their own work.”

What can you learn?

What can you learn from SurveyMonkey’s innovative approach to bringing more customer perspectives to all its employees? It’s important to provide a system to allow non-customer-facing employees to interact with customers in real time. They have seen that even 45 minutes can be valuable for those employees. It can help promote a new appreciation for the customers’ experience, no matter what their role. This will result in more customer loyalty and perhaps new products or enhancements for existing products.

Imagine how more customer-focused decisions would be made if your CEO, COO, engineering VP, or sales manager better understood how your customers used your offerings? What if your accounting manager sat in on customer calls related to billing issues? Or the shipping manager would hear a customer’s frustration about receiving a damaged package? When anyone from any department can hear the customer’s voice sharing a problem, it helps them increase their championship for customer-related processes and products — even when they are listening to issues that aren’t directly related to their department.

So take the plunge, if only on a small scale at first. Ask yourself “What do our employees need to know about our customers?” Ask your customer experience team if they are open to being shadowed for a few hours each quarter. If yes, ask the engineering team if they would value hearing the customer’s issues real time. If both say yes, start with a small pilot before rolling it out, and don’t be afraid to iterate on the program as you go. A small amount of effort to set this up can have tremendous value.