As software companies scale, it can be a struggle to stay organized and maintain efficient and effective tools and processes. In smaller teams, it’s typical for an operations group to focus on these challenges of growth, but in larger ones, function-specific operations roles can help spread the load.
Sales operations, support operations, developer operations, marketing operations, design operations, and product operations all exist to help their respective teams improve how they work together and across their organizations.
Product operations is one of the newer ops roles adopted in recent years, and, approached correctly, these folks can be a prime-time partner for customer-facing teams. They can help champion positive changes for your team and your customers. Even if you don’t have a product operations team, almost everything I’ll be sharing is applicable to working with similar groups that will benefit your team and customers.
What is Product Operations?
Product operations (or product ops) is the glue that sits at the intersection of product, product engineering, and customer success. Product ops helps streamline workflows, analyze feedback, and distribute information across teams. They exist to keep the product team’s day-to-day activities aligned with the company’s objectives and enable them to scale with minimal friction.
Early on, product ops is often a hat worn by someone else on the team such as the product manager until it’s later carved out as a dedicated role. While small companies can get by without having a dedicated person or team in charge of product ops, it’s still critical to have a product ops mindset no matter the stage of the company.
The Importance of Product Operations to CX
In a recent survey conducted by the Product-Led Alliance, 52% of respondents agreed that product ops is meant to make sure customers have the best possible product experience.
As companies grow and become more complex, the product ops team helps streamline the way the product organization works and how they collaborate with other teams. This enables the organization to continue to scale as new team members join and existing team members shift around. Product ops also helps knock down internal silos that cause a breakdown in communication. Fewer silos in an organization result in better collaboration and alignment. From tooling to processes and data analysis, product ops ensure the necessary things are in place for teams to do their best work, and ultimately, all of this ladders up to delivering a great customer experience.
The Support and Product Ops Partnership
Support teams must embrace cross-team collaboration to be successful, and some of the most common interactions support teams have outside of their core team are with the product team. So, there are a lot of opportunities to partner together to improve the customer experience.
Optimizing Workflows and Tooling
Support teams rely on a wide range of tools and workflows to do their jobs. From working through tickets, logging bugs, tracking feature requests, referencing and sharing the product roadmap, and searching for or creating internal documentation… there’s no shortage of systems that must be considered. Many of these tools touch multiple teams, and product ops help ensure these systems are optimized and used in the best way possible.
For example, let’s say a support agent receives a bug report from a customer. How and where that information gets tracked internally impacts the support, product, and engineering teams. Without product ops, the support team might decide to do this one way, but the product and engineering teams might have different needs. Product ops helps unify these teams by finding solutions that work for everyone and streamlining routine tasks. But it takes a tight relationship between support and product ops for this to happen.
The support team and leadership must help product ops understand the needs of the support team as well as the needs of customers, which often go hand in hand. For example, maybe customers are feeling left in the dark when they submit feature requests. When they contact the support team with feedback, they’re not sure what happens to that feedback or if it will be considered. Customers would like to know if their ideas will be considered on the roadmap, and if so, what the timeline is for the idea to be shipped.
This scenario is a customer need, but it requires some tooling and workflow design between product and support, and that’s where support should have the opportunity to share this problem with product ops and then work with them to design a solution that works for the product team, support, and customers.
Scaling Communication with Customers
Software teams are shipping new features, fixes, and improvements faster than ever. Product ops and support should work together on a strategy for sharing this information in a timely way.
Whether it’s through a public roadmap, product update announcements, or customer calls, it’s important to coordinate the narrative across the entire organization. This is especially critical as companies grow and acquire more and more customers. Setting the right expectations at the right time is what helps the customer experience from not falling off the tracks.
Product ops may often act as the subject matter expert for specific projects where they assist the support team in understanding technical specifications and changes so that they can help set the necessary expectations with customers.
As the saying goes, “feedback is a gift”. With more customers comes more feedback and insights. Collecting feedback in an organized and actionable way helps product teams build features and products customers love. Feedback can come in through a variety of channels, and product ops can help make sure it isn’t lost by championing feedback analysis and working with support and product to make sure the customer’s voice is represented in the roadmap.
Product ops can also partner with support teams to analyze support data such as types of tickets (bugs, feedback, etc) and which area of the product customers are writing in about. Identifying these themes helps inform the product roadmap and it all starts with how the information is being collected.
For example, is the support team capturing the right things? Is NPS being measured? What about CSAT? Support and product ops should work together to determine what is being measured and how it’s being measured, because at the end of the day, retaining customers comes down to having a great product and great service. When support and product work closely together, the customer experience really starts to shine
Support teams should make sure product ops has regular access to the data being collected in your help desk. If you don’t have product ops, (and even if you do), keep a close eye on the data in order to identify and raise themes the product team may want to know about.
Feedback at scale can be difficult to manage, but when you nail this, your customers feel heard, and you’re set up to deliver a product they will truly value.
Sales and Support Enablement
Since product ops is so close to the ins and outs of the product team, they’re often intimately familiar with changes coming down the pipeline. This arms them with key information needed to enable other teams to be successful.
Aligning sales and support around new feature launches, deprecations, or major announcements ensures the entire company is working in a coordinated effort. Product managers are busy running meetings and working closely with the design and development team, they don’t always have the time to disseminate information across teams. This is where product ops can step in and be the “glue” across teams. This might come in the form of an internal roadmap, documentation in the company wiki, or running hands-on enablement sessions.
Be sure to start coordinating with your product ops team early and often when it comes to these things and you’ll be set up for success.
Shared Goals throughout the Customer Journey
Product teams partner with customer support and success teams to drive the adoption of features. Product ops can help put the necessary systems in place to measure adoption and coordinate actions and adoption across the user journey.
For example, you might have a big company goal for a certain percentage of customers to adopt a new feature you just rolled out. Product ops can work with the product team to get the necessary tooling in place to measure the adoption, and they can work with support and success teams on coaching them to drive adoption around that functionality. Here, you can see how product ops act as the bridge between the product and support teams.
Feature adoption is a big component of customer health scoring. Product ops can also help design a health score calculation so that customer teams know which customers are at risk and which ones are in a “healthy” state. A finely tuned customer health score enables customer support and success to serve customers in the best way possible and gives them a sense of which customers are at risk, and which ones are healthy
Product ops teams put a magnifying glass on day-to-day processes and tasks to see where they can be improved and optimized. Early on, it’s ok to be nimble and scrappy, but the product ops mindset should still be present. Support teams and customers are negatively impacted when a product ops mentality isn’t a part of how your company operates.
The earlier you operationalize processes within the product team, the better off you’ll be when it comes to scaling and continuously delivering a great customer experience. Adopting the product ops mindset early on benefits your team and your customers, which ultimately impacts your bottom line.