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Despite the efforts of UI and UX professionals, users sometimes get stuck, or experience bugs using software. I think we can agree that their frustration is an indicator of bad user experience. Yet, a meaningful, helpful conversation with a customer support person can leave that user feeling even better about the product after their issue.

I have seen it many times where the relationship the customer has with the people that represent the product significantly affects their opinion, dare say their experience with the product.

So why is CS and UX two totally unrelated departments? Is there any company out there that has CS reporting to UX? Should there be?

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I'm sure companies like Microsoft have their UX people go over issues discovered by customer service, I'm not sure what sort of process they use though –  Ben Brocka Sep 1 '12 at 18:07
    
The instruction book / FAQs on the website are also part of the user experience. –  PhillipW Sep 7 '12 at 9:03

8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Absolutely!

Intuit (the company that makes Quicken) has product designers staff their customer support lines for precisely this reason: to bring customers' experiences directly to products designers, and make customer service free.

Higher-salaried product designers field service calls so that future offerings will be informed by customers directly, particularly customers' problems with the current product design.

(Source: Harvard Business Review, "The Four Things a Service Business Must Get Right", Frances X. Frei.)

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That's a great example. Thanks! –  Itumac Sep 1 '12 at 23:19
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If you like it, you can up vote it. ;-) –  msanford Sep 2 '12 at 6:11
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+1 Good example and a really good strategy: "You'll take the call from users not getting your design" :-) –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Sep 2 '12 at 21:00
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That article is worth a solid read –  Itumac Sep 7 '12 at 20:31
    
@Itumac Also available as an audiobook ;) –  msanford Sep 8 '12 at 20:08

Customer Service is a valuable source of statistics and real User Experience. You get instant feedback when the product fails technically or in its User Experience. Treated right you will have a top list of UX-issues, where your users fail completing tasks. Take this top list to UX department, and they’ll be happy to read where real users failed and why.

I don’t think this is an organizational issue really, since this process could be easily set up in a matrix organization (function and process), where Customer Service meets UX department once a week to review UX issues. But you are right, there should be a connection between Customer Service and UX department.

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I use our customer support group as a resource. Most customer support groups will maintain a list of top customer issues. And many of the CS people have thought of potential fixes for those issues. So, it's well worth it to check in with your CS staff on a regular basis. –  RobC Sep 7 '12 at 17:51

Despite the efforts of UI and UX professionals, users sometimes get stuck, or experience bugs using software. I think we can agree that their frustration is an indicator of bad user experience.

Completely agree. Bugs happen, it's an indicator of a poor user experience, but let's break that down. Bugs aren't necessarily a result of a poorly designed experience. Bugs can be related to design, but they can also be related to source code or compliers.

So why is CS and UX two totally unrelated departments?

It really depends on the size and scale of the organization making the software. For small teams, employees are probably wearing multiple hats, including UX and CS. For a large corporation, creating software and support for that software can involve tens of organizations, departments and teams. Take a typical software solution as an example and what a customer might go through when obtaining the software.

  1. Research a product
  2. Pre-order a product (if available)
  3. Order a product
  4. Refund an order
  5. Download the software (if digital) or receive the software (if physical disc)
  6. Install the software
  7. Use software
  8. Uninstall the software
  9. Contact support

Now, this is over generalization, but these can be steps a customer takes to obtain software. Whether the company is small or large, a customer support team takes contacts related to all of these steps as well as the hardware involved, third parties vendors, etc.

With a large corporation, it's possible you have multiple UX teams designing for each of those steps. There are design teams working on marketing, the online store, billing, the product and customer support. All of these teams (especially customer support UX teams) might also work on internal facing designs. For a CS UX team, they're designing effective methods of supplying knowledge materials, methods to contact the support team, internal tools CSRs use to provide support to customers and much more. So, instead of just throwing CS under a UX team, perhaps it's more important for CS to have a UX team. That UX team should work with the other UX teams to work together and provide a more seamless product end-to-end experience.

Is there any company out there that has CS reporting to UX? Should there be?

Like msanford mentioned, there are effective ways a CS team can address customer issues, but often a CS team relies on users to inform the team/organization/company of what those bugs are. Allowing subject matter experts an opportunity to discuss bugs directly with customers not only has an impact on how a customer feels about the product, but it can also provide a much faster road to resolution for the bug itself. While I can't give specifics, other companies have very similar tactics to Intuit as well as providing customers the ability to help guide future states of the product.

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"User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

-Nielsen Group

Customer service is a huge part of UX. Depending on the organization, it can be the starting point of an interaction with a product. It isn't merely something that is there in case something goes wrong. Looking at companies like Zappos, customer service actually enhances the user experience and they're very successful because of it.

UX and CS aren't mutually exclusive, because the vision of customer support generally begins with UX design. If you, as a UX professional, are limiting your UX to just applications, then you're missing a huge human element in the experience. Collecting metrics for customer service isn't difficult (or unusual) at all and help install the larger vision.

So, to answer your question, there is a whole lot to UX, and customer service definitely impacts the user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

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Benny is spot in saying that Customer service is an excellent source of statistics and user experience issues as they are often the first point of contact for frustrated users in understanding the system.

Also another thing to note is that customer service are often power users of the system and are well aware of the various process flows users can take to perform a task and when working in combination with an UX designer, can provide valuable inputs in how to make the process flow more apparent or reduce the amount of effort needed in getting a process over with. Further more, since they are power users and also the key point of reference for real time users, they can provide valuable inputs on which functions are most accessed and should be easily available and which functions can perhaps be hidden inside a secondary level of navigation.

With regards to integration into the UX design cycle, I would say the best place to bring them in would be

  1. During the initial analysis phase : This is so because because they can provide valuable inputs into some of the usability and UX issues the users of the site are facing
  2. During the design and prototyping demonstration phase : This would allow them to evaluate potential changes to site and give inputs on which features should be surfaced more prominently and which could be hidden.

From an Anecdotal point of view, during my UX internship with Docusign, one of the requirements was to have the UX design team meet up with the customer service representatives to understand user issues. A representative of the customer service team was also required to sit in during design briefings to provide inputs on process flows and priority actions with regards to most requested features and features which had to be surfaced.

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How do you define a product or service, in User Experience terms? You look at the collection of touch points between it and its users. You can prioritize these touch points by the impact they have on the usability of your service.

By the logic above, the way in which Customer Service interacts with your users is a crucial part of your user experience - how often have you heard or read reviews that go something like "service soandso was OK, but when I had to call customer service I had such a horrible time, so I don't use them anymore".

Now what does that mean, realistically?

Should the Customer Service processes and standards be designed and evaluated by some of the same people who design the software? The answer is probably yes. Your product or service has a well-defined set of values (assuming it's managed properly), and these values should be reflected by the Customer Service team, as they are a crucial touch point between the product/service and its users. There's nobody better than the Product Manager to ensure these values are being properly represented.

Should the Customer Service team report into the organization through User Experience? Probably not. CS is usually seen as too important to be a subset of some other department with a broader mandate (or, in bad companies, too unimportant to burden any other departments with), though I suppose this could change depending on the talent you have running your company. Customer Service also requires a practical skillset that is palpably different from software-based user experience design - getting on the phone and/or emailing individual humans with specific problems.

So, as has been said already in this thread, there are companies who will put their UX people into Customer Service to try to raise the level of expertise that is delivered to users, and increase the UX team's first-hand feedback data. But as for how you structure Customer Service in the first place, I believe the most sensible approach is to naturally foster close collaboration with the UX team through the type of people you hire, and the way in which processes are designed and reviewed, rather than attempting to artificially build this collaboration through a reporting structure, that may not be optimal for your company's performance due to the very different realities of building/managing a CS team vs. a Software UX team.

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If a company takes CS seriously, then complaints of criticisms that come into the CS department should have an associated cost with them. So, for example, someone cannot find out how to order a red Squidget, and have to call CS, they send them a Red Squidget for free. That costs money, so the problems that the customer experienced have a clear bottom-line cost.

That should then prompt improvements so that no other customers can complain that they cannot order a red Squidget. The feedback from the CS should, where appropriate, mitigate any further costs, just like if the customer reports a kettle that has a broken weld, that should be reported back to the supplier so that they can fix this.

Now Ok, not every single problem requires a UX fix, but if there is a clear financial cost to UX problems, there is an incentive to provide good UX.

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I find management, even tech often wants justification on the the efforts involved in UX improvements. Translating to dollars and cents is an effective method of convincing the team. –  Itumac Sep 8 '12 at 14:46
    
@Itumac - yes, and it also provides a focus and justification for specific changes, because these are problems that specific customers have experienced. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 9 '12 at 10:44

I think this might vary depending on the nature of the product/service that you provide to your customers. The problems is that the term customer implies that anyone who makes a purchase of the product/service that your company provides is a customer, but they may not actually be the end-user of your product/service (e.g. a manager purchases a software for the team).

I asked a question previously about the difference between a primary and secondary customer, which is my attempt at distinguishing between the purchaser and the user (they may well be the same person).

I think customer experience should be the more encompassing term because you can be a customer and a user but not a user and customer. The experience that deals with products has more of a UX flavour to whereas the customer service part of it is to do with customer satisfaction/experience.

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