Want to be a better marketer? Start helping out with Customer Support.

300lb_gorilla_marketingAre you really in tune with your product? Can you name the top three issues that customers are experiencing? If you’re trapped in an elevator with a user of your product, could you solve their issues?

The 300 pound gorilla in the room… do you know your customers and the problems they face?

Too often as marketers, we focus on fluff instead of substance. There are plenty of fluffy things that have to get done and are valuable to do well, but distancing ourselves from our products is a huge mistake to make.

Coming from a product management background definitely gives me a little advantage, but there are ways we can make sure that we know (in detail) the product we’re branding, promoting, marketing and helping grow. I’ve helped support Phonebooth since I’ve been at Bandwidth.com, but in the last two months… I’ve been given a bigger responsibility in responding to our support tickets. While it can definitely be time consuming and requires patience, it is helping me to get to know the product even more intimately. Take into account that our Product and Marketing teams are joined at the hip… and I’m still learning a lot by assisting in the support charge.

Taking for granted the questions that are asked (or not asked) is a critical mistake. Not only does it help with product knowledge, it aids in the shaping and creation of new documentation, collateral and branding to make sure that your message is resonating with users.

So how can we improve our marketing by understanding customer issues?

Partner with Customer Support to listen in to calls or help respond to email or support tickets.

If you’re scared to make this jump, don’t be. Nearly every time I’ve reached out to another department at any company to learn about what they deal with… they have welcomed me with open arms. It is nice to understand what others do on a daily basis and you may even hear answers to problems or objections that you haven’t thought about… they may not even be on your Key Message Architecture (do you even have one?).

If you aren’t currently involved with the support of the product you are marketing… you have to get involved in some way.

Reach out to customers via phone, email, social media or face-to-face and ask them questions.

If you’re truly listening, you will never have a problem finding someone to talk. Think about it… if we face issues or have things we’d like to improve, what do you do when someone asks us to talk about it? This usually excites me because it means that even little ‘ole me can have a say and they may even act on the things I experience. Reach out to your customers.

If you don’t know where your customers are… that is a bigger problem. Odds are someone in your company can point you in the right direction with phone numbers, email addresses and even a few local contacts you could take to lunch. But are you talking with your customers on Twitter? If not, here are a few tips from an article I wrote for Pragmatic Marketing “Twitter for Product Managers.”

Create ways to receive feedback.

At @Phonebooth, we use @UserVoice to get a pulse of what our customers want (check out “How Phonebooth uses UserVoice” on the UserVoice blog). Many companies use Get Satisfaction, Salesforce Ideas or a number of other tools to get an idea of features that customers would like to see implemented. Creating these feedback channels gives you the ability to receive great insight into how your product is consumed and also allows you to create a dialogue with folks using your product. Don’t solely use those channels for status updates, start and engage in conversations.

If you’re not using a tool to manage your feedback, try writing a blog post soliciting feedback from your users.

Discuss the top issues with other folks in the company.

Internal discussion will teach you a lot. You may learn new issues. You may learn that internal communication needs to be revamped. You may learn new ways to solve existing problems. Don’t forget the power of talking to other people with different responsibilities and see what you can absorb from them. Everyone has a different perspective and can give you valuable insights as to what they’re facing. You may also be surprised to know how out of the loop some of your coworkers are about your product… find ways to remedy this…

Many companies still deploy job rotations and keep everyone on their toes and constantly learning. Are you doing the same? If not, how are you finding ways to get customer feedback and use it to improve your products?

Photo from GlennPeb