What do I tell a customer when a feature is not quite “there”

Many thanks to the anonymous reader who suggested this topic. I think we can all understand his wish to remain anonymous — and I know he is far from alone!

Here’s the scenario: you have just shipped a new, shiny release that includes some brand-new features that are in a rough state: they are not fully fleshed out, perhaps, they are not intuitive, or they have stability issues. And now customers are using these features, and contacting support because they are running into issues. What do you do? Here are 7 ideas to inspire you.

Idea #1: Influence the messaging, upfront

It’s bad for everyone if customers struggle with a feature that has been over-hyped. As part of the support team’s contribution to the product lifecycle, ask that expectations be set properly for new features in the documentation and other customer communications. All software vendors release features before they are complexly foolproof, at least some of the time, so customers will not be shocked to learn that some limitations exist — and they will appreciate the heads-up.

Of course this needs to happen before the customer ever contacts support with an issue.

Idea #2: Qualify so you can position your answer

If the customer is experimenting with a few features in a controlled test environment, your response will be different than if the customer is pushing it to production. Ask before you counsel. The customer in testing mode will find it helpful to hear about the limitations of the feature. The production-eager customer needs a solution, not a reminder that he chose the wrong path.

Idea #3: Be positive, but not Pollyanna-ish

We in support tend to be bearish and risk-averse, so the first reaction may be to warn the customers of all the dangers of the new features. Try flipping the message around and start with the positive. Of course, customers expect straight talk from support, so don’t oversell: temper their excessive enthusiasm and gently set realistic expectations.

Idea #4: Preserve the relationship  

You want to make sure that the customer understands the limitations without feeling like you, or the company, are abandoning them. Deploy your best tactful skills. If needed, seek advice from a manager.
Idea #5: Leverage  resources outside support
It is often useful to direct the customer to the Customer Success function or the Account Team to get a demo of the new features. Be sure to brief your counterparts on known limitations so they don’t inadvertently set the customer on the wrong path.
Idea #6: Focus on solutions

If the customer’s goals cannot be accomplished because of product limitations, suggest alternatives. Sometimes the best solution is to work around the problem, even if we know that the new feature will, eventually, work the way the customer needs it to work.

Idea #7 Be the voice of the customer 

In-flux features benefit greatly from user feedback. Let the engineering and product marketing teams know about early customer feedback so they can focus appropriately. This may occur through the normal tracking systems (for bugs and feature requests) or during direct conversations focused around the new features.


What other techniques have you used?

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The application requires an essay so if you are interested you may want to start now. Go here for more details.

The FT Word – December 2014

The FT Word

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to the December 2014 edition of the FT Word. Topics for this month:

FT Works in the News

How many customers per CSM?

If you are wondering about staffing models for CSMs, check out this post. (In short: there is no magic number!)

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics — or add one in the comments — and your name will appear in future newsletters.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

About FT Works

FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at www.ftworks.com.

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