Companies tend to make big promises when they launch a new product -- about its powerful features, the cost benefits, the way it will change customers’ lives -- and if they fail to deliver any of them, the service team is likely the first to hear about it.

In fact, it would be understandable if customer service teams cringed a little at the thought of a new product to support. Particularly in small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) where resources are tight, there’s likely already enough work handling questions and complaints about the existing product portfolio. Having to learn the finer details of something else -- something that might trigger a fresh wave of frustrations and disappointment -- might only seem to make their jobs even tougher.

Companies can’t afford to put off customer service plans until after the launch, either. As we noted in our post on marketing tips for new product launches, the awareness-driving tactics will likely continue well after the initial announcement is made. That means whatever the company said about the ease of use or performance of the new product will be fresh in their minds as they try it out. Given that customers today have many different channels to share their experiences with a new product on social media and word of mouth to friend and peers, you’ll want to avoid any risk of backlash from disgruntled early adopters.

The initial instinct might be to create as big a mass of support materials as possible and train staff until the wee hours before the launch. When you consider how technology has evolved to streamline, automate and analyze the way customer service strategies are developed, however, you’ll begin to see what a less stressful approach might look like.

These are a few of things you can do to maximize your customer support resources well before you launch your next product:

 

Learn From Launches Past

 

Even if your organization has only been in business for a few years, you’ve likely been down this road before. For SMBs, their first product launch might have coincided with the launch of the entire company, which means you’ve been collecting some kind of service data from the very beginning.

If you’ve launched multiple products since launch, on the other hand, you’ll have a better sense of the volume of queries from early customers as they get a new offering in their hands. If you use tools like Service Cloud, sorting through and getting a clearer perspective on this data will be even easier. Keep an eye out for:

  • Key service channels -- some product launches might lead to an influx of calls to a contact centre. Others might lead to questions or negative comments on social media. Was a particular e-mail inbox flooded with new product difficulties in the past? Get the lay of the land and think about where you’d like to direct service queries this time around, knowing you’ll still have to support customers no matter what channel they choose.
  • Mean time to resolution: This is always a critical metric in any service team, but the introduction of a new product may bring differences that require more advanced planning. If it takes longer to deal with the complexities of questions after the launch, for example, what will that mean for your regular volume of service requests and how you’ll need to allocate resources?
  • Escalation trends: Assuming that everyone on the team gets trained on the new product, how often have queries needed to be routed to someone higher-up in terms of expertise following a launch? If the percentage is high, it might mean you need to beef up overall training this time, or that you need to hone in on specific kinds of problems that tend to come up.

 

Evaluate Your Customer Base

 

New products aren’t always intended for the world at large. In some cases you might be launching something that complements or builds on your flagship product, but in others it might be a niche product that represents only a third of your overall base. That could have a big impact on what kind of service request volumes you’ll encounter. Other factors to consider include:

  • Company size: If you’re launching a product aimed at SMBs, you may need to have a higher level of service available because you may be dealing with customers who need more hand-holding. If the new product is aimed at large enterprises, on the other hand, there may be strict expectations based on service-level agreements you’ve established, or that are standard as part of customer’s procurement process.
  • Vertical industry: The new product might work in several different market segments, but what can you learn from looking at the way you serve that mix of customers today? There may be specific kinds of problems or challenges that tend to come up among users in health-care, financial services, retail and so on. Map out what that might mean with the offering that’s about to be announced.

Artificial intelligence tools like Salesforce Einstein can play a huge role in predicting what service needs might emerge, accelerating the planning process even further.

 

Plot Out Self-Service Vs. Hands-On Service Opportunities

 

Being proactive with customer service is no longer confined to putting a form of online owner’s manual on your website or an FAQ list and hoping customers will take advantage of them. Instead, think about what kind of do-it-yourself capabilities might be possible given today’s technologies, whether it’s a chatbot or online customer community where they can support each other.

If you’re using any of these kinds of self-service mechanisms, connect with the marketing team to look at how you can educate your customers about them at launch. You don’t want them to be in a situation where they assume they have to reach out to a contact centre or a particular person in the organization when it could have been both faster and more satisfying to take care of their issue themselves.

Developing a service strategy in advance of a product launch reflects the fact that it’s part of the overall customer experience you’re offering, and is as important as the features, price points or other attributes of the launch news.

If all goes well this time, you’ll be building trust and confidence among customers that will be incredibly valuable the next time a new product launch is on the horizon.