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User Research x Account Management: Tips for Successful Cross-Team Collaboration

Through their work with customers, account management and service teams have a wealth of knowledge on the user. Working closely with them can help you unlock more of the user’s goals, needs, and pain points.

Words by Nikki Anderson, Visuals by Thumy Phan

It wasn’t until I started working at a B2B company that I realized just how integral account management and customer service are in keeping users satisfied.

These two teams have a deep understanding of users and their pain points because of how much interaction they have with them. They know what customers frequently ask during onboarding, they guide them through various obstacles, and ultimately have a good sense of what they're looking for with the product/service.

When I first start at an organization, account management and customer support are typically the first two teams I meet with. Within an hour, I learn so much about current users and begin to plan which users to approach first when starting user research at a company.

Meeting with these colleagues regularly can help supplement your research and give you a distinct indication of users to speak to.

This article is part of our collaboration playbook series:

Recognize their goals

One thing to know before entering the world of UX: collaboration is crucial. To ensure successful collaboration, it’s important to understand what each of our colleagues do.

By having an understanding of the goals and the daily responsibilities each team faces, we can empathize with them and create an environment that makes their job easier. This, in turn, makes it much more straightforward to incorporate user research into their day-to-day work.

Account managers

After working with and speaking to many account managers, I have a basic understanding of a few of their major KPIs:

  1. Retain current customers and reduce any churn
  2. Keep customers satisfied by the product's offerings, increasing customer lifetime value
  3. Identify new sales opportunities through upsells or adjacent products
  4. Increase organic growth and acquisition of customers through references or referrals

Customer support

Customer support KPIs can vary depending on the organization and product, so it is essential to speak with the team to understand their goals. Here are some examples of common customer support KPIs I’ve encountered:

  1. Retain current customers and reduce churn
  2. Increase customer satisfaction by helping customers effectively and efficiently
  3. Reduce customer wait time
  4. Decrease the cost of customer support
  5. Create thorough help documentation that minimizes the number of customer support calls, emails

Interestingly, customer support and account managers have similar goals to user researchers, such as customer satisfaction, customer lifetime value, and increasing retention and acquisition, which is why it is critical to align with these colleagues.

Understand their history working with UXR

Regardless of the team, it is essential to understand their previous experience with user research or any biases they hold. The best way to learn this knowledge is by asking a lot of questions.

After I get to know the person's role, I set up a separate meeting to discuss user research. In this meeting, I will go over the following questions:

If I asked you to define user research for me, how would you explain it?

Through this question, you will understand any knowledge gaps or biases the person may have about user research. With this information, you can help inform or educate your colleagues.

Have you ever worked with a user researcher before? If yes, tell me about the experience.

By understanding how they have worked with user researchers in the past, you can uncover how you can best work together in the future.

How do you feel about user research?

This question can help you better understand their fears or anxieties surrounding user research, allowing you to brainstorm ways to counteract them.

Tell me what happened the last time you did user research.

By hearing about a previous project, you can gather colleagues' expectations, pain points, and needs when conducting a project.

How do you imagine user research helping you?

With this information, you tie it all together and plant the seed for working together. The answer to this question can give you specific action items to get started on facilitating your relationship.

Identifying how to help one another

Since account managers, customer support, and user researchers have overlapping goals, it can be an excellent partnership. Here are some ways I have experienced the reciprocal relationship with these teams.

How can user research help account managers?

There are a few ways I like to help account managers in their day-to-day:

  1. Feature requests and product roadmap alignment: The main pain point I encounter with account managers is misalignment with their feature requests and the product roadmap. With this in mind, I act as a facilitator between the product and account management teams, setting up a structure to ensure their common complaints get prioritized for the product roadmap.

    This facilitation can be as simple as setting up a backlog and voting system discussed bi-weekly between the teams. As a result, the feature requests coming up the most across clients get prioritized and put into the product roadmap.

  2. Structured client conversations: Creating personas and presenting them to the account management team can help them structure conversations with clients. If account managers know a particular pain point is recurring, we can work to create a playbook for them to manage it more easily.

  3. Product roadmap updates: Keeping the account management team in the loop with the product roadmap can help them respond to complaints and feature requests.

  4. Asking customers, “Why”: Teaching the team how to dig deeper for reasons behind feature requests to understand the "why" and better prioritize future features.

How can user research help customer support?

Customer support and user researchers both deeply care about customers and satisfaction. So here are some ways I like to help out the customer support team:

  1. Solution prioritization: Monitoring the most common complaints to bring to the product roadmap and prioritize solutions.
  2. Checking in on FAQ answers: Conducting user research on help documentation or FAQ pages to ensure it is the best experience.
  3. Dealing with bad user experience: Helping to reduce customer support emails/calls by dealing with bugs and bad user experience as quickly as possible.

As I mentioned, always check with both teams as there may be organization-specific ways user research can help teams at your company.

How can account managers and customer support help user researchers?

As I've mentioned, account managers and customer support talk to clients every day, making them experts on users' needs and pain points. Here are some ways these teams have helped me in the past:

  1. Sharing pain points: Understanding the pain points of the users through the most common complaints and tickets.
  2. Identifying pressing customer needs: Helping to prioritize the product roadmap through data on customer's needs and issues.
  3. Narrowing down next participants: Creating proto-personas of users we want to speak to next, giving a baseline of what to expect from the users.
  4. Identifying new audiences: Prioritizing the different groups of customers we should start speaking with—especially helpful when you are just starting at a company.
  5. Validating trends: Giving insights via calls, emails or chats, that help you cross-validate trends from qualitative sessions.
  6. Sharing user knowledge: Cultivating a general understanding of the types of customers we have, as well as their goals, needs, and pain points.

Best studies to collaborate on

So how do we work together with these teams? Here are some studies that work best with account managers and customer support:

Account managers

  • 1:1 interviews: meeting with the most common roles the account team speaks with to understand the needs and pain points and integrating these pain points into the roadmap.
  • Journey map interviews: designed to create a playbook that details what role is acting in whatever phase of your customer journey
  • Surveys that help validate common pain points: to identify struggles that users are having.
  • Usability testing: researching flows that seem to be difficult to users and come up often during customer conversations.
  • Surveys that measure customer satisfaction: designed to research customer satisfaction over time, such as the System Usability Scale.

Customer support

  • Content testing: There are a few varieties of content testing I like to help with, such as highlighter tests, cloze tests, and recall-based tests, when it comes to help documentation.
  • Card sorting and tree testing: to help documentation or FAQ sections on a website.
  • One-on-one interviews: to validate the most common pain points and putting them into the upcoming roadmap.
  • Usability testing: to better understand flows that seem to be difficult to users, specifically the top ticket complaints

How to share findings

The best approach I have taken to sharing findings with account management and customer support teams is integrating them into the product team meetings. We can make their jobs easier by keeping them in the loop, especially with the product roadmap.

Bi-weekly catch-ups with the product team

These meetings consist of the most common complaints, tickets, and pain points that have come up for customers. I ask teams to bring some evidence of the problem and some reasoning behind it.

Everyone presents the top issues they encountered and the product team discusses how to address the next steps. The following steps could be doing additional research to validate and better understand the problem. The product team can quickly fix a bug or low-hanging fruit issue without much solution brainstorming.

Share-outs

Usually, I will update account management and customer support once a month on the research recently completed. If there was a project of particular importance to either of these teams, I would update them before the general sharing meeting.

Workshops

As soon as I do any customer journey, service blueprint, or persona work, I sit down with these teams for a workshop. They share everything they know about the user during these meetings and I use it to build a prototype of these deliverables that we can later validate.

Meeting regularity/syncing

I meet bi-weekly with both teams to gather information from their sides such as top complaints and recurring tickets. During this time, I also update them on any relevant changes to the product or progress on particular projects.

Asking for participants

Since account managers have great working relationships with customers, I will ask them to reach out to clients for user research interviews. I keep a running list of clients to ensure we don't overwhelm the same participants too often. Leveraging account managers' relationships is also a great place to start with creating a participant panel.

When working with customer support and account management, you grow the organization's holistic knowledge of users. Teaming up with these departments solidifies your practice and ensures that you focus on the right customers and prioritize the most critical problems.

Nikki Anderson is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 8 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Explore her research courses here or read more of her work on Medium.

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