Coding ‘Customer for Life’: A Peek at Product Engineering in Freshworks
Building a product is no easy task. Coming up with a new idea, hiring people to execute it, and being updated on customer trends can sometimes become a bit overwhelming. While every business tends to be customer-centric, some dreaded questions arise in our minds from time to time. “Does the product we’re building really cater to the crowds?” “Are we missing something crucial that can make or break our product?”
The engineering teams at Freshworks are not immune to this kind of existential dread. But how do we overcome it? And more importantly how do the product engineers/ developers get on the same page with the customers and identify their needs?
Like every software start-up, Freshworks also has an interesting origin story. When our CEO had a bad experience with returning a faulty TV, he decided to make a helpdesk that would not let such mishaps happen to others. A good customer support experience was at the core of the product.
Freshworks doesn’t stop at having a traditional technical support team that solves issues and a customer success team to ensure customers are satisfied. We go a step further to address the rift in communication between the end-user and the product engineers who create the product.
Once a feature kicks off from the drawing board to being created, every stakeholder of the product team, including the engineers, weighs-in on how it would impact the customers. Every single feature or enhancement starts from the customer’s pain-point and the behavior patterns customers exhibit while using a product. All this is considered while designing and building a new feature.
While there are product managers to lead internal cross-functional activities, and strategize the roadmap of the features in the product, having product engineers partake in conversations on ideating, ranking feature releases etc, enhances the qualitative element of the product.
But at the end of the day, all developers have to deliver at their primary task; building software. They cannot devote all their time to being customer-facing. This blog breaks down what goes into creating a balance for engineering teams to stay connected to customer needs, while building futuristic technologies.
Getting the Engineers Closer to the Support Team
Developers are also committed to providing moments of wow through customer experiences. But they often miss out on constructive feedback which tends to reach them as siloed pockets of information. To go beyond this barrier, product developers at Freshworks take up three exercises that make sure they’re on the same page as the customers.
- Engineering and support meetups – The engineers and support teams meet regularly, for the support teams to share their experience with the engineers.
- Feedback – Customer feedback is key to staying connected with customer needs. At Freshworks, engineers spend time resolving an issue faced by the customer, and get instant feedback from customers through the support team. This practice also gives a sense of accomplishment and validation for the developers.
- Support calls – The engineers also spend time on calls with the support team. The customers would have primarily reached out to the support team for a smaller issue that would need a temporary fix or a workaround. Having an engineer around increases the possibility of crafting a permanent solution on the product.
Bringing Engineers Closer to the Customers
Developers also contact and speak to customers directly to understand customer perspectives and expectations firsthand. This practice ensures that developer’s have the access to understanding customer pain-points directly, and gives them a broader scope in terms of helping the customers and enhancing the product.
- Getting on exploratory calls with customers before building a feature – The engineers discuss with the customer about a specific problem or a new implementation. These calls focus on engineers getting to know how customers use the product and what problems they face on a daily basis. When engineers talk to multiple customers to understand how each of them customise the product to their edge-cases, they come to terms with the business requirements of different sectors. This way, every feature being built will have a positive impact on the customers.
- Beta releases – This is a method product companies in general hold close to their hearts.We build features in a beta form and release it to select customers and get their feedback. This way, the development team gets a real-time interpretation of what the feature can do.
- The big picture – The product managers regularly share their experiences and feedback from customer visits/head-to-heads. Being a big team like Freshdesk, engineers often get isolated into building small enhancements or features without understanding the big picture and the end goal. That’s why we make sure all product managers start to brief the developers on why a feature should be built, instead of jumping directly into how to build it.
- Engineering and customer meetups – To top it all off, and to make sure product engineers and customers are on the same page, our developers also meet customers along with customer-facing teams at conferences and other events. This gives great visibility to engineers on how their code is being put to use. It also brings in a sense of gratification for the engineering teams. At the same time, customers become aware of the reasoning behind each feature, how it was built, and how it will enable them to solve problems more efficiently.
The final step is to keep customers informed on what is being built and what is on the roadmap for them. A great product roadmap would be a mix of a bunch of customer problems that would be solved sooner and a set of features that would make life easier for customers.
These exercises not only put engineers in customers’ shoes, but also the other way around. This paves way for building products that stand the test of time, and creates refreshing product experiences.
Interested in knowing more on how things work at Freshworks? In the next series of articles we will share the tools and metrics we use to ensure that customer focus among engineers is not only alive but thriving.