4. How to figure out your support needs and shortlist the right platforms

4. How to figure out your support needs and shortlist the right platforms
By Diana Potter | On Aug 18, 2021
4 min read
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Welcome back! In case you missed it, we’re doing a five-part series with Diana on how to know when you need a new support platform and how to decide which one is the best fit for your team.

In our previous posts in this series, we talked about knowing when it’s time to adopt your first customer support platform or upgrade your current platform, and how to make a business case for investing in a new customer support platform. Ultimately, you’ll want to do a side-by-side comparison of several platforms in TestBox (which we’ll talk about in depth in our next post!), but first, you need to create a shortlist of platforms.

An important part of this process, and one that’s often glossed over, is the preparation phase. You need to know who your stakeholders are and what their requirements are, plus any extras that would make your team’s support life better. This is the time to dream big and really think about where you’re going in the future. Let’s dive in.

1. Make a list of your stakeholders

First up, determine who has a say in the customer support platform you choose. This typically includes people who will use the product (support agents, team leads, and managers), those who will support the product (operations teams), and anyone in leadership affected by the decision.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Everyone wants to have a say, especially those who will use the software day-to-day, but you don’t want too many people on your list. If possible, try to consolidate. Rather than having every agent weigh in, ask your team and other groups to nominate one or two representatives each. These spokespeople offer a voice for each function within the company and can keep their teams in the loop as the search for a platform progresses.

We recommend that you also create a RAPID (Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, Decide) chart to delineate owners and roles within the decision-making process. Identify who people should go to for what and get everyone aligned on that, so everyone knows what their role in the process is.

Set a regular cadence for meeting with your stakeholders. Decide whether that’s once a month or slightly more often. It’s probably not necessary to meet weekly since you'll need time between meetings to do your research and thinking. You may want to split stakeholders into different sub-groups based on what they care about the most. This way, you can really think about what to bring to the group at each meeting, to address their concerns and questions, keep them up to date on the process, and bring them along on this journey.

2. Identify present and future needs

Next, call all your stakeholders together to brainstorm their needs and wants. This could be a real-time meeting or an asynchronous collaboration in a shared document. You want everyone to brain dump everything they can think of into an unordered list. Don’t overthink it at this point. Also, don’t try to sort items into needs and wants; you’re just gathering ideas at this stage.

Ask your stakeholders:

  • How they use the current platform (e.g., emails, live chat, reporting, etc.).
  • Which features they regularly use now.
  • What they wish they could do, but can’t do today.

In our experience, while this will give you a good picture of the current requirements from the stakeholders, you’ll need to dig deeper to identify potential future requirements. What makes this difficult? Many teams don’t have a detailed vision that goes beyond the next 12 months. However, because implementing a customer support platform is a time-consuming project, it’s important to make a list that’s as thorough as possible so you don’t have to do it again for at least 3 to 5 years.

We recommend that you get everyone to voice their wildest ideas. Don’t think in terms of specific features. If there were no limits, what do they wish they could do? What’s the end goal for the customer? Automated answers to questions? Access to 24x7 support?

Another resource you could tap into is your peers, especially those who are more established. Talk to them about what they do now, what they’re planning for the next few years, and what they wish they’d planned for in hindsight. Your future won’t track identically to theirs, but you’ll still get a picture of where your team might go in the future. Add these ideas to your list.

3. Organize your list of requirements

Good organization can make your search for a customer support platform more efficient. In the testing phase, this is where a tool like TestBox adds tremendous value. In our next post, we’ll talk about how it makes sorting requirements, doing research, and testing platforms a smooth and easy process. For now, let’s continue with preparing a shortlist of platforms.

Sort your list items into needs and wants

Create bulleted lists of the features you need and want. Make sure you understand each item on the list so you can avoid duplicates. For example, if one stakeholder wants snippets and another wants macros, you should recognize that these are two names for the same feature.

If you're having trouble figuring out this list, you can skip forward to Step 5 below and sign up for a TestBox account. Within TestBox, we’ve listed the top use cases that customer support managers and teams look for. This is a great shortcut to get you started on the right track!

Prioritize your list items

Even in your list of needs, there will be some features you care about more than others. Identify features that are likely to be used daily — they’ll be your highest priority and their ease of use will be most important to consider. Also, note features that might be necessary but not used frequently. A workaround could be an adequate solution for these features, but they should stay on your list in case they help you choose between two otherwise similar solutions.

Use the following hierarchy when prioritizing items:

  • Priority 1: We currently use this feature frequently and consider it essential.
  • Priority 2: We’ll need this feature in the future (perhaps we currently use it infrequently).
  • Priority 3: We would love to have this feature. We’d use it today if it was available, but we recognize it’s a want rather than a need.
  • Priority 4: We would love to have this feature down the line, but it’s not a need.

Prioritize every feature on your list. Your Priority 1s and 2s should be the main focus of your platform search (obviously, needs rate higher than wants). But if you’re trying to decide between two similar platforms, your Priority 3s and 4s can help you finetune your selection criteria. 

Remember that the features your peers have prioritized might not be the ones your business cares about the most.

4. Search for platforms and create a shortlist

Here are a few of the main platforms currently used (many of which are already available in TestBox today):

Note that you can use tools like Capterra and G2 (formerly G2 Crowd) to see what other customer support platforms are out there.

For each platform that you’re researching, check whether it meets your minimum requirements (Priority 1s). If it doesn’t have a feature you’ve identified as a need, eliminate it from your list of potential candidates.

If you have a long list of platforms that meet your needs, refine the list by considering if they also meet your wants (Priority 2s, 3s, and 4s). It’s good to narrow your list down to five or fewer options. These are the ones you’re going to test, so it’s best to keep the list as short as possible. That will enable you to minimize the amount of time you spend on testing and focus your efforts on learning everything you need to know about each product.

In TestBox, you can test up to five products at once. If you’re unsure about some of your options (maybe you can’t decide if they should make your shortlist), you can always take them for a quick spin in TestBox. A few minutes of testing might give you insight into whether a platform is a good fit for your team.

TIP: If you’re itching to try out that sixth product, you can easily remove a product from TestBox and add a different one!

5. Sign up for a free TestBox account

Once you have your shortlist in hand, we recommend signing up for a free TestBox account so you can test the platforms side-by-side. As mentioned above, TestBox enables you to test up to five products side by side. Today we’re live with Zendesk, Freshdesk, and HubSpot. Dixa, Help Scout, and others are coming soon.

Here’s a quick look at how TestBox works, in case you’re still wondering:

While you probably just did some basic research to decide on your top five based on your needs and wants, it’s now time to put these platforms through their paces. Here’s where you really dive deep into testing the various features to get a feel for the user experience. How easy are they to use? Are they simple to set up? Also, keep an eye out for other unexpected benefits or challenges as you’re testing them.

Testing each platform in a sandbox environment like TestBox makes it easier to get a real sense of how the platform would perform for your team in the real world. Each product instance in TestBox is set up with AI-generated data that looks and feels like yours, and the products are all configured so you can test use cases without having to build them from scratch. For example, in TestBox, we’ve set up each product with SLAs, automations, and triggers, so you can easily see how they work in each platform.

What’s next?

Testing each platform thoroughly is a critical step, so don’t try to hurry through this at top speed. Remember that you want to make the best decision you can now to avoid a redo in a few months or years.

In our post next week, we’ll be talking about the best way to test and evaluate each of your shortlisted platforms — and, most importantly, how to make a decision.

Diana Potter

Diana is a support, success, and experience leader. She’s currently the Head of Customer Experience for Qwilr and previously led customer departments for a number of leading companies. When she’s not writing or helping customers you’ll find her off in the woods taking photos or curled up with a book.

TestBox empowers you to have a self-serve, customer-led experience so you can buy new software and feel confident that you made the right choice. Currently focused on Customer Support, TestBox allows you to test out Zendesk, Freshdesk, HubSpot, Dixa, and other products side-by-side. It takes a matter of minutes to sign up and take these products for a test drive. Find out more at TestBox.com or follow on LinkedIn.

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