Launching a new feature is an exciting time at Buffer. It is the culmination of days, weeks and even months of work that goes into building something new. There is much excitement and much to celebrate. It’s also an important time for our support team. A product launch can generate many conversations with our customers. We want to be ready to handle this volume of tickets, quickly respond to any questions about any nuance of the new feature, and effectively channel feedback to the product teams that built it.
Launching a new feature can be a step into the unknown: our customers are creative and will use our product in ways we didn’t anticipate and ask questions we haven’t prepared answers for. In some extreme cases, they may uncover bugs we didn’t know about or have great suggestions for future feature iterations that we could add to our product roadmap.
We’ve refined a process for working on releases, ensuring that relevant people from product, support and marketing teams come together to work on the release plan. In this post, we’ll share a little about what we do to prepare for releases to create the best possible outcome for our customers and our team.
Review new feature functionality
Our product team frequently shares updates to our product roadmap—the outline and timeline of the features we want to build. Transparency is one of our strongest values and we share this timeline publicly with customers here.
In an early phase, a product manager will create a design brief that describes the functionality of the new feature so that engineers and designers can begin planning their approach to bringing it to life. The Customer Advocacy team will also be taking a look: as a team that works incredibly closely with customers, we hear from our most vocal users about what features they’d like to see us add or what parts of their workflow current job they are looking for. improve. We can provide valuable information and suggestions to help shape the feature.
Work alongside marketing
Once the product manager has set a delivery date for a new feature, the marketing team begins to set the wheels in motion for the launch event. We usually want to do a big launch to make sure as many existing and potential customers know about it. The Product Marketing Manager will work with the Product team to choose the launch date and the Customer Advocacy team will ensure that we have good inbox coverage for the proposed date.
The Product Marketing Manager will begin writing communications for the launch, including emails, blog posts, and social content. Our customer advocacy team may also review this as it helps us anticipate the customer’s response. Beyond the functionality of the new feature, marketing communications share the story of why we created it and how it benefits customers.
The design team will often share a design prototype internally, an interactive preview of how the new feature would look and work. The Customer Advocacy team is usually eager to try. This helps us understand how it works and allows us to make suggestions for any modifications or changes.
A week or two before launch, the product is usually ready for some testing. Initially, this is internal before we start inviting customers to take a look. Testing helps us ensure that the product is of high quality and easy to use before it reaches our customers. It helps uncover any bugs or last-minute issues that we can fix before release. Some members of the client’s advocacy team are usually involved in testing. We are the first point of contact for our customers when they need help, answering questions and helping to solve problems. So we need to have a good understanding of the product before launch. That way, we’ll be ready to help our customers get the most out of it.
Creation of external resources
Within our customer advocacy team, we have a customer education team. They’ll be involved from an early stage to start building Buffer Help Center articles, preparing customer-facing guides and resources that describe how the feature works to answer common questions. We often share these resources in the emails and blog posts we create when we launch a feature. It will cover more technical details and background, including important technical limitations or complex processes. Blog posts and emails often focus more on the high-level features and benefits of the new feature.
Update internal release guide and team training
We create an internal Release Guide for the Customer Advocacy team for each new feature that describes how it works and highlights what you need to know, such as plans for future iterations. Depending on how customers use it, some additional functionality could be planned for the future and we could anticipate questions about it. For example, when we first launched TikTok Post, we didn’t have access to the TikTok API for direct posting and used a workaround to help share scheduled posts within the TikTok app. We knew customers would ask about the possibility of direct publishing, so we anticipated this question in the Internal Release Guide and shared context about limitations and plans for the future.
The Internal Publishing Guide is a working document and includes a space to collect customer feedback from our email and messaging inboxes and an area for the Customer Advocacy team to ask questions. The product manager and marketing manager will review the feedback and answer any questions that arise. Many times, customer feedback and questions that come up help us develop our help center articles. We may not have anticipated that all of the most frequently asked questions will be asked frequently!
If you’d like to take a look at the template we use for the Internal Publishing Guide, you can download a .pdf copy here. Feel free to use it and adapt it to your needs; I’d love to hear from you if you do! I’m at Mastodon here: @firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the Internal Release Guide, we have internal training sessions for major or complicated product changes.
Anticipating inbox volume
When we release a feature, we expect an increase in the volume of questions and support channel entries in response to email marketing and social media communications. A day or two before launch, we want to double the inbox to reduce the volume up front. For a major feature release, we’d like to maximize team coverage. Tuesdays work well for us, with the highest number if teammates are available, and we’d avoid any syncs or meetings that would take us away from the inbox on those days.
[Callout: We work a four day work week at Buffer. See how our Customer Advocacy team works just four days a week while keeping up customer support.]
We will also prepare macros and snippets containing pre-written phrases and sentences to help us quickly answer the intended questions. They work well as a way to consistently share the steps needed to navigate particular settings, for example. These are all added to the internal Release Guide to share with the team.
Creating a dedicated channel for the release is a great way to keep everyone informed. It helps keep track of what’s going on with the release and makes it easy for the team to access information about it. We have a dedicated Slack channel for releases and will share essential milestones and timelines, including:
- the initial release to 5 percent of users (last important check for any unexpected issues!).
- deploy to 100 percent of users,
- the blog post is live,
- release emails are sent
This screenshot shares just a small peek into our #launches Slack channel:
It’s also helpful to have a place to direct team members looking for information. The Customer Advocacy team will work through their usual channels and use the internal posting guide as a resource for asking questions and sharing non-urgent feedback.
When a new product or feature is released, there’s often a lot of excitement and, hopefully, a lot of happy customers! The Customer Advocacy team will work with users who have various questions, and some may have concerns or encounter problems, if there are unexpected errors or problems. We do everything we can to make sure the team is prepared for all of these situations, and carefully planning product launches makes a big difference in how things go on launch day and in the days leading up to it. Having a plan and working closely with the product, engineering, design and marketing team throughout the journey to bring a product to market gives our customer advocacy team the best opportunity to contribute to a successful launch day . There’s always more we can do to prepare for a release, and we take time to reflect after each one. It’s always a learning experience.
Here’s a summary of our current approach:
- Review the exploration/discovery document after the product team has laid out their plans for the new feature. At this stage, the customer advocacy team can provide valuable insights, as well as potentially put the product manager in direct contact with customers who may have great prospects to share.
- Review design prototypes. Often, they give us our first idea of the look and feel of the new feature and it’s our chance to offer feedback and perspective to the design team.
- Create an internal release guide, to describe features, including “good to know”, and create a space to answer questions and collect feedback.
- When the engineering team is finished, the customer advocacy team performs extensive testing to ensure everything is working as expected.
- Prepare the customer advocacy team to focus on the inbox, “all hands on deck” style, both pre-launch to clear any inbox backlog and during launch to maximize response times
- Create an inbox filter so product and marketing team members can monitor responses to launch emails
- Gather the team in a special launch Slack channel on launch day to share the excitement and track the launch and announcements.
- Review the feedback and questions raised in the Internal Release Guide. This typically helps us evolve the customer-facing Help Center resources as well as keep everyone up to date and informed.
As Buffer has grown, so have our engineering and product teams. And as our product becomes more powerful, we must work together to successfully launch a new product or feature. Launching a new product is a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you see customers using it and getting value from it. And as the customer’s advocacy team, it’s even more rewarding to help them every step of the way.
How do you feel about a product launch? I’d love to hear your stories! You can contact me at Mastodon here: @email@example.com
This post was originally published on Buffer’s customer service blog.