The Importance of Being Updated: A Release Done Right

Wojciech Gumiński in Business, Product, on September 18, 2017, Comments

The Importance of Being Updated: A Release Done Right

What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise. ― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

A good piece of software consists two things: a good quality product and a great support. The latter is especially important: the support team does much more than simply answering the customers’ questions. They know the product like the back of their hands and are the first in the field of fire.

For the best customer experience, the support should always be kept informed about what’s going on with the product. When this is not the case, a disaster is imminent. The following case study will show two situations that happened at LiveChat: one where the support team haven’t been properly introduced to the release and one where it have. It will demonstrate why good communication between the developers and the support agents is crucial for the company as a whole and what we have learnt from our own mistakes.

The Dont’s: The deployment of the post-chat survey ratings system

We released the post-chat survey rating system on February 22, 2016. This feature allows the visitors to rate their chat via a post-chat survey and leave a comment. The data is then assigned to the chat transcript and displayed in the archives.

What went wrong with this release and what could have been done to avoid it?

1. Faulty flow of information

The problem

The main issue with this release was that the new features had not been announced before the release. The deployment was announced not before, but right after the implementation, which caused lots of misunderstandings on chats. The agents had to check the feature on the run, in some cases even during the ongoing conversations. It was troublesome for them and led to delivering inaccurate information. All this might have been easily avoided had the support team been properly trained before the official release.

The solution

Once you start to think about deploying a new feature, you have to remember about informing your team about it. If the description of the upcoming release is not available to your team on time, they won’t be able to prepare themselves for the release. It’s especially important for your support agents. They are the front line soldiers and their work is to to share their knowledge with the customers.

2. Lack of dedicated communication channels

The problem

A company-wide communication channel for general discussions is a nice way of sharing ideas and personal views on the product. At LiveChat we used our company email box for announcing and describing new releases. And since the team is usually happy to hear about new features, a few minutes later feedback started to flood in.

The problem appeared when simple emails expressing pure happiness started to mix with the critical feedback. Right after that, the questions from the support and technical teams came in because the customers spotted a bug and they kept asking about it. Moreover, the developers discussing the possible solutions fuelled this informational chaos.

_The solution _

Imagine yourself working as a support agent, chatting with customers about a bug in a fresh release, when all kinds of messages (most of them worthless in your current situation) pour in. It’s hard to keep track of them all and spot the ones you really need. It’s an obvious recipe for a disaster, but you can avoid it easily. Creating separate channels of communication for different topics is a simple way of keeping the information flow in order.

3. Lack of large scale tests

The problem

Our team has a policy of testing the features before releasing them. However, for a long time we hadn’t had have any defined ways of testing them on a larger scale, which could have revealed bugs in time to fix them.

The ratings/comments feature was tested by our dedicated testers. They checked standard use cases, display on websites, display in application etc. The tests covered all basic functionalities. Unfortunately, no one tested data migration. As a result, the general transcript exports didn’t include post-chat survey ratings and comments. The support team had to handle a lot of customers reporting the issue, which led to multiple support tickets. It was a big mistake that cost us a faulty release.

The solution

Our support agents work with their own test accounts with ready-to-use webhooks and the forwarding options set in order to test the issues immediately. Engaging our support agents with their knowledge and tools in the testing process has proved to be a great way of detecting bugs.

Fortunately, we have learned from past mistakes and after analysing our past deploys, we have implemented a step-by-step process to keep everything in order. The Developer Console case presented below will show you exactly how keeping your agents in the loop is beneficial for the release.

The Do’s: The deployment of the Developer Console

The Developer Console appeared on August 3, 2017 as a part of a larger project: a complex release prepared by our developers for developers. The Console is a tool to create and publish LiveChat apps, extensions and integrations.

Now, what made this release so great?

1. New ways of sharing information

The Developer Console had been announced a month before the actual release took place. Apart from multiple emails announcing and describing the stages of development, the team made a series of presentations showing how it works. Every member of our company could attend them and gain valuable knowledge. What is great about such events is that the people responsible for the product are available at hand to answer questions about their work.

The emails distributed among teams were organized by content and purpose. There were separate emails for feedback, presentations, information for the support team and tasks. Thanks to that, everyone could work with the emails they found useful and handle them in their personal email boxes in the most productive way. Such a simple solution resolved the problem with spam and confusion.

Apart from company email boxes, our team members use Slack for quick messaging. The Developer Console release received its own channel where the developers could promptly respond to other team members’ questions. It was especially useful for the support agents, as they could ask their questions on a separate channel and receive answers in a matter of minutes.

Why do we use both Slack and emails at LiveChat? The email box is a great tool to share a longer piece of information among a group of people. It serves its purpose well and is great for storing data, too. However, when you need to exchange information quickly, the messengers like Slack work much better. And that is how we use these tools till today.

2. Support team onboarding

The solutions mentioned above worked really well, but our new testing policy had the biggest impact on the release. Our technical team prepared a step-by-step guide and tasks for our agents to familiarize them with the Developer Console. The agents had to add three custom applications (developed by the tech team in advance) to the LiveChat panel. They had to make sure that all apps worked at the same time without any conflicts. As a result, they learnt how to add an app and if they ran into any issue, they could ask for assistance. Such guidance guarantees that all agents will get to know the product from the customers’ perspective and will prepare themselves for the release.

Moreover, we saved a lot of time by working on the official documentation when writing the tutorials for our own agents. We could work on the docs, test the scheme and introduce the new tool to the team at the same time. A really handy trick!

Thanks to the onboarding process involving the support team we were able to check the tool for bugs, glitches as well as test the general user experience. It proved to be a great way of covering pre-release testing. The LiveChat agents are happy to participate in such tests till today, gaining the user perspective on the tool and providing feedback. All this helps us keep the new released as polished as possible.

A release done right

As you can see, the difference between the faulty and the successful release laid in the onboarding of the support team. The conclusion, then, is quite straightforward. To keep your products top-notch, you have to make sure that your employees are in the information loop all the time. Well-informed employees can provide an insight on the product itself, make it less faulty, but most importantly, they will be true brand ambassadors.

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