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Launching a new feature is an exciting time at Buffer; it's the culmination of days, weeks, and sometimes even months of work.
There's lots of excitement and a lot to celebrate.
It's also a significant time for our Customer Advocacy team. A product launch can generate a lot of conversations with our customers. We want to be ready to handle that ticket volume, quickly answer questions about the feature's nuances, 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 for which we didn't prepare answers. In some edge-case scenarios, they may uncover bugs we didn't know about or have great suggestions for future iterations of the feature that we could add to our product roadmap.
We have refined a process for working on launches, ensuring that the relevant people from the product, support, and marketing teams come together to work on the launch plan. In this post, we'll share a little about what we do in preparation for launches to create the best possible outcome for our customers and our team.
Reviewing new feature functionality
Our product team frequently shares updates to our product roadmap - the outline and timeline of the features we're planning to build. Transparency is one of our strongest values, and we share this timeline publicly with customers here.
At the earliest stage, a Product Manager will create a discovery/exploration brief describing the new feature's functionality so that the engineers and designers can start planning their approach to bringing it to life. The Customer Advocacy team will also take a look - as the team that works incredibly closely with customers, we hear from our most vocal users about what features they'd love to see us add or what parts of their current workflow they're looking to improve. We can offer valuable insights and suggestions to help shape the feature.
Working alongside marketing
Once the product manager has put a delivery date in place for a new feature, the Marketing team start putting the wheels in motion for the launch event. We typically want to make a big deal of a launch to ensure that as many existing and potential customers learn about it. The Product Marketing Manager will work with the Product team to choose the launch date, and the Customer Advocacy team will ensure we have sufficient inbox coverage for the proposed date.
The Product Marketing Manager will start drafting the comms for the launch, including the emails, blog posts, and social content. Our Customer Advocacy team also gets to review this, as it helps us to anticipate the customer response. Beyond the new feature's functionality, the marketing comms shares the story of why we've built it and how it benefits customers.
Testing out the feature
The design team will often share a design prototype internally, an interactive preview of how the new feature would look and function. The Customer Advocacy team is usually eager to try it out. This helps us understand how it works and allows us to make suggestions for any tweaks or changes.
A week or two before the 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 high quality and easy to use before it gets into our customers' hands. It helps uncover any last-minute bugs or issues we can fix before launch. Some members of the Customer Advocacy team will usually be involved in testing. We are our customers' first point of contact when they need help. We are the ones who field questions and help troubleshoot problems. So, we must have a good understanding of the product before it launches. That way, we'll be ready to help our customers get the most out of it. We know the ins and outs of the product and can help customers with any problems they might have.
Creating external Resources
Within our Customer Advocacy team, we have a documentation team. They'll be involved from an early stage to create Help Center articles: customer-facing guides and resources that describe how the feature works and answers any questions. We often share these resources in the emails and blog posts we create when we launch a feature. It will cover more technical detail and the nitty-gritty - including any limitations or complex processes. The blog posts and emails often focus more on the bells and whistles of the new feature.
Updating the internal release guide and training our team
We create an Internal Release Guide for the Customer Advocacy team for each new feature that describes how it works and highlights the good-to-knows, such as plans for future iterations. Depending on how customers use it, some additional functionality might be planned for the future, and we might anticipate questions about this.
For example, when we first launched TikTok publishing, we didn't have access to the TikTok API for direct publishing, and we used a workaround to help share scheduled posts to 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 the context around the limitations and the plans for the future.
The Internal Release Guide is a working document. It includes a space for capturing customer feedback from tickets (emails/social messaging) and an area for the Customer Advocacy team to ask questions. The Product and Marketing Managers review the feedback and answer questions that come up there. Often, customer feedback and questions that come up help us develop our Help Center articles. We may not have anticipated all the frequently asked questions ahead of them being frequently asked!
If you’d like to take a peek at the template we use for the Internal Release Guide, you can download a copy in .pdf format here. Feel free to use it and adapt it to your needs - I’d love to hear from you if you do! Drop me a tweet or DM via Twitter: @davechapman.
In addition to the Internal Release Guide, we have internal training sessions for significant or complicated product changes.
Anticipating inbox volume
When we launch a feature, we expect an increase in the volume of questions and tickets on the support channel in response to the marketing comms - email and social. A day or two before the launch, we aim to double down on the inbox to reduce the volume in advance.
For a significant feature launch, we’d aim to maximize team coverage. Tuesdays work well for us, with the highest number of teammates available, and we’d avoid any syncs or meetings that would take us away from the inbox on these days.
We'll also prepare macros and snippets containing pre-written sentences and phrases to help us quickly respond to anticipated questions. These work well as a way to consistently share the steps needed to navigate particular settings, for example. We'll also add these to the Internal Release Guide to share with the team.
Lastly, we create an inbox view that filters in customer feedback related to the feature launch. This is a great spot for the marketing and product teams to observe and learn from the customers themselves.
Creating a dedicated channel for the launch is a great way to keep everyone informed. It helps keep track of what is happening with the launch and makes it easy for the team to access information about it. We have a dedicated Slack channel for launches, and we'll share essential milestones and timings, such as:
- the initial rollout to 5% of users (important last check for any unexpected issues!),
- roll out to 100% of users,
- the blog post is live,
- launch emails are sent
This screenshot shares just a little sneak peek into our #launches Slack channel:
It's also handy to have one place to direct team members who are looking for information. The Customer Advocacy team will be working in their regular channels and using the Internal Release guide as a resource for asking questions and sharing non-urgent feedback.
When a new product or feature is launched, there's often a lot of excitement - and hopefully many happy customers! The Customer Advocacy team will be working with users who have various questions, and some may have concerns or run into issues if there are some unexpected bugs or trouble. We do our best to ensure the team is prepared to handle all of these situations, and carefully planning product launches makes a big difference to how things go on the day of the launch and the days soon after. Having a plan and working closely with the product, engineering, design, and marketing teams along the journey of bringing a product to market gives our Customer Advocacy team the best chance to contribute to a successful launch day. There is always more we can do to prepare for a launch. It’s always a learning experience, which is why we believe it's important to reflect after each one.
Here’s a summary of the current approach I shared above:
- Review the exploration/discovery brief once the product team has mapped out their plans for the new feature. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Review the design prototypes and offer support-focused feedback. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Create an Internal Release Guide for the Customer Advocacy team. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Once finished, test the feature with a CX mindset. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Schedule focused inbox time ‘all hands on deck’ style, ahead of, during, and after the launch. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Create an inbox filter so that members of the product and marketing teams can keep an eye on customer feedback. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Gather the entire team in a special launch channel for hype and clarity on launch day. ⏩ Go to the section.
- Capture customer feedback and the answers to unanticipated internal questions in a shared workspace. ⏩ Go to the section.
As Buffer has grown, our product and engineering teams have also increased in size. As our product becomes more powerful, we must work together to successfully roll out new products and features. Launching a new product is a lot of work, but it's worth it when you see customers getting value from it.
As a support team, it's even more gratifying to help them every step of the way.