Product Managers and Support Managers don't end up in the same sentence often. But in my experience, Product Managers and Support Managers actually share some similar responsibilities and tasks:
- Both need to accomplish a hard job with specific goals and limited resources
- Both need to deeply understand systems dynamics
- Both need to regularly measure and improve output
As categories of work, both Product Managers and Support Managers do all of the above, and more. Great versions of both roles share one key trait, though.
Great Support Managers and great Product Managers share a recognition that their teams produce a customer experience greater than the sum of its parts. It's easy for both roles to get focused on the details and forget the greater customer experience that their teams generate, but great support people and great product people don't do this. They recognize that the output of their team is a sum greater than the individual parts - an experience for customers - and they additionally take an iterative approach to improvement and optimization.
In my experience, though, Support Managers have different pressures than Product Managers and would to well to take a page out of the product handbook here to improve overall customer experience and take a broader view of their role in a business and customer experience.
Why Support Managers Need to Think Like Product Managers
Both great Support Managers and great Product Managers recognize that customer experience is the purpose and goal of their team. Then why don't more Support Managers think like Product Managers and concern themselves with customer experience?
For product managers, their jobs are well-structured to encourage this type of thinking. They necessarily see their team's output not as a collection of modular coded files, but as a complete experience for a customer expressed in software. It'd be a stretch to view it otherwise, really, given their goals of producing a product that fits the market's needs and their business-oriented focus of building product that sells. It's a natural mode of thinking for product people.
On the other hand, a Support Manager is more easily lulled into a steady-state where he or she focuses on maintaining a status quo for each of the component parts of the team. This is largely because many of these "component parts" are actually individual people, and meeting SLAs is enough to declare success on the business side. I can't reasonably fault support managers for over-focusing on people, either (I'd even characterize that behavior as kind-hearted) but without the external/business pressure for constant improvement on customer experience and market fit, it's a real danger that Support Managers are lulled into a too-comfortable steady state.
Even with this natural challenge for Support Managers (and my lame assumption that it's less of a difficulty for Product Managers), Support Managers ought to think more like product people to produce increasingly positive customer experience and high-functioning component parts of the operation. The pressure to address customer experience must often come from within the Support Manager, because business expectations of a support team usually start with cost reduction and end with SLA adherence. It puts Support Managers in a tricky spot to go from running a good team to producing a great customer experience when their jobs are not cast in the same light as Product Managers, who have different business expectations for customer experience and continual adaptation.
That said, building a good support team is indeed an accomplishment. But to go from good to great, Support Managers need to do what great Product Managers do: deeply understand the overall experience generated by the sum of their team's efforts, and iteratively on improve on that experience over time to produce outstanding customer experiences. Wherever the motivation for that comes from, great Support Managers find it and nail the customer experience plus the team management elements of their job. If more Support Managers thought a little more like Product Managers in this regard, we'd live in a world with a lot better support experiences and a lot more purpose-driven support teams.