Have you ever done a stint in customer service?

Many of us checked that box long ago: waiting tables, answering phones, or, in one of our team member’s cases, spending 20-plus years in improv.

If you don’t think that’s all about customer service, you’ve clearly never tried it.

But customer service experience isn’t just important in the abstract; it’s contextual. You don’t need to know that customers complain; you need to know what they complain about, and why.

Wade Minter, one of our employees, learned that lesson firsthand at TeamSnap, where he was part of the founding team and the original DevOps engineer, eventually working his way up to Chief Technology Officer. The company soon became an industry leader in the sports management space, but when it started, the team had a lot of work cut out for them, growing and iterating and adapting to create something customers wanted and needed to buy.

“In those early days, we were a small team, mostly developers and designers,” Minter recalled. “We had one customer support person, and as we became a fully fledged business, she got more than a little overworked.”

To ease her pain, Minter said, the team instituted rotating shifts for customer support. One day, customers may have reached TeamSnap’s CEO with a support request. The next day, it may have been a developer answering a customer’s email. The following day, a chief product architect could pick up the phone.

It wasn’t long before TeamSnap realized this was more than a stop gap. It was a critical part of the company’s growth, and ultimately, its success.

For TeamSnap’s developers, it was a very different experience to hear about a problem live, compared to reading about it on a support ticket. When it’s just a ticket, it’s impersonal and, as a result, easy to write off as a later task when someone can get to it. But when they got the experience of being on the front lines for support, fielding requests in real time, those nameless, faceless tickets came to life.

“You begin to understand that they come from real people having real issues, and you feel a little extra push to get those problems solved,” Minter said. “After all, even if you have good intentions, there’s a big difference between being told someone has a problem and having someone describe that problem directly to you.”

As a result, Minter said, the developers began to fix issues faster and write better software because they understood how customers thought. More than that, everyone in the company — technical and non-technical — became perfectly aligned around the mission and its users. TeamSnap built a reputation for a commitment to its customers. They established a voice and a brand around being friendly and personable. And it paid off.

That customer-first philosophy became Minter’s personal standard, too. After leaving TeamSnap, he gravitated toward companies that prioritize customer communication and support. It’s a big part of what drew him to Dualboot Partners.

Dualboot puts these same principles into action every day. We don’t believe in middlemen. Instead, we set up dedicated Slack channels that put everyone in the same room and on the same page — project managers, developers and customers. We establish regular meetings to touch base and ensure that what we’re building and designing is what our customers want and what their users need. This is not about tasks on a Jira board. It’s about engaging with real people to determine what and how we build.

Now, in our new normal, experts are hailing a customer-focused approach as a business imperative. But to us, it always has been. And if your company doesn’t do this, you should find a way to build the connection between your people and your customers. Try it for six months, and we’re sure you will build a better product, your customers will be happier and your employees will be more engaged.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

H. Wade MinterH. Wade Minter
H. Wade Minter is currently Product Principal at Dualboot Partners. Previously, he was part of the founding team and CTO at sports-tech company TeamSnap, head of engineering at Adwerx, WeaveUp, and Custom Communications, and a product manager at NBC SportsEngine. He has been involved in the improv community for 23 years, and is a regular performer at ComedyWorx in Raleigh. He is also the arena public address voice for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, ring announcer for GOUGE Professional Wrestling, and a rec-league ice hockey player and goalie. He leads a weird life.