We’ve frequently taken to this blog to share stories of how OpenDNS services make happy customers. But sometimes the process of creating a happy customer is dependent on some behind-the-scenes work. This work can manifest itself in many ways, but often it is driven by our support team, who engage with customers on the front lines and are in a unique position to spot trends before they become pervasive. Earlier this year we had an idea: what if we could broaden the scope of how we make customers happy by dedicating a group of engineers to focus strictly on building solutions that more holistically address customer satisfaction? Shortly thereafter, the A-Team was born.

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Most engineering teams build products and drive towards completion of features, and we have those teams here, too. Like the crew that works on our Umbrella Dashboard or upcoming product launches. But the A-Team is different, we work tirelessly toward one goal: improving all things customer-related. This can be a bit of a moving target, and we know that, but it is our job to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of our customers. We can warrant taking on projects that require anywhere up to two weeks to complete, so long as they make a direct, positive impact on our customers. These projects include bug fixes and feature requests coming through support and sales, optimizing customer facing systems like our blog, and one-off projects that help bring on new customers.

Our team, which is comprised of five engineers, a quality analyst, a support pro, and myself, the product manager, is also different from traditional engineering teams because we’re very interrupt-driven. We kick off each iteration with the understanding that our plan for the week is tentative and that as a team we must stay agile, given that issues requiring immediate attention may crop up at any time — this does keep things exciting. As a result, we’re constantly working to find the right balance between quick fixes and larger projects, to improve our efficiency and maximize our customer impact.

As you might imagine, there’s no shortage of options as we look at which tasks to take on next. Accepting and prioritizing requests can be a bit complicated, but we do a few things to aid us in the process of identifying which projects take precedence over others. We ask employees that file tickets with the A-Team to make their case for their request by specifying the potential customer impact or business value. This, along with our estimate of the engineering time required to complete the task, ultimately determines where the request is prioritized. We do all of this to ensure we are get the most value out of our work, while remaining focused on the customer. To help set expectations, the following qualifiers are also assigned to each A-Team request filed:

Blocker – Stop everything, fix this now, skip lunch and don’t go home!
Critical – Fix this in the next day or two, ASAP.
High – Default, will fix in the next 1-3 weeks (depending on our workload).
Minor – Stuff that would be cool but isn’t critical, and it’s okay if we get to in 4-6 weeks.
Trivial – “Could you do me a favor, this will only take a second…”

Occasionally we’ll push a project to another team because it doesn’t fall within the scope of the A-Team. Sometimes, all things considered, we have to say no to requests. It isn’t always easy, but ultimately it allows us to more efficiently serve a greater volume of high-impact customer requests. Our team has been able to accomplish some great things in just a few months, including the option for Umbrella customers to apply policy on Internal Networks, and the soon-to-be-released two-factor authentication.

We use a variety of metrics to track our efficacy as a team, these include: Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction score, churn, and customer lifetime value. And our favorite, the stories happy customers share with us. We’d love the opportunity to hear from you. What has been done at the places you work to more directly and effectively address customer needs? Let us know of any issues or questions you have, and lets see the A-Team contribute to another success story.

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