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  • Writer's pictureJake Bartlett

How to Manage Handoffs Between Engineering and Customer Support

teams collaborating

The product team launches a new feature, energy is high, and the team is celebrating. 

Meanwhile, the support team is starting to sweat because they have no idea how said feature works or how to troubleshoot it. 

You might have a repository of internal technical docs or playbooks, but they’re hardly ever up-to-date. Support tickets start trickling in, and your team feels ill-prepared, overwhelmed, and frustrated.

This isn’t a rare situation in customer support. 

The good news is that there are better ways to handle handoffs between engineering and support, and it involves a lot more than simply shipping the feature and figuring it out along the way.

What is a support handoff?

A support handoff is the process of transferring information from the engineering team to the support team. 

A handoff should equip your support agents with the knowledge, tools, and information needed to support customers–whether that’s for a specific case that requires in-depth technical expertise, or a new feature.

It can be done in person, in a group training environment, remotely, or async through documentation. You might use a combination of these methods depending on your team, company structure, and location.

Why handoffs are important

Handoffs are really about the transfer of knowledge.

For a support agent that knowledge is critical information that changes if and how they’re able to help customers. The consequences of a good handoff process are multifold. 

Happier customers

Sloppy or non-existent handoffs create gaps in knowledge. 

This ultimately means delayed ticket resolutions, miscommunication with customers, and less satisfied customers. If the support team fails to provide confident and knowledgeable answers to your customers, they lose trust in your brand. 

Not only do handoffs create opportunities to develop customer-facing documentation before a feature launch, they ensure customers get a better experience.

Happier employees

One of the most frustrating experiences in support is being totally reactive all the time. 

If customers contact you with questions about a feature that your support team doesn’t know anything about, that will slow down their response. Instead, they’ll focus on trying to get information by tapping into other resources (engineers, product leaders, designers, etc) to get answers to their questions. 

These constant distractions can create tension between teams, leading to high turnover.

Cost savings

It takes a lot more time and energy to catch up on missed information. 

A good hand-off process enables your team to be more efficient, reduces the escalations they have to deal with, and prevents recurring issues by empowering your team to flag potential problems early. 

Improved team building

Handoffs are also a great opportunity to bring the support and engineering teams together and strengthen their relationship. 

By collaborating on the shared goal of improving the customer experience, support and engineering teams will improve the way they work together day-to-day–and that will have immediate, knock-on effects on your customers. 

What to include in a handoff to customer support

Too little information will lead to missing context and misunderstandings, but too much information can be overwhelming and be hard to retain. 

How do you find the right balance between the two?

It mostly starts with understanding the level of depth that your customers will look for or need. Your support team should ideally have a slightly deeper understanding than what’s required to respond to customers, so they can feel confident and explain things better. 

Here’s a basic list that you can start with when you’re pulling information from engineering teams about a new feature: 

  • What is the name of the feature?

  • What’s the goal behind this feature?

  • Who is its ideal audience?

  • Where can it be found?

  • What does it look like?

  • How do you turn it off?

  • Can you access debug logs?

  • How can this feature go wrong?

  • When it does go wrong, what needs to be collected?

  • Are there any known issues?

  • What are some of the tradeoffs you had to make for technical reasons?

How to conduct a support handoff

The actual format can change depending on your business and the type of information that needs to be transferred. 

A good process to start with might look something like this:

  1. Get the initial set of information from the engineering team.

  2. Review it with the support team.

  3. Brainstorm potential issues that your customers or users might run into with the feature, or questions they have.

  4. See if the team is fully equipped to answer the full range of questions.

  5. Agree on how to tackle each of these, e.g. by preparing macros or articles in advance or spending 1-2 hours understanding the feature. 

  6. Ask the engineering team for more information depending on the outcome. 

This makes it easier to streamline communication – you won’t need to ping a developer ten times the first week after the release to get extra clarification. It also deepens the collaboration between engineering and support. 

Once you’ve sketched out what your process will look like, you can decide if you’ll do an onsite, remote, or async handoff:

  • Onsite: This might be a formal training session or simply an engineer sliding over to a support agent’s desk for a quick walk-through. In remote companies, you might save these for highly complex topics that you cover in a collaborative session at a company retreat, for example.

  • Remote: A typical example might be doing a Zoom meeting to do a live handoff between engineers and support reps. It’s usually a good idea to record the call and share it with other teammates who might work from different regions and time zones. 

  • Async: These handoffs are great for companies that have a distributed team working in multiple time zones and schedules. It’ll require creating great written documentation that might include videos, screenshots and other graphical resources for training the support team.

Note that each of these methods can also be used for individual cases that require engineering expertise as well. A developer could write up some notes, record a Loom video, or set up a meeting to ensure that the agent has all the information they need. 

Five tips for better handoffs between support and engineering

When customers are transferred between channels, 62% perceive the experience as high effort. 

Every transfer of knowledge comes with a high risk of missing information, And the handoff process can easily become a high-effort endeavor for your team.

Taking time to set up a process is a good starting point, but here are some tips to help you ensure that process actually works. 

Hire for technical expertise

If your product is highly technical, you’ll want to ensure your support agents have a certain level of technical expertise. You might even need agents specializing in certain technology or languages.

To ensure your handoffs go smoothly, make sure your support agents are qualified with the skills and education needed to work in your technical domain. This will make the handoff process much smoother as the support team will already have the required foundational skills.

A technical foundation will make it easier for engineering and support teams to speak the same language and reduce the likelihood of them talking past each other. 

Keep documentation and playbooks updated

Playbooks are important for every team. 

Documenting information like standard operating procedures and technical how-to’s in a place everyone has access to will save your team time in the long run. 

Encourage engineers and product leaders to update docs before the feature goes live. If they’re reluctant to update documentation, look for ways to make it easier for them and spend time showing them the value behind it. 

The entire team needs to be bought into this part of the process.

Choose the right technology

You’ll need various tools depending on how you do your support handoff. 

If you’re doing them remotely, you’ll need to ensure the entire team has access to Zoom, or another video conferencing tool. If you’re doing them asynchronously, you might need to find a dedicated documentation tool that both support and engineering are able (and willing) to use.

It’s easy to underestimate how much the tool you’re working with impacts the success of your process. If the signal to noise ratio is very low, people will always struggle to find relevant information when they need it.

Refine the process as you scale

It’s easy to share information from team to team when the overall company is small. But as you scale into a medium or large company with teams spanning the globe, your support handoff process will need to evolve. 

Some of the challenges you might have to face include:

  • Ensuring that information is easily accessible to a growing team. You’ll likely need to invest more in documentation.

  • Maintaining an overview of all product changes and updates. It’s much harder to keep track of changes if you have 10+ independent teams all shipping releases.

  • Keeping an open and collaborative relationship between support and engineering. It takes time to learn how other people work and support that with processes. 

  • Streamlining communication lines without reducing or restricting communication. Support teams can be a noisy part of the business because they often have a lot of questions. Finding ways that still enable them to get answers is essential, without causing consistent distractions to your developers. 

Bring in support earlier in the process

Support reps are on the frontlines, and therefore they know your customers the best. They’ve seen their pain points and they’ve helped them along the way.

So why wait to bring in support at the very end, once the feature is designed, coded, and ready to be shipped? Support is a valuable resource that can help steer you in the right direction. 

By starting the handoff process earlier, you get the opportunity to tap into the support team’s knowledge. It also gives the support team the ramp-up time to get prepared and trained on the new functionality that’s coming, versus having to quickly get up to speed at the last moment before the feature is shipped. 

Adopt Knowledge Center Service (KCS) 

Knowledge Centered Service (KCS) is a methodology that can greatly streamline the flow of knowledge between your engineering and support teams. KCS focuses on capturing and reusing knowledge as your support teams solve customer issues.

Here's how it improves your handoffs:

  • Standardized Knowledge Capture:  KCS provides templates for knowledge base articles.  Engineers can use these to easily input information in a consistent format that's helpful to support teams.

  • "Knowledge as a Byproduct" Mindset: KCS encourages engineers to document their problem-solving processes as they work. This reduces the effort later and ensures information is captured when it's fresh.

  • Continuous Improvement: As support agents use knowledge articles created by engineers, they can flag issues, request updates, and suggest improvements. This creates a feedback loop that makes the captured information increasingly accurate and useful over time.

💡Tip: if you are using Zendesk, this blog post will help you optimize your KCS workflows.

Streamline your documentation

Supporting a technical product is no small feat. 

It requires highly skilled individuals, team collaboration, and effective processes that can scale as you grow. 

Documentation can serve as the backbone of your operations, providing a centralized repository of knowledge that enables collaboration, troubleshooting, and consistent customer experiences.

The challenge is how to get there.

Swifteq offers a suite of tools that you can use to improve your Zendesk help center for your customers and that enable easier access to and exchange of information for your support team. 

Author: Jake Bartlett

Bio: Jake Bartlett is a writer for tech companies and customer-centric businesses. He has 13 years of experience working in customer support and success, across various roles. You can find out more about Jake on his website.


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