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Three ways customer success can support product management to everyone’s benefit
The respective directors of the customer success team and the product team were really going at it. The meeting we were in was supposed to be a forum where the two teams could trade notes and collaborate on the product roadmap.
Yet, there wasn’t a whole lot of teamwork going on—participants were simply talking past each other. Customer success would attest something like “If we don’t build this feature for this customer, they won’t renew.” In turn, the product team would counter by explaining the technical challenges of building the functionality. Neither side was listening to the other.
As the new leader of this CS organization, I stopped the meeting. I proposed attendees take a break and asked the CS team members to regroup later.
We’d spend that time reviewing and implementing a few lessons I’ve learned from working with dozens of product teams throughout my career. It would change the entire dynamic of the CS team’s relationship with their product counterparts for the better.
Since then, I’ve brought those same practices to every team I’ve led and have seen them turn distant colleagues into close allies.
Here are three ways to support product management so you can do the same.
1. Transform customer feedback into data
Customer success should aggregate, organize, and present the customer feedback it receives into a comprehensive list of priorities. As a CS leader, sit down with your CSMs to review the different features their customers have requested. This can be done collectively as a team or individually in one-on-one meetings.
In either case, when documenting feedback, CSMs should include important details, like:
- Who specifically requested the feature, and why?
- How much revenue is potentially impacted by the feature?
- How many customers will the feature affect?
- What value does this feature offer to the wider customer base?
- Does this feature address the need behind the need? In other words, does it get to the root of the problem or is it a superficial solution?
Once you’ve collected this information, you can transform it into usable data by neatly organizing the feedback into a simple spreadsheet like the one below to show the potential macro effect of feedback on customers and the business.
You’d be surprised—gathering and presenting feedback this way will do wonders in a meeting with product management. It’s thoughtful, practical, and legitimizes your efforts. It also standardizes your process so you start speaking the same language.
Product and customer success teams have different ways of communicating and thinking about problems. That’s why we do two different jobs.
However, as my colleague Abby Hammer, who’s the chief product officer here at ChurnZero likes to say, data is our common ground. When customer success teams use a spreadsheet like this, it shows they’re being deliberate and intentional about their recommendations.
2. Establish a meeting cadence
The meetings between customer success and product management should be both consistent and frequent. I recommend a weekly or monthly meeting cadence. Quarterly meetings are too far apart; data goes stale and the volume of issues to address builds up. In the absence of a cadence, meetings tend to be ad hoc, informal, or worse, only happen when there’s a customer crisis.
Set a clear and structured agenda for every meeting. The customer success team should have already assessed every request listed in their spreadsheet and have a dollar value attached to it along with the potential impact it will have on the fiscal quarter.
This is also a good time to discuss with the product team how you’re collecting data. Invite them to comment on the format. This helps you discover modifications that could make the data more valuable to them, which will in turn helps the case you make on behalf of customers for specific features.
You might, for example, find that marrying customer feature requests with related customer support tickets helps product managers realize the full impact of a request.
3. Always back your product team
If you’ve undertaken the first two steps, then you’re well on your way to facilitating a productive relationship between both teams. There’s one final part that I always tell my CSMs to strive for—and that is to be an advocate for the product team.
This means never indulging in a conversation with customers where you use your product team as a scapegoat for product limitations and customer frustrations.
Most CSMs don’t set out to say such things. However, when they find themselves in tense customer situations, it can be tough to confront the discomfort. In the heat of the moment, finger-pointing can and does slip out in a bid to deflect attention and anger. Avoid playing this blame game. It weakens the integrity of your words, your team, and your relationship with your product counterparts.
As an advocate for the product team, CSMs can parlay customer inquiries about features that haven’t been built into a conversation about what was developed or improved. For example, a CSM could say something like, “While that functionality wasn’t delivered, the team did introduce these other three features in the past quarter—and here’s what that could mean for your business.”
Business relationships make a difference in business performance
If there’s a common thread among these three tips, it’s relationship building. Get to know your product team and be proactive about helping them—rather than only engaging them when there’s a customer crisis. If it’s one-sided, it won’t work. Establish equal reciprocity.
At the end of the day, product management and customer success want the same things: to bring in new customers and retain existing ones. Following simple steps like these will vastly improve the business relationship and, in the grand scheme, make a difference in the company’s performance.
Find out just how aligned you are with your product team in our article, “The four levels of customer success and product alignment maturity.”