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The four levels of customer success and product alignment maturity
Alignment between Customer Success (CS) and product teams isn’t something that just happens—it takes work. The teams must have a shared understanding of customer needs, the company’s vision, and each other’s roles in fulfilling both. Without mutual respect and commitment, the collaboration between the two functions falls apart.
Despite differences in working styles and focuses, Customer Success and product need each other to succeed.
Think about it from a customer’s perspective. A part of their experience with a company comes from the engagement they have with customer success managers. Similarly, another part of their experience comes from their engagement with the product.
Both elements are important. Product and CS each have insight into one piece of the overall customer experience. To gain a complete picture, these two functions need to be aligned. Better alignment drives increased product adoption, retention, and ideally deeper customer relationships.
Note: this article is adapted from a session presented by ChurnZero Chief Customer Officer Alli Tiscornia and ChurnZero Chief Product Officer Abby Hammer at ChurnZero’s annual Customer Success conference, BIG RYG.
Room to improve Customer Success and product management alignment
If you ask representatives in either function about their departmental relationship with each other most will respond that it’s OK. In other words, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. That’s according to a survey that, in part, explores the level of collaboration between product management and CS conducted by the Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA).
About three-quarters of respondents scored the “handshake” between CS and product management in the middle on a four-step scale, as “fair” (41%) or “good” (35%). Just a handful described the relationship as “excellent” (4%) or, on the other end, as “poor” (21%).
That sounds about right when you think about the subject in passing. However, when the researchers later presented a model describing different levels of maturity such team relationships can have, the respondents changed their answers; the self-assessment scores shifted down.
More precisely, when asked to rank the relationship on a four-step maturity model—reactive, informed, aligned and optimized—the vast majority (80%) put the relationship in the bottom half as “informed” or “reactive.” Just one in five graded the relationship as “aligned” in the top half. No respondents graded the relationship as “optimized.”
If that seems grim, there’s a bright side to these findings. It means almost all of us have plenty of room to improve.
The four levels of maturity between Customer Success and product management
Improving the alignment between product management and CS begins with understanding what’s possible. In turn, knowing what’s possible requires examining the four levels of the TSIA maturity model.
Level 1: reactive
Reactive is the lowest level of the maturity model. At this stage, product management and CS operate in relative silos. They don’t have shared product adoption or customer retention goals.
It’s a tactical relationship. Interactions, like meetings, aren’t regularly scheduled and occur on an ad hoc basis. Typically, these happen in reaction to a customer complaint. The TSIA says this level is “characterized by relatively low levels of adoption and lower revenue growth rates.”
In the survey noted above, about one-quarter (24%) of teams put their relationship at this level.
Level 2: informed
Informed is the next level up from reactive. It’s here both teams begin to have an understanding that they are interdependent. However, the cadence of engagement isn’t formalized.
This means they might talk more frequently or even co-own a business initiative. For example, they might share a voice-of-customer program or tactical adoption objectives, such as specific expansion goals among an ideal customer profile (ICP).
“When it comes to adoption targets, their handshake is unbalanced—product management defines these targets and customer success is accountable to achieve them,” according to the TSIA research.
Most product management and CS professionals assess their relationship at this level (57%).
Level 3: aligned
At the aligned level, the relationship is becoming strategic and proactive. Leaders from both teams define goals together and share accountability for product adoption.
Shared accountability requires collaboration and formalized processes. This means meetings are set up at regular intervals, with clear agendas and a common picture of the business problem to be solved.
“The term ‘delighting the customer’ takes hold in the form of strong adoption,” the TSIA says. It points to clear benefits too: “This maturity phase is characterized by higher levels of product adoption and revenue growth.”
The TSIA found about 20% of respondents say their teams are aligned.
Level 4: optimized
The highest level on the maturity model is optimized. At this point, the relationship has evolved from shared accountability to complete joint ownership of the customer lifecycle. At the optimized level, alignment is viewed as a strategic initiative for the business. As such, other teams that have an impact on the overall CX, such as support, may also be involved.
The TSIA puts it this way:
“Adoption as a strategic imperative is embraced, not only by product management and customer success but also by adjacent functions. Customer success is deeply engaged during the digital customer experience (DCX) design and creation phases of the product life cycle.”
It’s worth pointing out, there’s usually an intangible team dynamic at work at this level: mutual trust. Trust takes time and effort to build, and it’s often reliant on steady, regular interaction, where everyone involved understands their role in meeting the needs of the customer.
For many teams, this level is still aspirational. Not a single respondent (0%) to the TSIA survey graded their team’s relationship at the optimized level.
Better alignment drives better adoption and growth
Customers may buy a product, but their overall experience with a company is comprised of a combination of product and service. Even staunch advocates of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) will admit that these scores sometimes reflect a customer’s interaction with a team member rather than just their experience with a product.
The survey by the TSIA demonstrates, as a community, both product management teams and CS teams, have ample room for improvement. Those teams that do will see higher levels of product adoption, better customer retention rates, and consequently higher growth rates as well.
Align for success
In fast-growing companies, cross-functional misalignment is one of the biggest challenges that CS leaders face. It impacts your work, your team and your customers’ experience.
Learn how to see things from other teams’ point of view and know how to lead them to yours in our guide “The Customer Success leader’s guide to cross-functional alignment.” You’ll get tips on how to identify shared projects and metrics to elevate CS and prove its value.