The symbiotic relationship between customer success and product management teams is not just a "nice-to-have," it's a necessity. The key to elevating the customer experience lies in the seamless integration of these two vital departments.
Visibility is the cornerstone of this relationship. Both teams need to have a clear line of sight into each other's activities, roadmaps, and customer feedback. This not only ensures that everyone is on the same page but also empowers CSMs to have more productive and informed conversations with customers.
Communication is the lifeblood that keeps this relationship thriving. Whether it's sharing customer feedback, updating each other on new features, or discussing the "why" behind customer needs, open and frequent communication is essential. Tools and processes can facilitate this, but the real magic happens when there's a culture of collaboration.
Fundamentally, your product team wants to know one simple thing: “What are our customers saying about our product?”
They want to know if they can implement these changes to keep them happy. Are these amendments feasible?
Keep reading to understand:
- The importance of visibility,
- How to deliver customer feedback to the product team,
- How product can keep customer success updated,
- Communicating product updates back to customers, and
- The importance of communicating the “why”.
There’s a risk of not being customer-facing that the product team can feel disconnected on a day-to-day basis. After all, Customer Success Managers (CSM) are in a unique position with their ear to customer behavior and feedback.
Helping your product team feel that connection is transformative. For instance, without that visibility to the customer activity, behavior and feedback, how can product teams drive their roadmap?
From a tool perspective, product should have visibility into the customer base and the use cases. And the other side of the coin is that customer success should have visibility into the roadmap and the timeline so that they can communicate that back to customers, and not feel disconnected from what's happening and what's on the horizon.
When CS has that visibility into the roadmap they're better equipped to have really productive conversations with customers. Don’t just say, “Hey, let me get back to you. Let me ask product…” Instead, having the ability to pull that information up in front of you on a call can be integral to the success of that relationship with the customer. Plus it showcases your internal alignment, building empathy, trust and confidence.
Communication is paramount. With access to that roadmap, customer success can communicate to our customers better. We can tell them what's going on, especially when they have feedback.
Should your customer say, “Hey, I'm really interested in seeing this feature” or, “Have you thought about implementing [X]...” having the ability for them to see that live on a call is awesome.
The other thing is the ability for CS to give feedback. CSMs will have access to whatever tool necessary to log customer feedback straight away and assign a level of priority to it, which should then be communicated with the product team.
How does a CSM communicate customer feedback with a product team?
Typically, product teams use a product management tool like Kanban, which is separate from the CRM used by customer success and support.
The product team should have access to CRM in order to track customer information. Likewise, customer success should have access to whatever tool the product team’s using to track their feature sets or enhancement requests in. This way, the Customer Success Manager can log these requests, give priority, and feedback use cases. Ultimately, this transparency and collaboration across platforms help communicate the “why” behind feature requests to the product team.
I don't know of any CRM that incorporates the chance for good product feedback, but there might be software solutions now that allow integrations between the two. What would be even better would be if you could log into one system, and go to the next. This would be an interesting task for a CS Ops role.
Product team giving customer success updates
While a huge part of the feedback loop and communication is customer success feeding back customer insights and use cases, collaboration is a two-way street. In order for customer success teams to be as transparent as possible with the customer, they need to know what’s going on with the product roadmap.
In my experience of working in customer success, I've handled this in a few different ways, depending on what company I was at. Typically, most companies do an all-hands readout, which allows the product team the opportunity to disseminate what's going on with the product to the whole company.
To me, this level of transparency is critical in eliminating unnecessary roadblocks caused by miscommunication and lack of knowledge. When you allow other departments into your product hub, allow them to understand its roadmap, you’re not only showing what the product does, you’re allowing them to peer behind the veil and understand what it will do.
Arming all departments with product updates, specifically educating the company on new features and their release dates, inspires proactivity and unity.
After all, as CSMs, we should also be advocating for the product as well. In some companies I’ve worked at, we’ve put on internal “demo office hours” where the CSM can demonstrate the usages of a product and ask questions to a Product Manager.
The benefits of establishing routine, one-on-one contact is exceptional. You can directly bring feedback to them in a live, in real-time capacity and say, “Hey, is this something already in the works? Or should I add it in as feedback or an enhancement request?”
Having open office hours between the two departments cements the partnership and sets the foundations for productive collaboration. I’ve always been a massive advocate for jumping on a call with someone to avoid the inefficiency of emailing back and forth.
Hygiene of information
While you’re optimizing your collaboration processes between product and customer success, you should never overlook the hygiene of the information that you rely on. Keeping your customer information clean is of paramount importance for both product and CS teams.
The buck doesn’t stop there. You also need to ensure your overall timeline of any new product features and updates is being communicated clearly.
For example, imagine you’ve got a big feature request and now it's been pushed back two quarters. 50% of customers are waiting for this new feature. This is something customer success needs to know about, so we can communicate it to the customer, keep them informed, and show internal alignment.
In the past, I’ve had success with communicating this information to customers via newsletters, highlighting product updates and upcoming releases. Needless to say, gathering that feedback from product is really important. To be quite transparent, at the end of the day, the updates are nearly always communicated from customer success, therefore, it's customer success who'll receive backlash if there’s any disappointment or negative feedback due to a lack of communication.
Communicating product updates to customers
Product feedback is a loop between customer success, product and the customer. I cannot stress the importance of over-communication – any update is better than no update.
Even if you’re simply repeating a previous update, even if you’re just saying, “Sorry, I don't have any update for you at this current moment, but we're still working on it and it's a priority…” you’re demonstrating clarity, professionalism and transparency, which will foster trust and heighten the customer experience.
Ensuring that your product team is communicating so CS can appropriately set expectations with the customer isn’t just important, it’s make or break! When done properly, the customer will appreciate that even if it's a frustrating moment for them, they’ll know that the company is working on that. How? Because that’s the communication we’re sending out.
I think this goes a long way and shows that we're invested in the partnership. If we can provide a workaround or even a hotfix, while in work time, that's always ideal. But as you’ll well know, often a quick fix simply isn’t feasible. It’s hard, and not the result the customer wants, but through over-communication, you’ll transform their experience.
No one ever likes feeling left in the dark. When left without answers, customers can start to formulate their own assessment of the situation and, dissatisfied with the service provided, they might look for another vendor.
When companies do this well, by keeping open channels of communication and advocating visibility, it really has a high impact on topline customer success key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS).
To begin with, it might seem trivial and feel like a lot of upfront work to get these processes up and running, but they have such a long-term positive effect on your customer base and retention rate.
Communicate the “why”
The last thing I'll add is that sometimes product teams can feel overwhelmed. This won’t come as a surprise to most; there's a lot going on.
Communicating the “why” for anything and how it impacts customers is vital to the longevity and success of this cross-functional relationship. The reason behind the request, not only adds color to the information, it drives the product roadmap and the product team’s day-to-day priorities.
So making sure we're not just saying, “This customer wants this…” but instead why do they want it? What are they doing with it? What's the impact on our business? How big is this? Is it an upcoming renewal?
Giving them as much information up front drives a positive partnership between the two teams.
Let’s wrap things up!
The alignment of customer success and product teams is not just beneficial but crucial for a business aiming for high customer satisfaction and retention rates. It's not merely about sharing information but about building a partnership that's rooted in mutual understanding and a shared vision for customer happiness.
By investing in this relationship, companies not only enhance their customer experience but also set the stage for long-term success, positively impacting KPIs like CSAT and NPS.
So, if you haven't already, now is the time to break down those silos and build bridges between your CS and product teams. Your customers – and your bottom line – will thank you.