What Should the Relationship Between Customer Success and Product Look Like?

Looking for just the perfect blendship between Customer Success and Product teams? We’ve dissected the why’s and how’s behind improving collaboration across these teams. 

Thanks to help from both Customer Success and Product leaders, we're bringing you action steps that include everything from building a framework for shared communication to detailing the data needed to make this partnership really sing. 

Keep reading to discover the five key aspects of successful CS and Product collaborations along with the exact steps you can take to achieve near-perfect harmony. 

What the Perfect Marriage of CS and Product Actually Looks Like 

When these two teams work well together, they can create a feedback loop that drives product improvements, enhances customer satisfaction, and ultimately increases revenue. 

Here are some key aspects of an ideal relationship between Customer Success and Product:

Communication

Consistent communication is essential in any relationship. But it’s the lifeblood of strong Product and Customer Success collaborations. 

To help Product teams, Customer Success can provide feedback to the Product team about customer pain points, feature requests, and suggestions for improvement. And to help Customer Success teams, Product teams should collaborate with CS to better understand the customer journey and the challenges customers face. 

These synergies can be improved by using joint meetings, brainstorming sessions, and shared documentation. Whichever you choose, make sure to keep the above goals in mind as your North Star and stick with communication tools that your teams are already in the habit of using on a regular basis. 

  • Select or establish communication channels (including meetings, documentation, and digital tools such as Slack) to maintain alignment across the product development lifecycle.
  • Ensure transparency in all aspects of feature development with the help of a project management platform. 

Customer Feedback Collection

In a perfect world, the Product team should always be building for both existing and future customers' needs. 

But let’s face it — we don’t live in a perfect world and as a result that doesn’t always happen. Especially if Product teams are inundated with a large volume of competing requests. Or if the product roadmap they're currently following is overly influenced by input from investors. And let’s not forget about fresh new market trends that have Product teams chasing shiny objects (we’re looking at you, AI).

As a result of all of this feedback piling up, one of the biggest challenges for CS is to set up Product for success by sharing feedback so Product listens. We spoke to Product expert and Savio Co-Founder Kareem Mayan for his advice on how to go about it. 

“Your customer-facing Success teams have a lot of intel from the market that Product doesn't have,” says Kareem. “It’s insanely useful for Product success. If the goal is to drive revenue then CS has invaluable knowledge.” 

He went on to say, “Customer feedback from CS is invaluable but the reason why it tends to get ignored is because it includes anecdotes without data. Hard customer data is what Product needs in order to prioritize those anecdotes. Providing both qualitative AND quantitative information is key.” 

Once they have that information, “Product can boil down that big feature request list to a smaller one by assessing trends in the data-based feedback CS has collected. Then they’ll be able to narrow down and prioritize even further by using qualitative information to determine surface area of each of those features. But you need both.”

The goal: Transform customer feedback into data and combine it with existing anecdotes. Data-driven feedback legitimizes your recommendations and facilitates communication with the Product team.

  • Aggregate and organize customer feedback into a comprehensive list of priorities. Include important details such as who requested the feature, why, potential revenue impact, number of affected customers, and value to the broader customer base. 
  • Create a standardized spreadsheet to present the feedback clearly, emphasizing its potential impact on customers and the business.

Serving the Same Audience

We also spoke to Karbon Chief Customer Officer Elizabeth Blass. “Unifying on the goals is helpful for CS and Product collaboration. That and always keeping the customer at the center,” says Elizabeth. “Just make sure you come at it through an objective lens. The biggest source of stress and frustration between CS and Product is often that Product is at max capacity while CS asks them for way more than Product can even do in the first place.”

One of the ways these two teams can become misaligned is when CS teams want to serve existing customers while leadership and sales want to release product features that are meant to attract new leads. If the two teams are focused on primarily serving two different audiences then their priorities will be different. 

That is why it’s critical for both teams to prioritize feature development that is based on customer needs and the potential impact on customer satisfaction and retention. This will hopefully, down the road, increase in customer satisfaction and retention. 

  • In addition to combining quantitative with qualitative customer feedback like we’ve suggested above, teams can use frameworks such as "Jobs to Be Done" or the Kano model to assess the importance of various features to the customer personas that CS and Product are trying to reach. 

Training and Documentation

What do Product teams actually want from the CS team in regards to training and documentation?

“Often the responsibility for product training and documentation sits with CS,” says Elizabeth. “The partnership between them is especially important here. CS needs the information from Product on the new features, for example, in advance of the release so the documentation is ready in time.”

Kareem also said that, “having an outside writer create a training/educational article for CS can help. CS wouldn't create it — the writer would base it on Product's specs and instructions — but CS would consume it.”

  • Get input from both sides when creating new materials. 
  • Consider working with a content specialist to formalize training and documentation. 

Monitoring and Metrics

The point of making monitoring and metrics a joint venture between Customer Success and Product is to “turn those raw ingredients into revenue,” says Kareem. 

Both teams should track an agreed upon set of relevant metrics and KPIs. One team may have ownership of some while the other has the rest. But regardless of how the work is divided, they both must follow the progress of what is reported.  

What the actual metrics are will “vary highly from company to company,” says Kareem. “Some Product teams focus on and measure new revenue generated as a success metric and they build features to do that while others key in on product usage metrics. We very much want our Product Managers to understand the revenue impact even though they don’t own it.”

A 6-Step Process for Improving the Relationship Between CS and Product

Step 1: Assess Any Existing Relationship Gaps

“Any relationship issues that exist between the teams probably stems from something else,” advises Elizabeth. 

“If there is a lot of silence, cameras off in virtual meetings, and a lack of reaction to new ideas and updates in joint meetings between CS and Product then there may be something going on,” says Elizabeth. “Unexplained delays of initiatives or cross-departmental discussions are also big.”

Elizabeth also points out that “you pick up a lot in one-on-ones. It’s all about social cues. And listen to your gut!” 

Step 2: Take Initiative

“Smart PMs realize that people in GTM are allies,” says Kareem. “If you take the time to cultivate relationships with customer champions in CS you will find people who are both product-minded and genuinely care.”

“So instead of brushing off that annoying ping from a CSM, invite them to coffee instead and talk about what else they’re hearing,” Kareem advises. 

And for CS, “it’s crucial to have curiosity about what product a customer is using and what problem they are trying to solve with it,” says Elizabeth. “What did they do in the past? What worked for them? What hasn’t worked for them?” 

“CSMs have to be intentional about what they take to Product and always have evidence to back up your usage of trends. Contrary to popular belief, endless ideas are not actually helpful.”

Having your answers ready will not only help make your coffee hang smoother but it will also support future team initiatives on both sides. 

Step 3: Agree on How to Listen to Customers 

Kareem says, “From a Product perspective, it’s much more helpful to know the ‘why’ more than the ‘what’ when hearing customer feedback. For example, if a customer tells CS that they really need a blue button, it’s much more important for Product to be told that the customer is color blind than to relay a button color change request.”

“Taking on a Product mindset and sharing the results of those customer conversations will make Product love you,” advises Kareem. 

As someone who has four Customer Advisory Boards running concurrently, Elizabeth says the key to their success has been to “intentionally keep groups small by limiting them to a dozen people or less. We also only work with those who are both engaged and use the product we are discussing. These participants join each quarter so that there’s some continuity.”

“It’s more about what questions the Product team would like customer input on,” explains Elizabeth. “And you don’t have to just talk about fully finished products. Discuss ideas you’re thinking about and find out what is most useful to them. The customers love that too, it makes them feel heard.” 

Step 4: Involve Customer Champions in Research & Development

Both Elizabeth and Kareem agree that while involving CS in Research & Development will slow down development a tiny bit, it’s still a vital component of a successful process. 

“I think it improves the end result so much more,” says Elizabeth. Kareem adds, “When you’re designing a feature, you want maximum brain power on the problem. It’s very helpful to hear what people who talk to customers every day think about your wireframe, for example.”

“There’s nothing worse than a company demo where the CSM team has never seen the designs presented or missed internal intel,” Elizabeth shares. “And it’s not just the Customer Success teams who have perspectives to share! Customer Support also works with customers often.”

Step 5: Be Transparent

Elizabeth says that both CSMs and Product teams will lament that they “just don’t understand!” “My question for them would be what have you done to help them understand? Explain it to them. And explain it in a way that is relevant to what they do.” 

Kareem says a great place to start these transparent discussions is to schedule a regular meeting between CS and Product. “These meetings serve two functions,” explains Kareem. “CS tells Product top feature requests. Then Product says ‘we’ll build that feature and also here’s where we are on features requested last meeting’.”

He also adds that company culture has a lot to do with it. “Are you punished for being late or rewarded for hiding it? The ideal environment for transparency is one where both teams are rewarded for sharing the good, bad, and ugly.”

“Yes and you need a framework for communicating together. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how strong the relationship is, the rest will slip away,” adds Elizabeth. 

Step 6: Continue Recognizing the Value of Collaboration

Elizabeth’s team practices this in a few different ways. “There are short term things. For example, we have a shout out channel on Slack to shout out collaboration — either a group or individuals — to say congrats on getting it done. We’re very big on recognition in that way.” 

“Longer term: if you’re driving the right behaviors then you do see it in results,” Elizabeth observes. “It’s also important for CEOs to acknowledge metric improvements at company-wide internal events such as all hands meetings or sales kickoffs. You can recognize employees on LinkedIn too!” 

“I love that,” Kareem says. “Recognition from the CEO is insanely powerful. I’d add that on the highest level, you can incentivize it. For example, I’d love to see a shared incentive for Product helping CS hit expansion revenue goals that would align them both.”

A Match Made in CS (and Product) Heaven

The refrain throughout our piece is this: A great relationship between CS and Product is all about hitting the same note on what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and how you plan to do it. 

"Most importantly, cross-functional Product and CS teams need to first align on why they need to act and create, or change an experience for their customers in the first place," adds Vitally Head of Product Management Christine Itwaru.

While there are plenty of high-level actions you can take long-term (finding relationship gaps, involving customer champions, strategic listening) there are also smaller yet just as important steps (taking initiative, rewarding transparency, recognizing shared achievements) that you can immediately put into practice. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list but using even a few of these suggestions will help transform CS and Product's shared workflow into a well-rehearsed melody.

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