In many companies, each department is like its own sovereign state. Each manager has her or his patch of office space to rule and the law of the land is “you do your thing, I’ll do mine.” Each kingdom is also suspicious of its neighbors. The most common example of this the flat-out distrust between many Sales and Marketing teams; a 2014 survey by HubSpot revealed that 87% of the terms the Sales and Marketing use to describe each other are negative. And unfortunately, the feelings between Product and Customer Success are often not much warmer or fuzzier. Despite there being many benefits to a collaborative relationship between Product and CS, traditional strict department structure all-too-frequently results in territorialism, blatant inefficiency and data silos.
Now some of you might be wondering why CS should even bother trying to form a relationship with Product. And the answer is pretty simple: CS has critical customer insights that can benefit the entire company, helping reduce churn and increase customer loyalty. We are intimately familiar with our customers – what they want, what they need, when/why they tend to get stuck, how well the product is working for them, what the gaps are between what the product does and their desired outcomes. And if we proactively share these insights with other teams, particularly with Product, we can help ensure the success of our customers.
But how do you go about cultivating a partnership with Product? The key is to communicate your customer insights and requests in such a way that Product becomes more interested in what is going on with the customer and will want to get more directly involved. With the help of an excellent post by CS thought leader Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, we’re going to explore five persuasive benefits you can leverage to win over Product and form a successful collaboration.
- Preamble – Bridging the language barrier: To get the most out of your partnership with Product, you need to establish a common language, one that surfaces your insights in ways they can easily consume. And as Demeré astutely points out, this can be harder than it sounds: “Product managers and engineers have a very different way of communicating than touchy-feely Customer Success agents. We’re all about creating “delight;” they’re all about creating the product. It’s a different mindset and a different vocabulary. Just like a good marketing campaign, lead with benefits to them (rather than the customer). And put them in bullet points with metrics if possible.”
- Persuasive Benefit #1 – Do better work, more efficiently: CS is uniquely well-positioned to identify trouble spots that ultimately result in customers leaving. But CS cannot fix those problems themselves, Product has to come up with the best solution that balances a variety of inputs and business goals. What CS can bring to the table is a customer-centric priority list, with items placed in order of impact, large to small. But Demeré advises to be sure you don’t make the mistake of declaring when something is “easy” – because you really don’t know if that’s true: “Be careful that what you think should be a “simple” change isn’t actually asking for an overhaul of the entire app. That’s where improving communication between CS and Dev teams comes in; let them know you’re not making demands, just suggestions – and have them tell you if your suggestions involve far more effort than they’re worth.”
- Persuasive Benefit #2 – Be less distracted by support tickets: Demeré puts it pretty clearly: “This might be your biggest selling point – there’s nothing that drives product managers crazy like handling “technical” support tickets… unless it’s unnecessary/unrealistic feature requests. If you can alleviate these pain points, you’ll make friends for life.” CS can help proactively predict the most common issues customers will have – and isolate those insights to only include ideal customers, that you want to keep. This can help Product avoid the dreaded “next feature fallacy” and “Product Death Cycle.”
- Persuasive Benefit #3 – Receive pre-organized, well-thought-out feature requests: Product constantly struggles with the tendency for all problems to become feature requests, which aren’t prioritized logically or efficiently; feedback sessions often becoming feature idea dumping grounds. But since CS already builds out ideal customer profiles, in which the ideal customer’s pain points and ideal outcomes are recorded, it’s not a great leap to also create user stories that help Dev answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” and prioritize accordingly. Demeré even suggests that, “Success can even take on some of the burden of prioritization, using user stories, as long as it’s part of a group effort – everyone has to agree to a unified scheme based on user impact, effort required and company priorities.” She also encourages CS to create their user stories in the format Dev is already using, as this will help build a common language between the teams.
- Persuasive Benefit #4 – Get feedback you need, not the kind you don’t: CS can help connect Dev with the *right* kind of customer feedback on updates, new features and beta editions. Demeré clarifies that, “The ‘right’ kind of feedback comes from ideal customers, the people who fall neatly into your user story, the ones your product is uniquely intended to serve. Too often, the wrong kind of feedback makes its way to the Dev desk, and it comes from asking the wrong people. The wrong kind of feedback can lead to wasting time on features that don’t serve your target audience.” CS’s strong relationships with customers allows them to collect constructive feedback more efficiently and accurately and share those insights with Product.
- Persuasive Benefit #5 – Have more fun: Demeré explains it beautifully: “Show Product Dev how their hard work impacts real people. Share customer stories and anecdotes. Share your numbers and stats. Celebrate successes. Too often, Dev is removed from the effects of their work. They don’t get to see the end users succeeding. They don’t see how what they do makes peoples’ lives better. This is a vital element to engagement and a big part of enjoying what you do. So give Dev credit where it’s due, and introduce them to the customers they’re really working for.”
Customer Success Around the Web
- Static vs dynamic segmentation models for CS: The same engagement strategies won’t work for all customers. The wrong actions, sent to the wrong customer at the wrong time can be deal-breakers. Each and every single engagement Customer Success teams should have with their customers – whether that’s in person, online, or automated – should deliver value and drive adoption and advocacy. Paired with well-defined, action-driven high-touch and low-touch engagement models, a reliable account segmentation model allows Customer Success Managers’ time and attention to be where it needs to be. This ultimately means that Customer Success Managers can avoid spending disproportionate amounts of time on low paying customers and act proactively to identify risk and opportunities with high-paying customers. This thoughtful post dives into different models of segmentation for Customer Success, exploring the key factors your models should include and highlighting the Golden Role of account segmentation: Focus on actions, not attributes. An important read for teams of all sizes and maturity.
- Moving from Support to a career in CS: Say you’ve built a career supporting customers. It’s what you enjoy, or in the least have fallen into. Now, you are continuously hearing buzz about Customer Success, and you are wondering, “What does it take to make that jump into that world?” If you were to draw a venn diagram on what makes a Customer Support and Success Professional effective, there would be a definite overlap, so it is not unprecedented to think this could be a natural career move. Even with that overlap, there are a few key differences between the two functions. This quick but great post talks about what makes each group successful, what each area tends to be measured on, and some simple things you can incorporate in your day to day to help make the transition more seamless. A worthwhile read for any Support folks considering a career change and for any CS teams searching for new talent.
- The maximum viable churn for a startup: What is the maximum viable churn for a startup? Within that question, a few others are embedded. How should a founder think about trading off efforts to grow revenue and mitigate churn? What is the impact of account growth on net churn? Startups must walk a tight-rope to balance growth, churn and cash. In this interesting post, Tomasz Tunguz, venture capitalist at Redpoint, shares his framework for determining maximum viable churn. A must-read for any startup trying to determine their runway.
Word to the Wise
This week’s wisdom comes a recent post in which Zakir Hemraj, Co-founder and CEO of Loopio, makers of RFP Response Software, discusses the genesis of Customer Success at Loopio and the effect it’s had on the company as a whole. We definitely recommend checking on the full read – Hemraj offers an interesting take on structuring and evolving CS – but his thoughts on the challenge of keeping CS resources fresh caught our attention:
“Another thing we’re doing is focusing heavily on “refactoring.” This is another inspiration from the software development world and usually applies to code. Things get stale as products, companies, and teams grow. This applies to Customer Success because the resources we develop – documents, processes, templates, videos – can get stale very quickly. If you don’t think about how you’ll keep these things up to date from early on, it will fall apart and you’ll end up with a huge repository of very stale information and resources. We do these things called “CS Power Hours” where we come together and pick one piece of documentation, or even just an email template, and we review it in a collaborative fashion. Everyone on the team gets to run these sessions, too.”