The challenges that have kept customer success and product teams from collaborating at their best

Written by Pippa Armes  | 

7 min

 

In the world of software as a service (SaaS), it can sometimes feel like there’s a little bit of a Sharks vs. Jets thing going on between Product and Customer Success (CS). Cue the finger-snapping “West Side Story” GIFs.

On the surface, this distance between the teams responsible for creating the product and the teams responsible for keeping customers happy with the product may seem to stem from competing priorities. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that the interests of Product and CS aren’t really that different at all.

In part one of this three-part series—about building productive relationships between CS and product teams through the power of feedback—we’ll explore the key challenges that have historically prevented product and CS teams from finding that copacetic feeling. Part two will dive into why it’s more important than ever for them to collaborate and embrace feedback as a driver of shared success. And part three will wrap things up with how both teams can work together to leverage the Voice of the Customer (VoC) to build a better, more cohesive customer experience.

Silos as a result of rapid scale

When companies are small or just starting out, the lines between the responsibilities of various teams are often blurry. Product steps in to speak with customers. CS helps out with product testing. Everyone’s on the same page. 

In those early days, it’s easy for groups across the entire organization to be collaborative, agile, and scrappy. With only a handful of products and stakeholders (and opinions) to manage, it’s easy for Product and CS to feel as though they can influence and inform each others’ workstreams—and maintain a sense of shared vision and victory.

But as organizations scale, it gets harder for busy teams to stay quite as in sync. In enterprise organizations with hundreds of customer success managers (CSMs) and dozens of product managers (PMs), for example, product and CS teams may rarely interact with each other. This leads to a misalignment in goals, misunderstanding of product priorities, and miscommunication to customers. 

This challenge compounds as the number of customers the company serves grows, too. With more customer needs and voices to take into consideration, it becomes harder for CSMs to manage customer expectations and uplevel the appropriate requests to the product team. And for PMs, triaging that feedback becomes a massive time commitment—abetted by the frustrations that come with tempering requests against what’s already in the product roadmap.

Poor communication

A byproduct of siloed teams is poor communication. Not only is this breakdown frustrating for internal teams—it directly impacts your product experience as well.

Much of the context product teams rely on to inform their roadmap and inspire innovation comes from conversations CSMs have with customers on a daily basis. But if the CS team doesn’t have a forum for sharing customer feedback with Product, requests end up in a black hole and product teams are ultimately unable to build functionality to address the root causes of customer challenges. 

When communication between Product and CS breaks down, the product team’s ability to keep a steady pulse on customer sentiment dissipates, too. And if product teams don’t know what problems their customers are facing, they can’t find creative solutions or drive impactful outcomes beyond a running list of feature requests. In short, they lose the “why.” 

Likewise, if the product team doesn’t keep the CS team informed about the latest product decisions and developments, it becomes impossible for CS to advise customers or confidently talk about the product.

For CS teams, this lack of communication with Product can create unnecessary friction in customer upsell, cross-sell, or expansion conversations. Without a clear line of sight into what’s going on in the product, CSMs can’t confidently discuss it with (or advocate for it to) their customers. They lack a cohesive story about the product’s trajectory. And—perhaps most importantly—they can’t close the loop with customers who have submitted feedback or tell them why the requests they’ve made are (or aren’t) being acted on. 

Different understandings of the customer experience

CSMs spend most of their time on the frontlines of the customer experience. They’re the ones talking to customers about the business challenges they’re trying to solve and advising on the software they’re using. Product teams, on the other hand, don’t typically get this same level of one-on-one time with customers—their understanding of the customer experience is largely informed by what they see through user analytics. While this data is critical for helping them understand how and where users are spending time in the product, it lacks the qualitative and emotional aspects of sentiment and satisfaction that CSMs see and hear every day.

Striking a balance between quantitative analytics and qualitative user feedback is critical for understanding the full story behind the customer experience and creating a single source of truth for both Product and CS. Housing all this valuable customer data in one place can also be a powerful unifying force for these two seemingly disparate teams. After all, neither can thrive without the other: Product needs CS to drive adoption and customer happiness, and CS needs Product to keep building features and products their customers will love.

Why can’t we be friends?

Despite their seemingly disparate charters, Product and CS are actually more alike than they are different.

Both teams have a strong focus on the customer experience. For Product, the “why” behind the product is driven by customer needs and the challenges they’re trying to solve. The SaaS world isn’t filled with many products for product’s sake—without the customer, there is no product. For CS, driving an incredible experience throughout the customer journey is the name of the game. It’s what builds loyalty, drives expansion, and results in retention.

Both teams need to be agile and adaptable. Product needs to be able to move quickly to respond to competitive developments, bugs, or feature requests. They need to maintain firm footing in their product roadmap and strategy, but stay nimble enough to continually innovate as customer and business needs change. CS needs to be available for customers and move quickly to triage or respond to issues that arise. They need to be able to quickly translate customer feedback and objectives into actionable direction for their peers in Product and Engineering.

Both teams thrive with a product-led mindset. Product-led organizations are more resilient, innovative, and better equipped to weather unexpected storms than their non-product led counterparts. For Product, the approach drives engagement with teams across the organization and allows Product to play an ongoing role in the success of the business. For CS teams, it allows CSMs to leverage the product as a driver of loyalty and competitive advantage—and let it do some of the selling for itself. This shared product-led mindset unites teams across the organization to work together to drive better outcomes. 

 

In the second installment of this blog series, we’ll take a closer look at why it’s more important than ever for Product and CS to work together, using feedback as a driver of success—plus a few tactics for bringing the two teams closer into alignment.