Product-led customer success is a business strategy that applies product-led principles to customer success (CS) functions. Product-led CS teams put the product at the center of the customer experience and leverage product usage data—along with other measures of customer health—to guide their engagements. They understand that customer happiness and retention are contingent on delivering an exceptional experience across the entire user journey—from onboarding to renewal, within the context of the product.
CS represents the eyes, ears, and heart of a product-led organization—with the goal of helping customers find their way to value. A product-led CS strategy requires organizational leaders and customer success managers (CSMs) to bring a data-driven approach to this mission. They use product analytics to measure customer health, monitor user behaviors, and assess customer sentiment—and act on those insights with in-app messaging and guidance as needed.
By bringing core CS functions like onboarding and enablement inside the product, CSMs can more easily engage with customers at scale without sacrificing customized service—freeing them to focus on high-value activities and foster deeper customer relationships. A product-led CS strategy also helps CS teams reduce support ticket volumes (and subsequent customer frustration), improves long-term product and feature adoption, and gives CSMs access to product insights that allow them to predict and get ahead of at-risk accounts—resulting in increased retention and long-term customer loyalty.
The guiding principles of product-led customer success teams
There are six key principles that guide the behaviors of product-led CS teams.
They share a unified view of customer
Product-led CS teams collaborate with other departments around a comprehensive and unified view of customer health and happiness. They use a single system of record to track product usage data and help augment it with their own deep customer knowledge—strengthening the entire organization’s understanding of the customer experience. This shared source of truth helps democratize a sense of product ownership and accountability across the organization, and empowers CSMs to use the product as a vehicle to act on the behaviors they’re seeing.
They use qualitative and quantitative data
Product-led customer success also empowers CSMs to use data to have more strategic discussions with their customers. They use analytics to monitor adoption or identify places where their customers might be struggling, and collect feedback to better understand and add context to these behaviors. They work with the product team to correlate these qualitative and quantitative insights and develop an action plan—for example, determining whether lagging adoption or a recurring feature request stems from a product issue or enablement gap, then crafting the appropriate in-app messaging or informing the product roadmap.
They use the product as a communication tool
Product-led CSMs also see the product as a channel through which they can communicate with their customers. They deliver onboarding through contextual, in-product walkthroughs that help customers get up and running quickly. They use in-app messaging to alert users of important features or announcements. And they help customers self-serve support or additional education through in-app guidance and resources. Bringing all these touchpoints—which would otherwise take place in other external channels—inside the product improves their efficacy and relevancy, and helps CSMs meet their customers exactly where they are, when they need assistance.
They use segmentation to personalize their outreach
Product-led customer success teams use segmentation to dig into user behaviors and deliver customized in-app messaging and guidance (or in some cases, human intervention) that’s appropriate for each user’s or account’s needs. For example, a CSM could create a segment to see which users within a new account haven’t yet completed onboarding or used a key feature. The CSM could then target those users with an in-app guide highlighting the benefits of that particular feature or demonstrating where users can find onboarding resources. Similarly, segmentation comes in handy for identifying at-risk customers and reducing churn. For example, if a customer submits a poor customer satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS), the CSM could cross-reference their product usage to understand where they’re getting stuck, then target them with remedial messaging or an offer for more hands-on guidance.
They support both paying customers and freemium users
Unlike traditional customer success which generally only supports paying customers, product-led CS teams understand the value—and immense opportunity—in supporting free or freemium users. They use the product as a selling tool by allowing users to experience its benefits first-hand, which creates a more compelling argument (and lower barrier to entry) when it comes time for an upgrade or upsell. This CS-supported freemium approach also gives users the chance to vet the product in-context and make sure it meets their expectations—which leads to better retention and a lower likelihood of customer churn down the road.
They collaborate with product to shape the future of the product
A key historic pain point for CS teams—particularly in large enterprises—is that CSMs feel as though they don’t have a say in the product’s future because they are largely disconnected from the feedback and development process. Product-led CS teams make it a priority to have a seat at the table, using data to understand customer engagement, and amplifying their customers’ feedback at scale. They also contribute to the product’s future direction by using the roadmap to have more strategic and informed discussions with their customers, creating a continuous loop of feedback that drives product innovation—and customer happiness.
The benefits of product-led customer success
A product-led approach has many benefits for customer success teams, including:
- Holistic and data-informed understanding of the entire customer journey
- Closer collaboration with product teams
- More effective onboarding, which drives faster (and stickier) adoption
- Fewer customer support tickets and requests
- Less friction in upsell and cross-sell conversations
- Increased customer retention and renewal rates
- Ability to engage with customers and collect feedback at scale
- Happier, more empowered CSMs
The product-led customer success tech stack
There are a number of tools, with varying levels of sophistication, available to help customer success teams become more product led. But in general, there are a few key solution categories most CS organizations should consider to round out their product-led tech stack.
Product analytics is a type of business intelligence software that captures and exposes usage patterns from digital products like web and mobile applications via event tracking, event properties, and event and property grouping. This data informs decisions about how to improve the product experience, increase engagement, and drive business outcomes. Product analytics is considered a form of quantitative data, and is critical to help ground any product-led organization’s understanding of the customer experience. In particular, CS teams can use product analytics to identify if and where customers are running into issues within the product so they can address them with in-app messaging or 1:1 human intervention.
Customer feedback is qualitative information provided by customers about their experience with a product or service—gathered through interviews, polls, surveys, and evergreen feedback requests. Its purpose is to reveal customers’ levels of satisfaction and to help product, customer success, and marketing teams understand where there’s room for improvement. In addition to 1:1 user research activities like interviews or focus groups, product-led teams collect feedback at scale, within the product itself. This in-app approach improves the quality and relevancy of the input they receive, and makes it easier for customers to share their ideas and requests within the context of their product experience. Product-led CS teams also clearly articulate how they use the data they collect through a Product Feedback Policy—so customers understand exactly how their ideas will be managed and used.
In-app messaging is a technical capability that allows a company to communicate with customers and users directly through the product by displaying lightboxes, tooltips, carousels, banners, and other messaging formats right inside the app. In-app messages can be used to help users get past friction points, support cross-sell and upsell initiatives, collect user feedback, and more. Because in-app messages are displayed while the user is actively using the product, they tend to have a higher response rate than push notifications or emails. Product-led CS teams work closely with their peers in product and marketing to devise clear in-app messaging strategies that support their adoption goals, spark delight, and effectively engage customers in the moments that matter most.
A product roadmap is a visual summary of a product’s direction. It helps the organization facilitate and scale communications with customers, prospects, partners, and internal stakeholders; and guides the future vision of the product. Roadmapping tools help product teams plan, create, and share their roadmaps—and sometimes include various levels of granularity (like swimlanes, initiatives, features, and requests) to help keep stakeholders organized and add useful context to items on the roadmap. The best product-led organizations integrate their roadmapping platform with their analytics and feedback tools. This helps product and CS teams better correlate customer requests, sentiment, and usage so they can make smarter decisions about where to focus their efforts and how to prioritize the roadmap. Most product-led organizations also make an internal version of their roadmap available across the company, which builds a more transparent and collaborative culture, and empowers customer-facing teams to have more informed conversations with their customers.
Product-led tactics for customer success teams
Check out these articles to learn more strategies and tactics to help your customer success organization become more product led:
- The KPIs of product-led customer success teams
- Why great onboarding is a strategic advantage for customer success teams
- How product-led customer success teams use customer feedback
- How product-led support improves the customer experience
- Using product-led strategies to improve customer retention and expansion
- How product-led companies build customer loyalty