What I Learn About Working With Product in Customer Success

What I Learn About Working With Product in Customer Success

“That’s a known limitation, but I’ll share your feedback with our Product team.”

“You’re totally right, it does seem like things should work that way. I’ll ask our Product team to make that quick update.”

“I’ll pass that feature request on to our Product team. No, I don’t have an ETA on when I’ll be able to give you an update if we’re going to implement that or not.”

If you’re in Customer Success, how many times have you said some version of these?

Or, more telling, how often do you say things like this and then inwardly groan because you feel like you’re about to send a request into a black hole, never to be heard from again?

Flawed Perception

This perception makes many Customer Success teams dread working with Product. They feel that Product operates on their own schedule, totally apart from customers’ real experience.

The reality is that most Product teams are fantastic and care deeply about customers. Many Customer Success teams just don’t know the best way to work with this team. And when you don’t know how to work together, friction is the natural result.

Thankfully, this isn’t the only way. There are healthy ways for Customer Success and Product to work together, achieving more than either team could on their own.

After nearly a decade of working with various Product teams, here are 4 lessons I’ve learned about the CS <> Product relationship.

Lesson #1: Healthy Product orgs care as much about customers as CS does.

Product is not your enemy. Heck, they’re not even a roadblock.

That’s because Product teams care deeply about the product delivering business outcomes for customers. So they also care deeply about how CS helps customers do just that.

When a Customer Success team assumes that Product doesn’t care about customers or their feedback, they’ll naturally avoid Product as much as possible. They’ll view them as nothing more than an obstacle.

The reality is Product does care about customers and their feedback. What Product teams don’t care about are endless lists of feature requests devoid of context. That isn’t helpful to their long-term goals, or even the long-term goals of your customers.

How to act on this:

Instead of only reaching out to Product to share feature requests lobbed like grenades, try sending them these instead:

  • The outcome a customer is trying to achieve that they feel they currently can’t.
  • Outside the box wins your customers have with your product.

Both reframe your communications to keep outcomes and customers at the center.

Lesson #2: Product prioritizes far more than CS typically sees.

Even with lesson #1 being true, there’s a reason many CS teams believe Product doesn’t care about customers. That’s because Product can seem slow to act on feedback from customers or implement changes requested by Customer Success. Then this slowness gets mistaken for apathy.

The reality is Product is constantly triaging and prioritizing their time to meet needs coming from many different directions.

  • They're trying to balance the need to develop that killer new feature your biggest competitor just rolled out.
  • They’re trying to create functionality that Sales insist will close deals.
  • They’re trying to redesign the UI to match what the CEO has thought of as new company messaging.
  • They’re trying to synthesize customer feedback that they can’t quite quantify the impact of.
  • And on top of all that, they are just trying to have a roadmap of where they’re going for the next 6 months.

When you ignore all these competing priorities that Product is dealing with, you can unintentionally act like that one customer who thinks they’re the only one in your portfolio. That one that tries to monopolize all your time. We’ve all had that customer. So avoid being that customer to your internal partners like Product.

How to act on this:

Instead of sending feedback generically “from a customer”, try including this information instead:

  • ARR of the customer sharing feedback and level of risk associated with it.
  • The customer’s own words, whether a snippet of a call recording or in writing.

Both of these help your Product team as they prioritize revenue and business impact when making decisions.

Lesson #3: CS teams underestimate the complexity of product requests.

One of our most common biases as humans is to assume that everyone else’s job is easier than ours. Just take one look at LinkedIn and you’ll see many people sharing why their profession is the most difficult right now. We’re not immune to this bias in Customer Success.

When we do this, we assume that all our asks for Product are simple and easily implemented. “Why can’t we just move this widget to the bottom of the home page? It would be so much better!”

Since most of us haven’t been Product Managers, we underestimate just how complex and difficult to implement things can be. And so we get impatient with Product or assume incompetence.

The reality is that every change has a cost, even if it’s just the opportunity cost of time spent.

How to act on this:

When communicating with Product, try this:

  • Avoid using minimizing language such as “just, simply, quickly, easily” or similar phrases
  • Ask Product for an estimate on the complexity of a request

This will allow you to gain a better understanding of how much effort is required and enables Product to not feel diminished.

Lesson #4: Product teams need to hear positive feedback too.

Unfortunately, many CSMs understand how deflating it feels when we only hear negative feedback. They know how a customer that only complains can take the wind out of their sails with a single email. They know the feeling of a manager that rarely appreciates their work and only offers constructive criticism.

Yet as discouraging as that feels, CSMs can unintentionally have that effect on their Product team. They’ll only reach out to Product when they have a new request or something is broken.

Think about it: when was the last time you reached out to your Product team for something that wasn’t a request or to report a bug?

The reality is that the Product team is human. And just like the rest of us, only receiving negative feedback is incredibly demotivating.

How to act on this:

Find creative ways to give your Product team a shout-out:

  • When you close that tricky renewal, give a shout-out to the Product team for building something your customers want to use
  • When your customer accomplishes their desired outcome with your product, pass that feedback on to your Product team

Small steps like this can change the tone of the whole relationship between CS and Product.

A Powerful Partnership

The partnership between CS and Product doesn’t need to remain dysfunctional. When CS and Product work together, the results far exceed what either team could do on their own.

Here’s the good news: you don’t need to be a leader to implement these lessons. Even as an individual contributor, you can begin taking steps today.

And when you do, you’ll be surprised at the powerful partnership you can form.

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