When making prioritization decisions, product managers often rely on the data that’s most accessible: the customer calls they’ve participated in, the CSMs they’ve spoken to, the notes, videos, and quotes included in tickets. They collect as much information as they can to make the best possible decisions—but without structured help from the customer success team, their data is incomplete.
It’s the CCO’s job to build an intentional relationship and process with their peer in product so the right customer requests are being prioritized. And to do that, the CCO needs to put in place four foundational elements for their team:
- Shared goals & KPIs,
- CSM training for gathering and tagging feedback,
- A formal mechanism for collecting and sharing customer requests, and
- Regular communication channels.
Align on shared goals with Product
Customer Success is too often thought of by the Product team as a “speed bump” along the way to enhancing the platform. What the Product Manager really wants is to roll out features they think are good for the long-term success of the business but, from their POV, they keep having to triage all this other “stuff” that current customers want. In many cases, it is the CCO who needs to insert themselves and redirect this misconception by helping the Product team view Customer Success as an asset, not as a burden.
The first step is for the CCO to help CSMs understand the Product teams’ goals and responsibilities. Similar to Customer Success, PM’s are responsible for delivering value to existing customers. But they’re also responsible for value delivered on the future roadmap—where the company is headed. Customer Success has to approach conversations with the understanding that 1. “existing customers'' are only part of what the Product team is thinking about and, 2. also like Customer Success, they too forecast the expected outcomes of their efforts.
With that understanding, the CCO can work with the CPO to define what “value delivered” means for existing customers. For some companies, that may mean “are we handling bugs that we promised we’d fix,” or “are we delivering features that customers say they need in order to renew or invest further.” The CCO and CPO should sit down together to define what exactly they’re both working towards on behalf of existing customers, with the goal of this alignment being that their teams will have visibility into their respective work-paths.
Train CSMs on how to collect feedback from customers
Untrained CSMs have the tendency to over-communicate product feedback and over-promise on the timing for solutions. Not every feature or piece of feedback is critical, of course, and frankly not every customer is either. But properly trained CSMs can help a company consistently collect and use this feedback to improve its products.
To be an effective partner to Product, the Customer Success team has to be in sync cross-functionally with all of its internal partners (ie Marketing, Sales and Product) around how it collects and communicates customer requests. Requiring the CS team to use the same process, tools and language around these requests will move the needle in building a good partnership.
There are two parts to training CSMs on how to appropriately collect feedback. A good starting point is enabling them to ask the right questions, then follow by coaching the team to capture the types and categories of feedback with awareness of how they relate to the company goals.
Ask the right questions
It’s important for CSMs to know how to ask questions to get to the root of a problem. Otherwise, they risk collecting unvalidated, unnecessary feature requests.
Here’s a high level script of questions that CSMs can ask to uncover an underlying issue when a customer shares an idea for a new product feature (beginning with “Thank you for identifying a new product feature that would be valuable to you, tell me a little more…”):
- Are there specific teams, workflows or use cases you have in mind?
- How do you expect the way you’re using the product today would change should this feature be introduced?
- Beyond describing the features’ functionality, can you explain what problem will be solved if we implement this feature?
- What roles on your team would be most positively impacted by this enhancement, and why?
- Is there a goal you’re responsible for that this new feature would help you reach more easily?
- Can you share your screen and walk me through how you are interacting with the product and point out an example of where you think this feature would add value in the part of the platform you already use?
- What if we did not create this feature? How would it impact your ability to use the product?
These questions will help the CSM understand where the customer is coming from and will almost always surface insights that were not included in the original request. There should also be exploration and expectation-setting around the case that the feature requested is not created. CSMs should aim to record the conversation with the customer so they can share it with the product team.
This type of training can happen in enablement sessions for the CSMs, if not already embedded in the onboarding or performance management process.
Tag the types and categories of customer feedback
Coach the team to document the “type” and “category” of customer feedback.
“Types” of customer feedback include that which is given, requested, and observed.
- Given customer feedback includes the types of feedback your customers are proactively sending in (via in-app messages, on customer calls, etc.) without being asked or encouraged to do so.
- Requested customer feedback is all feedback or suggestions are asked for. (e.g., NPS, onboarding feedback, reviews, surveys, or in-person interviews.)
- Observed customer feedback is the feedback you get from monitoring how customers interact with your products, the paths they follow, and the documentation they read.
After identifying the type of feedback, team members should tag the “category” of feedback, which might include:
- Feature requests, meaning requests for new features or functionalities
- Product pain: Customer is having trouble using a feature
- Bug: Something is broken, slow, or not intuitive
- Education pain: A feature or workflow is not documented, or existing documentation needs to be improved
- Unaware/hidden options: meaning a customer requested something that already exists in the product—these instances need to be tracked to improve onboarding
- Billing: Any billing issues customers have
Using a consistent tagging mechanism across the customer success team will help the product team quickly understand tasks. The “category” may be broader or narrower depending on your company’s product complexity and its customer’s experience, but the agreement between the Product and CS teams will ensure clarity along the feedback loop.
Add the data Product needs to prioritize bugs and features
Product shouldn’t be doing all the legwork in triaging features requested by customers. Rather, Customer Success—the people with the most precise understanding of the customers’ needs and use cases—should play a much larger role in how those requested features are prioritized.
Here are the core elements of a formal customer feedback process.
1. Have a single source of truth
When customer-facing teams have an open channel to submit feature requests at any given time, it can be difficult for product leaders to comb back through, surface all the requests, and then triage the projects based on the information they have.
The quickest win for product leaders is, therefore, to encourage customer-facing teams to have a single place where they can document and update all their feature requests.
It’s also a win for Customer Success leaders because having a single dashboard for customer feedback helps ensure that nothing gets lost or buried.
2. Track account size(s) and impact associated per request
In the same document, customer-facing team members should include the account size and expansion opportunity associated with each request.
Many teams include the reach a feature has when submitting the request, meaning the number of customers the change will impact within a given time period. When you sell into a wide range of company sizes or offer enterprise options, it’s important to also include the account size of each company that is requesting each feature.
To take “impact” a step further, customer-facing teams can include a severity rating for each request. In other words, how painful is this problem?
Each request would include a severity rating on a scale of “this isn’t an important problem” to “I’m on fire, please put out the fire.”
Bringing this information together—the account size, number of accounts, and impact associated with each feature request—can help product leaders start to get a feel for the weight of each task.
3. Track account health and renewal dates
Product leaders also need to get a sense of the risk associated with not doing any given task. A good way to track risk is for Customer Success teams to document the account health and renewal date associated with each customer feature request.
Many teams have their own calculations for account health that consider variables like product usage and customer sentiment.
Customer health scores can be even more informed if customer-facing teams are answering the following questions:
- Problem – Does the product solve a severe, ongoing problem for the customer?
- Features – Does the product have the features necessary to solve the problem?
- Usability – How simple, fast, and intuitive are the features?
- Reliability – Do the features work consistently?
Together, the answers to these questions can help Product and Success teams get a more complete picture of customer health (and customer risk).
Then, the team members submitting the request can also take note of the customer’s renewal date. That information, coupled with account size and account health, gives product leaders a solid understanding of the urgency of each request.
A report that pulls together the account size, impact, account health, and renewal date associated with each feature might look something like this:
Incorporate "effort" and prioritize features that maximize renewal rate
With a complete understanding of the most critical customer-requested features, product leaders can then incorporate a total estimate of the effort associated with building each project (including the total amount of time estimated from team members in engineering, design, and product). Some teams recommend estimating this as “a number of ‘person-months’ – the work that one team member can do in a month.”
Product leaders can take the customer feedback document and their estimates of the effort required to complete each feature, and strategize with their peers in Customer Success to identify which features need to be built to maximize the company’s renewal rate and revenue.
Close the loop: Let customers know if their request has been prioritized
Once a feature has been prioritized, product leaders can track those prioritizations decisions (and progress) in the same dashboard that the Success team uses to aggregate data about requests.
This creates a simple process for customer-facing team members to facilitate a “discussion” between Product and the customer—even if Product is never communicating directly with that customer.
Customer-facing team members should let customers know if and when the request has been prioritized, and when it has been completed. This ultimately creates a win-win scenario where customers feel that their opinion not only matters but is truly influencing the product, and it gives the Product team critical insight into the outcomes the customer is looking for with each request.
Meet with Product weekly to make prioritization decisions
The final building block to helping Product prioritize customer needs is to build in a regular “value drip.” The CCO needs to find a way to bring value to the CPO every week, intentionally. If the two have defined “value delivered” for existing customers as “whether we’re delivering features that customers need to renew,” then the CCO needs to share useful data for the CPO to achieve that. Data about what features are needed, who is requesting them, and how important they are all areas the Product team wants to know about.
So whether it’s a weekly email or meeting, giving Product a regular readout on what Customer Success is hearing and tracking that’s relevant to hitting their shared goals will build trust between the teams. It’ll make the Product team start viewing Customer Success as an ally.
The intersection of Product Management and Customer Success
When Product can lean on Customer Success to proactively collect, tag, and aggregate customer feedback, this can save a lot of valuable time for product leaders and ensure the product team is making the best possible prioritization decisions. Pair that with a foundation of trust created from having shared goals and regular communication, and Product and Customer Success have a powerful partnership that together works to improve the customer experience and maximize business outcomes.
Nick Paranomos is the Cofounder and CPO at ‘nuffsaid. He has over 10 years of experience in strategy, operations, product, and marketing for tech companies.
Megan (White) Bowen is the CCO at Refine Labs. Previously, Megan was the VP of CS at Platterz and the COO at Managed by Q.
Jeff Justice Williams is the Enterprise Lead - Customer Success at Box. Previously, Jeff was the Global VP of CS and Support at Stack Overflow, and led CS teams at WeWork and Dropbox prior to that.
Angela Guedes is the Head of Customer Success at Belvo. Previously, Angela was the Head of Customer Engagement at Typeform.
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