How to Improve Collaboration Between Product and Customer Success

Product and customer success can be a powerful pairing that amplifies the voices of users.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Jan. 25, 2022
How to Improve Collaboration Between Product and Customer Success
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Peanut butter and jelly. Customer success and product. The first is a pairing known around the world, and the second is one that might make some in tech scratch their heads. Customer success is a revenue generating function and thus should be paired with sales. Product involves building new products and features and should work with the engineers who turn roadmaps into reality. However, drill down just a bit deeper and it’s easy to see the natural connection between CS and product: users.

Product builds the products and features that CS works to ensure users get the most value from. When the two orgs work closely together, an invaluable feedback and information loop is created. Close collaboration between CSMs and product managers enables customer feature requests to more quickly make it onto the product roadmap. Product managers with a direct line to the CSM department gain access to invaluable user data as well as a pool of power users for testing. Users win as their voices are amplified.

Customer success and product can be a powerful pairing, but getting the two departments to work closely together — and maintaining that collaboration — isn’t easy. The two teams work with different tools, measure success differently and are often already working closely with other departments. Overcoming these obstacles requires strategic thinking and an ability to see the forest for the trees. A product leader from OneView Commerce and a customer success leader from ChaosSearch recently told us how they both do just that.

 

Lauren Lepore
Vice President, Customer and Product Enablement • OneView Commerce

OneView Commerce has found a unique way to encourage collaboration between its customer success and product teams. Instead of siloing them off into different departments and making their leaders responsible for bringing the two teams together, both CS and product are in the same division and report to the same executive. Lauren Lepore, VP of customer and product enablement, shared how this has helped the two teams stay aligned and solve problems when their interests are at odds.

 

Tell us a bit about how your customer success and product teams work together. As a leader, how do you nurture this relationship?

Within our organization, product and CS are part of the same division and ultimately their leaders report to the same executive. For us, CS, product and design are a unit that work collaboratively and are each represented within the product direction. Over time we have learned that a structured process, clear ownership and continuous communication strengthens our relationship.
 

CS, product and design are a unit that work collaboratively and are each represented within the product direction.
 

What is the biggest challenge you see CS and product teams run into when working together? And how have your teams overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the customer’s needs are met while your product principles and strategic direction are still honored. In cases such as these, it’s my responsibility to make sure we are doing what is right for the customer and it is product’s responsibility to make sure we are doing what is right for our product, so our objectives may conflict. 

In cases such as these, we have learned to collaborate by taking a step back and really understanding what the customer is asking and most importantly why they are asking it.  By understanding “the why” we are better positioned to determine if there are alternative solutions that will achieve what the customer needs while still maintaining our core product principles.

 

What’s a strategy you’ve found to be particularly effective for creating and maintaining alignment among teams?

For our teams, successful alignment comes from great communication — both through meetings and documentation and ad-hoc forms like Slack groups, direct messages, huddles and calls channels — across the lifecycle of a feature. These channels focus on the following.

First, there is refinement and design, or understanding a customer or internal feature request where outputs are a functional specification. This includes Asana projects, including all documentation, notes, research, key decision trackers, client feedback, approvals and high-fidelity designs of UI and user experience. This provides transparency and creates a consistent understanding of a feature’s direction.

Secondly, product refinement, which centers on product approval and includes product, CS and design. Architecture refinement is also included and is about architecture approval and detailed requirement reviews with the scrum team assigned to development. Then there’s development. Here, product, CS and the scrum team have open lines of communication, with Slack used for immediate questions and calls used for clarifying complex implementations or edge cases that might have come up during the refinement design stage.

We refine and add channels for continuous communication, which is essential for successful products.

 

 

Eric Sherrill
Senior Customer Success Engineer • ChaosSearch

ChaosSearch takes a practical approach to getting customer success and product to work together. Eric Sherrill, senior customer success engineer, said this approach is rooted in a culture that encourages team members to have each other’s backs and lend a hand where they can. This team-first mindset helps the CS org ensure that its customers across the United States and in Europe can always find the support they need despite the fact that the team itself is spread across three time zones.

 

Tell us a bit about how your customer success and product teams work together. 

I think since we are a fairly small and flat organization, we typically work together very well. We collaborate primarily in Slack channels and Zoom meetings, both internally and externally, as needed. I’m not really ready to consider myself a leader yet — I just started here in September, after all — but I try to make myself as available as possible, especially during regular business hours. I feel that Dave Armlin, our VP of solution architecture and customer success, leads by example here. He is super busy, but makes time to pitch in wherever he’s needed.
 

I think since we are a fairly small and flat organization, we typically work together very well.
 

What is the biggest challenge you see CS and product teams run into when working together? How have your teams overcome it?

One challenge that affects us is the fact that we cover so many time zones with relatively few people. Just in CS alone, we have people living in the eastern, central and pacific time zones. Dealing with customers, especially in Europe, can be even more challenging time-wise. We overcome it by being flexible, pitching in, helping each other out when people need breaks and covering for each other when issues happen. I think everybody in management and HR have been clear that our health, well-being and families take priority and that the rest of the company will keep on going until we get back.

 

What’s a strategy you’ve found to be particularly effective for creating and maintaining alignment among teams?

One of the strategies we use is to have short daily customer standup meetings with both the CS and product and engineering teams. These are well-attended and help literally keep us all on the same page: We use a shared screen and group edit a Google doc to keep live meeting minutes. I have volunteered to do the minutes lately as I’m a fairly quick typist, which helps to keep the conversation flowing and the meetings wrapped up on schedule. I also find that I have to pay attention to everybody, not just my own team or specific customers. On a similar note, I enjoy our regular companywide town halls; they help foster camaraderie, and keep us up to date with new hires, company news, and more.

 

 

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