Customer Success and Product: The Ultimate Customer Feedback Loop

October 13, 2021

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy

Customer Success is in the perfect position to gather customer feedback about your product. But, once they have it, what do they do with it? Is there a way for them to share feedback with your Product team? And, if CS does inform Product about a customer’s concerns or requests, does Product listen? Is there a way for these two critical groups to talk to each other without friction?

These are important questions for anyone to be asking if their goal is to create the best customer experience possible. Yet, for too many organizations, Customer Success struggles to get a seat at the table with the Product team. At best, without a streamlined, systematic approach for the two groups to work together, all the helpful customer feedback that CS collects goes to waste. At worst, you could end up with many unhappy customers waiting too long for major bug fixes or critical requests until they leave you for your competition (ouch!).

But we can do so much better than that! Customer Success teams have what it takes to break through these internal silos, and the invisible wall around Product is definitely one worth battering down.

The CSM product feedback cycle

When a CSM talks to their customers, naturally, any product-related issues are bound to come up. CSMs constantly receive requests for new features, changes customers would like to see made, and bug fixes. They want to help their customers in any way they can, but there is a downside to gathering feedback like this. The CSM can send this feedback along to Product or Engineering teams, but without a structured communication channel between Product and CS, the CSM has no way of knowing what’s happening with these requests. Then, the next time the CSM checks in with their customer, they want to know if there are any updates, and (shocker) the CSM doesn’t have an answer.

When a CSM gets trapped in this feedback cycle, they can’t do their deeper, relationship-building work or have in-depth conversations about strategic goals because they’re stuck in a rut talking about product features. By allowing surface-level issues to dominate the relationship rather than value realization and results in this way, your CSM could lose ground with their customers as they wait on Product for updates that may never come. Or your CSMs end up spending too much time researching individual features and workarounds, rather than proactively engaging with their book of business.

In this system, some organizations end up caught in reaction mode, leading to their highest-tier customers dictating the priorities of product updates and features. The product risks becoming a sort of Dr. Frankenstein-esque creation of mixed-up and tacked-on characteristics and capabilities that, ultimately, doesn’t make anyone happy.

Seeing things from Product’s point of view

On the other side, we have the Product Manager. Their role is extremely challenging because they have to balance all the different factors and competing priorities to manage their engineers’ time in the best way possible. They have finite resources to respond to practically unlimited requests. A Product Manager is perpetually negotiating several different responsibilities, all of which are vital to the product’s ultimate success.

A Product Manager has to:

  • Maintain the product itself, keeping it viable for current customers
  • Keep the product up-to-date with the latest technologies, rules and regulations, and cybersecurity measures
  • Look ahead at what’s new and cutting edge, making sure the product stays ahead of the competition
  • Deal with escalations, bug fixes, and feature requests
  • Find new market opportunities for growth

That’s a lot of priorities to juggle!

When you look at things from their point of view, you can see how difficult it can be to provide updates on every feature request and bug fix sent their way. It’s a Product Manager’s job to prioritize their engineers’ time between all of these goals.

Getting these two crazy kids together

So, how do we get Customer Success and Product working together to best meet our customers’ needs? One way is to build a formalized system for prioritizing all the customer feedback that CS collects so that Product has a clear understanding of what’s most important to least important from a CS (and customer) perspective. If your organization is simply shoveling all customer feedback to the Product team without cleaning it up or organizing it by priority, then taking that burden off of Product’s plate is step one.

For example, there are a number of tools on the market to help automate the customer feedback process so that it’s easier for both Customer Success and Product to gather and classify by level of importance. Some can be integrated into the website so that customers can easily submit their requests and even score them by their level of importance. The recommendations can then be made public, so other customers can vote on which features are most important to them. Tools like these help free CSMs from the product feedback cycle, so they can get back to having more valuable conversations with their customers.

Another big step in the right direction is working with the Product team to determine the percentage of time they will allocate to current customer needs. This could look like an agreement to dedicate, as an example, 25% of the engineers’ time in every sprint to customer requests. When everyone agrees to make this commitment, your Product Managers have an easier time managing the rest of their team’s priorities and predicting how long it will take to resolve customer issues in the future.

Ultimately, CS and Product need to find a balance between what customers say they want and what they really need. The only way to do that is to communicate and build connections between these two teams.