Over the past few years, we’ve been keeping our eye on an incredibly positive trend in the most successful companies: closer, more collaborative relationships between Customer Success and Product teams.
At Gainsight, we believe it’s vital for these teams to partner— we always have, always will. And now, we’re seeing more and more companies recognize that neither team can drive success by themselves. It’s only by working together that your business can grow and thrive.
Our founder, Nick Mehta, who believes that Customer Success and Product teams should be “BFFs,” hopped onto LinkedIn recently to take the temperature of the market and see where leaders think their companies are on a maturity curve:
- Level 0: No relationship; all communication goes via Zendesk/Jira
- Level 1: A culture of collaborating, but only on escalated clients
- Level 2: Good alignment on key clients and product needs; take a more proactive approach
- Level 3: A few shared projects (e.g., NPS, onboarding)
- Level 4: Teams share KPIs and other important metrics (e.g. adoption)
- Level 5: The teams are partners and BFFs and naturally bring each other into conversations
The responses to Nick’s post were both lively and illuminating and confirmed that our calling this a “megatrend” is not an overstatement! “This connection [between CS and Product teams] is no [longer] a “good to have” but a “must-have” for customers and cloud businesses to be successful,” said Tarun Luthra, a Head of Product Support and Global Vice President of Customer Experience.
That wasn’t the only important insight we heard. Here are other important themes we saw in the lively conversation.
1. A Strong (and Codified) Partnership Increases Product Adoption Rates
While sales teams may be out front when bringing in new customers, it’s the all-important partnership of CS and Product teams that helps retain them by making sure customers understand how to get the most out of your products. “CS teams are the voice of the customer for the product team, and once the products are released, are the champions of adoption,” said Samrat Tandon, a Global Vice President of Customer Success. In fact, Tandon goes one step further: “[The] CS team should be the engine of growth for new products/features.”
“[It’s important to] have a structured feedback process for product roadmap and development, as well ongoing feedback for improvements for increasing adoption and value,” said Toolika Kapur, a Global Vice President of Transitions & Empowerment Programs.
2. Communication + Accountability Is the Ultimate Equation for Success
Traditional corporate structures keep teams in siloes. But that just doesn’t work anymore, especially when it comes to the pivotal roles Customer Success and Product teams play in a business. Communication and accountability—between both teams—is key. “Too often there is finger-pointing and/or radio silence,” said one Head of Customer Experience at a private SaaS company. “[Companies] can craft all the procedures and escalation paths in the world, but until product owners and developers buy-in, there will continue to be a breakdown in the way [customer experience] is delivered on the front lines.”
3. A Dedicated Role To Act as a Bridge Between Teams Can Be Helpful
To make sure the lines of communication stay open, some companies have created a dedicated “customer whisperer” role as a bridge between CS and Product teams. “We have the Outbound Product Management role, which creates this type of bridge,” said Cesar Castro, a Senior Director of Outbound Product Management. “We focus on adoption, product feedback, customer engagement (through advisory boards) and more.”
Some companies take it a step further and actually integrate CS and Product. “My customer success team reports within the product management team,” said Carrie Harris, a Manager for Customer Success. “It’s like having a hotline for the voice of the customer into our products.”
4. A Good Partnership Increases Organizational Efficiency
The relationship between CS and Product isn’t just about improving the bottom line. It’s about making day-to-day processes more streamlined and, well, more joyful. “The ability to share feedback with Product so they can hear it from the customer themselves and [then] incorporate it into the roadmap…is so helpful,” said Matt Biggerstaff, Manager of Commercial Customer Success at Gong. “It saves time on the CS side and is much clearer and actionable for the product team than my poor attempts to explain what the customer wants, needs, or wishes our product had.”
5. It’s Important to Keep the Conversation Going
The type of partnerships we’ve seen be most successful are ones that are mutual, ongoing, and integrated into the way a company does business—every day. “[It’s important that CS has] a recurring seat in more strategic conversations with other field teams and product on the product roadmap and direction,” said Chad Greenleaf, a Senior Vice President of Client Services. “This is a bi-directional, strategic, [and] preferably quarterly conversation that helps Product benefit from the latest and best insights and feedback from CS and sales on customers wants and needs.”
Gainsight’s Director of Customer Success Strategy, Courtney Hauser, agrees. “To me ‘naturally bringing each other into conversations’ in Level 5 means a humming operating rhythm between CS & Product to support every point in the product development lifecycle, including feature development and roadmap prioritization,” she said.
6. The Journey Is Never Over
Like everything in business, this relationship is ever-changing and always evolving. But the end goal remains the same: providing a better experience for customers.
“The good news about customer success maturation is that we’re never done,” said Donald Hammons, a Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President. “Customers win when they know we’re laser-focused on always improving and focused on the value uplifts we can provide to them.”