The Challenge: Customer Success Happens Inside the Product
Think about how your organization is constructed. If your company is like most modern-day Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) houses, you have several independent teams—including a Product team and a Customer Success team. Each team has their own strategic goals, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and workflows. But each team is at least nominally dependent for help reaching those goals on two or three or even all of the other teams. Sales relies on Marketing for leads, Marketing relies on Customer Success for social proof and advocates, Customer Success relies on Product for usage data, and so on. We all know that organizational silos—and, crucially, data silos—harm overall efficiency, effectiveness, and cross-functional strategy, but what are you supposed to actually do about it? Dramatically change the KPIs and goals each team is optimized to achieve? Instead of Product teams aligned to deliver sticky new features, they work towards renewal and expansion goals?
Breaking down silos is an operational challenge that demands operational solutions. So in this guide, we'll lay out the overall pain points modern SaaS businesses are facing from the perspective of three stakeholders: Customer Success, Product, and most importantly, the customer. Then we'll take a look at solutions encompassing the three aspects of any operational strategy: people, process, and technology.
Customer Success Pain Points
If there's one underlying assumption to this guide, it's that the overwhelming majority of interactions customers are having with your company are happening inside the product.
There are all kinds of ways that your company can interact with customers, some within your control, some outside. Email channels, social channels, phone calls, events, and many more. They can even interact with your company's brand independently of any action you take! But day-to-day, where are the most consistent, most meaningful interactions taking place?
They're happening inside your product.
Every login, every load screen, every click of the mouse or swipe of a finger—each one is an opportunity for a great experience, a negative one, or a neutral one. Each interaction could help drive an outcome or detract. And each interaction is an opportunity for you to learn, collect feedback, improve, and report back what you did to the user.
But when we talk to many CSM teams, the feedback we get is often something like this:
"We have access to some customer data, but not usage data generated by the product."
"We conduct our training sessions over screen share and video conferencing. We don't do in-product training."
"Most of our one-to-one communication happens over email. Most of our one-to-many communication has to go through Marketing."
"We have great relationships with stakeholders and champions, but end-users have negative or neutral sentiment towards our company."
In short, your customer success strategy is limited because customer success is largely happening (or not happening) inside the product, but you don't have sufficient access to the product.
Product Pain Points
But it's not just a customer success problem. Product teams we hear from find themselves limited by their operational silos as well. Despite having robust access to usage data, in-product communication channels, and the most direct influence on the day-to-day user experience, Product teams often tend to struggle with one or more of the following:
- A lack of insight into customer's desired outcomes.
- A lack of access to health scores and account-level views.
- A lack of access to the customer community.
- An incomplete understanding of the overall customer experience.
- A lack of access to key stakeholders and decision-makers perspectives.
So even with more direct access to the customers, there are still major blind spots for most Product teams. It's because of this the customer success movement began in SaaS. If Product teams were able to do this on their own, there would be no need for customer success.
Someone needs to capture customer outcomes, devise a plan to achieve them, and proactively deepen and broaden the relationship. Unfortunately, too often CSMs are forced to stray from that charter just to fill in for gaps in the product.
Customer Pain Points
But that's entirely an internal perspective. Customer Success, Product—from the customer's point of view, you're all one company. Most people who work with SaaS vendors tend to be SaaS vendors themselves, so they know how the game works. But still, you can't count on people to give you a pass just because they themselves might have misaligned teams. Furthermore, customers aren't monoliths—most of them are made up of people who have different goals and strategies. They have employees that come and go, users at varying levels of maturity, and human beings who care about your company or product and many more (probably) who don't.
We always stress "outside-in" customer success—that is customer success primarily looked at from the customer's own point of view. Usually, we talk about this in the context of journey mapping, but it's worth mentioning more broadly as well. What your Product team thinks is a cool feature doesn't matter if the customer doesn't care. Your CSM team might think a lot about getting through implementation through onboarding to renewal and expansion, but your customer just wants to use the product to accomplish their goals—not your goals.
So let's take a minute and really get into the mindset of a customer.
It's not that hard! We're all customers of something. Here are some of our own experiences with vendors:
- We're under pressure from multiple points of contact—our CSM, their Marketing team, an Account Manager or salesperson whenever the renewal is coming up, the Product team may send an in-product message when there's a new release or feature, an ongoing email chain with a Support rep, and potentially several others.
- These communications sometimes contain mixed messages. Support has a workaround for a feature gap, but your CSM assures you what you want is on the next version release, but the Account Manager wants to upsell you on it.
- You're all just one homogenous company to them. You were an admin at your last company, but they're trying to onboard you the same as a brand new user. Or maybe you just joined the company, but as you're already onboarded, you don't have access to the training you need.
- You really need a specific new feature. Your CSM is telling you "soon," but you don't know whether that's this week, this quarter, or next year.
- You don't know who to contact to solve your problem—it's not your job to know who at your vendor is responsible for what thing! Your primary point of contact is your CSM, so when you encounter a bug, you reach out to them. But your vendor processes bugs through Support (even though it's Product who's responsible for fixing them). You need help with a feature, so you self-serve through Support, but it's really training you need. Who's responsible for that, though? CSM? Services? A training team? You have a feature request, but how do you even get in touch with the Product team. You post it in the community instead.
Okay, that turned into a rant, but it's a pretty universal (and universally annoying) experience to get the runaround from a well-intentioned but fragmented vendor. And unfortunately for vendors, that kind of experience more often than not leads to churn.