Close the loop

7 Min Read

Customer Success vs Product: Who should own customer feedback?

Did you know that it’s 25 times more cost-effective to retain existing customers than investing in new ones?

Yup, that’s right.

And that’s why customer feedback is one of the most powerful tools in your growth arsenal.

But unless listened to, and more importantly – acted on – it’s completely useless.

Typically, customer feedback lives in multiple tools across several departments. It’s in your email. It’s jammed up in Intercom. It’s on a Trello board somewhere. Spreadsheets. Oh god, the spreadsheets! And let’s not forget about Slack. Perhaps it’s in all of the above and then some?

Perhaps it’s not centralized at all. (Yikes.)

So this all begs the question: Who owns customer feedback?

With Product and CS both at the forefront of the customer experience, who should own customer feedback? Whose job is it to make sure customer feedback is collected, prioritized, and acted on so that you can close the feedback loop?

Let’s explore.

Customer Success: Your guiding light for growth

The 21st century has been dominated by one particular business model: the subscription-based model. It’s a model that (often) offers great flexibility for customers but poses a fair few challenges for businesses.

In order to retain and grow their customer base, businesses have to become Customer Success organizations before anything else.

This is when customer feedback becomes imperative. While anyone can run a CSAT, this is about taking a proactive approach to collecting, prioritizing, and delivering on customer feedback.

Customer feedback is your guiding light for growth. Or, as Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot puts it, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

Customer Success is the most valuable channel for customer feedback

Your CSMs are the face of your product. They will sit on some of the richest and most valuable information your company has. From interacting with customers over email, phone, in your customer community, and QBRs – they will have insights that go far beyond any data points the product team is analyzing.

Yes, this qualitative data from honest and transparent conversations with customers is your goldmine. As it so happens, this is the very beginning of the feedback loop.

Product: Going beyond data points

Most product teams will have some version of a product feedback loop in place. They collect data. They analyze product usage. They do user interviews. They improve features. They launch new and improved products. Customers start using them.

Huzzah! Success.

But that’s not always the case, is it? Many releases fall flat. Often, because there’s a lack of understanding as to what the customers truly need, how they actually interact with the product, and what they’re trying to accomplish when using it.

What tends to happen is, Product gets overwhelmed by data points. Or perhaps they’re suffering from that ever so common tunnel vision fueled by a prematurely established roadmap? But also, let’s not forget that the feedback from Customer Success can be unstructured and (very) contextual, making it difficult for Product to extract insights.

Ultimately, all of the above makes it hard to identify the value customers are looking for, and the big picture disappears. As a result, Product may end up building features customers never wanted in the first place. Worst case scenario? You lose customers.

So how do we solve this? Easy. Time for Product to think like their Customer Success peers.

Thinking like Customer Success

At this point, we all know that qualitative feedback, often more so than quantitative, is critical to the success of a product.

But Customer Success has a clear advantage over Product. They’re not hindered by an ever-growing product roadmap or product vision. Instead, they’re completely focused on the customer, the use case, and the experience the customer is having – and how that experience can be improved.

Now, what Product requires in order to fully understand their customers and be able to add value to their experience is (in theory) simple. And that’s for CSMs to not only have a full grasp of an experience, a problem, or the need for a specific feature – but also for them to communicate that effectively to Product.

Because how that customer feedback is shared with the Product team, is what separates the hyper-growth startups from the unicorns. It allows Product to think like Customer Success, and by doing so they can show customers that not only was their opinion valued, it was an integral part of the product development process.

Customer Success and Product: Closing the loop – together

What you’re trying to achieve is pretty straighfroward: You’re trying to improve the experiences that matter to your customers. The best way of doing that is for Customer Success and Product to work together.

A wise man once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.”

That man, of course, was Steve Jobs.

So, what exactly does that look like? Customer Success and Product working together to close the loop and deliver a better customer experience?

Here’s a high-level breakdown:

Customer Success: Collects and organizes customer feedback and shares with Product.

Product: Analyzes and prioritizes customer feedback and delivers requested features.

Customer Success: Closes the loop by letting customers know you’re working on delivering what they asked for.

Let’s take a look at how you can get started.

Establishing a Customer Success-driven feedback loop

Together, Customer Success and Product can close the loop on customer feedback by delivering the right features.

But how do you build a Customer Success-driven feedback loop? Here’s how you can get the feedback ball rolling:

Step 1: Identify the best way to collect and organize customer feedback, e.g in a customer community or a tool like Productboard. It’s important to choose a tool or process that’s easy to fit into the existing way of working in the Product team.

Step 2: Create a standardized and best-practice format for sharing customer feedback with Product. Make sure to always use the same format so there’s no confusion. Identify what information you need from customers to fully understand the feedback, and what business goals it would contribute to. You also need to define what information you need for the Product team in order to qualify the feedback or feature request. This will help you determine the importance of different types of feedback and help you communicate this to Product in the best way possible. For example, if Product requires you to come up with a high-level business case, it might be good to know the ARR that backs that specific feedback or feature request.

Step 3: Establish the best way to analyze and prioritize feedback, e.g by using a centralized feedback hub. This often turns into a discussion between Product and Customer Success, and can at times be a source of frustration. Most of it due to Customer Success feeling like they know exactly what the customer is going through as they’re in direct contact. Product, on the other hand, feels like they have the advantage when it comes to product knowledge, use cases and direction. Both are right, but this is exactly why they sometimes can’t see eye to eye as the customer can end up taking the backseat in these discussions. This is when you need to level the playing field by making sure that the actual discussion or feedback from the customer is given in an accessible and open environment for both teams. Other customers can participate, and both teams can help qualify feedback and requests before it’s discussed internally.

Step 4: Incorporate feedback into product roadmap and implement. Invite customers – especially the ones that gave the feedback – to participate in designated Beta groups to help your Product team make sure new features, bugs, or general product feedback is solved to full satisfaction.

Step 5: Close the loop by communicating product updates to customers. Always mention or reference the original idea or specific customer feedback that led to the update, and the customer that came up with it.

Step 6: Measure the success of new releases qualitatively and quantitatively. Send a customer satisfaction survey after the release, specifically to customers that were involved. It’s also a good idea to catch up with your customer advisory board, and specifically ask them about the newly released features or product updates. Finally, quantitative measurements could be through MAC (Monthly Active Customers) of the new product/feature, or adoption specifically.

Final words
The transition from an ad hoc customer feedback process to a well-oiled feedback loop where Customer Success and Product work in symbiosis won’t happen overnight.

But with the right technology, the right processes, and with a relentless focus on customer needs, Customer Success and Product can maintain a continued feedback loop that will deliver the value customers ask for.

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