customer success and product header
Linda Formichelli

Linda Formichelli

Creating Powerful Collaborations Between Customer Success and Product Teams


The March Humans of Customer Success Community Hour tackled the question of how product and customer success teams can collaborate to drive overall company growth.

Our discussion leaders were:

  • Conor O’Mahony, Chief Product Officer at Klaviyo, an email and SMS marketing platform for online businesses.
  • Kristen Yerardi, VP of CS and Product at Randori, an automated attack platform that’s solving some of the toughest problems in security at scale.
  • Shonak Patel, a growth consultant who recently started up the Customer Experience organization at the in-app user engagement platform Appcues.
  • Jonathan Tushman, Co-Founder and CEO of Quala, the most intuitive Customer Success Platform with the quickest time to value, that combines the voice of the CSM with customer usage data for a clearer view of customer health.

These discussion leaders have been part of early, mid-stage, and later-stage companies. All managing SMB, mid-market, and enterprise-level customers—so no matter what stage company or what type of customers you’re working with, you’ll find helpful, relevant information that you can start using today.

Read on for a wrap-up of the call, or watch the whole thing here.

Aligning The CS and Product Teams’ North Star Metrics

If your organization is struggling, it could be because your product and CS teams’ North Star metrics are in misalignment with one another—or with the customer. Here’s how to get the teams back in sync.

Shonak: For product in B2B SaaS, speed is everything. Time to value early on is very important. So I look at product’s job as removing friction and making it really easy to adopt the product and achieve the outcome.

In CS, it’s all about helping the customers with the process of adopting the product to achieve the outcome. Because even if the UX is amazing, you’re still asking people to change their internal process. And that change can be dramatic. CS is charged with a lot of change management early on—all in support of helping people find that value very quickly.

quote from shonak patel on customer success and product

Jonathan: CS and product are probably the two most challenging roles in the organization. They have so many different masters, so many people they need to please. It’s not just the customers—it’s the sales organization, it’s the marketing organization, it’s the CEO, it’s the board. I used to joke that I wanted to wear a T-shirt and hat around the office that said “Disappointing Everybody.”  You can’t please everybody, so you try to disappoint everybody the least. 

Product owns two main things: the roadmap, and a ranked sort order of what the team is executing on and what they should be working on next.

Then, with customer success, there’s the phrase “the whole product.” You start off with a piece of software, and the software itself is not the full solution. Customers need to know what the roadmap is, and they might need some consulting services. Customer success helps fill that gap to satisfy the needs of the customers when the product itself is not doing what the product needs to do as a full promise.

kristen yerardi quote on the product roadmap

Kristen: Customers look at the product as the company, not just as the thing that they’ve actually purchased that they log into every day. So understanding all the touchpoints is important in customer success, because they’re the ones that receive that feedback from the customer. 

I saw a great visual of a “backward prism” that illustrated this. Instead of the white light going into the prism and all the colors refracting out, it was the opposite: it was all of the colors of the company going in. So you’ve got sales, you’ve got customer success, you’ve got product—all these different inputs into the product and outcomes.

The product roadmap—which really is the communication vehicle for the strategy of the company—also gets broken down into the tactical pieces so that the entire company has the whole view. Paying attention to it is super important.

conor omahony quote

Conor: When I first joined Klaviyo, our mission was simple: it was to help our customers grow. The first two years I was there, our company goal revolved around how much money our customers made that was directly attributable to us. That was our North Star. At every company meeting, we would start with that number. Customer success teams have quarterly business reviews, but we turned them into quarterly growth reviews because we were helping our customers grow. 

The product team oriented around how we could help our customers grow, too. So the teams were aligned, but the scope of reference for the teams was a little different. The scope of reference for a customer success team is the customers, and the scope of reference for a product team is broader—because it also needs to look at people who are not customers yet, and might even be looking at other segments or solutions.

Product Is from Mars, Customer Success Is from Venus

CSMs, engineers, and the product team have very different viewpoints—and helping them all understand one another opens the door to powerful collaborations.  

Conor: A lot of us have some sort of NPS score. Where is that owned? Is that owned by customer success? Is that owned by product? Is it owned by the entire company?

If you look at the comments that come back in NPS surveys, you’ll see that they span every touchpoint. So if everybody takes the viewpoint that they own NPS…and the NPS comments go into, say, a Slack channel…and everybody checks that channel every day…this ensures that there’s vitality in the reaction to those feedback loops. This can actually help break down some of the silos that might otherwise be naturally formed within an organization. It’s such a complex web, and everybody across the functions has got to be in the same boat rowing together in order to make it all work.

jonathan tushman quote on customer success

Jonathan: I actually think a lot of the DNA of the engineers, product, and customer success is quite different. I find engineers and product to be very sensitive, reactionary folks; when they produce software, they’re initially insecure about it. Every bug announced is a little dagger to their heart, and it can distract them and slow them down.

Customer success is really good at interfacing with customers—hearing and listening and capturing things—but if there is a constant flow of bug requests, it can potentially become debilitating to engineering. So it’s super important for customer success to be fully empathetic to the engineers and the product organization, and vice versa.

I find a lot of dysfunction in these two functions, because they’re not really putting themselves in the other people’s shoes. The engineers are not seeing that the CS team is being berated because the engineer missed a delivery or pushed a certain feature.

And on the flip side, customer success often doesn’t see that the engineers and the product organization do really care about delivering a high quality product, and they need some focus time to do it. So as engineering organizations evolve, the ones that do it well really shine a light on how other people think and operate.

Kristen: The point on empathy is huge. You should assume that everyone’s coming to the table with positive intent. I don’t think there are many people out there who have encountered someone who nefariously tried to release something with a bug. The reason some of our companies do so well is that we all care personally about the success of the company and the customer.

One of the things I used to hear from product managers was, “I just want to hear the problem…they always tell me the solution.” Well, they’re human! They don’t think in problem statements the way you’ve trained yourself to. We all inherently want to solve something. So you need to ask questions to get at what they were trying to do that made them come up with that solution. Then you can get to the crux of the problem. 

If you start to see some of those ripples underneath the waves on the surface, trying to understand and correct them quickly really allows collaboration to happen in a great way.

shonak patel cs and product quote

Shonak: My role before this was in sales. For early stage teams, I put on the hat of almost being a BDR for the product team—setting up conversations, keeping them close to the customer. I would tell my CS team that our job is to get “at bats” for the product team, meaning interactions that are relevant to what is on the roadmap.

When Product and CS Collide

A CS Community Hour member was in a tough position when the product team didn’t have the bandwidth to work on product requests from customers. The solutions from our discussion leaders: clear communication, empathy, and letting the product team in on (not too many) customer calls.

Kristen: Customer feedback is business critical. The CS leader can ask what product is working on, what makes it mission critical, and how long will the team be focused there. Then ask if there’s any way to work together to understand what customers really need next so the CSMs can give customers a timeline on when some of these major issues can be solved. 

Do it with empathy. Try to understand the bounds of what they’re telling you they have to do, and find out where there might be an opportunity to either piggyback on what they’re doing or peel off some work in order to keep some things going.

When I worked at WordStream, we had a hard time doing any bugs for customers. So what we ended up doing was saying, “Hey, if you’re doing two-week sprints, can we reserve 20% of the tickets in that sprint to be customer-focused issues? That way you still get things done on the roadmap, but we can at least start to handle some of these high priority bugs.” 

kristen yerardi customer feedback quote

Jonathan: Have somebody from product engineering actually get on a call with a customer and feel the pain with you. Hearing it from you versus hearing it directly from the customer are two completely different things. I guarantee that if this person is showing up on a call with the customer next week, the problem will be fixed by that time.

Sonci: Putting the product and engineering leaders on calls with customers is so good because it lets them hear the customer voice. But once they’re locked into that relationship, they might actually derail some of the larger company goals because of that connection. So use this tactic sparingly. 

Conor: I want to call out something from the chat, which is that whether you use Gong or Chorus, sending little segments of calls to the product team, as appropriate, can be incredibly effective.

There was so much more to this compelling conversation; to learn more, watch the whole call on YouTube and read the transcript below.

 

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Sonci:

Hello, everyone. Hi, welcome.

Jenna:

Hello, hello.

Shonak:

Hello, thank you.

Sonci:

Thanks for joining us.

Tony Cappuccitti:

Afternoon.

Jenna:

Hello, Tony.

Sonci:

It’s so good to see everyone’s faces. Awesome. Well, welcome everyone to Humans of Customers Success. I was reminded this morning that this is our eighth community hour. We first launched the community back in April of last year, and it’s been awesome to see so many of you joining calls month after month, hanging out, spending an hour with us. Humans of Customer Success is supported by Quala.io and every human being that you see here, so thanks for attending.

Sonci:

We’re going to take a few moments. Jenna is letting everyone into the room here from the waiting room. While she’s doing that, you’ll notice everyone is on mute. But feel free to use the chat to introduce yourself if you would like. We’re also going to be serving up a poll here in just a moment. You’ll see it in front of you. One big piece of feedback that we got from our last community hour is, one, people are looking to connect one-on-one with community hours, or community hour members, and have discussions after the call. Hey, Krista. We want to give you a way to do that, but we want to know what forum you might like. We have a few that we’ll be serving up. You can let us know whether it’s Slack, whether it’s Clubhouse, whether it’s Donut. Just let us know.

Sonci:

Then another piece of feedback that we heard was asking more live questions on the actual call. We are going to take some time at the end, probably around, let’s see, 12:40. And then let you just ask, actually ask questions live. You can just raise your hand. We’ll call you up to the stage and then you can ask away. We’ll keep the last five minutes to just do a wrap up. You don’t have to hold your questions to the end. You can actually chat them and we’ll riff on those, or you can wait until the very end of the call if you would like. Choose your own adventure. Then let’s see. Okay, so let’s get started. I think we have a good amount of people here.

Sonci:

This discussion that we have today is part of an ongoing series. We had a call two community hours ago I want to say. It was focused on sales and customer success. We want to spin one up that’s around marketing and customer success. But for this one specifically, it’s all about product and CS. Helping us better collaborate together and drive overall company growth. If you’re interested in past community hours, or if you want to join future community hours, you can go to Quala.io, Q-U-A-L-A.io. You can click the link. It’s all the way at the bottom of the page. Or Jenna, maybe you can actually chat the Humans of CS signup page that we have. Awesome, thank you.

Sonci:

Okay, so let’s see. Let’s introduce our panelists. If everyone can wave, we have Kristi. Kristen, sorry. We have Jonathan, we have Conor, and then where are you? There you are, Shonak. They are all leaders in their own right who have been at the helm of product and CS teams, both. It’s a pretty unique combination. We don’t see that hybrid very often. If we could just have you first introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your company, and a little bit maybe about your mission there. That would be a good way for us to kick off. Kristen, why don’t I kick it over to you first?

Kristen:

Sounds good. Thanks, Sonci. Hi, everyone. Nice to meet you all. I’m Kristen Yerardi. I’m the VP of Product at a company called Randori. We are in the cybersecurity space. We focus on building a product that helps continuous automated red team, so it’s called CART, along with the attack surface management piece, which is ASM. Our customers are typically enterprise customers wanting to continuously run red team activities to help ensure that they remain resilient in the face of an attack. Because it’s not about if they’ll get attacked, it’s really about when. Our product helps company practice. That’s actually where the name Randori comes from. If anyone knows jujitsu or martial arts, it’s about the practice of Randori.

Kristen:

We currently have just one customer success manager as part of the team. However, we plan to scale that. Prior to Randori, I was actually at a company called WordStream, where I was head of customer success for about seven and a half years. We had about 125 to 130 SMB customers per CSM at that company.

Sonci:

Awesome, thank you for joining us today.

Kristen:

Thank you for having me.

Sonci:

Yeah. Let me kick it over to Conor. Tell us a little bit about you, and about your company, and about the mission that you have there.

Conor:

Sure. I’m Conor O’Mahony, Chief Product Officer at Klaviyo. Klaviyo provide email and SMS marketing capabilities. Our mission is to empower creators to own their own destiny. Those creators span all the way from entrepreneurs, all the way up to multimillion dollar brands. It’s kind of interesting. They span a big range of types of customers. We’ve got now 204 people in our customer success arc. When I started, I believe it was in the teens. So, quite a lot of growth over the course of two and a half, three years.

Conor:

We span, as I said, very small customers up to very large. The ratio of customers to customer success manager varies depending on the segment. It goes, on the highest side, one customer success manager to 20 accounts, down to about one customer success manager to 80 accounts on the lower end. Then we’ve got a huge pool that we manage through our growth team that operate at scale. I’m, yeah, chief product officer when joining. I had a conversation with the CEO. We talked about synergies, and I actually made a case that there’s a real great synergy between customer success and product. I can talk a little bit more about that as we get on in the call, but near and dear to my heart, I think the two go together like… put your favorite analogy together.

Sonci:

Amazing. Awesome, and then Shonak.

Shonak:

Hey, everybody. My name is Shonak. Everyone calls me Nak, and you definitely can too. I’ve been involved with early stage startups from pre-C all the way up to series B for the last decade. I’ve helped a lot of the go to market roles. When you’re working at the early stage, it means you’re very, very actively involved with product. Most recently, I’m coming off of starting up the customer experience organization at Appcues. I’m no longer there, but I was brought in three years ago to start up CS basically from the ground up. There was only one team member there, Jackie, who is on the call actually. I just saw her chat in there.

Shonak:

Basically, at Appcues, we were working with subscription businesses. Similar to Conor we, not quite the scale of Klaviyo, but we dealt with the whole range of customer segments all the way from one to two person startup teams all the way up to Twilio, Pinterest, a couple companies. We actually had to do a pretty segmented approach from the ground up. I had a kind of velocity CS motion, which was one to many. About 70% of our customers, but only 30% of our revenue. Then we had a kind of mid level, slight tech touch CS where there was a named account onboarding. The ratios there were one CSM to 80. Then an enterprise motion, which was more one to 30, one to 40. I had to develop all that very much from the ground up. Switch the motion from very reactive to a little bit proactive, and use a lot of data and collaboration with product along the way.

Sonci:

That’s awesome. Before I kick it over to you, Jonathan, I just want to call out, if you haven’t noticed already, we have teams. Leaders of teams that have been part of early, mid stage, and later stage companies. And also managing SMB, mid market, enterprise level customers. Hopefully this is a really good panel to set the tone where no matter the stage of company that you’re working with or the stage of team, we’ll have a POV that might be helpful to the cause for you. Jonathan, without further ado, last but not least, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Jonathan:

Hey, everybody. Thanks so much for having me here. I am Jonathan. I’m the CEO of Quala. My path into customer success was kind of accidental. My previous experience, I see Brian Stevenson here on the call, but I was running engineering at a firm called Insight Square in Boston. A year into my tenure there, out of the blue, I had the opportunity to take over the customer success function. I never fell in love with a new set of people as quickly as I did with the practitioners in customer success. The last couple of years, I was focused on… really focusing on engineering, and products, and sprints, and hiring, and retaining engineers. Then the next day, I landed in customer success. I was back with these people who were talking to customers six to eight hours a day in this really empathetic way, really listening to the customers. I just really fell in love with these people.

Jonathan:

Insight Square was a VI platform. Our ratio there was roughly 20 to 30 companies per CSM. Falling in love with the people and seeing their toolkit, I fell in love with the space. I wanted to start a company with Sonci, and that’s what we did with Quala to help really combine qualitative and quantitative. This human aspect of customer success and helping people bring that to their organization and really scale. I’m thrilled to be here.

Sonci:

Awesome, thank you. I see a lot of first timers. If you’re a first timer, feel free to, if you’d like, share your video. It’s always helpful for us to see what remarks are resonating. We’ll get nodding heads, we’ll get little thinking. If you feel comfortable, feel free. Hey, Brian. If not, no worries. We’re not all extroverts and not all of us like sharing video, so no pressure. Pressure-free zone. Okay, let me set the tone for the discussion.

Sonci:

I think one of the reasons why I put this panel together is because I’m looking for the secrets and silver bullets, tried and true ways, for helping CS organizations understand how to better interact with the product and vice versa. I put together this group really because I wanted to learn from them. But before we dive in, I have just a question that I think will help ease us into the topic. Because we could really dive into the deep end, but if you guys could talk a little bit about what the high level goal is at your company for customer success, and how that contrasts with product. The reason why I asked this question first is because I think that given the different goals that teams have, that can sometimes create alignment between the groups, and that can sometimes throw us into complete misalignment. Tell us a little bit about the goals that CS and product have. Are they different? Are they the same? How do they connect? I think we can learn a little bit from your organization on how that works. Whoever wants to jump in, feel free.

Conor:

I’ll jump in first. We’ve actually changed our mission over the years. When I first joined, our mission was simple. It was to help our customers grow. It’s kind of interesting. The first two years I was there, when we were setting our company goals, we didn’t have a company goal for our revenue. That wasn’t a factor. Our company goal was revolving around how much money our customers make that’s directly attributable to us. That’s our north star. For instance, every company meeting, we would start with what that number is every week without fail.

Conor:

In team meetings, again, that’s the north star. That’s how we would orient ourselves. What this meant was that the customer success team, they… Teams have quarterly business reviews. We turned them quarterly growth reviews because we were helping our customers grow. We wanted to reinforce that. Our customer success team, they were being measured on how much they helped their customers grow. The product team, on the same hand, all oriented around, okay, how can we help our customers grow? Because the teams were aligned, and I think you touched on something really important here, Sonci. Because in some environments, there isn’t the same level of environment. That can be a lot more challenging.

Conor:

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s still challenging because the scope of reference for the teams is a little different. The scope of reference for the customer success team are the customers. The scope of reference for a product team is broader than that because it needs to look at the people who are not customers yet. It could even potentially be looking at other segments or other solutions. That’s a little bit about us.

Sonci:

Very helpful. I have also noticed that with organizations that kind of struggle, if you usually look to what their north star metrics are, they’re in misalignment with one another, or they’re in misalignment with the customer, which can put you at odds. Really great point. Thank you for sharing that, Conor.

Kristen:

Yeah, it’s a really important point. As I transitioned from customer success at WordStream into product, one of the main things that I really tried to do was become more… have the team more focused on the outcomes we were driving than the features that we were building. Because we really felt, coming from customer success, that we were missing the opportunity to truly help our customers grow their businesses and help them make money. Because we were trying to create features that we thought were innovation, but weren’t actually moving the customers to where they needed help and solving the problems that they had.

Kristen:

If we focus more on the outcomes and laddering up to the things that really mattered, both from a business perspective because we were much further along by the time I took over product. But I did feel, having come from customer success, that we needed to do more to satisfy our customers. And really focusing on the things that matter to them, and driving the outcomes so that the features that we drove really actually had an impact. I fully agree. Whatever your north star is, finding what that is to help make your customers successful will really end up building the best company. Because really, it’s the customers. If they can be at the center of everything that you do, your company will outperform every other company out there in your space. I truly believe that.

Sonci:

Well said.

Shonak:

I’ll just piggyback off of that. Similarly, I think in terms of the outcome and the north star that you’re trying to achieve, the way I break out product and CS, especially at the earlier stage. And particularly in B2B SaaS, I like to think of it like product’s job in a lot of ways is to make it really… speed is everything. Time to value I think early on is very important. I look at product’s job as, how do we scalably remove friction, make it really easy to adopt the product to achieve the outcome? Then CS, specifically CS, supports a little bit differently. In CS, I think it’s all about, how do we help the customers with process? The process of adopting a product to achieve the outcome.

Shonak:

That’s stuff that the product in and of itself, even if the UX is amazing, you’re still, in selling a software solution, you’re asking people to change their process, their internal process. That change can be dramatic in some ways if you’re doing something new, completely new. Then oftentimes, regardless of anything, it is just change. It’s a lot of change management I think specifically that I look at as CS’s charge early on. And all in support of helping people find that value very quickly.

Jonathan:

Yeah, I echo all that stuff there. One other lens to it is, if you think about the assets and deliverables that each of these functions do, I think CS and product are probably the two most challenging roles in the organization. They have so many different masters, so many people they need to please. If I had to boil down, when I look at a product, I think they own two main things. One is the roadmap, what is communicable to our customers, to the organization, where we’re going.

Jonathan:

A more tactical way is a rank sort order of what the team is executing on. What should we be working on next? It’s a really hard thing to do because it’s not just the customers. It’s a sale organization. It’s a marketing organization. It’s the CEO, it’s the board. You’re trying to create this whole thing, so you need to listen to all these things and be really empathetic to all those things. I used to joke, I used to want to wear a T-shirt and a hat around the office saying, “Disappointing everybody.” You slightly can’t get everybody pleased. You try and do your best point to disappoint everybody the least.

Jonathan:

With customer success, there’s a phrase we use, this “whole product.” Right now, you start off with a piece of software that… I’m a small organization specialist. So, all my companies I tend to work with tend to be small where the software itself is not the full solution. They need to know where the roadmap is. They might need some consulting services. It’s the customer success to help build that gap, to really satisfy the need of the customers, when the product itself is not fully doing what the product needs to do as a full promise.

Conor:

Jonathan, I’m really glad you brought up that concept of whole product, because I’m going to age myself now. When I was first getting into product management, it was around the time a book called Crossing the Chasm was out there. It’s by a guy called Geoffrey Moore wrote it.

Jonathan:

Yeah, same here.

Conor:

Yeah. People can look, they can google whole product concept. You can kind of see something, but basically, here’s what it says. It says, “Hey, a lot of people, when that last line of code is written, they’re like, ‘Okay, product is done. Here you go.'” But what the whole product concept says is, “Hey, the product is every touchpoint the customer has with you. Whether that’s in the software with the UX, whether it’s with the CS team or the support team or the sales team, or your marketing touchpoints, or your partners, or services and communications, and so on.” That whole product concept is so important. That’s part of the reason I firmly believe in it. I’m a huge endorser of the fact that you need to cater to all of that. You need to be very cognizant of it. The product is every touchpoint.

Kristen:

I think that is a super important point because there’s… I don’t know, Jonathan, if you experienced this going from engineering into customer success at Insight Squared. I experienced it going from customer success into product at WordStream, and carried that into Randori. Because even finance, right? You mess up someone’s bill or you charge them the wrong amount, they’re looking at the product as the company. Not just the thing that they’ve actually purchased that they log into every day. Understanding those touchpoints is so prevalent to customer success because they’re the ones that receive that feedback from the customer, right?

Kristen:

I’ve been reading a lot about product led growth, PLG, lately. I saw this great visual of a prism, but it was a backward prism. Instead of all of the colors, the white light going into the prism, and all the colors refracting out, it was the opposite. It was all of the colors of the company going in. You’ve got sales, you’ve got customer success, you’ve got product. All of these different inputs into product, and outcomes, as you said Jonathan, the product roadmap. Which really is a communication vehicle for the strategy of the company. That then also gets broken down into the tactical pieces, right? That whole company and having that whole view, and paying attention to it, is super important.

Sonci:

What advice would you give to the customer success leader or team that hasn’t traditionally thought about themselves as part of the product? You mentioned a product like growth. We talked about the roadmap. I think in a lot of ways, CS feels outside of that process. They might have some inputs, but they’re really… the roadmap is decided. The product-led growth piece is decided with their small inputs, but really not a lot of influence on their side. What advice would you give to these teams to help them start to understand how to integrate themselves with seeing themselves as also part of the product?

Conor:

That’s a good question, Sonci. As I look at this, certain things are really hard to overcome if they’re institutionalized in an organization’s structure. I bet a lot of us have some sort of measure of how happy the customer is, some sort of NPS score. Where is that owned? Is that owned by success? Is that owned by product? Is it owned by the entire company? I think the answer to that is going to illuminate how a company thinks and reacts to this concept of every touchpoint being part of the customer. Because if you look at the comments that come back, the comments that come back when they’re filled out in NPS surveys about how happy somebody is, they span everything, every touchpoint. If everybody takes NPS, takes the viewpoint that they own NPS and they own improving it. And if everybody is consuming those NPS comments.

Conor:

If they’re, for instance, let’s say you’re a company that’s revolving around Slack. You have a nice NPS Slack channel, and the comments go in there every time there is one. Everybody checks that every day, and you’re just on top of it, and there’s a common stream in there. It’s like, “Oh, I noticed this. This is in our area. We’re on this.” Making sure there’s vitality in the reaction to those NPS surveys. It can actually help break down some of the silos that might otherwise have naturally formed within an organization. That’s part of how I think about it. I think it’s all interrelated. There’s no silos. It’s such a complex web. Everybody has got to be across the functions, in the same boat rowing together, in order to make it all work.

Shonak:

I’ll just follow up exactly on what Conor said. I think a big part of that is the idea of everyone taking ownership over building the bridges. Especially early on, which is the world that I’ve lived in. The example of pushing NPS and the Slack. In order to make something everyone’s problem, it has to be visible to everyone as well. And working within the system that everyone is working in. That’s a great example of something that does actually change the dynamic. It actually starts the discussion across the department, which is the first step. And even just questioning about why something is happening and what that feedback means. That’s how you bridge the silos. I think that’s a great example.

Shonak:

Then over time, as things evolve, I think it’s just CS especially, something that I tried to be very proactive about at Appcues was when I first joined, there wasn’t really… there was a lot of anecdotal feedback just being collected one off. I tried to centralize it and then distribute it also very actively and very proactively. Which is kind of step one. It wasn’t in a system or anything. It was in spreadsheets. Then eventually, you bring it out into systems and into the tools that everyone’s working with. I think creating that observability across the entire team is very important.

Jonathan:

One of the things that I consistently struggle with is, taking a look at the engineers. There’s engineers, there’s product, there’s customer success. I actually think a lot of the DNA of these people are quite different. I find engineers and product to be very sensitive, reactionary folks. When they produce software, they’re initially insecure about it. Every bug request, every bug announced, is a little dagger to their heart. It slows them down. It might distract them. Customer success folks are really good at interfacing with customers, and hearing it, and listening, and capturing stuff.

Jonathan:

If there is that constant flow of bugs, stuff, it actually could potentially become debilitating to an engineering organization to push the product forward. I always think of these things in engineering, most engineering perspectives, that these people in between are like resistors able to capture these things. And give this stuff in an effective way for this other organization to take it and do productive work. These are other roles that people kind of fall in this organization.

Jonathan:

I think we’ll get to this later on. I think it’s super important for the customer success people to be fully empathetic to the engineers and the product organization, and vice versa. I find a lot of dysfunction in these two functions because they’re not really putting each other in the other people’s shoes. The engineers are not really putting themselves in the customer success’s shoes like, “Oh my gosh. These guys are getting berated because I missed this delivery, or I pushed this feature. They’re hearing it all the time. Am I really putting myself in their shoes?”

Jonathan:

Now, on the flip side, customer success does not often put themselves in the engineer’s shoes or the product organization shoes. Like, “All right, these guys need some focus time to get this. They do really care about delivering a high-quality product. They do not want to ship a product with bugs.” As organizations evolve, I think the ones that do it well really shine a light on how other people think and operate. I’m curious how other people would react to that thought process.

Kristen:

I think your point on empathy is huge. There’s a phrase that I use, I like to use a lot. Which is, “Hey, you should assume that everyone is coming to the table with positive intent. You should assume that they’re doing what they’re trying to do to the best of their ability.” I don’t think there is really many people out there that have encountered someone who has nefariously or on purpose tried to release something with a bug or put something out there, or provide feedback in a bad way. We all care. The reason why some of our companies do so well is we all care inherently and personally about the success of that company and that customer. Being empathetic and trying to find the best words, or if someone comes… One of the things I used to hear from product managers all the time, “Well, I just want to hear the problem. They always tell me the solution.”

Kristen:

I was like, “Well, they’re human. They don’t think in problems statements like the way that you’ve trained yourself to think in problem statements.” We all inherently want to solve something, so how do you peel the onion? How do you ask all of those different questions to actually get at the, well, what were they trying to do that made you come up with that solution? What was the problem? And you can get to the crux of the problem. It is a lot of communication and making sure that everybody assumes positive intent and has empathy for each other when they are sharing those communications and those feedback cycles. Which is super important, because it does create animosity. If you start to see some of those ripples underneath the waves or the surface, trying to understand and correct those quickly really does allow that collaboration to happen in a great way.

Sonci:

This is such a good topic. How do you empower the teams? Because obviously as leaders, you know that you want to build empathy. You want to kick off communication. You’re noticing if there are maybe some of those daggers, as Brian and Jonathan were mentioning. You want to notice that they’re happening and understand how to repair back, and build a positive relationship between the two entities. When that starts to happen, I think all of that can sense when that begins. We know, oh, that meeting didn’t feel great. Or that interaction, that was a little testy. Any tried and true tactics you would employ, or things that you would communicate to the team that facilitates or rebuilds that bond when you start to see that it’s getting some tears or rips in it?

Conor:

Yeah. I’ve definitely encountered a situation where meetings were not… I came into a situation where meetings were not very productive. It was nobody’s fault really. There were a set of challenging circumstances. The first thing I did was, okay, let’s kill the unproductive meeting. That was a touchpoint between product and success at the time. My way of approaching it after that was, I wanted product to shadow not just customer success, but also implementation/onboarding, also sales. Every role has its challenges. I wanted to try and start developing empathy.

Conor:

It’s more than that. We also very proactively helped out with support. That was great as well across the board. Again, developing not only empathy for one another’s roles, but also a better understanding of what the customer is experiencing. The shadowing is good. But then building on that, the thing that a customer success manager does. If you have a keen eye, a lot of those can be productized. Because a lot of times, the customer success manager is helping the customer get the most out of their product. There, if you can have folks that are not just shadowing to learn but are actually shadowing to help, that in turn helps a customer. It helps the customer success manager because it actually makes their job easier. It frees them up for higher level, more strategic engagement with the customer as well. This isn’t a case of just flipping a switch and everything magically being great. But it’s a case of planting seeds here and there, and nurturing them to try and help at an organizational level breed those healthy interactions over time.

Sonci:

Great thoughts. I see a question from Evan. Hey, Evan. I do want to address it because I think it’s a good one. He’s asking about how product and CS can work together to maintain reality when major customer guarantees, like features or products, are part of the signature in your business. I think that’s a specific question. You’ve signed a new customer. You’ve made some promises. How are those promises actually fulfilled and met in a way that helps, again, keep the bond close between CS and product, and doesn’t put them at odds? I think this doesn’t just pertain to new customers. We’re constantly getting feature requests from our customers who we love and who are amazing. And who if we had the ability, we would wave a magic wand and give them everything they needed. What is your advice on helping the two teams work together in order to meet expectations, even when they are misaligned?

Conor:

At the end of the day, the key is communication. Definitely not saying that we are perfect at Klaviyo. We’re just constantly striving to get better. Part of that are part of the systems we’re putting in place now to ensure there’s communication. For instance, product or R&D in general is never going to be able to do everything that customer success advocates for. The list is going to be too big. What the product team needs to do is, it needs to clearly articulate what will be done and what will not be done.

Conor:

For what will be done, it needs to be really clear with expectations of when. For what will not be done, it needs to be really clear about why. Now, what we’re trying to do over time is we’re actually trying to get ahead of this. How we’re trying to get ahead of this is by having each product area establish their vision, their mission, and their strategy. If each product area is successful in communicating that to everybody who touches customers, the people who touch customers are going to know where that product area is going. So, they’re going to be able to head off some of this at the pass. They’re just going to know that, yep, that’s on the roadmap. Or no, that’s actually not where we’re going strategically.

Conor:

We’re still in the midst of trying to pull all of that together, but we’re trying to be more proactive in helping those interactions be better. Now, with the question that Evan asks in particular, I was talking a bit more in the general just a moment ago. This in particular, there’s got to be visibility. There’s got to be somewhere where it’s really visible to all the key stakeholders internally that these commitments have been made. Then there’s just got to be a good job around communication. That visibility internally is super important because if that’s just a few people aware of it, and it’s kind of hidden in documents, it’s not going to be good. But if it’s in, I don’t know what the operational cadence is, but if it’s in some sort of weekly review of the operations of the business and what the status is of fulfilling a particular commitment, then that’s super important.

Jonathan:

The one other thing I would add, which you actually said, you spoke eloquently of that, is the organization also needs to know the most efficient way to put input into the product organization road mapping process. How often is a roadmap reviewed? What are the listing posts within the organization? Have that consistency as well. That’s another thing that I like to see as organizations evolve and mature.

Kristen:

Yeah, because I think a little bit of what Evan asked is, is it sales making the promises to customers and then CS and product have to sort of play catch up? It really is around making sure that the entire company has input into the process of product. Then to Conor’s point, that the communication of the outputs of that are exactly what he already said. Go back to the prism. What are the key pieces that you’re bringing in? And how are you making sure that you’re balancing what you’re doing between research and innovation, what the market is telling you, how sales needs to hit their numbers, and how we keep customers happy? It really is a balancing act. If you get all the ingredients right, you make a beautiful, again, whatever analogy you want. A cake, a dinner. But it’s really making sure that all the ingredients are in, and that they’re communicating out them correctly.

Sonci:

Nak, do you have any thoughts and ideas on this, building a team that was high scale? Obviously you’re having a lot of different inputs from a lot of different users who are requesting new features. Maybe your CSMs don’t have a close relationship with the SMB customers. They’re just getting those one off asks maybe through their support queue. But any additional clarity around high scale teams and how they might manage the specific process of misaligned expectations?

Shonak:

Yeah. I think specifically with high scale, when I think of high scale, my head goes more towards hundreds of customers. You really need to surface that, the customer challenges that they’re having, out of data. Usage data, support data, things like that. In terms of the CS front, with CSM, when I think of what… actually, Sonci, can you just repeat your question?

Sonci:

Yeah, that’s okay.

Shonak:

I lost track a little bit.

Sonci:

Reading the chat, sometimes it gets distracting.

Shonak:

Yeah.

Sonci:

When you’re dealing with high scale teams and you have customers that are coming onboard, it might have misaligned expectations on what your product should do for them and the value it should be providing. Do you address those problems in different ways than you might address them with an enterprise level relationship? Maybe the answer is no. That’s okay too.

Shonak:

Got it, yeah. I think the key is knowing the limitations of the product. CSMs need to understand the limitations of the product. Then they need to, essentially, we need to create guidance and education on how to actually get the customers to use it in a way that they’re able to. I think a lot of it is expectation setting. You either do that in the sales process if it’s a touch sales process. You do that in the onboarding process if it’s a touched onboarding process. If not, I think a lot of it comes down to actually, how are you proactively promoting self service resources or expectation setting in your resource and knowledge-based environments?

Conor:

I think it comes back to what Jonathan was talking about earlier too, that concept of the whole product. Making sure all those touchpoints are in alignment. When I was getting the what we call growth team, that scale team off the ground, I put in place a really simple way of looking at it. I’m sure the team has made it a lot more sophisticated since. When I started off, I said, “Hey, here’s what I want. I want us to reach out to the top 10 performing customers each week in this category. What I want us to do is, I want us to talk to them. Understand, hey, how come it’s going so well for you? What’s going on? And try to learn.”

Conor:

I also wanted us to reach out to the 10 worst performing customers each week and just hold their hand, help them. But as they’re doing that, be thinking about, okay, how do we have it so that next time around, we don’t have to rely on me to do this? And that we either bake it into the product, bake messaging into our marketing materials. Whatever it takes. But just, how do we handle this at scale? Basically, the following week again, top 10 most successful, bottom 10 least successful. Then just keep on iterating. Over time, more and more of those scale issues start to just fall away.

Sonci:

Good points. Okay, let’s spend some time with some live questions from the group. If any of you have a question that you would like to just ask one of our discussion leaders, you can go ahead and raise your hand. Then we’ll call on you and you can unmute. Leah, I think you had asked one in the chat a little bit earlier. If you’re cool to just float that, you can go ahead and do that. We’ll see what thoughts come up.

Leah:

Yeah, definitely. Thanks, Sonci. This is for anybody, but my question is, our product team has said that they are heads down focused on something that’s considered business critical. They don’t have the bandwidth or time to acknowledge or work on any product feedback requests from customers. Which obviously puts the CS team in a bit of a tough position. I’m trying to figure out how to manage that. I would love any and all advice that you guys have.

Kristen:

That is a tough place to be in. I think my first part of advice, I saw the quip, which is customer feedback is business critical. Try and understand a little bit more from product around what it is that they’re working on. What makes it so mission critical. How long is it going to be that the team is focused here. Try and sort of ask clarifying questions, or try to find an alternative. Is there any way that we could at least do some work to understand what customers really need next, so I can give customers a timeline on when we would be able to get some of these major issues done? It really does come down to communication, but sometimes you have to draw that out of others. Doing it with empathy and trying to understand the bounds of what it is that they’re telling you they have to do, and where the opportunity would be to either piggyback or quickly follow what they’re doing. Or find if there’s a way you can peel off some work in order to keep some things going.

Kristen:

Back at WordStream, way back in the day, we had a hard time doing any bugs for customers. What we ended up doing is saying, “Hey, if you’re doing two week sprints, can we reserve 20% of the tickets in that sprint need to be customer focused issues.” So, you still get stuff done on the roadmap that you need. But we can at least start to handle some of these really important or high priority bugs. That seemed to work better than what we were doing before. Try and get creative around the asks and how you may actually be able to do both, or at least have something to tell customers.

Jonathan:

Three things. Leah, really tough problem. There’s probably some organizational design stuff that you probably don’t have time to get into. But I’m curious of the shape of your company. Support from your executive team is something to look into. A couple jujitsu tricks for you, if you want to get help on this, is get somebody from product engineering to actually get on a call with the customer and actually feel the pain with you. There’s nothing like… whatever it is, the way humans are built, them hearing it from you versus hearing it directly from the customer are two 100% different things.

Jonathan:

I guarantee if this person is showing up on a call with a customer, next week, it will be fixed by that time. Sonci, as you said, it had great effect with us in this organization. It’s sometimes effective. It’s not always use that trick, but it’s part of this empathy thing for them really to feel it. The other more systematic thing that might be helpful is just to have a list of, these are my top three bugs as a customer success organization. Have it on a Google sheet or whatever it is. Every week, these are the three things that I want done. It’s not this huge, crazy list of bugs, but these are the three things. Have a 15-minute meeting with your team every Monday. These are my top three things. What’s going on? It might make it a more tractable problem. You might be able to get some more traction on that.

Jonathan:

The third thing I would offer up to your engineer organizations, they should have dedicated swim lanes. Yes, product needs to get pushed. There needs to be a dedicated swim lane for that. But if there could be one track to help on, whether it’s a half FTE or one FTE to help with these customer things, I think will probably go a long way in your organization. Bam, bam, bam.

Sonci:

Yeah, this is a tough one. Jonathan, I appreciate your suggestion. I’ll mention that it also feels a little bit like black magic, because putting the product and engineering leaders on calls with customers is so good so that they hear the customer voice. But once they’re locked into that relationship, then they might even derail some of the larger company goals.

Jonathan:

100%.

Sonci:

Because of that connection. Use it sparingly. I think all our Quala customers are probably looking at us because we’ve joined so many of our calls. Product, CS, we’re here for it, but use it sparingly. It can be very, very helpful. Part of it is, I know we have the notion of a product owner. The thought behind the product owner is that this person should be the person that’s the voice of the customer and should know what to do. In reality, product owners are also not in front of customers day in and day out. That’s why it is not, I don’t think, any one person or one function’s job to be the voice of the customer. It is everyone’s job because we are all having different interactions and have different POVs on what we should be executing on in order to drive satisfaction and value and growth. I appreciate all that. Let’s jump to Lorna. Yes, you had a question somewhere in the chat. If you want to unmute yourself, go ahead and ask.

Lorna:

Hi, yeah. We’re in, I think it’s a fortunate position, where our customer success team and our product team are very new to our organization. We’re really kind of forming how that should look and shaping it. I just wondered from the panel what your top tips would be in that position, in making the right tracks to move forward.

Shonak:

Kristen is doing it right now, right?

Kristen:

I’m trying. I feel like I’ve talked a lot, so I was going to let someone else go for a little bit. But since I was teed up, I think I wish Conor would talk about it a little bit more. But I think he takes a really interesting approach where every single person on his product team and I think in the company, correct me if I’m wrong, actually has to spend time on customer support calls and handling customers in the beginning. It’s the first job that they do. It’s the only job that they do so they can understand the customer. I think that that is an aspirational place to be for every single company, including the one that I’m starting, because I do believe that customer success and product have to have a symbiotic relationship like sales and marketing do.

Kristen:

The best sales and marketing organizations work well because they’re playing off of each other. They’re in sync. They may have a healthy tension, but they’re really trying to work well together. In customer success and product, I look at it as the same thing. We have to be working well together. Setting up those communication paths early, the feedback cycle and those swim lines. It’s really sort of how internally you’re going to operate, and then live that every day, and actually have it become part of your culture. If you’re starting out and you have the ability to do that, absolutely do it. I think one of the things, if I look back at WordStream, which I wish we did better, was not create… we functioned highly effectively in our silos, but we were in silos. It made it really hard as we grew to actually have those better communication paths and influence the roadmap in a way that I think could’ve done WordStream even more better than we did before, the way we ended up doing. Doing that early and implementing some of the things we’ve talked about here is key.

Conor:

Yeah. Product team and success team, they should be best buddies. The product team needs to talk to customers. It still needs to talk to customers, but the best proxy at the beginning when you’re trying to figure stuff out, success team. They know the customer so well. Product person, hey, bounce ideas off. Talk, shake things out. Figure it out. Then as you get further along, “Hey.” Product team comes around, “Hey, this is how it’s shaping up. Feedback for me? Because again, you know the customer best.” That level of engagement, the more it can be facilitated, it’s just going to have such a great beneficial relationship for your company. Trying to nurture that. Trying to make sure that there’s those strong levels of engagement and interaction. It’s just going to result in a more customer first solution.

Conor:

Similarly, while the customer success manager has something that’s incredibly valuable to the product manager, that touchpoint, the product manager also has something that’s incredibly valuable to the customer success manager. Which is the ability to inform them on where the product is going, so that they’re super informed when they’re talking to customers. The more you can facilitate those interactions, the better it’s going to be all around. Both sides are going to benefit.

Shonak:

The only thing that I’ll add to that is, my role before Appcues, I was in sales. For early stage teams, I put on my half of almost being a BDR for the product team and setting up conversations. Keeping them close to the customer. I often would tell this to my CS time of, “Our job is to get at-bats for the product team.”

Jonathan:

Love that.

Shonak:

“For interactions that are… not every customer interaction, but that are relevant to what is on the roadmap.” To both Conor and Kristen’s point of just making sure that communication is there, and the CS team knows what’s coming up on the roadmap. Then we’re able to line up the right conversations at the right time for the product team to then take the input. Them come back to CS and even kind of user interview CS on maybe an idea or solution that we’re having. We actually set targets in our OKRs for beta program. CS would run the recruiting of the beta program with our customers so we knew who was interested in what ahead of time. Then product would get people into the beta program and things like that. There’s ways to create alignment in that way as well.

Kristen:

One thing I just want to bring up quickly, at WordStream, for years we had cross functional meetings that product was running that would bring an equal number of representatives from sales and customer success into a meeting. We ended up revamping them over the year to have them be really… really, it was more for products to share with those groups what they were working on. And to almost tell them what they were working on. But we revamped them to have them actually be, “Hey, we’re going into planning for next quarter. What are the things that you think we should be focused on?” Then once we defined what that roadmap looks like, actually leverage that group in early design and ideation of that thing that we were building. Which ended up having a lot more impact, and making customer success also feel like what we were delivering was going to deliver for the customer. That’s another thing that I think is a good tool in the toolbox to use if you can run them the right way.

Sonci:

Great.

Conor:

I want to call out something that Brian called out in the chat, which is whether you use Gong or Chorus. Sending little segments of calls to the product team is appropriate, incredibly effective. It’s easier than ever to share. For instance, we use something called Product Board to organize our roadmaps as a way to send customer feedback back to our product team. You can actually share directly from Gong into, or Chorus, into Product Board. Super effective because again, they’re hearing the customer voice. People, they see it’s a recording and they know it’s going to be a screenshot with somebody talking. For whatever reason, they’re drawn to it. They feel compelled to just check it out.

Sonci:

That’s awesome. Good plug. I know we have a few minutes left. Whitney, did you have a question for the group? If you want to go off mute and ask, we’ll see if we can get an answer for you before we close out.

Whitney:

Yeah, I had a quick question. I am currently going through the process of finding a mentor for… I’m director of customer experience, but I’m the highest one at my company. Just having a mentor and things like that. I think from this discussion, how close we work closely with our product team, does it make sense for me to look for a mentor that does have product experience? Is this something that I should see if they’re open to mentoring both me and our product manager so that we can continue that relationship? Or should I have the product manager also look for a mentor, and we can collaborate on those ideas? I just want to figure out which one is the best one. And is too much information bad or good if we do split it up?

Kristen:

Good question.

Conor:

I think it’s a great question, Whitney. Quite a while back, I personally tried to set up my own personal board of directors, these people that I could get advice from. When I was doing that, a few things. One, I tried not to have it too formal. I found myself, in my experience, the best mentor relationships are actually kind of informal. I tried to seek out the relationships. If it felt natural, then I would continue. If it didn’t feel natural, I’d let that one atrophy. What I did was, I very actively got a range of people who had either experiences that were important to me at that time or for where I wanted to go. Then I actually very actively used that.

Conor:

Now, I personally grew so much through that because people have experience. They want to share them. They want to help just by nature. Being able to draw on that is incredibly powerful. Now, I am introverted by nature, so this wasn’t easy for me. But once you just take the steps, put it in motion, it just plays itself out and it’ll gain momentum. Even for somebody introverted, you can do it. You just need to take those first steps, and then it’ll just take over.

Sonci:

That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing. Thank you, everyone, for joining our eighth community hour. We are going to send a summary after. We’ll send the recording after. We’ll send the transcript. Thank you so much to our discussion leaders. If you have more questions, feel free to send them our way. We’re also looking at opening up a new channel for a post-community hour discussion. Thank you for taking the poll. We’ll take a look at the results and then spin that up. Hopefully you guys have an amazing rest of your Tuesday, amazing week. Thank you, Kristen. Thank you Conor, Shonak, Jonathan. You guys are amazing. Appreciated sharing with us today.

Kristen:

Thank you for having me.

Jonathan:

Good to see you, everybody.

Conor:

Thank you.

Shonak:

Thank you, everybody.

Kristen:

Thank you.

Conor:

Bye.


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