Customer success has a soulmate, but it’s not who you might think

CSMs work closely with almost every team in the company, but most often they’re associated with sales or support. But only one team is the true soulmate of customer success, and it isn’t who you might expect.

When most people think about a typical customer success team, they probably think of them as living somewhere between sales and support.

They’re somewhat aligned with support because they often react to service issues, help with enablement, and may even respond to tickets. But they’re also akin to sales because they have value conversations, business reviews, and often are involved in renewals and expansions.

At Front, our CSM team is very much invested in our relationships with sales and support, but there’s one internal organization which we feel is our biggest strategic partner — and it’s one that customer success organizations ought to be aligning more closely with: product.

There are many practical benefits to the CS-product relationship, but it all starts with our strategic goals. Customer success, at the end of the day, is not about closing tickets or closing renewals. It’s about ensuring we meet the customer’s desired outcomes — and those outcomes all happen in the product.

CSM + Product: the perfect pair

That sounds pretty obvious in theory, but it can come with some uncomfortable implications. For example, if your company isn’t a product-led growth kind of business, you probably shouldn’t have a customer success team; you need an account management team. True customer success really only makes sense for companies with a more complex product where customers need help understanding and achieving their business outcomes.

It also means that way too many CS organizations are far too distant and misaligned with product. For a lot of CSMs, their most typical interactions with product is creating a ticket for a feature request — filed and often forgotten.

Then they’ll hear about new features and releases from the product marketing team or from the revenue leader when it’s time to deliver to the customer base. That’s not the way it should work, and it’s not how it works at Front.

Front on Front: how we connect customers to product

Our CSMs are constantly tagging feature requests in inbound messages. It makes it easy for those requests to become a conversation between a PM and a CSM, because they’re all happening bidirectionally and in the context of the customer’s message. They can hear about it in the customer’s own words and get the context on the customer’s desired outcome from the CSM all in one fluid conversation.

For most companies, they have to make a sacrifice. On one hand you can give customers direct access to the product team, but that just leads to chaos. Once that connection is made, customers always tend to reach out to product first — for anything. Sure, that’s feature requests, but it also often becomes support issues, bugs, and even haggling over pricing and licenses. That’s not just unhealthy for product managers, it’s not a good experience for the customer either.

On the other, you can file feature request tickets but lose the rich context you get with direct conversations. Customer success is also perfectly positioned to understand the context, triage the urgency, and facilitate conversations between customer and product in a way that protects both sides. Our system, which is only really possible at scale because of our product, gives us the best of both worlds.

How to create empathy, not chaos

In this business, you can never underestimate the power of someone in product or engineering hearing the customer’s request coming from their own mouth. Nothing creates empathy like hearing the urgency in the customer’s voice or reading it in their email. It truly changes how product orgs respond to and prioritize their work.

We know that the voice of the customer is incredibly valuable for a company to have. So many businesses struggle to get customer feedback, that for those of us that do have it, we never take it for granted. That said, without the right systems in place to collect feedback, operationalize it, and close the loop, that precious voice of the customer often turns to noise.

Your feedback should create value, not chaos. That’s why part of the customer success team’s mandate should be to infuse the voice of the customer into every org in the company. Systems like Front make it easy to do this at scale, preserving context and and creating empathy while protecting product teams’ time and focus.

Originally Published: 22 September 2021

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