Product and CS: The Intersection Begins

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By Lauren Costella

Do you know what gets me jazzed (yes, I said it, jazzed)? Seeing the continued overlap of Product and Customer Success teams! This is a monumental time in Customer Success because software companies are popping up everywhere to help us better understand who our customers are, what they are doing within our software (or how they are using our products and services - non-SaaS based), where they get stuck, and more importantly, where they derive value! Here are just a few that I’ve come across as a CS leader: Amplitude, Pendo, Mixpanel, and Piwik.

As CS Leaders, if we aren’t driving value for our customers, we aren’t doing something right. The difficulty comes with understanding what is actually valuable for our customers, especially given a diverse portfolio of needs. And if you’re like me, you know that sometimes what customers say and what they do are totally different things. What signals are you using to understand customers and whether they are getting value? At the end of the funnel, you might be looking at retention and growth, but you need earlier driven signals that differ by different cohorts of need the same insights that product and engineering teams have, and that’s usage data!

This has been topic of discussion in the CS space for some time; however, it’s one that isn’t the simplest to start. It’s critical, then, we not only keep that conversation going, but that we also keep pushing each other toward getting more analytically, data-driven insights into our health scores. We need to trigger actions and playbooks (risk and growth) based on that data, and we need to strive to be truly “proactive” by getting to a point of “predicting” value achieved (or not), instead of reacting to it.

In the spirit of helping you to start simple, let me offer a few tips to get you going in the right direction. And if you're looking for more insights, check out more blogs on The Success League or check out another group of which I’m a part, the Customer Success Leadership Network (CSLN) meet up from January of this year.  That meet up had both CS and Product leaders providing their unique perspectives on how best to work with each other.

3 Tips to Help You Get Started with Product & Engineering

1) Make Friends

When was the last time you met with your head of Product? If it wasn’t in the past week, think again. If you’re going to start building the foundation of insights, start by talking about issues on a regular basis. Set a cadence and stick to it. As an executive leader for Medrio, I meet with each of my co-executives once per week to discuss issues uniquely between our departments. It’s revealed gaps and insights and creates better alignment as we develop customer strategies that require resources on both sides.

For example, when I first started meeting with our CPO, we began with support ticket data. I could easily show our CPO that product releases were killing the team. Why? Bugs and/or “expected” functionality that presented like a bug or let’s face it, missing essential functionality all together. By starting with some simple data, we were able to identify gaps in process and systems for improvement.

2) Co-invest in User-Friendly Systems

Which leads me to my next point: co-invest with Product teams in software/systems, which are user friendly and give you insights into what your customers are doing, why they are doing it, when they are ready for more product/services, and where they get stuck. Your Product teams are (or should be) looking at these types of insights all of the time. The issues I’ve seen is that the information is typically siloed and difficult to decipher.

For example, our Product teams uses Splunk to track a lot of our customer analytics. To use Splunk, however, you need to understand SQL and programming language to produce any meaningful insights for customers. In other words, our CSMs or CSRs (and sometimes our Product Managers), can’t simply go in and get a list of all studies with more than our best practices for variable counts on a page or skip logic used in a study. Forget about it, you need a engineering degree to pull that data! Which means, we (as a CS team) are constantly bugging our Product and Engineering teams to create those insights for us with dashboards and reports. What a drag for both teams!

Which is why I say: co-invest. Put up some of your CS budget to get the insights you want in a user friendly way, and it’s likely you and your Product and Engineering teams will be thrilled to get you what you need without having to do the heavy lifting.

And let’s face it, with a user friendly system, both teams don’t have to guess what they think is the greatest value to a customer; rather, we would be able to just see it (and see it by different cohorts). And armed with that information, our product teams can either create better product based workflows or we (in CS) can create better best practices to achieve winning customer strategies.

3) Share Joint Success Metrics

Finally, I recommend sharing joint metrics with your Product teams. Our Chief Product Officer is held to joint metrics with my team including Net Retention (Upsell + Retention) and Customer Satisfaction. At the same time, my team is held to metrics that help his team drive efficiency and results. My team keeps mis-classified bug tickets below 10%. At one point this was 30% and by reducing that to under 10% and keeping it there, we’ve reduced costs in Product and Engineering by $160K per year. That’s significant savings in costs and time that could be used elsewhere. Additionally, my team is held to helping with product adoption: a metric the product and engineering team follow after every release. We educate customers, help them use the product, and ensure they are well trained. Joint metrics keep us both incentivized to ensure great communication and working together, which only produces better results for our customers.

If CS is the map to driving value for Customers, then Product (and associated analytics) is the key for deciphering it. We must work together to manage how to understand leading risk factors and more importantly, reasons and paths for retention and growth! What path makes our customers stick? If you can’t answer that question, it’s time to start building toward answering it. Let’s commit to that quest. As the VP of CS for Medrio, and I’m committed to driving success of customers with Product and data driven insights. Can I get your commitment too? Let’s do this!

Need help figuring out how your Customer Success team can better collaborate with Product and Engineering within your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a Leadership Training Program as well as Leadership Coaching. For more information on these programs and other classes and engagements please visit our website at

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor for The Success League, a board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active in the Bay Area.