Product and CS

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 signals...data driven signals that differ by different cohorts of customers...you 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 TheSuccessLeague.io

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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.

Lessons Learned: The Importance of a Product-Led Customer Success Onboarding Strategy

Guest blogger Frederik Müller shares his experience with looping his product team into a redesign of the company’s onboarding process. We hope you enjoy his perspective on this critical part of the customer journey.

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By Frederik Müller

A successful customer onboarding is one of the most important steps in the SaaS world. As with many things customer success-related, applying best practices is sometimes easier said than done. Here at Klara, our biggest “lesson learned” with respect to customer onboarding was realizing that the product team, not customer success, should define our customer onboarding journey.

Our product team is amazing and has been a key contributor to Klara raising an amazing Series A round with an even more amazing investor. Even with all the best of intentions, it is easy for a gap between the product team’s vision and the customer success team’s implementation of the platform to open up and even widen over time. As a small, growing company with limited resources, our product team had always been focused on pushing the product to new frontiers. The customer success team, meanwhile, focused on developing and refining the most effective way of onboarding customers to our product. If we needed to invent workarounds for deficiencies in the product, so be it.

At Klara, the gap between the product and customer success team was caused by not having the product team lead our onboarding approach. Here are some of the key takeaways from our work to correct this issue:

The product team, together with customer success, needs to define the onboarding process

Having the product team involved in identifying key steps in the onboarding journey will ensure that the product is configured to deliver on the expected outcomes. Importantly, it will also help create very clear goals for customer success during the onboarding stage.

For example, prior to these changes, the customer success team measured a completed onboarding to not only include training and installation of features, but also customer usage of the feature up to a certain benchmark. This caused a lot of frustration for the CSMs because while they could control the training and setup of a feature, they couldn’t always control user adoption. As part of our work with the product team, we reduced the customer success team’s responsibility during onboarding to just training and installation of features. Now, every CSM can directly control the redefined onboarding process, and we are able to quickly identify and remove bottlenecks, further streamlining the process.

Product and Customer Success should establish an Onboarding Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Once the customer success team successfully completes the onboarding steps defined with the product team, what should the product team deliver? For a long time at Klara, the leading indicator of success was the number of patients that our clients communicated with using our platform. Understanding what an optimal level of usage should look like enabled us to create clear SLA: Customer Success will handle the training and technical implementation of certain features. Product will then guarantee that these features create an optimal level of patient adoption.

A clearly defined customer onboarding process will show the product team if the product is achieving the desired customer adoption levels post onboarding. Without a clear SLA from onboarding to product, it is tempting for customer success to compensate for lack in product adoption with human interventions, which robs the product team of a great learning opportunity.

Our experience over the past months and my conversations with others in the customer success community has validated my belief that product teams should continue to define the onboarding process. At Klara, we are hiring an experienced Product Marketing Manager who will jointly own onboarding KPIs with the CS team. A conversation with a leader of a 40-person CS organization drove the importance of these steps home to me. She shared that her team kept having to “throw bodies” at a product that was not driving the desired adoption levels. Because the KPI was only owned by customer success, the product team did not prioritize customer onboarding until the company realized that a weak Customer Success - Product alignment would stand in the way of the company going public. Don’t wait until then!

Need help defining customer onboarding in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers consulting engagements that focus on onboarding as well as the entire customer journey. Visit our Consulting page more details.

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Frederik Müller - Frederik is the Head of Customer Success at Klara. He is passionate about Klara’s mission to revolutionize healthcare communication for everyone involved in the patient’s journey. As such, he has spent the last years researching how to maximize patient/user adoption of Klara’s platform and worked extensively with medical practices on streamlining their operations using better communication methodologies. In his free time, Frederik enjoys reading The New Yorker, cooking, playing sports, and traveling.

How to Tap Your Account Resources

By Natalie Macks

The notion of a simple one customer to one agreement ratio often fails to capture today’s complex business environment. Your success may depend on people that aren’t yet on your radar. A successful CSM works to ensure that they have at least a few active contacts for every account, as well as an understanding of who benefits from using the product. Here are some things to consider:

Broaden Your Reach

It’s easy to focus initially on the person signing the agreement, but remember they aren’t always the end user. Ask your main contact about their team and any other groups that come in contact with your product. These key players should be documented in your CRM and while you may not have full contact information initially, even having a name as a starting point can be helpful down the line. Folks frequently change positions or move on to other opportunities. Don’t be left high and dry.

Help Adoption Rates

Coach your client on the best ways to introduce your product to their team and encourage completion of any needed training. Send them some swag to pass along as part of the on-boarding process. Pay attention to usage and gauge overall adoption rates for the account. Instead of just checking in with your client, discuss how engaged their team has been lately. Ask them for the specific names of those that seem to be the most successful with your product. Again, you might consider sending some swag to the cream of the crop as a reward (and an introduction for you).

Create Internal Advocates

If your success tools allow you identify an especially active team member, consider reaching out to them directly. A little bit of praise can go a long way and help build an advocate for your company inside the account. Having an internal resource can be helpful when you are unable to reach your main contact for whatever reason. Often the main contact or buyer isn’t the individual that ends up being the power user. You want these folks on your side and vocal about how much they love your product when renewal time rolls around.

Get Referrals

The more people who are familiar with your product and enjoy using it, the more likely you are to get referrals. Practice ending any conversation you have with a new contact with the question, “Do you know of any other people (or industry contacts) that might benefit from our product or struggle with the same issues we’ve been able to solve for you?” It’s really that simple and the more you use this strategy, the more referrals you’ll get. Set up notifications internally that allow you to reward those contacts that have successful referrals and share the love. A handwritten thank you note and a bottle of wine can do wonders to keep the flow of referrals coming your way.

Avoid a potential drought. Resisting the temptation to focus only on the main account contact benefits your bottom line and sows the seeds of future success. Nurture all your account contacts and you’ll be well on your way to exponential growth.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm focused on helping leaders and teams perform at their peak.  To learn how other companies have worked with us to develop their customer success groups, visit TheSuccessLeague.io.

Natalie Macks - Natalie builds a culture of dedicated customer evangelists, as well as the systems and processes required for success.  Her award-winning leadership expertise coupled with integrity and passion produce increased customer retention and generate revenue.  With over 15 years in customer-facing roles, Natalie excels in bridging the gap between business technologies and the user experience.  She holds a BA in Zoology/Genetics from Michigan State University and resides in San Francisco, CA.

Bridging the Gap Between Features and Benefits

By Ward Greunke

SaaS companies love to talk about the benefits of their software such as, “Increase sales,” or “Reduce employee churn”.  Unfortunately just buying the product will not help you achieve your goals unless you have the proper behaviors.  While marketing is focused on benefits and engineering is focused on features, it is up to the customer success team to bridge the gap by helping customers develop the proper behaviors.

I first encountered this problem at 1factory where we help customers analyze inspection data.  We developed the product using what we thought were industry standard techniques like histograms but found that customers had trouble understanding how our product would improve their business.

The problem was that our customers had built up processes and procedures using their existing technology - Excel or sometimes even pencil and paper.  Since it takes 15 clicks just to create a histogram in Excel, people rarely made a histogram and did not have experience interpreting the data.  Our application represented a new way of thinking which customers had trouble adopting.

To solve this problem, our customer success team created a poster that showed how to identify common manufacturing problems by looking at a histogram.  Once customers knew how to interpret the data, they were able to integrate our application into their business and achieve the goals that we had promised.  By helping our customer develop best practices that complimented our technology, we were able to drastically reduce the adoption time and allow customers to start receiving value in a single day.

If you find that your customers are having trouble adopting your software, here is a three step process that you can use to help your customer align their behavior with your application.

3 Steps to Aligning Customer Behavior with Your Application

  1. Define Success:  Work with your customer to define a realistic objective so that you are both working towards the same goal.  What are the short term and long term goals of the project?  What problem is the customer trying to solve?
  2. Identify Behaviors:  Have the customer determine the behavior that will help them achieve their goals.  What activities will people do on a consistent basis in order to reach the objectives?
  3. Align Product Functionality:  Finally, show how the functionality of the product can be used to support the behaviors that will help the customer achieve their goals. 

In some cases, you may find that the customer is not practicing the behaviors that they identified in step two.  If this is the case, help the customer identify intermediate milestones.  The first milestone should have customers mimic their current behavior in your application.  Once the employees have experience with the interface and are comfortable entering and retrieving data, then you can help introduce the new desired behaviors.  If you try to change behavior while someone is learning a new application, they will blame the application for their frustration.

If you are expecting your customer to automatically change their behavior in order to use your SaaS application, both you and your customer will fail.  As a customer success representative, it is your job to help customers align their behaviors with your application.  This alignment will speed up adoption, reduce churn and increase customer value.

Ward is a guest blogger for The Success League. The Success League is a consulting firm that partners with customer success leaders to unlock the retention and revenue potential in their team. Unlike approaches that focus on soft skills, we present customer data in a way that allows success teams to advocate for customer needs and drive true change in their organization. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Ward Greunke Ward led the original customer success efforts at 1factory, helping grow the company from a small customer base to serving the Fortune 100 industry.  He studied behavioral economics during his MBA at Santa Clara University and writes a blog that shows how product features can drive behavior that is valued by the customer.  You can read more at latentvalue.blogsplot.com

Shifting Through Change - A Story About Managing Product Releases

By Natalie Macks

It’s easy to take something for granted. There are skills you don’t notice until a change happens and suddenly you are struggling to do something that has always seemed second nature.

I’ve recently returned from a visit to Australia and had the experience of renting a car and driving around Tasmania for a week. I had ample warning going into this trip that there would be a change to navigate. Every time I mentioned renting a car, invariably someone would ask if I’d ever driven on the wrong, I mean left, side of the road. “No,” I’d answer “but it will be interesting to try it.” 

On picking up our rental, I noticed there was a small “Drive to the left” sticker directly on the speedometer. How helpful! Lucky for me, my partner likes driving and had even once driven a friend’s fancy car that had been imported and modified for the USA. So he had indeed driven a car from the passenger seat. I was all set.

Except sitting in the left side of the vehicle and having no control over the direction the vehicle was heading was unnerving as well! In those moments when the driver made a decision different than what my brain was directing, it was downright nerve wracking. And didn’t he realize how close to the edge of the road he was?!! Suddenly I was the worst back seat driver ever. What had happened to my trust?

Eventually I had my chance in the driver’s seat. I smugly eased on to the highway, using my turn signal on the left side of the steering wheel. I changed lanes with no issue and made it through the first couple of traffic circles on our way to the mountains. No problem, I thought. Until that third intersection when I suddenly realized that I needed to be one lane over. Like now. On went the windshield wipers. Oops. 

This experience reminded me that no matter how much warning you have, how thoroughly you prepared for it or how careful you are trying to be, when change comes your instincts and habits kick in. I have much more compassion for customers who have to go through a “simple” product change that my company expects to be intuitive and an improvement. Customers have a set amount of time in their day to accomplish a task that was routine, a habit. With this kind of change even the most patient and conscientious user will have moments when they just want things to work like they did before, no matter how many bells and whistles your marketing team lauds. Previous trust that has been earned can easily slip out the window. What can your success team do?

Communicate

Give folks a heads up. Sometimes even small changes can have a big impact. The old maxim “better safe than sorry” applies. In app messaging, splash pages, even emails can all serve to alert users that “hey, something is different here”.

Gauge usage

Your best product experts are likely your customers. Set up your product usage alerts prior to launch so you can monitor how customers are interacting with new features. Are things taking longer? Are they dropping out of the sequence before completing a task? Are they skipping it entirely? 

Watch out

Track product changes in a calendar that you can easily correlate to your metrics. You’ll be prepared to identify any trends quickly and respond accordingly. You’d be surprised how many dips and peaks can correlate to releases.

Check in 

Product changes provide an excellent reason to reach out to your customers after launch. Give them a quick demo if needed and don’t forget to relay feedback to your product team.

Do your best to be prepared, be willing and able to respond to the unexpected, and keep on driving. The view from the top is almost always worth it! And I’m very happy to report that we returned our rental in excellent condition, even though we had a couple of “ARggggH!” moments.

Want to hear more about Natalie's amazing trip to Australia?  Connect with her on LinkedIn - she is an experienced traveler and customer success guru!  Want to learn how your customer success team can make sure that customers are prepared for new products?  The Success League helps SaaS companies achieve their potential by building and developing amazing customer success teams!  www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Natalie Macks - Natalie builds a culture of dedicated customer evangelists, as well as the systems and processes required for success.  Her award-winning leadership expertise coupled with integrity and passion produce increased customer retention and generate revenue.  With over 15 years in customer-facing roles, Natalie excels in bridging the gap between business technologies and the user experience.  She holds a BA in Zoology/Genetics from Michigan State University and resides in San Francisco, CA.