How Customer Success Teams Can Influence Product Roadmaps
Across countless industries, many thriving businesses succeed by keeping the customer in mind.
At Center, a Seattle startup that serves mid-market companies, building expense management technology has long been a customer-centric endeavor for all involved.
Automating expense reporting at all stages, from a company’s initial point of spend to its accounting system, Center streamlines historically time-consuming business processes. Its ultimate aim? To do away with traditional expense reports altogether.
For Maureen Rhodes, senior vice president of customer success, moving toward such an ambitious goal requires constant teamwork between her team and Center’s product team, both focused on users.
“Collaboration is crucial,” Rhodes said. That’s because Center’s customer success team hears regularly about customers’ experiences and expectations; receiving such insights about potential product and feature ideas enables Rhodes to share qualitative data from real use cases with Center’s product team, providing a key step in their company’s feedback loop.
As such, Rhodes said success in her role is about involving the customer in the process. “My team is in a unique position to partner with clients as a feature is being built out, to demonstrate that their voice matters in development.”
Simultaneously, customer success and product teams collaborate to incorporate those insights into Center’s product roadmap, ensuring customers feel heard and that their needs are addressed.
Below, Rhodes shed light on the collaborative culture at Center and discussed the benefits of empowering customer-facing teams like hers to influence the product roadmap.
How does your team funnel customer requests to the product team?
My client experience (CX) team takes ownership of customer needs, insights and feedback, identifying trends apparent across the customer base. We associate feedback to persona types and use cases for the product team. We also organize the data into categories that align with how our product and engineering teams are structured, and consider the financial impacts of improvements to assist with roadmap prioritization.
To implement customer feedback, we work cross-functionally with peers on the product team. It’s important that the feedback and data coming from CX is organized in an easily digestible format. When CX substantiates and connects product enhancements to customer outcomes as well as financial impact, internal teams can align more effectively around clear priorities that deliver increasing value to customers, helping us achieve our goals.
From your perspective, what are the main challenges that arise when customer success teams take greater ownership over the product roadmap, and how do you navigate them?
Traditionally, CX teams are focused on client-facing features and are not as deeply ingrained in the technical aspects of a product. But with CX taking greater ownership of the product roadmap, they must more deeply understand technical product aspects, as well as how those aspects benefit the customer. When CX understands the product, they’re able to initiate detailed discussions with clients and contextualize feedback for product and engineering teams. It is the CX team’s responsibility to organize and surface customer data in a way that accurately represents the voice of the customer.
Additionally, building strong cross-functional relationships with product and engineering teams is critical to understanding how these teams can help achieve one another’s business priorities. When delivering customer feedback to these teams, instead of only sharing the functionality the client is looking for, CX teams should explain the “why” and the anticipated customer benefit. With a full understanding of why clients are looking for what they are looking for, the product team is better-equipped to build a feature in a more thoughtful, scalable way.
Become your customer’s biggest advocate.”
What tips would you offer to a customer success manager or leader looking for greater influence over the product roadmap?
Become your customer’s biggest advocate. Know the customer journey from start to finish, and deeply understand what the day-to-day issues are from their perspective so you know what it means for customers to have success with your product.
Enable your team to know the product inside and out. The best CX teams are those that build trust with customers, know the problems those customers are trying to solve and intimately understand how their product can be configured to solve those problems.
Highlight important client partnerships. In product releases, show your appreciation for clients who inspired new features. Giving the customer credit for their partnership builds trust and advocacy while encouraging continuous feedback.
Consolidate feedback into actionable data. Organizing customer feedback data must be a priority of CX teams, with a select few owning the process. These stewards of the data can better evaluate trends and analyze inputs to find commonalities across a customer base.