Wide Range of Perceptions

Even though Customer Success has evolved immensely as a profession, a vast majority of people still have a wide range of perceptions around its necessity and function. Some confuse it to be another arm of Customer Support, while others mistake it as a band-aid for a malfunctioning product. In actuality, the truth is far from either of these options.

To better address this question, Strikedeck hosted a panel discussion at ServiceNow in Santa Clara, and called Customer Success experts to share their perspectives on the matter.

The panel consisted of Paul Reeves (VP of CS at Vonage), Carlos Quezada (Director of CS at Aruba/HP), Javed Maqsood (VP of CS at Reflektion) and Micah Rowland (COO at Fountain), and was moderated by Chitra Madhwacharyula, the Director of Global Strategic Alliances at Ayla Networks.

The Relationship Between CS & Product

There are multiple factors that come in play when discussing the relationship between Customer Success and Product. More often than not, CS is used as a band-aid at start-ups when there are limited resources at hand, and each team member is expected to wear multiple hats.

Generically, there are two types of companies – ones that think that they have product/market fit, but don’t, and those that actually do have it. Customer Success is a more nimble and responsive way of extending the product/market fit, and can sometimes serve as a crutch for products that haven’t smoothed out their kinks yet. For companies that do not have a great product/market fit, it is hard to resist the temptation to use CS as a band-aid to stop the bleeding.

While it may be okay to use Customer Success as a band-aid for a malfunctioning product during the early years of operation, it should never be looked at as a permanent fix for product issues. Think about it this way – a band-aid is meant to be temporary in nature, it is used to stop the blood, and allow the wound to heal. Ask yourself this – what happens after the wound heals? At what point does it go from being a band-aid to a stitch on an injury that has completely healed?

Need For Seamless Interaction

After the initial round of introductions, the panelists were asked: What are some of the processes you put in place for CS that makes this product/CS interaction seamless?

Customer Success is really looked upon as the service-delivery arm of an organization, and in order to ensure success, a seamless interaction between CS and product is paramount.

  • When churn happens in a subscription based business, it is because of the value you gained, compared to the cost. Therefore, while setting up your business, make sure that people in CS and product operate in a space where they can co-design and weigh in on that experience. More so, use tools that allow engineering/product and CS to work in the same environment.
  • All technical processes should be streamlined and well-instrumented. Make sure that all your data architecture is in place – if CS isn’t connected to the product, CSMs won’t be able to figure out why customers are churning.
  • Another element to be stressed is aligning the skills and capabilities of people in the organization. Collect all data from various touch points and critically analyze it, ask questions, and seek answers from all the people involved to make sure processes are streamlined and efficient.

Loop In Product with Customer Success

While ensuring that both the functions work in parallel with each other, make it a point to loop in CS and Engineering at important customer meetings, onboardings, and QBRs. QBRs are very insightful for product managers and including them in customer calls helps them solve product-related customer issues in a more structured way.

Another way to integrate CS with Product is to invite the Product team to sit in on the Customer Advisory Board. Not only do they get to see how much CS is contributing to the entire company, but they will also get organic feedback from customers. Essentially, if the Product team is on the same page as their customers, they won’t need Customer Success to hand-hold their way through product-related problems.

The Final Verdict

Prior to SaaS, companies had to spend time and money to perfect their product. The shift to the subscription model has changed this trend, and has enabled companies to look at business from a broader, more proactive lens. Customer Success is a function on its own, and has a predefined role in the organization. It shouldn’t be looked at as a band-aid – with the sole purpose of rescuing a troubled product. Instead, organizations should focus more on creating walk-throughs for their customers and making the entire model “self-serve” in nature. Such a sustainable growth model requires a permanent shift in mindset – one that centers around enabling the customer and greater integration between CS and Product.

Zahra Iqbal

Marketing Manager, Strikedeck