Product first; team second – if at all: Building products for customer success

Product is one of the biggest gaps between theory and practice when it comes to customer success.  The problem in most companies is that customer success is added as a function or team to help the customer achieve success with the product.  Just think about what that really says.  We have built this product to help you achieve something but we need a team to help you achieve something.

In fact, in many companies it is worse than that.  They need two teams to help you.  Customer Support is often the first team to be established, responsible for helping customers use the product.  That is often followed with a separate Customer Success team who add value by ensuring the customer achieves their desired outcome.  You are effectively telling customers you have built a product that can’t be used and won’t achieve the results they have bought it for without help.  Sounds strange when you put it like that doesn’t it but I bet that is what you have in your company.

I believe the starting point should be success built into the product and it starts at the outset of the business with product/market fit.  The initial product concept should be clear about customers’ desired outcomes and how the product will deliver it.  This might include:

  • Discovery process to identify the desired outcome (use case) and key data about the customer and their process.
  • Setting an achievable goal.
  • Automatic configuration of the product to achieve the goal.
  • Automated walk through of how the product is used to achieve the customer’s goal.
  • Reporting on goal achievement and how best to use the product to achieve it.
  • Data mining and machine learning to identify and prompt practices that underpin goal achievement.

Some say that this approach is overly ambitious and I am not saying it easy.  I also say fortune favours the brave and suggest the world is full of examples of people doing things that others said can’t be done.  Some of the most commonly used applications are built with a deep understanding of the customer and what they are trying to achieve.  Ever tried to contact a customer success team at Amazon, Facebook or Twitter?  Resources to help the customer do exist, it’s just that the overwhelming emphasis is on heading off the need for a success team by focusing on product first. [I will return to the true purpose of a customer success team in a future blog.]   What most companies suffer from is a legacy mindset that says customer success equals a team.

There are significant advantages to productising customer success:

  • It forces the product team to have an in-depth understanding of the customer and their goals.  This can only mean a better product.
  • It is infinitely more scaleable and therefore, in the longer term, more profitable.
  • It plays to the increasing demand for self-service.  People want things to work for them, not to have to have constant calls or emails to achieve what they purchased.

This has significant implications for how the product is defined, how the roadmap is controlled and how resources are allocated.  It also suggests that a head of customer success should have a strong product orientation as well as being hugely committed to understanding and delivering real customer success.

In a future blog, I will share a checklist for building a success based product.

What are your thoughts?  Would love to hear from you.

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