Building Success : Product Roadmap And Customer Success

Building Success : Product Roadmap And Customer Success

CustomerSuccessChat Recap

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Creating products that customers love to use is crucial for retention and growth in the world of SaaS. But like delivering stellar Customer Success, this is easier said than done. Today’s fast-growing-software companies (FGSC’s) build products that reflect the voice of their customers. Yet they also recognize when the best thing for customers is to say no to some of their enhancement requests. So how do you determine which of your customers’ product concerns should be prioritized? And what are the best tools and strategies for aligning your Product and Customer Success teams and keeping customer experience at the forefront of every new deployment?

Our March #CustomerSuccessChat, the sixth in the series, explored these topics and more as we discussed Building Success: Product Roadmap and Customer Success. Our experts — Mitchelle Mejia, Tom Krackeler, and Steve MacLaughlin — joined fellow Customer Success practitioners and enthusiasts from the field to discuss best practices and challenges in aligning Product and Customer Success. Here are the chat highlights.

The Product Roadmap must center around addressing the needs and wants of your target market, but how do you decide which customers and which needs to prioritize when making product plans? Start by collecting feedback from a diverse array of customer inputs and account for variables like length of time as a user, active usage in the product, and more to ensure you’re not unintentionally building for a squeaky wheel rather than your entire customer base.

Steve suggested an “outside in” approach to incorporating customer voices in-product, including doing direct observation of users with a product or high-fidelity prototypes, as well as harnessing multiple feedback inputs like NPS, idea banks, forums, communities, and in-person discovery.

Different customers may provide different feedback depending on various factors including how long they’ve been a user. The solution? Control for time-as-user as a variable in your feedback processes. Mitchelle recommended soliciting feedback at regular intervals -- at one month, three months then again at six months--to see how engagement over time impacts feedback. Run your own controlled feedback experiments to see which factors may be impacting your results. Tom echoed that it’s crucial capture a wide swath of customers in your feedback net--not just the “friendly” ones with which your team is most comfortable. This means paying attention to both prompted and unprompted feedback. The customers who aren’t normally on your radar may be most important ones to listen to!

When should you add a big new feature to land a “whale” if doing so means postponing other fixes for your smaller customers? Experts debated scenarios in which deferring smaller updates for existing customers made sense in order to land a larger new one.

They suggested considering these important questions when weighing this decision:

  • What market tier is your “sweet spot”? Optimize for that, and don’t waver. (Tom)
  • How long will the deferral be, and how much will the feature be used going forward? (Julie Martin)
  • Will the huge new feature for the whale customer add friction/confusion to the 100 other customers? (Tom)
  • Is this customer really a good fit? Are they who you are looking to target? (Mitchelle)
  • How much impact will this one feature have on other customers? (Mitchelle)
  • Are you prepared to ensure your whole company is oriented around this big customer? This includes services, product development, etc. (Tom)

What should SaaS companies do to build software that customers love? We’ll let our experts speak for themselves:

  • The #1 way to build a product customers love is to focus on the problems of those customers. (Steve)
  • (1) Know those customers inside and out. (2) Solve narrow problem. (3) Obsess on UX. (Tom)
  • The key is alignment with CS teams-- they know your customers best and are connecting with them the most. (Mitchelle)
  • Be willing to Pivot when your solution to the problem isn't working, but avoid the premature pivot (Steve and Tom)
  • You have to love the problem you're solving more than your product. The problem usually contains the solution. (Steve)

Ready to launch an entirely new UI for your product? Don’t leave your customer in the lurch! This is where alignment between your Customer Success and Product teams is perhaps most crucial. And to pull this off, the real work needs to happen far before launch day in the form of testing early and often with real users using their real data. As Steve said, “Always Be Testing”. Mitchelle and chat participant Brandon McLaughlin advocated for leveraging your “power users” and promoting them to become beta testers, giving them accolades and praise for their efforts along the way for their time and feedback. Tom suggested letting adventurous users opt in for early access, then releasing the changes in small waves. After testing, it’s crucial to get feedback and fix issues as you go. Steve said that with any major UI revamp, you should do lots of discovery, validation, and user testing well in advance.

The biggest challenges for Customer Success teams are articulating pain points crisply and with respect to priorities--if you can get this from your team, and they can communicate it well to product, you’ll be far more successful in launching new UI. By doing the work upfront and connecting user feedback to your product developments, once launch day arrives, you’ll (hopefully) be much more successful in the new UI rollout.

Judgment day is here, and you’ve got to choose: which matters more, having a stellar Customer Success or Product team? Of course both would be wonderful (which our experts pointed out with plenty of enthusiasm!), but we really wanted to know the answer if push came to shove. Tom argued that if your product is lousy, you’re basically sunk, while your Customer Success team can be more easily improved upon.

Julie Martin pointed out that your product team is not your product (very important distinction!) and that an A+ CSM team can help out a great deal while your product team grows and improves. But the overall expert consensus was that you really do need both Product and Customer Success to rock to retain and grow your customer lifetime value (CLTV).

What role should customers play in previewing or beta testing new features before they’re launched? The verdict from all the experts: yes, but with these caveats:

  • Be sure to get a wide mix of customers within your user base--not just “friendly” customers or the power users that PMs already know. (Tom and Mitchelle)
  • Ensure customers’ live data is in the mix, or else adoption will be poor. (Tom)
  • Ask your customers what they want from new features while beta testing, but be mindful of scope creep. (Tom)

Experts recommended these processes:

  • Don't think that painstakingly tracking each request solves anything by itself- must triage/rationalize constantly. Tom
  • NPS for CS - So we get ALL the feedback and then take the time to sort it and action it (Mitchelle)
  • Build feedback mechanisms directly into the product. And build instrumentation from the start. (Steve)
  • Send NPS for Product and NPS for individual features. (Mitchelle)
  • Direct customer feedback is just one ingredient. Also must consider unspoken needs like scalability/performance. (Steve)
  • Take the leap and launch a customer-facing ideas forum. Promotes accountability, community transparency, trust. (Tom)
  • Product Teams need to get good at making decisions. Frequency of release and agile process keep things moving. (Steve)

Experts recommended these tools:

  • Delighted for automated NPS (Steve)
  • Aha! for Product management (Steve)

No SaaS company could survive if they built every feature requested by every customer. Then again, some of the best features in products were a result of customers requesting them. So how do you know whether it’s a “build-it” or “forget-it” situation?

Before even considering adding a requested feature to your product roadmap, get very clear on why you’d build said feature as well as for whom you’re building it. Not sure about either? Then don’t do it! Will it only serve a few customers rather than your entire user base? Is the feature a commodity? Then Tom advised to integrate with a third-party solution. Brandon McLaughlin and Julie Martin both said, “don’t do it if it exceeds the scope of your product or your company mission statement.” Is the feature valuable, usable and truly needed? Then ship it, says Steve. Otherwise: toss it to the “forget-it” category (at least for now).

And that’s a wrap! To read more blog recaps from past Customer Success Chats on Customer Success topics including growthhacking, upselling, high-touch at high-volume, onboarding and more, check out our Customer Success Chat page.

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