How to Fix Common Breakdowns Between CS & Product in Your Startup

Written by
Lauren Meccaarrow icon

How to Fix Common Breakdowns Between CS & Product in Your Startup

Written by
Lauren Mecca

Customer Success teams, in earnest efforts to advocate for client needs, can be guilty of overwhelming Product with unreasonable expectations around bugs, enhancements, feature requests.

We want every customer to succeed, and we want to hit our retention goals.

Product can sometimes be accused of failing to deliver on existing customer needs in favor of a roadmap that may serve a larger company vision but abandons some concerns of existing users.

Does it sound familiar to you?

These breakdowns have existed to some extent everywhere I've worked. And a few startups I advise are intensely feeling this tension and are trying to resolve it.

Why This Happens

I’ve identified 4 root causes that contribute to this breakdown in your business. Most often, it’s caused by some combination of the below:

Structural: retention is viewed as a CS-only initiative

Every function contributes in their own way to the success of the business, right? So why wouldn’t every function be incentivized to keep revenue around? Spread the retention goal around the business, don't just shoulder your CSMs with it.

Mindset: CS is treating all customer needs equally

Not all feedback is equally valuable. Those of us in Customer Success have to allow Product to drive priorities and have a say in urgency. What's in our control: how well we represent bugs and requests to technical teams - this means with accuracy, scope, and strategic context in mind. What's not in our control: developers' priorities. We'll have more influence, and serve the business better, if we respect this boundary.

Insight: the rest of the business just doesn’t seem to understand customer needs

What seems like a small deal to Product may be known to CS as a ticking time bomb because Customer A who reported it is just like Customers B, C, and D. If so, name that segment, quantify it, list their risk factors and opportunities, and teach the rest of the business about this segment of your customer base.

Another reason CS may see urgency where others do not is a lack of understanding about the customer journey. A small hiccup in one phase might lead to failure to launch, or a missed business outcome. CS also needs to raise and maintain awareness about the success path (per segment!) and common barriers.

Alignment: you're selling to multiple use cases and segments without realizing it

A lot of teams reach product-market fit without fully understanding there are multiple fits in there. How many different desired outcomes do customers look for when using your product? Are there substantially different experiences, journeys, requirements that jeopardize retention coming from within your customer base? You may be stretching to serve multiple segments, and you may need to narrow your focus to A. ensure your Product team is effective and B. prevent a problematic level of churn.

I see a lot of attempts at quick fixes when this breakdown between Product and CS becomes evident. But a new meeting cadence or tool for organizing feedback won't address these root causes. What does help these teams row in the same direction is cross-functional commitment to knowing and serving your current AND future customer base. And it takes continuous effort and communication.

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