Why Product Success Is a Precursor to Customer Success
Product success and customer success are interdependent and work best when teams are able to share information seamlessly.
Customer success has become a popular buzzword for software as a service (SaaS) companies looking to increase the amount of time and money customers spend on their platform. By tracking customer usage along with associated account health and addressing those preemptively, SaaS firms hope to build a thriving base of loyal customers and subscription renewals that help them grow their revenue and reputation in the market.
It’s a smart strategy: The more you invest in keeping customers engaged, the more likely they are to reciprocate by sticking with your platform — or even better, recommending it to others. Not only does this approach boost business, but it also extends the lifetime value of customers, helping ensure that they will use your product for years to come.
But even if you have the most proactive customer success team in the world or the best metrics in the business, your efforts will falter without a strong foundation of product success. The experience customers have when they use your platform trumps everything. It doesn’t matter how many digital touchpoints you have or how well you manage them. No amount of customer outreach can shore up support for a poorly designed and poorly adopted product.
To drive customer success, you must focus on your product first. Are customers using it in the right way? Have you put enough effort into helping them understand the different aspects of your platform or the most relevant features for them?
Before you release a product, you should first set up some success criteria to ensure you avoid unnecessary headaches for your customers down the road. Wasting resources during the development of a product, or its features, will push out any potential revenue you or your customers would otherwise be enjoying. Here are the major criteria you should follow when it comes to product success:
For the greatest product success, you need to place the focus on what the most integral functions of a product are. These are what will deem it a success or a failure, depending on how you roll them out. Forget about all the bells and whistles that get in the way of a clean and streamlined product, at least initially. You want to make it easy to use and not confusing. There may come a time down the road when you can add some non-essential features that could add to the overall product in some way.
You may become emotionally attached to a particular function or feature working out that you spend countless hours and a great deal of money to make work. You want to avoid it failing at all costs. Instead of trying to prove something to the world, drop a feature or function that is just not working out right now. You can always come back to it later. Only focus on features and functions that are useful and valuable to your customers. Always see things through this lens when you want a product to succeed. Allow the features and functions within the product to be achievable.
Spend time mulling over any idea that you would involve putting a great deal of time and money into. It may cost you big time if you don’t follow this guidance. To achieve product success, you cannot be wasting valuable resources on ideas that will not bear any fruit for your business. Once you identify a bad idea, scrap it, throw it away, and move on.
When you work with a team on a product, you need to ensure that everyone is aligned and knows what is expected. It is crucial to set expectations, since the benefits can be massive and you avoid potential failures. You also avoid the uncomfortable arguments and challenges that sometimes arise when there is a lack of alignment. Communication is key when working with others on a product. Make sure that everyone knows what the specifics and end result are.
Understanding product success criteria is the precursor to actually establishing the criteria. Whenever you roll out a new feature or product, you will want to apply the criteria mentioned next. To enjoy the full benefits of success criteria, use the following tips as a guide.
Placing focus on a single metric will ensure that you and everyone on your team can take up the task of successfully actualizing it. Focusing on just one metric also makes it easier to understand what needs to be done. When selecting the metric, make sure it is one that will lead to the greatest success of your customers and business. Deliberate carefully. This will potentially save you time and money later on. Identify what brings the most value to your customers and business. Avoid vanity metrics that are not going to actually lead to true product success.
Avoid going too general with your metric. Your product, or a feature of it, is a unique creation that requires something specific. The more specific your metric is, the easier it is to establish the success criteria. Define terms that you believe area universally understood. They may take on new meaning within the framework of your product. If you don’t do this, the metric can become little more than a vanity number. The total active users is a great example of this.
You and your team may have deliberated long and hard on what metric to use, yet at some point it turned out to be a poor one. If you find yourself in this situation, dump it right away and replace with with a better metric. If you can see that the metric will potentially jeopardize your product success, you owe it to your customers and business to change the metric.
Who is using your product? Your customers are human and that means you need to mold it in a way that appeals to how humans use something. A good metric will revolve around either changing user behaviors or initiating the process of users taking action. Make sure it is something useful that will provide meaningful value. When you are using a metric that is people-centric, you ensure that it will be an effective way to measure product success.
Spell out exactly what you will do in a range of situations and outcomes. How will you measure success? Define what success means, in terms of the specific feature you are implementing into your product. You can also define success in terms of your product as a whole. If this is something that is difficult for you to define more specifically because you lack data, use a hypothesis. This is better than nothing so that you can continue moving forward with the launch of a successful product.
Product success is vital to helping customers develop a deeper appreciation for your platform and creating a stickier relationship with them. This starts with onboarding. The more you can personalize this process for users, the more apt they will be to use your platform.
If you operate a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, for example, consider the needs of the different stakeholders using it and what’s most important for them to know. Administrators and managers need to understand how the system is configured and how to create roles and restrictions within the application. Salespeople and account managers may need more instruction on how to input data and navigate through various forms. Executives and customer experience (CX) managers may be more concerned with how to efficiently use dashboards and reports to glean insights.
Personalizing the guidance you provide to these stakeholders through your onboarding program can go a long way in making them feel more comfortable using your platform. Instead of using generic messaging that provides a broad overview of the product, developing targeted messages for different types of users that talk specifically about the features they need most and how to use them is a more compelling way to bring them on board.
Once you’re confident that customers are sufficiently onboarded, the next step to ensuring product success is evaluating how well customers are adopting the product. Are they maximizing their use of the features they need? How frequently are they using them? Are they aware of additional features the platform offers that might benefit them? The best way to convince a customer to upgrade from a basic plan to an advanced one is by getting them to use your platform so much that they are asking for additional features.
Successful onboarding and adoption naturally make your customer success efforts easier and more effective. Not only are customers more likely to become loyal users of your platform and invest even more time and money into it, but they are willing to advocate for your product and recommend it to others.
It’s not performance or functionality issues that stifle product success — it’s not knowing about them soon enough. If you onboarded 100 users to your platform, but 60 of them stopped logging in after two weeks, you need to know as quickly as possible so you can find out why and fix the issue. Tracking user patterns and behaviors can help you keep tabs on what’s working and what’s not so you can personalize your follow-up conversations with customers and gather meaningful feedback to solve their problem.
Knowing more about how customers are using your platform as well as its features can also help you develop the right metrics for gauging product success. Take a CRM for example. How often should the sales and executive teams be logging in per week? What features do they use the most? How does usage compare for CX managers on the East Coast versus those on the West Coast? Breaking usage down by demographics such as roles and geography can provide a more holistic view of how customers are responding to and adopting your product. But the ultimate goal is the same: to increase the number of customers using your product and more of its features as time goes on.
Many SaaS firms view product success and customer success as separate entities within their operation and relegate teams charged with achieving these objectives to silos. But the two are interdependent and work best when teams are able to share information seamlessly. For example, customer success managers need to be able to access data about individual users and their usage patterns in real-time without having to search for the information in a different application or request it offline.
Using multiple systems to drive product success and customer success not only complicates their implementation, but it can also double costs. Having a single, integrated system that aligns these functions and integrates them by default creates a synergy between the two that can help firms grow their subscriptions and revenue exponentially and build a more loyal and passionate customer base at the same time.
Customer success begins with product success. When you deliver a working product that has the features customers need, your business will benefit immensely. This is a strategic move that will ensure your customers are satisfied with your product and stay with you for a long time to come. The more you focus on product success, the more robust your loyal customer base will become. Your customers will appreciate their bottom line and reputation growing thanks to your helpful product. Product success and customer success are two sides of the same coin. They are inextricably linked, which means you need to factor both of them into your strategy.
This article is written by Prithwi Dasgupta, Founder & CEO – SmartKarrot. It originally appeared on Medium.
This blog has been last updated on 26 May 2020 to make it more comprehensive.
Originally Published November 7th, 2019, Updated August 28th, 2020
Prithwi is passionate about customer retention. He has over 20 years of experience in creating profitable book of businesses and building performing teams and functions. In his prior role, Prithwi led his business unit to grow thirty-fold with revenue nearing $60M.