Why Customer Success should own more of your Product Roadmap
Plus: 17 Customer Success leaders share how they influence their roadmap
We’ve been on the phone with dozens of Customer Success folks lately. After one particularly insightful call, it became clear we were seeing a significant change in how customer-centric companies determine what their development teams work on.
The change is this: customer-facing teams—particularly Customer Success—are increasingly using customer feedback to influence the product roadmap. This is a trend we call “Feedback Driven Development”.
What is Feedback-Driven Development?
In the old world, Product Management was the team that drove the roadmap: they talked to customers and customer-facing teams, synthesized all the feedback, sprinkled in some stakeholder inputs, managed some Hippos (HIghest Paid People’s Opinions), and produced a roadmap.
In the new world, Product Management still does what they do, but for less of the roadmap than they used to. In the new world, we've heard about Customer Success teams owning up to 80% of the roadmap.
This is a major change: historically, Product owned the roadmap. But because Customer Success signs up for revenue targets, they have a bigger seat at the table, more data about what customers want, and correspondingly more power over what gets built.
You don’t have to look very far to see why software companies embrace this. Superhuman is a prime example of how a strong customer success team and customer-centric culture can impact the roadmap. Rahul Vohra, Superhuman’s CEO, talks about how 50% of their dev budget is spent on building features based on the 40,000 customer requests they’ve triaged and tracked. The other 50% is spent on strategic features. It’s hard to see how Superhuman would be as good a product without focusing 50% of their developer budget on the features that their strong CS team brings to the table.
Why is this trend happening?
When you break it down, Customer Success has both the means and motivation to heavily influence the roadmap -- and forward-thinking SaaS companies have realized it’s in their best interest to empower them to do so.
Net negative revenue churn driven by retention and expansion revenue is the key to SaaS growth
The way to retain and expand is to solve your customers’ problems by building what they need
Customer Success is the best informed group in a SaaS org about what their customers need, because they hear it day-in and day-out
Customer Success usually owns renewals and expansion. So in addition to hearing about customer pains regularly, CS is also responsible for solving those pains to drive renewal and expansion revenue on the march to net negative revenue churn.
It’s hard to imagine this trend won’t continue. In a world where the number of options in a category is exploding, renewal and expansion revenue is even more important. Which means Success will prioritize MORE of the roadmap than they do today. Product will still drive strategic and competitive features and execution (though Customer Success is also a great pipeline for competitive information).
Isn’t using customer feedback to build software just giving people "faster horses"?
Henry Ford’s quote is well-known and probably apocryphal: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
There is some merit to the idea of consumers not knowing what they want when it comes to invention (building a brand-new, category defining product… like a car). But when it comes to innovation (improving on an existing product… like Superhuman and email… or Slack and email), customer feedback is gold.
If you want to dive deeper into the difference between invention vs innovation, David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt break it down for you on this short and entertaining episode of Drift’s Seeking Wisdom podcast.
How Customer Success leaders use Feedback-Driven Development to influence the product roadmap
To see how other organizations use feedback to influence the roadmap, we asked a handful of Customer Success leaders how they influence the Product Roadmap in their respective organizations. The answers were telling: feedback-driven development is alive and well.
Here are how 17 Customer Success leaders use feedback to drive the product roadmap at their companies.
Conor Cox, Chief Customer Officer @ Proposify
Trying to nail down a single ‘thing’ we do to influence the roadmap is really challenging.
We’ve made the customer team omnipresent throughout our product development cycle - from the initial idea, through to the user acceptance testing we use to validate features and fixes on their way out the door.
At Proposify, we like to think the Customer Team owns the roadmap—we can connect (almost) every planned development effort back to customer conversations that our team has had over the past 6 months.
In terms of a single event—we host a monthly meeting called “The 5 Product Improvements You Need” that brings together a wide cast of characters from Product, User Research, Customer Success along with leaders from our executive team.
The meeting works for 3 reasons:
We have executive buy-in. Our Chief Product Officer (and myself) are there to run the meeting and make sure voices are heard, and actions are taken. If you don’t have a high level of influence and commitment from your leadership team, meetings (like this) turn into echo chambers.
Limit the ideas CSMs can bring. If you shine a light on every idea that customers have brought up in the past month, the meeting would take days. We run this 11-person meeting in 1 hour, and narrow 15-20 requested improvements down to a shortlist of 5 (or less) through CSM voting. Each CSM gets 4 votes that they can allocate to any of the improvements listed for that month, and we tally the votes up to determine our new projects.
Attendees see action. We start the meeting off by reviewing the improvements we’ve shipped from last month, along with status updates for improvements in development. The simple act of removing shipped items from our queue, and sharing the progress that has been made keeps motivation high and helps to build trust between our customer success and product teams.
Follow Conor Cox: @conorcox
Chad Horenfeldt, Director of Customer Success @ Kustomer
The #1 thing we do to influence the roadmap is to create multiple opportunities for discussions to happen between the Customer Experience (CX) and the Product teams.
We have a bottoms-up approach where the members of the CX team can bring forward top issues.
Each CX team reviews them and then prioritizes them for the PM team.
The PM team has set aside a certain amount of time per sprint to work on these issues and there is a constant dialog to ensure that the right issues are being worked on.
In addition, once a month we hold a client health review meeting with members of the executive team where we go over any trends we’re hearing from customers in regards to product gaps and issues.
While there is always room for improvement, having these mechanisms in place allows everyone the opportunity to influence the direction of the product.
Follow Chad Horenfeldt: @ChadTev
Elyse Roach, Product Specialist @ Help Scout
At Help Scout, we map all of our support conversations from Help Scout and any feature requests linked to them in Jira, into our business analytics tool, Looker. From there we're able to accurately track trends over time (instead of looking at overall request volume only) and better parse what the impact of the request is—for example, are there any specific groups of customers who are requesting the feature?
Understanding more around who is requesting the feature and the pain that they might be feeling around it, helps us to prioritize items in the roadmap. If we need to decide between two highly requested features, an impact statement built with our customer data can be the tie breaker!
Follow Elyse Roach: @itselyseroach
Jeff Gardner, Head of Customer Success @ Graphy
(Before Graphy, Jeff was Director of Support and Customer Success at Intercom)
The most impactful way to get more of the features built that your customers are asking for is to do two things.
First, you need to find ways to make customers more tangible to more of the company.
And second, you need to bring data.
When you're a very small company it's easy for nearly everyone in the company to have direct contact with customers. Things like all-hands support or engineers talking directly with customers to troubleshoot bugs help to keep the needs and wants of customers at the front of everyone's mind.
However, as your company grows and jobs become more specialized it becomes harder and harder for teammates to have a direct and personal relationship with customers. Even in some of the "best" product teams in the world, it's common to see PMs fall back on watching sessions and analyzing survey data instead of actually getting in front of a customer and getting the unfiltered view. There are many very legitimate reasons why this tends to happen (and not all of those changes are net bad) but it's an important job of any customer support/success/experience executive to remind everyone in a company who their customers are and why the company's product matters to those customers.
At Intercom, we ran a Customer Support Day to help with this. Anyone in the company could come down and sit with the support team and spend the day answering questions from our customers. A key part of this experience was that we'd specifically ask everyone to write a message in the #general channel in Slack highlighting their experience from the day. These posts nearly always kicked off a broader discussion. The point is, you have to intentionally engineer ways to bring customer experience to every employee in your company so that they feel empathy and have some sort of emotional connection to the people you're building for.
Second, data is incredibly powerful. Anyone who has ever worked front line customer support (or retail, or food service for that matter) can attest to just how hard it is to resist being purely anecdotal. Day in and day out you're confronted with raw experiences of dealing with people who are frustrated or confused. It's hard not to focus on (or remember) the biggest emotions. But to have a hope of having your voice heard in the roadmap meeting you need to show up with concrete data that helps PMs, product owners, or founders understand what customers, in aggregate, are asking for. You should break down this data by customer segment or type as well. This helps product leaders understand bigger picture questions like, "Are we going after the right customer in the first place".
Follow Jeff Gardner: @erskingardner
Stephanie Thum, CCXP, Founder @ PracticalCX
In my experience, customers' and/or intermediaries' verbatim remarks are the most powerful for influencing changes to products and or services. Verbatims include remarks from well-documented client interviews, open text boxes in online surveys, customer emails, contact center recordings, or transcripts of contact center recordings.
These are effective for getting the attention of the right people in the organization because they came straight from human beings who were actually using the product or service, and usually frustrated by it.
Follow Stephanie Thum, CCXP: @stephaniethum
Jamie O'Sullivan, Customer Success Director Global Accounts @ Botify
The most successful tactic to influencing the product roadmap is tying the idea back to revenue— no sh*t Sherlock!
First and foremost, if a top tier client requests a feature, the product team will listen. If a dozen smaller clients request a feature, aggregating the total ACV and building your narrative from that perspective will resonate internally.
You have successfully jumped over the first hurdle—what next?
Now that you have attracted attention, you must assume the facilitator role and connect the product team with the client. In this role, you will provide all the relevant context to both parties and create the environment for them to connect.
To continuously build on the momentum, it's a good idea to leverage your champions and encourage them to share constant feedback as to why this new feature is mission-critical to their operations.
If you don't have a heavy-weight client to back you up, the alternative route is to build a case on potential long-term expansion associated with this feature. This requires a little more primary research where you must gather expressed interest from as many clients as possible. Once you can demonstrate the new feature will lead to revenue expansion you will be in a good position to push the feature through the door.
Follow Jamie O'Sullivan: @jamiebattosull
Anant Pai, Manager of Campaign Success @ New/Mode
We track all feature requests, and link those tickets directly to the original request in Hubspot CRM. We're able to quantify demand as well as directly see which of our subscribers are waiting for specific features.
This works because we have great communication between CS, Dev, and Product. Prioritization is much easier when the product and dev teams understand the impact that features have on subscribers, and CS is able to set expectations better when they understand the current product roadmap and technical limitations that prevent certain features from being implemented immediately.
We facilitate this great communication with regular structured meetings. At least one support agent is involved in our backlog grooming, sprint demos, and sprint planning. I attend all of them.
If we have feature requests or bugs that aren't hotfixes, we link those tickets in Hubspot to the issue in the dev tool, and put them in a special category. The support team has a group discussion before backlog grooming / sprint planning to discuss which of these “special” feature requests or bugs we want to prioritize for dev.
The linked ticket makes it easier to identify which of our subscribers are affected by the bug, and how many are affected.
We don't have a set method of weighting what we ask dev to build, but these are the factors that generally go into it:
How much of a blocker the bug/feature is to the subscriber's ability to use the product
How many subscribers are affected
If it's a feature request, is it something that makes sense organically, or will it affect the product drastically or take it in an unusual direction? If so, that's another discussion altogether with the product team.
Follow Anant Pai: @anutty314
Ross Fulton, Founder and CEO @ Valuize
Delivering the voice of the customer directly to the product org is the most effective tactic I’ve seen to get features built that customers need.
This could be via a Customer Advisory Board and/or via a customer community. Enabling the customer community to 'upvote' product enhancement requests on a customer community platform is a great way of doing this at scale. Hearing it straight from the horses' (customers') mouths means that any sentiment related to non-customer centric bias in the feature requests is eliminated.
Follow Ross Fulton: @RossGDFulton
Jeremy Watkin, Manager, Product Marketing @ 8x8
(Jeremy worked in CX and Support before moving to Product Marketing).
At 8x8 it totally depends on the size of the deal. If the opportunity is large enough in working with a name brand, sometimes that’s enough to prioritize a feature request.
Otherwise you do need both stories and data. Stories speak to the heart and the data speaks to the head. At least I need both. I’ve met a few execs in my life that only hear the data (not naming names).
Key factors to prioritize are (from a contact center perspective) the cost per contact for supporting that issue. Also lost revenue from churn mixed with the cost of acquiring a new customer is a good one.
As far as stories, I’ve done my share of losing my cool with product/engineering so they can feel my pain. Sometimes that’s being a good advocate not just for customers but for your team who has to deal with upset customers.
In a SaaS environment, ideally Product is already asking for that information. It’s a partnership and they really want the data to ensure that they are being smart with priorities. I’ve never had access to FullStory, but have shared customer emails/phone recordings. More specific is always better.
Follow Jeremy Watkin: @jwatkin
Nate Brown, Chief Experience Officer @ Officium Labs
Customer-centricity is built into everything we do. We go deep into relationships with our customers, regularly holding brainstorming conversations and white boarding solutions. Nearly all of our Officium products were born when one of our customers had an issue that we could help solve. Our tagline of "let's build it together" is something we take very seriously!
When it comes to player experience, small things in a game can make-or-break the simulation. Understanding how players advance through an environment and the behaviors they perform is essential to increasing overall engagement. By creating clear player personas from both a qualitative and quantitative point of view, as well as creating custom "player voice" listening paths, we can make ultra-targeted recommendations to the game team for future development.
This philosophy has allowed us to increase player spend, time in game, win-back rate, and so much more!
Follow Nate Brown: @customerisfirst
Mo McKibbin, Head of Customer Experience @ BrightBack
Cannot recommend Help Scout tags enough for tracking feature requests. Here's the process:
Customer asks for a feature or reports bad UX/UI etc.
We create a tag to track it. Will look like cohort-report. Or multi-channel-slack. We have a "changelog" Slack channel we post in when new Tags are created
Help Scout also makes it easy to start typing to reveal existing tags
Every time that customer asks for that feature/reports that problem, we throw on the tag. It's a real lightweight way to track common asks.
This puts a data point to customer requests, which you can view easily in reports. If you are using other means of tracking account status (like trial vs. customer vs prospect) you can even filter to be like "these are the requests for evaluators/trials/prospects vs. customers":
If you want to pull up a list of all customers that requested a specific feature, you can pull it up easily in search (great for communicating about beta releases, or getting folks to interview on what they are looking for specifically for it):
When the product/feature is released, you can run a Workflow (sometimes called Rules in other help desks) by that tag to notify all customers that asked about it at once 🎉
Learn more: How to track feature requests in Help Scout
Follow Mo McKibbin: @momckibbin
Matt Kitch, Head of Customer Success @ FileInvite
Usually my influence is through weighting the number of requests we have had for certain features, and pulling in anecdotal feedback to ensure the UX of a feature, or any consequences of changes to a feature are minimised.
Junaid Mohammed, Head of Customer Success @ Hiver
The customer success team at Hiver plays a huge role in shaping the product roadmap as we interact with customers on a daily basis and take forward feature requests. So, as part of influencing the roadmap, the most important thing we do is breaking down the “why” behind feature requests.
A lot of product companies I know of build features just because a large client asks for it. While this might help bring in more revenue in the short term, it's not a feasible strategy to adopt. So, to uncover the 'why' behind feature requests, what we do is regularly interact with customers to understand their needs, find out how a new feature would fit into their current workflow, and most importantly, what exact pain point would this feature solve.
We also make sure to map these feature requests with our long-term product roadmap and see how well they align. Any feature you build must cater to and most importantly 'delight' a large proportion of your customers. If the "why" behind building a new feature is explained and broken down well to your product team, it helps you envision if this feature can be beneficial in the long run for more customers.
Breaking down the 'why' lies mainly in understanding the pain point the feature would solve and seeing how compatible the feature request is with the current roadmap.
Mercer Smith-Looper, Director of Support @ AppCues
We have a meeting every two weeks where members of the support, success and engineering teams gather together to talk about the known issues, bugs, and feature requests that our customers are hitting.
All customer-facing teams are committed to keeping track of any requests that they've seen in Shortcut (we add the links to the contextual conversations (Help Scout, Gong, etc) as comments to the CH ticket), and the engineering team members are always super receptive in our group meeting!
This works because it feels like we are all on the same page. It feels like we all are rowing in the same direction for the same reason, and we know that we are all aligned in doing what is right for the customer.
Follow Mercer Smith-Looper: @mercenator
James Scott, VP Customer Success @ ShootProof
We've found the most effective way to influence the roadmap is to let our customers do the talking. First, we set up listening posts to collect both objective data (survey scores & metrics) as well as verbatim comments from our customers. We then filter out the noise and then play the remaining signal (with some amplification!) back to our Product team.
I think this works well because our Product team gets to hear our customer voice directly, but in a way that is easy to understand and action. It removes most subjectivity and personal bias from the discussion and makes it easier for our Product Managers to focus on what matters most to our customers.
Follow James Scott: @ukjamesscott
Tsvika Vishnievsky, VP CS Operations, Support and Professional Services @ Yotpo
Basically—you need to be able to classify tickets according to the relevant feature and map the specific inquiry type inside that.
Then—you'll have a sliced and diced "map" of all the relevant needs and you'll be able to attach a $ value to the request.
You'll also be able to follow up with your customers and share possible ETAs in case you have some.
It works well because at Yotpo we are super customer-centric. We are fanatics about our customers (we look at them more like partners). They are our biggest asset and that's the mindset of our Product team in terms of Product prioritization.
Cliff Kim, Head of Product @ Catalyst
(Cliff is indeed a Head of Product. He works closely with Susan Tran, who does Customer Success Strategy at Catalyst, and who agrees with Cliff!)
We hold a cross-functional meeting every two weeks with representation from Product, Engineering, CS, and Sales. We start off by having Sales and CS share their biggest pain points and insights from the previous two weeks. Depending on the topic, it could mean submitting a feature request or a bug, discussing the GTM messaging, or learning how we can objection-handle in the future. In the second half of the meeting, the Product/Engineering team will demo upcoming features.
It works well because of 3 things:
Customer insights and pain points can be quickly shared to multiple functions
In addition to this meeting we gather feature requests from CS and Sales for our quarterly planning, but the bi-weekly meeting allows for feedback to be gathered early and often
Often times the topics are shared using a call recording of the customer, which helps to "humanize" the problem and allows for deeper empathy
How you can influence your company's Product Roadmap
Here are the key practices our Customer Success leaders embrace to influence the product roadmap that you can use at your company.
1. Get Executive buy-in. Without this, you’ve got an uphill battle.
2. Bring data. Quantifying the number of requests for a feature, the total MRR represented by the customers who’ve asked for a feature, or the number of customers that asked for a feature can help put a feature on the roadmap.
3. Bring stories. Sharing customers verbatims about problems can help motivate your product, dev, and exec teams to align on priority.
4. Align product vision with delighting your customers. You’ll want to find that sweet spot of feature requests that align with where your company and product are going AND that will delight your customers. (One easy way to delight your customers is to close the loop with them once you launch a feature they asked for).
5. Have a system for collecting and organizing product feedback from your customers. One common thread is that CS reps have a place where they can link support tickets to feature requests, see who asked for which features, tally up votes and MRR for requests, and easily share it with their product and development teams.
Note: Want to organize product feedback and bring data to your Product Management team? Savio can help. Learn more about Savio.
Customer Success teams are owning more of the product roadmap at customer-centric SaaS companies. There are two factors driving this:
CS teams own expansion and renewal revenue -- the keys to net-negative revenue churn (and SaaS growth)
Customer Success teams are also the best-informed team about what their customers need to succeed.
This combination of responsibility (for revenue) and knowledge (of what to build to drive renewal and expansion revenue) means it's inevitable that Customer Success teams will own an increasingly larger share of the product roadmap in the months and years to come.
Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.