Lost in Translation: Why Product and Customer Success Managers Must Communicate

4 minute read

November 29, 2017

Lost in Translation: Why Product and Customer Success Managers Must Communicate

If you don’t clearly define success for your organization, you’ll chase every wind and wave of potential revenue growth. And before you know it, you’ll spread your team so thin that’ll you eventually just disappear.

But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. While your business as a whole needs a clear-cut definition of success, so do each of its constituent parts.

That’s as important in the customer success (CS) department as it is anywhere else. For the CS team, they need to know what makes a customer succeed, and in turn, what it looks like for them to succeed in their customer-facing role.

The same goes for product management (PM). But how will they answer the all-important success question?

Coming to Terms With Our Differences

Undoubtedly, the PM team will say something about the product. It’s well-designed, it does X, Y and Z better than the competition’s app, it slices and dices… you get it.

That right there, is the problem with having a purely product-centered definition of success.

Think about it like this…

Why does someone buy an electric drill? Is it because it has a comfortable grip? Is it because it has enough torque to drill into solid lead? Is it because the battery lasts 18 and a half hours?

All of these things are essential but none of them address the thing I’m actually looking for when I buy a drill. Can you guess what that is?

A hole!

With a product-centric definition, you can succeed without ever producing a hole. If you’re a PM, a win for you looks like building a fantastic drill. Whether the customer can use it successfully is immaterial. That’s their business; not yours.

A customer-centered definition, on the other hand, needs to see that hole! Sure, that presupposes “success” on the product level, but it transcends it as well.

Let’s tease this out a little further.

Between Two Worlds

From another angle, we can think of the distinction between PM and CS definitions of success in terms of two worlds—one within the product and one without. The world within is the province of PM. The world without is the territory of the CSM.

Here’s another illustration:

I have a one-month-old daughter at home. The day we brought her home from the hospital, we broke out the same baby tracking app we used for our firstborn.

Call us type-A, but we found that using an app like this helps us get a handle on our baby’s rhythm. Armed with that information, we can get her—and us!—better sleep.

As far as the world within the app goes, we just want the thing to work. We want the UX to be decently navigable. We’re not looking for mind-blowing design; just an easy way to input and visualize information.

What about the world outside the app? Will we be satisfied with the app at 3 AM when our daughter is pitching a fit because we got her sleep pattern all mixed up?

Heck no!

We want our baby to sleep! If the app can’t help us achieve that goal, then it’s functionally worthless. At that point, we couldn’t care less how well it’s designed.

Where the PM and CS Meet

In the example above, what I need as a customer isn’t just a PM who’s dedicated to making a beautiful product, but a CS who knows how to interface with customers.

I need a CSM to take my feedback and relay it to the PM so that they can make a product that suits my needs. At the same time, I need a PM who’s willing to coach the CSM to show me new ways to succeed with their product.

I need the PM to master the world inside the app so well that their app gives me everything I need to track my kid’s sleep. But I need the CSM to take that a step further, and train me on the best ways to do that—whether that’s through direct support or content marketing. This opens up a world of opportunities for the CSM to turn me into a pro-user, as well as a raving fan and advocate.

If all you want to do is help a customer run a drill or jot down their baby’s nap time, then you can content yourself with a product developer’s definition of success.

But does that go far enough? Does success for the customer really look like an empty hole or  data on a graph? No! It looks like a hung shelf or a sleeping baby.

The message here is: quit walling off your PM department from your CS team. Bring them together. Make them communicate. Facilitate the free flow of information between the two. Create a culture in which both sides work together to see the customer succeed.

That’s how you get to succeed as an organization.


Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kenny S.

Written by Kenny S.

Have an Article for Vanilla's Blog?

Send us an email to [email protected] with your topic idea and we'll circle back with our publishing guidelines.

Subscribe to the Community Corner Newsletter and get expert insight and analysis on how to get the most out of your online community every Friday.
[contact-form-7 id="5700" title="Newsletter Form"]

Request a Demo

Schedule a product demo now.

Contact Us