At Parlor, we unite Customer and Product teams by enabling effective management of the customer feedback lifecycle. Over the last two months, we conducted interviews with Customer and Product leaders at over 40 fast growing SaaS companies to understand how they manage this feedback lifecycle, though collection, organization, validation, and prioritization of feedback, all the way through communication and education of customers. We were also particularly interested in understanding how Customer and Product teams worked together through this process.

What we found is probably not surprising to anyone building a SaaS product: almost no one is managing the feedback lifecycle effectively, and collaboration between the two teams has a lot of room for improvement. This is a huge missed opportunity, because companies that manage customer feedback well build better products, and have happier, more engaged customers.

Even though the problem isn’t solved, in this post we’ll share four opportunities for improvement that we identified.

 

Establish An Independent Source of Record for Customer Feedback

Almost every team that we interviewed told us that customer and product teams couldn’t agree on which features or product improvements would have the most impact. Customer teams, who talk to users every day, felt that they understood which product improvements would have the most impact, but they struggled to classify and aggregate the feedback to make a compelling business case to the Product team. Similarly, Product teams almost universally reported that it was hard to understand how pervasive or impactful the feedback requests coming from customer-facing teams were.

To resolve this disconnect, the two teams need to agree on a source of record for customer feedback. It’s important that the tools used for the customer feedback process are independent, and not those that have been historically owned by one or the other team.

In our interviews, we found teams using a mix of different tools to manage customer feedback, none of which work particularly well, since none were really designed for this process. That said, CRMs, project management tools and roadmap management tools were commonly used.

Organizations that treat their CRM as the primary source of record for user needs typically have Product teams that are uninvested in the process. CRMs aren’t structured to support the customer feedback lifecycle and we have yet to talk to a product team that wants to spend any time in Salesforce.

Others used project management tools like Jira as the primary source of record, but these tools are no better than Salesforce as a way to manage the feedback lifecycle. Product managers don’t view tools like Jira as designed for their needs, since they were primarily built for engineers. And project management tools are even less effective for Customer teams, since they’re structured around projects or tasks, and are not designed to associate feedback records with customer data.

We also spoke to companies that have adopted tools like ProductBoard, which is more suited to supporting Product teams or a platform like ChurnZero, which was built to support Customer teams. That said, even these tools weren’t effective because they weren’t universally adopted across both the Customer and Product teams.

While none of the solutions mentioned above are particularly well-suited to managing the customer feedback lifecycle, any could serve as the source of record if they’re universally embraced and used by both the Customer and Product teams. To achieve that, it’s best to start from the beginning and have both teams involved in the selection of the tool. This classic stakeholder buy-in tactic increases the likelihood that both teams will feel ownership and therefore will be more committed to embracing the solution. So while the solution could be a Customer or Product-leaning tool, it will still be universally accepted by both teams. After all, even the best software can’t solve your alignment issues if both teams don’t agree to adopt it.

Commit to Regular Customer Interaction Across Both Teams

Naturally, Customer teams talk to customers every day. And Product teams know that they should talk to customers regularly, but this best practice often falls victim to other work that is perceived to be a higher priority. In fact, most of the Product teams that we spoke to admitted that they didn’t speak to their customers nearly as much as they knew they should. When the Customer team directly feels pain of their customers’ unmet needs, but the Product team isn’t regularly speaking to customers, it creates a disconnect between the two teams.

Even if your Product team is conducting user interviews about important roadmap initiatives or meets quarterly with a Customer Advisory Board, that’s not the same as the acute day-to-day pain that Customer teams hear in their regular chats, emails and calls with customers.

To solve this misalignment, create a culture contract that answers the question “How do we work together for the benefit of our end users?” This contract might include a commitment from the Product team to periodically shadow a front line member of the Customer team, join a QBR or take an hour fielding calls and chats. This type of commitment not only brings the Product team closer to the customer, but importantly, it builds trust between the two teams.

 

Share Accountability for Front Line Customer Communication

Related to the last point, the Customer team was the first line for all types of customer communication in most companies that we spoke to. While this may seem like a natural approach, it has the effect of shielding other teams from building a stronger understanding of customer needs. It’s better to route the right kinds of communication and feedback to the right places as this feedback comes in.

Think of all of the different types of requests and feedback that come from customers – feature requests, bug reports / service interruptions, support questions, billing / account questions and general company feedback. Clearly these requests need to be handled by different teams, so it’s best to route them directly to the most appropriate team.

For example, rather than expecting the Customer team to collect, prioritize and translate feature requests, why not send them directly to the Product team? By asking your customers to specify what type of request they have, you can ensure that urgent support issues get the immediate attention they need from front-line Customer teams and things like feature requests go directly to the Product team. This approach creates a better experience for customers, is more efficient with each teams’ time and the shared responsibility creates better alignment between the teams.

feature_or_support

Share Goals and Metrics Across Both Teams

A consistent source of misalignment that we identified in our interviews was that Customer and Product teams rarely shared responsibility for metrics or goals. For years, Marketing and Sales teams have aligned behind shared metrics, which acts as a forcing function for cross-team collaboration. But Product and Customer teams haven’t historically done the same.

We spoke to a number of Customer teams who were measured against CSAT or NPS goals, but the Product team didn’t share ownership of these goals. And this is a big missed opportunity, because of course a huge part of a customer’s satisfaction or happiness is driven by the product experience. So rather than assuming that the Customer team will be able to communicate the customers’ needs to the Product team, thus driving increases in those metrics, have both teams share ownership of the goal.

Conversely, we spoke to Product teams that set goals for things like new feature adoption. And while a big part of feature adoption is the relevance and value of the feature itself, how that feature is communicated to customers also has a major impact on adoption. So if you share the feature adoption goal across both teams, the Customer team will be motivated to learn everything they can about the new feature, and develop communication, training and support resources to drive adoption. The Product team will also be more likely to solicit and leverage user feedback in planning new features, because customers are more likely to adopt and use the features that they really care about. All of which drives continuous collaboration between the two teams and a better customer and product experience.

Uniting Customer and Product Teams Around Customer Feedback

In the course of our user interviews with Customer and Product leaders at more than 40 fast-growing SaaS companies, the one thing that really stood out is how few have successfully aligned around effectively using the customer feedback lifecycle to improve the customer experience. Most teams understand the importance and impact that it can have on the business, but they’re struggling to work effectively together. We hope that some of the best practices that we discussed above will help.

How do you manage collaboration between your Customer and Product teams? We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re ready to get started on the path of more deeply engaging your users around the improvement of your product, check out Parlor’s free In-Product Town Hall.