Customer Success Managers and Product Managers have two major characteristics alike: (i) at its finest, their work is driven entirely in-service of the voice of the customer, and (ii) they are masters of collaboration.

We recently spoke to CSMs and PMs (and 1 fearless PMM) at two of the most premier CS and PM organizations in all of SaaS: Slack and Mixpanel.

Kat Killion of Mixpanel (CSM), Vlado Hruda of Mixpanel (PM), Steven Ramirez of Slack (CSM), Sri Vasamsetti of Slack (PM), and Felicity Blance of Slack (PMM) shared their stories of cross-functional collaboration. They presented tactics and techniques that you may be able to bring home to your own organization.

I put together some notes from the panel to explore exactly how CSMs and PMs can collaborate better and, ultimately, create world-class customer experiences.

Why is the relationship between Customer Success and Product so important?

Customer-centric isn’t just a buzzword for successful companies—it’s an action item. If product teams don’t establish a rich relationship with customer-facing teams, they risk wasting time on products or features that won’t succeed.

Vlado expanded on this idea, “Really good Product Managers understand the pulse of their customer needs. But PMs are in so many meetings, we don’t get enough signals. CS gives us an extra set of eyes to make products our customers love.”

CSMs guide PMs to make products people will love. CSMs know which features customers want to see most urgently. They know how to spin a rollout to make the benefits to the customer clear. They can anticipate hesitancies and work on messaging to make rollouts seamless.

Ultimately, both teams are trying to drive delightful customer experiences. While coming from different perspectives, Customer Success and Product have a symbiotic relationship. They inform each other in an endless cycle of feedback and action.

As Kat explains, a tight relationship between CS and Product paints more of a story to help explain the why behind a new product or feature. CS can better craft a narrative to sell customers on a product when they understand the PM perspective.

Plus, the marriage of qualitative customer feedback and quantitative product metrics enables more sustainable and realistic growth for the long-term

How do PMs best tap into CS knowledge?

The Slack team has a great solution for tapping into CS knowledge. They revolve their process around product gaps. CSMs gather items directly from customers. Everything is logged and used as a hitlist for PMs to put on the roadmap.

Even better, since customers are already part of the process, Sri gets immediate feedback when sharing prototypes and betas. Product testing and feedback is made quicker and easier by involving Customer Success.

For CSMs, Steven points out that it’s important to be a partner to customers, not just a vendor. Collaborating with PMs is one of the best ways to ensure this and to communicate priorities back to the product team.  

One actionable way to tap into customer knowledge is to create what Mixpanel calls a “Product Gap Council” or what Slack calls “Customer Advisory Boards.” Either option holds teams accountable to CS feedback and ensures consistent review. At Slack, they collate and compile product gaps for each account on a monthly basis. Then, they create a top ten list and prioritize it by revenue potential.

Customer Success helps to discover and clarify pain points, then Product gets to work on building solutions.

Tools to help facilitate Customer Success and Product collaboration

I’ll be the first to say it—Slack and Mixpanel are some of the best tools out there for facilitating CS and Product collaboration. They make it seamless to talk to customers and track progress.

Both teams discussed how they use these tools to engage with customers:

  • Slack Connect: Allows for direct feedback from customers as they use your product.
  • Mixpanel: Gives you reports and granular information of how customers use your product.

Kat also noted the benefit of using the same tools across Product, Marketing, and Customer Success. Since every department uses Slack and Mixpanel for their own purposes, it’s easy to compare and communicate cross-functionally.

At Slack, they created a shared OKR between CS and Product. This allowed both teams to set lofty goals around growth. Sri explained how she was able to leverage grassroots growth with the help of Customer Success.

How CSMs can manage customer expectations around the product roadmap

One of the most difficult aspects of CSMs’ work lies in managing customer expectations. A close relationship between Product and Customer Success keeps these expectations clear and aligned.

But, what happens when CS and Product’s expectations are at odds?

Steven warns to not treat Product like Customer Support. One-off issues or requests from individuals shouldn’t make the cut—be clear to customers that there are other customers. Product must weigh everyone’s feedback together. Steven encourages CSMs to explain the internal roadmapping process to help customers understand your team’s workflow.

Vlado spoke on the importance of balancing customer requests with more full-bodied quantitative statistics. It’s important to dig deeper to uncover the real problem. Don’t settle for a band-aid solution. Customer logs are a fantastic starting point, but PMs must work to uncover the core issue.  

Felicity made a great point about striking a balance between the art of the possible and being grounded in what's more feasible. A healthy relationship based on trust and transparency will empower CSMs to update customers without fear of push back or frustration.  

How to create a culture of collaboration between PMs and CSMs

Transparency and curiosity were the two words that stood out when discussing how to build a culture of collaboration among Product and Customer Success.

More tangibly, Felicity sets up keyword notifications on Slack to search for conversations that mention something she’s curious about. This informs her research on a topic and allows her to reach out to customers who have messaged about these problems previously.

Slack becomes a shared knowledge base across cross-functional teams. Sri created a channel specifically for feedback where Product can get a temperature check on customer sentiment and keep an open line of communications with CS. They create Slack Connect channels with customers too, allowing for immediate feedback and reference points.

Vlado points out the importance of collaborating asynchronously as well. He’ll flag a product gap, then designers or other stakeholders can take a look and make notes or brainstorm ideas on their own time. Meetings are helpful to get on the same page, but he cautions to keep them short and sweet. Be transparent and specific about what you need from the meeting—ask CSMs to connect you with a customer for feedback or weigh in on prototypes, then follow up with resources asynchronous.

Scaling this culture can be time consuming, but Kat emphasizes it’s worth it. By partnering with Product, CS can use stats to quantify and prioritize customer feedback from a higher level. This enables Success to move beyond individual customers and scale their own feedback loop.

Customer Success & Product Collaboration: How can we help?

UpdateAI’s mission is to make meetings better so you can do better things. We are building out our platform (www.update.ai) for CSMs just like you.
We’re collecting stories, suggestions, and pain points to help us shape the product and we’d be grateful to hear yours.

Reach out directly to me at Josh@update.ai with any ideas for features that can help empower Customer Success Managers — or connect with us on LinkedIn.