As a product leader, you need customer intelligence to plan your strategy. But the customer data you collect from sales is biased. The data you get from market analysts is indirect. Even the data you collect yourself from customer interviews can be artificial, as customers are all too willing to be positive and tell you what you want to hear.
But there is one undeniable source of raw unfiltered customer intelligence that is too often overlooked - the Customer Success team. The Customer Success team gets customers when they are at their most passionate, emotional, even angry. Where there's emotion, there's usually a real pain point. It's rare to find that sort of honesty elsewhere.
Insanely Great Experience?
In the now-famous Do Things That Don't Scale, Y-Combinator's Paul Graham advises startups to take extraordinary measures to not to just acquire users but to make them happy. You must provide an "insanely great experience". This is what drives product success, word of mouth, and ultimately growth.
"Over-engaging with early users is not just a permissible technique for getting growth rolling. For most successful startups it's a necessary part of the feedback loop that makes the product good."
I would add that this is not just limited to startups, but necessary for any size company.
Yet somehow as companies grow, they don't keep this mentality. Product strategy gets disconnected from Customer Success. Product focuses on more and more features and supporting sales wins. Customer Success is seen as bubbling up insights but simply putting out customer fires. This is a mistake. Product leadership and Customer Success need to be connected at the hip.
Where There's Pain, There's Opportunity
The Customer Success team - including help-desk, support, customer success managers, account managers - talk to customers every day. They have insight into;
Yet product managers and executives usually don't look at customer success as a source of raw market intel, or if they do, it's only via a rolled up dashboard of metrics. Talk to the Customer Success team, listen to the pain points they describe qualitatively. Even sit in on some calls with them. What you learn will be eye opening.
Become a Consultant to 1 Customer
Customer Success is a gold mine when it comes to finding patterns of problems and prioritizing them. Once you have found a high-priority problem to solve, it can also be a way to connect you to a beta customer who will shape and test the feature with you.
In Do Things That Don't Scale, Paul Graham suggests taking over-engagement to an extreme by "picking a single customer and act as if you are a consultant building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you'll usually find you've made something other users want too."
Do You Even Know The Real Value You Provide?
Beyond product and features, go up a level to company-wide strategy. Many companies that don’t realize the real value that they provide to their customers. They get wrapped up in internal mission statements, marketing stories and company lore. Even the CEO may not really get why customers really buy and need them.
"We are the #1 in the next-generation router market segment"
Doesn't tell me anything about why the customer buys.
"We provide customers with end-to-end router services"
That's a description of your services (and a generic one at that), but it doesn't tell me why customers buy.
"Customers love us because of our always-on always-on-time strategy"
I don't buy it. It sounds like internally you developed something called an "always-on always-on-time strategy", and are now applying that to customers.
Marketing taglines and mission statements play a critical role. But it's easy to hear a tagline enough that eventually you think of that as the actual reason customers stick around, rather than listening to why customers stick around.
Dig deeper in the trenches and you may realize that it might not even about your product or features at all. Customers might:
These are the less glamorous but often real reasons customers stick around and keep buying. Your company may not even be investing in these things directly, or monetizing them, because the organization simply doesn't realize that this is the real value they are providing in the eyes of the customer!
But Customer Success knows. They are in the trenches and they see when customers' eyes light up. Often it is because of something small, and far less sexy than what you would want to put in a marketing tagline. But it's not small to customers. And the more you can connect your strategy to it, the more you provide real value to fuel growth.