The voice of the customer is a critical component of producing products your customers want.
Using Voice of Customer (VOC) feedback is critical to an organization’s success. Ultimately, in any of our businesses, we produce products that need consumers. If those consumers are telling us what they want and we don’t act on it, they are more likely to find someone who does. Nat Onions, VP of Customer Experience at Customer.io, noticed this issue with her team, and set about reestablishing a collaborative environment for Success and Product to use Voice of Customer feedback to improve their offerings and customer experience.
How did you begin to see an issue with feedback being used?
Nat: Our CSMs have always been diligent about keeping customer records updated in our tooling. Over the 5 years that our CS program has been running, we’ve perfected the process and expectations for customer record maintenance, and writing detailed product feedback notes is a huge part of that task.
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However, I started to notice a gap. While the customer records gave me great confidence that our CSMs were working well with customers and asking the right questions, which in turn resulted in great notes, I noticed that not all of the product feedback notes were making it into our dedicated Slack channel for product notes.
I started hearing from members of the Product and Engineering Teams, who were a little concerned that the volume of feedback being passed on wasn’t as high as they expected. I assured them that notes were being taken, but I of course, wanted to dig in with my team and talk this through.
I discovered that the CSMs were self-triaging their product feedback notes and only passing on the feedback they saw as the most important – typically either highly positive, or with very specific criticism. All of the great notes that the CSMs had on the things in between were staying in our CS tool and never making their way to the feedback channel.
What were the impact to your business of the decline in sharing all Voice of Customer feedback?
Nat:The intention behind this was good. The CSMs didn’t want the feedback volume to be too high for the Product Team or to overwhelm them with feedback that “wasn’t relevant”. But the Product Team let us know that anything and everything is relevant. They wanted all the feedback they could get their hands on.
By not passing on all of the feedback and instead trying to focus on what CS considered the relevant highlights, we were limiting the Product Team’s insights that they rely on in order to iterate and improve our product and features. The CS Team is trusted with the handling of all our biggest customer interactions, and so keeping a lot of that feedback in silo (however good the intention) impacted one of the most important cross-functional relationships in our company – Product and CS.
The financial impact to the company wasn’t huge, but we did see a small number of instances where a customer churned and when investigating the reason we found that the product gap these customers cited was so close to release. The CS team wasn’t surfacing enough feedback, and we also had a missing piece in the form of them not knowing enough detail about the Product Team priorities.
How did you go about improving that product-success relationship?
Nat: The Product Team was the first to move on this, which was a helpful way for CS to get an idea of the standard that the Product Team was looking for. They started to share a “Weekly Product Priorities” write-up which gave details of what they had shipped that week, how progress was looking on the next priorities in line, and what the order was for the projects next on the list.
Having this in front of us sparked the next question for CS: What if we feel like these priorities aren’t in the right order for what our customers are asking for?
It’s a daunting task to go to a tenured team of experts and essentially challenge their work. But CS knew deep down that we needed this cross-functional relationship to be strong, trusted, and have mutual value.
My first step was to meet with our VP of Product to pose the question to him – “Hey Brian. We’re seeing Voice of Customer feedback that I think might indicate needing a shift in your team’s project priorities. How can we work together to get something done about this?”
There wasn’t even a hint of challenge in the response. Brian was thrilled that the CS team was raising Voice of customer feedback, and that we wanted to establish some deeper discussions on this crucial business element. And so the Product Managers & CS Monthly Session was born!
Every month, the CS team prepares for this meeting by collating a list of “quick fire” questions prompted by customer feedback. Examples are questions such as “will the initial version of feature x include y and z capabilities?” and “are we still on track for the projected delivery date of feature abc?”
Following this, CS presents up to 3 ‘deep dive’ cases. These are more complex customer use cases that present a larger prioritization discussion. Typically the outcome of presenting one of these cases is that the product team provides detail on how this case can be solved, and where they think this work should fit in the priority list. The result isn’t always a roadmap change (sometimes it is, though!), but we do always get an unbiased assessment from the Product Team on how we can deliver the most impact to the most customers in the order that we tackle our projects.
Hearing this kind of detailed and regular Voice of Customer feedback went a long way for the Product Team, and it also gave CS motivation that their insights and ideas were being heard and acted on. So the next phase was to get a feedback stream flowing more regularly, without putting a ton more call time on everyone’s calendar.
Now that CS knew that the Product Team wanted all of the feedback they could consume, the next step was obvious. We just needed to get all of the great CS notes surfaced for the product team to get their hands on, without creating extra work for either side.
We’re lucky to have a skilled Team Lead on the CS Team (shoutout to Jp Valery!) who was able to whip up automation here without breaking a sweat. He connected the CS tooling to Slack so that every time a CSM added notes to a customer file it would automatically create a formatted Slack post in a dedicated feedback channel that the Product Team could access whenever they needed. It sparked so much great discussion, and we eliminated the issue of feedback living in a silo.
After establishing your monthly sessions, prepping these customer use cases, and automating feedback sharing, what outcomes did you see?
Nat: The first outcome we saw was a big increase in trust. The CS team felt heard and valuable to the product process, and the Product Team gained a lot of confidence that the CS team was working with our customers in a way that allowed us to build the product that we know people want and need from us.
Knowing the full extent of the value that comes from the CS insights now, we have a notes leaderboard to incentivise the CSMs to continually share their findings. We also have an archive of records from the CS<>Product meetings with follow-up items, so that we can keep track of what has been discussed and acted on.
It’s difficult to track the exact business impact in terms of financials for this, as I don’t know that we can attribute any customer’s full contract value to a single feature development. However, we do know for sure that our relationships with customers have improved due to the internal relation between these two teams getting such a boost. CS and Product are now working much more closely together and the outcome is that customers see how close they are getting to the people building and improving their experience every day.
Voice of Customer feedback is ever-adapting, how will this program evolve?
Nat: Our next step is to improve the efficiency with which we handle Product and development requests from our biggest customers. In order to boost our credibility in the marketplace with large brands, we will be building a process and committee dedicated to how we assess individual customer requests. We always strive for maximum impact with our developments and product work. So our next phase is to explore what individual impact looks like as we start to build partnerships with more and more enterprise customers.