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6 Questions to Define Customer Impact In A Startup

Updated: May 15

As a Customer Success Manager (CSM), I meet regularly with my customers to better understand their experience with our product and work cross-functionally with our internal teams to continually improve it.

One of the best things a Customer Success Manager can hear from their customers, regardless of industry or size, is their appreciation that their feature requests and/or feedback are not only heard but understood and acted upon. As most tech startups go, being agile enough to incorporate customer feedback and requests, and aligning these into our company's roadmap, is the priority. There's no question that building a strong customer request and feedback loop is critical for companies to succeed.

Generally, the process for routing customer feature requests directly to Product teams looks something like this:

  1. The customer provides a concept or idea of what they need

  2. CSMs investigate this further

  3. CSMs file this request on behalf of Customers

  4. Product Managers (PMs) review and evaluate the request

  5. Product Managers (PMs) accept the request and slot this into an upcoming sprint

  6. Product Managers (PMs) may schedule a meeting with CSMs / Solutions Architects / Customers

As a Customer Success Team, you're acting as your customer's first point of contact (steps 1 and 2). Within your internal team, you're representing your customer's needs and expectations. Therefore, it is your responsibility to understand the full impact on customers, defining this need to your internal product teams.

Remember: you’re key to aiding the product team to understand the full impact and scale.

Generally, in most tech startup companies, the product teams would already have their processes in place to understand the impact, but with all the requests and bugs coming in, it can be difficult for the product teams to conduct a full assessment of each bug and feature request.

Identifying the Gap

Should you funnel every customer request directly to the Product Managers? While every Customer feedback and feature request is important and should be received with equal importance, you need to understand why this gap needs to be filled.

By identifying and understanding these gaps, CSMs can effectively prioritise them relative to each other, whereas the Customer is only focused on their specific use case and would be unable to effectively prioritise on the CSM's behalf.

Effectively defining such gaps helps everyone in your company understand:

(1) Is there an alternative or workaround to what the customer is trying to do?

(2) What routes of priority for the feature request exist?

An experienced CSM would choose to invest the effort upfront by investigating and identifying this gap to reduce the effort later on.

This gap is identified by defining:

  1. What is the Customer trying to accomplish? While customers have an idea of what they want the feature to accomplish, they rely on you to know how to best get them there. As a CSM, it is in your interest to be your customer's advisor and ensure that they have identified the best possible ways to achieve what they are trying to accomplish.

  2. Why is this important to the Customer? Sometimes every issue seems like it's the end of the world. Customers can kick up a fuss when something doesn’t work the way they expect or the way they want it to, and everything suddenly may look “very important and critical”. It’s best to take a step back and understand why this is important to the customer.

  3. What is the expected behaviour? In some cases, it might make sense to break down the expected behavior into two categories:

  4. Expectations set by Product Documentation/Other Materials available to customers, and/or Previous Promises / Conversations with customers

  5. Expectations of the customer, based on the customer’s POV

  6. What is the Actual Behaviour? What is the actual behavior right now? Are you able to request logs and screenshots from the Customer? Putting on your consultative hat, here's where you should be asking: How, What, When, and Where. This helps you identify the gap between “Actual” and “Expected” Behaviour, allowing you to dive deeper and analyse the impact of this gap.

  7. What is the impact on the Customer if nothing changes? Similar to the priority question, this helps CSMs understand what happens if no action is taken. What impact does doing nothing have on the customer, the company, and the risks that both parties may have to assume? It will also be good to understand from the Customer’s POV what they think the impact would be if nothing changes. With this, you can beef up your request on why this particular feature request is important.

  8. What alternative approaches / workarounds exist? Workarounds are very helpful for the time when feature requests are being worked on. They can help to mitigate the negative impact of a bug or missing functionality. If workarounds exist, how effective are these workarounds? What’s involved in these workarounds? While sometimes workarounds do exists, they may not make much commercial or operational sense, given the amount of effort and cost that may go into it. It may cause a lot of frustration to the customer, or cost a lot for the customer and/or company to adopt. So, while sometimes workarounds do exist, they may not be feasible. Hence, knowing that there is a workaround solution is not sufficient. It is also important to know how effective these workarounds are. By documenting this step, you help the Product team fully visualise and appreciate the impact.

Closing the loop - Part 1: Communicating externally to Customers:

Communication back to Customers during Pre-Fix, during Fix, and Post-Fix should consider:

  • Cadence of communication

  • Level of Detail

  • Expectation Management - Managing customer expectations on the timeline, effort needed from Customers and Company, impact, and risks.

  • Consider gathering feedback on changes and fixes/workarounds you've deployed

Maintaining a close relationship with your customers and ensuring they are deriving the most value from your products is of the utmost importance to any CSM.

Closing the loop - Part 2: Communicating Internally to Stakeholders:

If you estimate that there might be some revenue risk or upside, think about how you’re going to track whether your assumptions are correct with some of the following questions:

  • What's the potential revenue upside?

  • What's the potential churn/renewal?

  • Was there any valuable feedback you've received from your Customer?

Pro-Tip: This also improves your internal credibility among the different teams!

At the end of the day, customer success managers care deeply about the success of their customers. They would be the best people to know what their customers are working on, what goals they have, and what they hope to achieve with the company's products and services. With this information under their belts, customer success managers develop long-term success by pitching new and innovative ways for customers to use their products and striving to clear any impediments or roadblocks before the Customer even knows they're there.

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