By Natalie Monterrosa

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Good customer success managers are like bumble bees, forever cross-pollinating best practices across teams and between departments.

Before I became a Progam Manager at Wizeline, I spent two years as a Customer Success Manager (CSM). In my CSM role at Wizeline, I like to think that I was able to impart helpful tips I learned up along the way—a great tip for backlog grooming I picked up from a product manager (PM) in Palo Alto gets passed along to another in Cleveland.

Here are three big takeaways I learned from PMs in my CSM role at Wizeline.


#1 – Problem Statements are Critical

Nearly every PM I spoke with faced challenges when it came to collecting actionable feedback from their stakeholders. More often than not, they receive requests for a solution rather than a clear explanation of an underlying need or problem. For example, a customer may say “I want a big red button,” rather than “I want a way to access files in the platform.” As a result, PMs are rarely left with enough information to solve the problem, let alone build a feature.

The good news is that with some light coaching, stakeholders can be “retrained” to provide more-actionable feedback. At Wizeline, CSMs help PMs work with their customer-facing teams in a similar way they would interact with their engineering team.  CSMs focus on obtaining actionable problem statements as early as possible in the product development process.   

By utilizing problem statements, I changed the way I thought of my day to day tasks. Before answering a client email, creating a deck, or implementing a new process within my team, I would take a step back and ask the underlying questions: What is the problem I am trying to solve? What impact do I want to have? This approach helped me organize my thoughts, focus on outcomes and determine the best way to get there.


#2 – MVPs Make an MVP!

Once you have defined problem statements, it’s time to build your product. Easy, right? Most development teams will start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Instead of burning resources on creating the perfect product from the outset, building an MVP is a quick way to learn and improve by validating with a customer base.

When approaching a new assignment, I would view my first draft as an MVP. I focused on producing a good product while moving fast. An MVP of my work helped me get out of my head and into writing what I wish to accomplish. This also helped me gather input from my peers. Before sending my final draft for review, I would ask my manager or a peer for feedback. My final product was more refined and improved by outside feedback.


#3 – If it doesn’t work, pivot.

If you keep up with the tech industry, you’ve heard a version of this before—something like “fail fast, fail often,” or “move fast and break things.”

In my experience, PMs at startups are constantly experimenting in pursuit of higher engagement and revenue. As such, their product roadmap is more flexible and prone to change than that of a more mature company.

Small changes can yield a big impact. The freedom to pivot can be a critical ingredient to startup success for PMs. As with an MVP, feedback can influence the likelihood of pivoting. The more feedback you gather about your product, the faster you can iterate and improve. With this freedom, PMs can quickly test several hypotheses to get to the desired outcome.

Wizeline’s CSM team uses a client communication framework with defined stages that helps them manage the way they interact with our client base. This framework keeps the team aligned and acts as a guide through a customer’s lifecycle. Sometimes, the framework doesn’t work to reach the desired outcome. CSMs are encouraged to test new strategies to promote better engagement. Allowing the team to fail fast with the freedom to pivot helps them improve.


Empathy is everything

I loved working with PMs – both as a CSM and in my current role as a Program Manager.  I have come to appreciate the amount of empathy that the role requires. Though day-to-day responsibilities are different, CSMs and PMs need to articulate good problem statements, maintain sharp interpersonal skills, and try to remain flexible as things change.

Caroline Buck Posted by Caroline Buck on Tuesday, October 24, 2017.


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