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March 15, 2023
Customer Success can be both an asset and a roadblock for research. Learn tips for collaboration, potential risks, and tools that can help.
You know who talks to users more often than UX researchers?
Customer success and support teams.
CS and support teams have meaningful interactions with users every day. They’re the first responders when users share frustrations, pain points, and feature requests. They guide users through the onboarding process, troubleshoot issues, and influence product usage and retention.
With such a close, direct relationship with users, CS can be a valuable asset for UX research teams—but they can also be a roadblock.
In this article, we’ll explore the collaboration between UX researchers and customer success teams, diving into:
Customer Success and User Research teams both deal directly with users. By sharing user insights between the two teams, you can build off of each other’s knowledge and create an aligned, in-depth understanding of the customer.
Success and support teams can help UX researchers:
As Rebecca Riserbato of HubSpot says:
“When UX and customer support work together, UX can learn about patterns in customer behavior, usability problems, and customer emotions. If something is a pain for users, customer service reps will know about it and UX researchers can forge a plan to remedy the issues.”
In other words, the value exchanged between the two teams isn’t a one-way street. UX researchers can help success folks, too, by providing insights that help product teams develop exceptionally satisfying user experiences. Better products and better experiences ultimately make the success team’s jobs easier.
Alfonso de La Nuez, Co-Founder, CVO & BoD Member at UserZoom, discusses the potential symbiotic relationship between research and success in his article, Why UX is Customer Success’s Best Friend:
“If your product offers great UX, the CS Manager can focus on what really matters: Customer happiness and engagement. If your product doesn’t deliver great UX, the CS Manager will be like a firefighter desperately keeping up with the fires from tickets and issues that arise from bad design. Therefore, great UX makes life much easier for your CS Manager.”
Engaging CS with research also keeps them informed about the product roadmap, better equipping them to manage conversations about the product and future feature releases with customers.
Most researchers already understand how valuable CS can be—but in practice, CS tends to be a roadblock in the research process. Here are a few reasons behind those roadblocks and other potential hurdles to consider as you’re working with success and support teams.
Customer success and support teams are obviously concerned with satisfying their current clients—and sometimes, they may be biased toward meeting individual customer needs rather than the needs of the broader customer base.
As Sarah Freitag, Director of UX Research at Openfield, says:
“The challenge, though, is that a major part of [customer experience teams’] job is to please customers, which can (in some instances) put them in situations where they feel like they need to shoulder the burden of fixing what users say isn’t working. In those moments, well-meaning promises of new features may be made in order to maintain customer loyalty.”
As you’re collaborating with CS and support teams, make it clear that feedback from an unhappy customer isn’t guaranteed to translate into product developments down the line.
Bureaucracy can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in the recruitment process.
Customer success managers are (understandably) protective of their clients, and they may feel squeamish about letting multiple team members contact customers for research. Typically, they’ll want to be CC’d on emails and kept in the loop on all communications, sometimes requiring that recruiting invites be sent through them first.
Instead of letting CS slow you down, work together to build a recruiting process that helps you both achieve your bottom line goals without stepping on each other’s toes.
Data from CS teams can supplement research data, spark future studies, and inform product developments. However, it should never be used as your only source of data.
When users contact success and support teams, it’s typically because of a product problem or bug. That means that the data is going to be heavily skewed toward existing usability issues, so it won’t be all that useful for discovery research.
Knowing when and how to incorporate CS data into your insights and recommendations is a skill that UX researchers are always working on. As Taylor Palmer says on the UXTools blog:
“Remember that you should own the integrity of the customer insights you actually apply to your designs. Though you can source data from many different sources, you shouldn’t always use it. It’s up to you (and your team) to filter and prioritize the best data.”
Typically, the user data you get from customer success and support teams comes from:
To learn about new potential markets, ex-customers, and other areas for growth, you’ll still need to do additional research.
Now that you know what to look out for, here are some tips for collaborating with customer success and support teams effectively.
Every great research project starts with a plan—and anyone who might be involved in research down the line (including CS) ought to be involved from the start.
As User Interviews’s former VP of User Research, Roberta Dombrowski, and Senior Product Manager, Sam Duong Woloszynski, discuss in their webinar, Making Research a Team Sport, involving other teams early allows you to create a shared context regarding research. This shared context enables more creative problem-solving and streamlines decision-making in the long run.
📚 To learn more about creating a user research plan and conducting interviews with stakeholders from other teams, check out the Planning for UX Research chapter of the UX Research Field Guide.
After getting CS teams involved with the planning stages of user research, keep up the momentum by meeting with them regularly.
In these cross-functional check-ins, you could discuss things like:
Some companies make role rotation mandatory, so that everyone in the company is getting the chance to interact with customers.
If it’s not mandatory at your organization, you can offer to take on or shadow a support shift instead to learn what kind of requests are coming from customers and how to communicate with them.
This direct contact with customers will give you a more nuanced understanding of their needs, challenges, and communication styles than hearing it second-hand from CS.
One of the research areas where CS can make a huge impact is in recruitment.
Instead of being a bottleneck in the recruitment process, as CS teams often are, they can help streamline the process by introducing researchers to qualified customers and extending research invitations themselves.
Customers are more likely to respond positively to these invites when they come from their success manager, who they already know and trust.
💌 Get templates and examples of effective research study invite emails.
When you’re meeting with existing customers, your company usually already has access to some information, such as usage data or demographic information.
By meeting with customer success teams to chat about what’s already known about customers, you can focus research sessions on collecting actually-new insights and avoid wasting participants’ time.
As User Experience Designer and Researcher Joel Rosado explains:
“I typically will have several conversations with product managers, developers, and customer support to find out as much information as possible about the client beforehand. This makes me feel prepared and at ease before the session starts.”
Many customer success teams are already using video meeting insights tools like Gong or Grain to record customer conversations for reference or sharing insights later on.
When you loop CS into the planning stages of UX research, you can encourage them to keep an eye out for specific types of insights they get from these conversations. Ask them to share these insights with the research team and consider adding them to your insights repository as well.
Speaking of repositories, making one that’s accessible to both research and customer success can help streamline communication and collaboration across teams.
As Ferdinand Goetzen, CEO and Co-Founder of Reveall, explains on the Awkward Silences podcast, sharing insights across teams can help you prioritize the right features and speed up development:
“How often does it happen that a feature finally gets prioritized and starts development, then half the support team or half the success team says, "Geez, we've been saying this for ages"? It happens all the time, and I think that's the key that you're not doing repeat research, and you're not having epiphanies six months too late.”
Many repository tools, like EnjoyHQ or the atomic research nugget model, can be implemented across teams. Some tools, like Productboard, allow you to easily integrate data from all sources. However, if you’re intending to use a repository tool across teams, make sure you have an effective taxonomy that fits the use-cases for all teams.
As a researcher, you already know how tricky it can be to effectively moderate research sessions—while navigating bias, avoiding leading questions, and getting accurate data.
When success and support teams are speaking with customers, they’re not doing it as research moderators. They may ask leading questions or introduce bias in other ways, which means that the insights you get from CS data aren’t always accurate.
If you’re going to reference and use data from CS and support teams, be mindful of the potential issues with this data and approach it with caution.
Working with CS teams to collect insights and inform product development is a way of demonstrating to your customers that you’re listening to them.
So when you use feedback from customers to inform new features or developments, encourage CS managers to let those customers know how their feedback made a difference!
Not only is this a great way to delight customers, it also encourages them to provide more feedback in the future, knowing that you’ll actually consider it. It’s a virtuous cycle that creates more data for you to use in the future.
Customer success and support teams can be both an asset and a roadblock for UX research teams. With an intentional strategy for collaborating with CS teams, researchers can lean on them to speed up and improve the research process.
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Marketer, writer, poet. Lizzy likes hiking, people-watching, thrift shopping, learning and sharing ideas. Her happiest memory is sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain in the summer of 2020, eating a clementine.