Bridging the gap between product and CX

Three ways for CX and Product teams to work better together in optimizing the customer experience.


Annette Franz

July 20, 2020

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Designing and delivering cohesive end-to-end customer experience is important for all brands. In order for it to happen, your entire organization must be integrated and aligned to work toward that goal.

There are many gaps that need to be filled to truly run a cross-functional CX program. In this article, I’ll address the gap between two important parts of your organization that must be bridged in order to achieve this goal: Product and CX. 

The relationship between Product and CX

More often than not, Product teams and Customer Experience teams work in silos. And while some may not immediately grasp the severity of this gap in the organization, it is glaringly obvious why they must work together. 

It seems that many companies prefer a product-centric culture over a customer-centric culture. I am confident in this statement because I’ve heard it over and over again. Here are a couple of examples.

  • A question at the end of a recent webinar from an attendee: “But if I focus on the customer, won’t that take away from my focus on the product?”

  • A comment on a LinkedIn post: “As in product development, the core product is the focal point. That is the same in customer experience; the customer is the focal point of customer-centricity and experience.”

Now here’s that glaringly obvious part. I scratch my head as I hear and see these things because it really makes me wonder: “For whom are you designing the product?” 

Ah, well, I’ve heard the answer to that question many times, sadly: For themselves! 

I’ve lost count of how many startups have reached out to me for help with finding customers for their products. Instead, they should be solving problems—and finding products—for their customers. 

So, how do we shift this thinking? How do we break down these silos? Unfortunately, it’s a systemic issue. In other words, culture and leadership are at the root of the problem. I’ll come back to that in a bit. Let’s start with some definitions.

Product experience vs. CX vs. UX 

Of all the definitions I’ll pose, ironically, the one for customer experience (CX) is the most straightforward. (It’s only ironic because some folks believe there is no clear definition for it, but just wait until I try to define the other terms!) 

Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions that a customer has over the life of the relationship with a brand and, importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions about those interactions. 

Who owns the customer experience? The answer to this question, oftentimes, lies in the size of the organization. In small companies, typically it is (or it has to be) the CEO; occasionally there is a struggling team of one holding down the fort. In larger companies, there’s a VP of CX or a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) who champions the customer within the organization and is assisted by a team of CX professionals. (For more, read out article on how to build a CX team.) 

Product experience is the sum of all the interactions a customer has with a product. This includes perceptions about the product—such as its design, features, and functions—as well as the overall value that the product delivers and drives for the customer.

It’s actually part of the customer experience. How could it not be? And, as such, it’s that much more important for these two teams to work closely together. 

To define user experience (UX), it’s only right to go to the man who popularized the term, Don Norman. His original definition is: “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”  

How does user experience differ from customer experience? 

User experience is a subset of customer experience, which takes a more holistic view. Despite Don’s definition, which attempts to be all-encompassing, user experience is typically used to describe the experience with the product or service. 

In addition, user experience focuses on the end-user, which refers to the person who ultimately uses the product. Whereas customer experience focuses on the customer, who might or might not be the end-user, and is defined as the person who performs the purchasing transaction.

Customer experience also includes emotions, feelings, and perceptions—a big part of what an “experience” is or elicits. User experience often focuses on the usability of the product. It also tends to focus on a specific channel (e.g., app, website), whereas customer experience looks across all channels, all interactions, all ways in which the customer touches the brand.

There are also differences in how they are both measured, which only serve to amplify how different they are overall. 

Key customer experience metrics are Customer Satisfaction Score, advocacy, loyalty, retention, Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score, ease of doing business, quality, value, and expectations. 

User experience is typically measured in terms of usability, abandonment, page views, task time, success rate, usage, error rate, and satisfaction. The beauty is that both use quantitative and qualitative feedback approaches to gauge these metrics.

The owner of UX metrics in an organization  

Who owns the user experience and user research? 

Product teams are varied, as you can imagine; it seems like no two organizations have the same team composition. A Product team is often composed of product managers, product owners, product designers, UX designers, researchers, analysts, developers, engineers, and more.

Product managers do market research, helping to answer the question, “What problems are customers having that we must help them solve?” 

Product designers take into account both market research and business needs. While UX designers conduct user research that informs the user experience, focusing mainly on users’ needs. 

In reality, all these Product team members need to work together; it’s the only way the product will deliver on the problem it is supposed to solve and, therefore, actually be useful for the customer. To accomplish this, in the ideal world, the Head of Product or Chief Product Officer (CPO) ultimately owns the user experience.

Steve Jobs once said, “Making a product is hard, but making a team that can continually make products is even harder. The product I’m most proud of is Apple and the team I built at Apple.” 

To me, this quote speaks to the cross-functional requirements of designing and developing a great product and, hence, a great experience. The bottom line is this: if teams don’t work together, it leads to a bad experience overall for the customer. The outcome is then a natural one: the customer goes elsewhere to solve her problems.

That’s a great segue into how to bridge the gap between Product and CX teams and get them working together.

How to bridge the gap between Product and CX

I mentioned earlier that culture and leadership are at the root of the problem. The work to bring these two teams together must begin there.

Organizational silos cause pain for your employees. They lead to reduced efficiencies, waste resources, kill productivity, reduce morale (with a them-and-us, department vs. department mentality), and are detrimental to your ability to create a customer-centric culture. Silos cause pain for your customers, and they wreak havoc on your CX strategy.

There is no consistency or uniformity when there are silos; every department is using its own tools and processes to support what they are doing rather than working efficiently and consistently with the rest of the organization to be more cohesive, to be one company. And employees and customers feel it and know it.

What do companies need to do? They need to get everyone in sync, on the same page and working together toward a common goal.

1. Shift to a customer-centric mentality 

Think about this: “silo” is more of a mentality than a physical thing. There are no walls in place to keep you from talking to your colleagues in another department and from sharing what you’re working on with others. Department or business unit heads choose to not share information or to collaborate. It’s a leadership issue. It’s a cultural issue. It requires a shift in mentality. 

You get the culture you design or allow. The shift to a customer-centric culture can only happen when the CEO is committed to deliberately designing it to be that way. 

A customer-centric culture means there are no discussions, decisions, or designs without bringing in the customer voice, without first asking: How will this impact the customer? What value will it deliver for the customer? How will this help the customer? 

The CEO and other leaders in the organization must set the values, model the behaviors, and reinforce the behaviors and actions that address the answers to those questions. 

The culture must shift from being product-centric (or even sales-centric) to being customer-centric. Only then will you have a culture of collaboration, as well. By definition and by nature, customer-centric cultures are and must be collaborative. 

If you’re not sure of what product-centric looks like or what it means, take a look at the TEDx Talk given by Doug Dietz, now Principal Design Thinker at GE Healthcare. He wasn’t a design thinker when he originally designed the MRI machine; he focused on the product, its design, and what it needed to do, not on the customer or the experience. 

But when he went to check out his newly-designed product in the hospital, what he learned by observing patients going in for MRI scans was life-changing for him. He has since shifted his approach to product design by putting the customer at the heart of the work, by first listening and understanding customers and their needs, pain points, and problems to solve and then using what was learned to design products for them.

2. Share customer data in real-time 

In a customer-centric culture, all teams, including and especially Product and CX, must work together. These two teams share similar processes to gather, analyze, and act on customer data, including the work they do to understand the customer and their needs, pain points, and problems to solve. 

But that work is often done in a vacuum, with the CX team focusing on the broader overall customer experience, while the Product team focuses on the product and the user experience—neither really willing to share what they know. 

As a matter of fact, I’ve seen these teams become quite possessive about what they do and what they know. It’s time to change that. The CCO and the CPO must both champion the customer. As such, they must lock arms and ensure their teams work together, sharing data and designing a great end-to-end customer experience. 

These two teams must collaborate on persona development. The UX personas are more in line with what CX teams (and the rest of the organization) need to know in order to design experiences for customers. 

UX teams develop personas that get into the head and the heart of the user and get at the problems customers are trying to solve or jobs they are trying to do. 

Marketing personas are “buyer personas” and are typically not detailed enough about the customer to be useful to either Product or CX. Marketers focus on demographics, what people buy, why they buy, etc. in their personas. 

In reality, sharing persona information across all three teams (Product, Marketing, and CX) would move the organization further along in designing a better overall experience for the customer.

The two teams must also work together on customer journey mapping exercises to ensure that the entire end-to-end experience, not just parts of it, is well designed and executed. Oftentimes, customer experience and product experience are viewed as two separate entities, when, in reality, the product (user) experience, as I’ve already noted, is a subset of the overall customer experience. 

Collaborating on journey mapping exercises highlights the impact product issues can have on the entire customer experience. User journey mapping tends to focus on how the user interacts with the product.

At the same time, a collaborative environment must be supported and facilitated with technology that allows employees to share feedback, data, information, learnings, and more across departments, channels, business units, etc.

Let’s say, for example, that you are conducting a post-transactional Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) survey for your contact center. The survey uncovers that a large percentage of customers are reaching out for help because there’s a defect with a specific part of your product that wasn’t identified before it shipped. 

The great news is that the product has been selling well, but the downside is that now your contact center is flooded with angry and frustrated customers who just wanted to use and enjoy the product. 

The CX team must share the feedback with impacted teams in real-time to get all hands on deck to fix the defect (Product), be ready with a solution or recall information when customers call (Contact Center), and get the messaging out to customers apologizing for the issue and letting them know what’s being done, when, how, etc. (Marketing).

3. Establish governance committees 

I recently wrote about the importance of a governance structure. Governance committees are another tool to bridge the gap between teams. 

By definition, your governance committees are cross-functional, helping to ensure that action plans are executed and outcomes are measured—cohesively, in a collaborative fashion—across the organization. They get people working together toward a common goal. They ensure alignment and accountability, and their cross-functional collaboration is priceless.

One of these committees, the Executive Committee, is comprised of key executives across the organization. They play a key role in ensuring that the CX and Product teams work together. 

Breaking down silos comes from the top. Both company executives and department or business unit heads must lead the charge. This means that they should:  

  • Improve cross-functional and organization-wide communications and interactions by initiating, supporting, and facilitating the conversation starters.

  • Share cross-functional collaboration stories and acknowledge the successes and lessons learned. 

  • Work toward a common goal, in a very vocal way, i.e., talk about the common goal and how each department impacts it. 

  • Speak the same CX language across the organization, using a common vocabulary when it comes to the customer and the customer experience. 

  • Tie CX and other incentives in the same way from department to department, i.e., don’t give people a reason to dislike what’s happening in another department. 

It’s going to take a bit of effort to ensure that the CX and Product teams work together. Of the list above, sharing collaboration success stories as they happen will go a long way toward promoting ongoing and continued collaboration. This benefits the teams and, ultimately, your customers. 

Guide: How to Bridge the Gap for CX Across the Organization
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About the guest author

Annette Franz is the founder and chief experience officer of CX Journey Inc.

She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience—so that, together, you can design a better experience for all constituents. She has worked with both B2B and B2C brands in a multitude of industries. Connect with her: | @annettefranz | @cxjourney | LinkedIn | Facebook

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