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Sometimes in nature, two entirely different species have a relationship that is mutually beneficial.

As you may recall from biology class, this is called symbiosis, or – more specifically – mutualism.

Remember in Finding Nemo, how the clownfish live in a sea anemone?

Well, that’s a textbook example of symbiosis.

Clownfish protect the sea anemone by consuming small invertebrates that would otherwise present a danger. Then, clownfish digest the invertebrates and turn it into fecal matter that  provides the sea anemone with nutrients it needs to survive. Clownfish also keep butterfly fish (a sea anemone predator) away by emitting a high pitched sound.

In return, the sea anemone protects clownfish by keeping predators away with its stinging cells, to which clownfish are immune.

It’s a perfect match – these two species protect each other from predators, increasing their chances of survival.

The concept of symbiosis isn’t exclusive to the natural world.

In business, symbiotic relationships are present everywhere you look. Even within individual companies, mutualism is common.

The most obvious example is smarketing, a term that has blown up in recent history. When sales and marketing work together to move leads through the funnel, everyone wins.

But there’s another cross-departmental relationship that seems almost as obvious, however, few companies take advantage of it.

It’s customer service and product development.

Customer service reps interact with customer every single day and help them resolve issues related to the product. They know the product inside and out. They listen to feedback from customers about what they like and dislike about the product. With all this knowledge, they have the power to help the product development team improve the product drastically.

And when the product team listens to feedback from customer service reps and makes the product better, then customers have fewer issues, meaning reps have less work to do. It’s a win-win situation.

Seems obvious, right? Heck, some people have even argued that you’d be crazy not to include your reps in product development. It just makes sense.

But what should this relationship actually look like, logistically?

Customer service reps should have the opportunity to speak directly with members of the product development team periodically. The regularity of these meeting will depend on the nature of your product.

If you have a complex software product, then it might make sense to have some of your customer service reps check in with your product team on a weekly or biweekly basis. These meetings should be brief, hitting only on major product issues or bugs that are causing problems in the short term. This is the time to bring up any urgent problems customers are experiencing. Meeting regularly will help build rapport between the customer service and product teams.

On a monthly basis, customer service reps should be given the chance to bring up general trends they’ve noticed and relay qualitative feedback they’ve received from customers. This will help the product team gain a deeper understanding of the sorts of problems customers are dealing with and what they’d like to see improved.

At the end of each quarter, reps and product developers should meet to discuss the big picture of the product. What’s working? What’s not? This is the time to be completely transparent and think critically about the effectiveness of your product.

Customer service reps should also be invited to any meeting related to the product roadmap. They possess valuable insights about customer priorities that can help the product development team decide what they should work on.

Another way to keep this relationship top of mind is to set up automatic email reports to the product team containing relevant customer service data. This will allow them to see which product areas are responsible for causing customer issues or slowing down your customer service team.

In order to maximize your potential – in any context – you should take advantage of all the resources available to you. For product development teams, customer service reps are a key resource that should not be ignored.

Sure, customer service managers have useful advice, but the reps are the ones talking to customers day in and day out. The knowledge they possess is the secret ingredient to creating a successful product.

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