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#22: The Customer-Obsessed PMM

When was the last time you had a terrible experience with a brand?

Think about what happened next. Did they resolve the issue? Have you purchased from - or recommended - that brand again?

Something as simple as one single interaction with a customer can make or break a longstanding relationship and impact customer lifetime value.

As a PMM, it can be tempting to shrug off this responsibility and place the onus on customer support. But, that’s a mistake.

This week, I was reminded of the power of customer interactions and the importance of incorporating this into our day-to-day routine.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

The Low

Last month my dad visited me in (rainy) Vancouver. Whenever he comes, I try to take him to one new place. This time, we decided to visit Victoria.

If you’ve been to Victoria, you’ll know there is a beautiful hotel that’s really more castle than place of rest, nestled right on the harbour. It’s called the Fairmont Empress, and it’s the place to stay in town.

Since it’s my dad’s one and only visit to Victoria, I splurged and booked us a Fairmont Gold room. I’ve stayed in Fairmont Gold previously for special occasions, and have always been blown away by the experience. I couldn’t wait for my dad to feel special!

Unfortunately, this visit left much to be desired. I’ll spare you the details, but we left our trip heavily disappointed and with buyer’s remorse. To make matter’s worse, the hotel staff didn’t seem to care.

Fast forward to this past weekend when I was booking a weekend getaway for my partner’s upcoming birthday. Again, I wanted to make it a special experience. However, this time, instead of automatically booking the Fairmont as I usually would, I hesitated, and then booked their competitor.

After one bad weekend, the Fairmont was able to undo years of good experiences - they planted just enough doubt in my mind to risk losing me as a future customer altogether.

The High

But, all was not lost. As Epictetus says, “It’s not what happens, but how you react to it that matters.”

Just when I thought I wouldn’t stay at another Fairmont again, their team swooped in to save the day. They did a few things right:

  • They sent me an email asking about my recent experience. It wasn’t just one of those surveys that had me rate my stay out of 10, or have me go through a length survey. I was able to simply hit reply and share my feedback.

  • The manager responded to me within 24 hours, and via phone call. Rather than go back and forth, she called me directly to get right to the heart of the matter.

  • They apologized. Often, an apology will go a long way.

  • They asked what they could do to have me return in the future. They were action-oriented and wanted to understand what would personally motivate me to return.

I left that call feeling heard and willing to give them a second chance. Since then, I’ve actually shared this positive experience three times - on a team meeting, with my partner, and now here with all of you.

Not only did they recover me as a customer, but they turned me into an advocate as well!

The Lesson

Customer experience isn’t just the most important part of a product, it is the product.

Unfortunately, at many companies, CX is simply synonymous with support. It’s a reactive function rather than a proactive one.

But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play as product marketers. Regardless of company philosophy, there are things we can do every day to take a more customer-obsessed approach to our work.

Here are two companies who nail this.

The first is FreshBooks. When I worked at FreshBooks, all new employees (including execs) needed to work in customer support for one month before moving into their full-time roles. The first week was focused on deep immersion into the product, followed by several weeks of taking live customer calls. I walked away from that month in support with a deep level of empathy and understanding for our customers, and with a desire to interact with them on a regular basis moving forward.

The second example is DoorDash. In 2021, DoorDash announced a new program called WeDash that required all employees to participate in food deliveries at least once a month. Similar to FreshBooks, this provided an opportunity for employees at all levels in all roles to speak directly with customers - in this case, both drivers and end consumers.

Looking for ways to engage with customers more regularly in your own role? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Shadow a support rep or CSM for a day

  • Listen to sales call recordings (most teams use tools like Dooly or Gong)

  • Interact with your customers on social channels

  • Go to local customer meetups

  • Participate in your customer community

  • Become a customer yourself (you’ll often have free access as an employee)

At the end of the day, customer experience is not just about solving problems - it's about creating value and building relationships.

What’s one thing you’ll do this week to build a relationship with your customers?