Customer Success

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by Scott Cowley Helping Customer Success teams scale and grow via Custify

Table of Contents

What Is Customer Success?

Customer success is a business approach and department that prioritizes helping customers move towards and achieve their goals, both with the product and in their own business operations.

Customer success teams have many tasks and oversee many processes such as: onboarding, churn prevention, renewals, customer loyalty, revenue expansion, and offboarding.

While Customer Success typically makes sense for SaaS companies, it can also be applied to other non-SaaS ones to great effect, as its founding principles can easily adapt to most industries and types of customers.

Why Is Customer Success Important?

Because the market has changed. In the past, companies would sell a product and make a profit. They didn’t really have a relationship with the customer unless they came back for help. So businesses had a strong focus on acquisition and a secondary one regarding support. This is where Customer Success comes in – it helps businesses create relationships with their customers that ultimately lead to improved retention and expanded revenue.

Customer retention measures how well a business can keep its customers over time. Even though acquisition is important, keeping the clients you already have and turning them into repeat customers is essential for SaaS business. 

In a global world with competition everywhere, the technical advantage is very rare. So, what’s left? Differentiation through UX and customer experience. In fact, according to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies now compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. This is why customer success is important and why it’s a company-wide effort.

Related: How Customer Experience (CX) powers growth marketing

Differences between Customer Success and Other Customer-Facing Departments

Because customer success is a relatively new business concept, there is confusion and overlap between its definition and other departments and initiatives such as customer experience and support, account management, and customer satisfaction.

In a way, customer success kicks every customer-facing initiative into overdrive. CS isn’t just there for every step of the customer journey, it oversees it proactively. It’s not just concerned with customers having a good experience; it actively works to improve every touchpoint they have with the business. And it’s not just the responsibility of the CS team. It’s a business-wide effort designed to better serve the needs of your customer base.

What Is a Customer Success Manager?

CSMs are enablers of the customer success approach within a business, and leaders of their respective teams. They facilitate customer goals and aid clients in reaching those goals through the use of the company’s products or services. To do this, CSMs oversee onboarding, retention, and loyalty by setting up churn reduction initiatives and promoting a customer mindset throughout the organizational structure.

The main difference between CS and Support is in their nature – customer support is reactive, the customer gets in touch with a problem, and the Support Rep helps solve it, while Customer Success is proactive, meaning the CSM analyzes data and then proactively reaches out to the customer with a solution before they even realize they have a problem, they are  more concerned with customer relationships rather than individual issues. 

For example, CSMs can monitor product usage  and make recommendations on ways to derive more value or reduce cost based on the client’s activity, segment or customer base. Customers will then be far more likely to renew and even buy new features. 

Key CSM Responsibilities and Skills

CSMs require an uncommon and extensive set of skills to complete their daily tasks and achieve their objectives. They are responsible for a diverse array of customer-facing processes, each with its own set of CS tactics:

1. CSMs onboard customers

Customer success managers oversee customer onboarding. They run the customer through an evolved, in-depth demo of the product, showcasing features, metrics, and typical work processes, all presented in alignment with that specific customer’s goals.

Onboarding is potentially the most vital task in a CSM’s workflow, as it affects every other moment in the customer journey. If a customer is onboarded correctly, the overall account management and support time and costs will decrease while customer satisfaction and lifetime value will increase.

2. CSMs are the voice of the customer

Beyond helping customers attain their objectives, CSMs must drive home the customers’ needs within their own team. To do this, they gather and contextualize customer feedback, sorting and filtering it so only the most relevant parts remain. Once that task is complete, CSMs pass on their insights to all stakeholders: from Product to Customer Support, Sales, Marketing, and to all concerned C-level parties. 

3. CSMs build relationships with customers

CSMs always aim to push customer conversations and nurture relationships, developing them into effective multi-pronged collaborations. 

A great customer relationship often involves helping customers get the most value out of the product while promoting as many of the product features or services as possible (within reason). 

Beyond simple upsells, CSMs also attempt to gain business value through other uncommon means. In collaboration with Marketing and Sales, CSMs can aid in cross-promotional efforts such as case studies, referral programs, customer reviews, guest post exchanges, and customer testimonials.

CSMs also maintain conversations with customers by sending insights, articles, or other materials, and discussing them. Experienced CSMs know when to reach out to avoid being too intrusive while staying relevant and helpful to customers. 

You can learn more about Customer Success Marketing ideas in this 5-min post.

4. CSMs prevent churn and encourage retention

Preventing customer churn was the first and most famous objective of customer success ever since Salesforce built the first CS department in 2005. The churn prevention responsibility involves a complex series of methods CSMs use to keep customers. Chief among these tactics is observation: they must always have an overview of customer activity and set smart triggers for churn precursors. Then the fun part starts: reaching out, helping customers, and doing whatever is in their power to retain that account.

5. CSMs encourage upsells and cross-sells

Similar to how CSMs look for churn signs, they also look for upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Most customers can always use extra features, but CSMs have a sixth sense for detecting when customers truly need a new feature, product, or service. The same goes for account upgrades – when it makes sense, the CSM will reach out and attempt to persuade customers and demo the proposed plan or add-on. The best CSMs will come at this with a genuine desire to help customers help themselves.

6. CSMs promote customer loyalty

Moving further than retention is a target for most CSMs. Retained customers are good, but loyal customers are far better. A loyal customer understands both the value your business is adding to their day-to-day and the effort you put into providing that value. CSMs are the ones responsible for showcasing that value and driving loyalty.

If the CSM does their job well, loyal customers will slowly become brand advocates and:

  • Aid in marketing initiatives like case studies or testimonials
  • Provide insightful feedback on product features, even unreleased ones
  • Leave one or more raving customer reviews (CSMs can incentivize this process)
  • Bring in highly valuable leads via referral
  • Highlight your business through word-of-mouth marketing

How to Build a Customer Success Strategy

To achieve all the goals listed above, CSMs need a thought-out customer success strategy, otherwise, their efforts will lack cohesion and seem haphazard. A full plan for CS must include all of the following in this order:

  1. Segmentation. Based on account plans, goals, ARPU, or whatever other metrics make the most sense to you and your business.
  2. Onboarding. As mentioned earlier, onboarding should be optimized into a well-oiled machine to steer your business. Without it, all the other pieces of your CS strategy will fall like dominoes.
  3. Account Overview. Usually available with every customer success software, customer account overviews are essentially CS dashboards featuring account age, renewal date, contract value, transactions, surveys, product usage metrics, customer health scores, and recent interactions (including messages).
  4. Churn Prevention. All efforts to reduce churn can also be planned. You might not be able to predict every scenario, but you can have response strategies for some of the most common issues such as: onboarding problems, bad-fit customers, poor product quality, negative support interactions, expired cards, or passed renewal dates.
  5. Renewals. Speaking of renewal dates, CS teams also concern themselves with securing customer renewals before the period expires. A simple method for this is to conduct a risk assessment analysis and create a standardized and scalable plan of action to mitigate them.
  6. Proactive Outreach. A tactic that supports all other CS initiatives, proactive outreach can be planned and added to the strategy. Beyond creating templates for specific scenarios within your business, proactivity can be automated based on common triggers. Of course, real conversations are still better for CS, but automation can help lighten the load on support & aid other customer-facing processes.
  7. Upsells / Cross-sells. As already mentioned, upsell and cross-sell efforts are the most important drivers of growth from a customer success standpoint. These can also be planned for in an integrated CS strategy, with prewritten scripts for the most common upsell / cross-sell scenarios.
  8. Playbooks & Automation. By automating aspects of the customer journey through a CS tool, CSMs can clean up their workflows so the team can focus on true drivers of growth for their accounts and how they can help those customers achieve success.
  9. Offboarding. An often-overlooked part of the CS strategy, offboarding, while not as important as onboarding, can offer just as many insights. The work of a CSM doesn’t stop when a customer churns. The best next step is to find out why they left, either through offboarding interviews, surveys, emails, or chat messages. To fine-tune their strategy, CSMs can set up scripts with potential counteroffers to persuade customers to stay. 

Differences between Customer Success Software and CRMs

As mentioned several times throughout this page, customer success tools represent the main weapon of the customer success manager and their team. 

One might be tempted to believe they’re mostly the same as CRMs, but that’s far from the case. CRM tools are designed to manage workflows and aid account managers in their contact with customers in a task-first approach. CS tools, on the other hand, focus on helping CSMs drive success both internally and for the customer. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

Through CS software, CS reps oversee accounts, set custom health scores based on customer activity, monitor the most important account metrics, create playbooks, trigger automation, create and launch NPS or CSAT surveys, look for growth opportunities, and, of course, set tasks, alerts, and compile reports.

With all these tools at their disposal, customer success teams are ready to tackle the most complex scenarios and help keep customer goals front and center for all your business processes.

Suggested mentors to help you make sense of Customer Success

Scott Cowley

I help founders who sell, but aren't *sales*people, build repeatable processes that win

You should book a call with me if you are a non-salesperson who has to sell and/or lead a team selling a product/service with a lifetime value of at least $5,000 AND you’re struggling with reliable, repeatable sales performance. Lead generation, booking meetings, closing, reducing no shows, etc

Barbara Stewart

Customer Experience Design & Marketing Specialist

Passionate end to end CX consultant with a knack for distilling complexity into simplicity.

Farzad Khosravi

Customer Experience : Email and Sales Strategy : Startup Ideation

+10 years experience in sales, marketing, and customer experience strategy. I’ve helped dozens of executives and founders set up KPIs, OKRs and tactics for email marketing, lead generation, content and product marketing, customer success, and sales.

Oz Merchant

Sales/Customer Success Consultant and Mind Hacker

Founders and new Team Leaders: I love helping build sales and customer success teams. I focus on lead to sales hand-off and then to implementation/customer success. And if you are feeling stuck, a mindhacking session will get the roadblocks out of your way.

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