What constitutes “customer success” and how are you supposed to achieve it? Your customers’ success is tightly correlated with your ability to generate a profit.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What customer success is,
- how to build a customer success strategy,
- the best ways to improve customer success,
- and the best customer success software platforms and tools
Ready? Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- What Is Customer Success?
- Customer Success vs. Customer Service and Customer Experience
- Why Is Customer Success Important?
- 6 Core Elements of a Customer Success Strategy
- 10 Customer Success Skills, Tips, and Techniques
- 1. Get to know your target audience.
- 2. Identify what qualifies as “success.”
- 3. Build the best customer success team.
- 4. Start with an overall customer success strategy.
- 5. Onboard your customers.
- 6. Educate your customers.
- 7. Communicate with customers frequently.
- 8. Communicate with other teams.
- 9. Foster more customer loyalty.
- 10. Prioritize feedback.
- 14 Customer Success KPIs to Measure
- How to Scale Customer Success
- 5 Customer Success Pitfalls to Avoid
- 10 best Customer Success Tools
What Is Customer Success?
Let’s start with the basics. What is customer success?
Customer success is the customer’s ability to achieve their desired outcome.
Your customers are using your product for a specific reason, whether it’s to help them make more money, allow them to better track specific metrics, or connect them with more people.
“Desired outcome” itself is a somewhat vague term. We can take it to mean that a customer has gotten the end result and core experience that they want from using this product.
Some customer success experts split desired outcome formally into two distinct concepts:
- Required outcome (RO)
- Appropriate experience (AX)
Required outcome is some measurable, identifiable end result that comes from using your product. As a simple example, the required outcome might be increasing conversion rates or generating more leads. If your product is capable of helping customers achieve this required outcome, you’ll be on the fast track to customer success.
Appropriate experience is related to user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX), but it stands as its own unique concept. AX unique is different for every customer. Your tool might be sleek, intuitive, and full of features – but if there are so many features that users end up confused or overwhelmed, they’re not going to have an appropriate experience.
Customer Success vs. Customer Service and Customer Experience
How is customer success different than customer service and customer experience? What does customer success do differently?
Customer service, customer experience, and customer success are all related to each other, so it’s hard to evaluate any single one of them in a vacuum.
Customer service is probably the most specific and easiest to define. It’s all about giving your customers the information, guidance, and assistance they need to succeed.
Already, you can see the word “succeed” pop up and imagine how customer service is related to customer success. But your customer service department is only focused on a small subset of responsibilities, such as handling customer questions, writing new tutorials and guides, and reaching out to assist with troubleshooting.
Customer experience, by contrast, encompasses all of your customers’ experiences with your brand.
The better these experiences are, and the more consistent they are, the better your customer experience will be.
Customers are more satisfied with their experience when they’re in frequent communication, when they feel informed, when they feel important, and when they’re tasks are easy to accomplish.
Again, customer experience is related to customer success in a way. If your customers have a better experience using your product, they’re probably more likely to achieve its full potential, allowing them to see better results.
Customer success does incorporate some elements of customer service and customer experience, but it stands on its own as an independent concept.
Why Is Customer Success Important?
Why is customer success so important?
Here are some of the most important outcomes of customer success:
- Higher customer retention. Customers have signed up to use your product for a specific reason. They have a specific goal in mind and they’re trying to achieve certain results. If they aren’t able to achieve those results, or in other words, if they aren’t successful, they’re going to stop using your product. If you optimize your business to prioritize customer success, your customers are going to be far more likely to reach their goals, and therefore more likely to continue using your product. The short version is, higher customer success leads to higher customer retention – and you already know how valuable customer retention is.
- Greater customer satisfaction. I’ve already thrown several customer-centric terms at you, but here’s another one: customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction isn’t the same thing as customer success, but higher levels of customer success will typically result in higher customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are happier with your product, they’re easier to work with, they’re more loyal to your brand, and they generally offer a higher customer lifetime value.
- More referrals and better reviews. When customers are able to achieve their goals with your product or service, they’re going to be much more likely to tell other people about their experience in a positive light. They may recommend your product to other people they know or leave positive reviews for others to read. In any case, if you spend enough time focusing on customer success, you’re going to end up with floods of customers providing you more referrals and better reviews. This, in turn, facilitates greater customer acquisition and helps your company grow.
- Possibilities for improvements. Here’s another interesting thing about customer success; every customer success strategy relies heavily on gathering data, surveying customers, and brainstorming new ways to make your core products better. Accordingly, when you prioritize customer success, you open up new possibilities for future improvements. It’s a way of laying the groundwork for a better, higher performing product – as we’ll see in more detail shortly.
6 Core Elements of a Customer Success Strategy
To improve customer success, you need a customer success strategy.
Your customer success strategy will simply be a formalized, ideally documented approach that your business takes to optimize customer success.
Your customer success strategy should include things like:
1. Team members.
Who’s responsible for customer success in your organization? You should have one point person in charge of measuring customer success and making recommendations to improve it. In larger organizations, you may have entire teams of people working on customer success-related tasks.
2. Customer success tools and software.
You’ll also need to choose some customer success tools and software that can help you achieve your end goals. As we’ll see, customer success strategies are highly dependent on your ability to objectively measure performance and outcomes; it’s nearly impossible to do this without the right tools in place.
3. A high-level vision.
What is your philosophy when it comes to customer success? Don’t think too hard about this. But it does pay to have a high-level vision in place. Who are your customers, what are they trying to accomplish, and what are the best approaches to get there? For example, do you favor an aggressive strategy that encourages you to make changes to your product on a recurring basis? Or do you prefer a passive strategy that keeps your core product consistent while only gradually rolling in new changes and experiments?
4. Customer success goals.
What exactly are your customer success goals? Are you hoping to reduce churn rate? Are you looking for more reviews and referrals? Are you just interested in having more loyal customers that are less likely to turn to a competitor? The more specific you are here, the better.
5. Tactics and implementation processes.
Obviously, your customer success strategy should also incorporate tactics and implementation. You may have an abstract idea that your customers will be more successful if your product has a certain feature, or if one of your existing features is improved – but how exactly do you implement that change?
6. A path for growth.
Your customer success strategy may start as a low-level, easily managed orchestration. But as your business grows and takes on more customers, it’s going to get harder to manage individual relationships and harder to measure data in aggregate. You’ll need some sort of path for growth in place, so you can scale it effectively.
10 Customer Success Skills, Tips, and Techniques
What does it take to be successful in the world of customer success?
These are some of the most important skills, tips, and techniques you’ll need to follow:
1. Get to know your target audience.
You need to get to know your target audience, and in multiple ways. Remember, not all people are going to have the same definition of success and not all people are going to use your tool in the same way. Accordingly, you need to do your market research and understand the background and mentality of each user who will be using your product. It’s not enough to simply guess about how people will use it, or rely on your own intuitions; you need data to back up those intuitions.
Additionally, it pays to get a better understanding of the actual users engaging with your product. In the early stages of your company’s growth, you can talk to users individually and get their qualitative feedback for how the product works. In the later stages, you can still use qualitative surveys to evaluate a random sample of your customers’ perspectives.
2. Identify what qualifies as “success.”
It’s hard to create a customer success strategy if you don’t know what success really means. Earlier, we defined customer success as a byproduct of achieving a required outcome with an appropriate experience. That definition still holds, but you’ll need to dig deeper if you want to create a reliable, concrete model for customer success.
By collecting data from your customers, studying the competition, and looking at your own performance metrics, you can come to a firm conclusion here.
3. Build the best customer success team.
Even the best customer success strategy on paper is going to be useless without a strong customer success team to support it. That’s why you should be sure to put the right people in place, educate them on customer success, train them on the fundamentals, and provide them all the resources they need to be successful.
With a competent, passionate team in place, your customer success strategy can almost run on autopilot.
4. Start with an overall customer success strategy.
Document your customer success strategy before you start looking at any individual tactics. Capture your customer success philosophy, formalize your customer success goals, and chart a general path for future growth.
Your customer success team members will be able to look back at this document and reference it whenever they’re considering employing a new tactic or making a big change.
5. Onboard your customers.
Customer onboarding is one of the most important steps to take with customers to set them up for long-term success. Onboarding is your chance to introduce customers to your product, including how it works and how it can be valuable. It’s an opportunity to set expectations proactively. It’s also a good chance to learn more about this customer and what they’re trying to achieve.
Without an onboarding process, your customers will end up lost, and with a poorly conceived onboarding process, your customers might walk away with the wrong impression about your brand or your product.
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6. Educate your customers.
It’s also important to educate your customers, for similar reasons. If your customers don’t understand how your product works, or if they run into an issue they just can’t troubleshoot, they’re never going to find success. You can educate your customers during the onboarding process, but it’s also important to have secondary platforms and paths for customer education.
For example, having available customer support, FAQ pages, tutorials, and other help content can be quite valuable.
7. Communicate with customers frequently.
It’s valuable to stay in communication with your customers, and for several reasons. For starters, the ongoing communication will help your brand stay top of mind, encouraging customers to continue using your product. Regular newsletters can introduce customers to the new features you’re adding to your product as well. If you’re planning downtime in the future, or if you’re aware of a significant bug or security issue, you can warn your customers and manage their expectations.
The closer your customers are, and the more you communicate with them, the more likely they’ll be to find success.
8. Communicate with other teams.
Your customer success department should not be working in isolation. Customer success team members should be talking to members of other departments and other teams frequently. There’s a lot they can learn from your sales department, your marketing department, and your customer service department about the nature of your audience, opportunities for improvement within your product, and more.
Deconstruct the silos within your organization and foster effective cross-departmental communication.
9. Foster more customer loyalty.
Customer success and customer loyalty are mutually supportive; improving customer success is naturally going to boost customer loyalty. But it’s also important to work on customer loyalty independently.
When customers are more loyal to your brand, they’re going to be much more likely to use your product consistently, provide you honest feedback and insights, and in some cases, work with you to create a better overall product.
10. Prioritize feedback.
Feedback may be your most important tool to improve customer success. With more surveys, more reviews, and more customer data in other realms, you can get a much more accurate picture of how your customers define success and forge a much clearer path to helping them achieve that success.
You may think your product is flawless on paper, but if your customers have difficulty using it, or if it doesn’t help them in the way they initially thought, it could end up working against you.
14 Customer Success KPIs to Measure
KPIs for customer success are key performance indicators – objective metrics that can help you determine whether your customer success tactics are successful.
But what are the right KPIs to measure?
- Product performance. How is your product performing? You can look at this from a technical perspective or from a business perspective. For example, does your product have sufficient uptime? Does it load quickly enough? Is all your content readily available? Does your product offer all the tools necessary for your customers to see meaningful improvements in this field?
- Customer engagement. How do customers feel about your product, and are they using it consistently? Do they log in on a regular basis and how long are their sessions? Do customers feel good about your product after using it?
- Customer ROI. Overall, how much value are your customers bringing to your organization? If most of your customers leave after using your product for only a month, your customer ROI is going to tank.
- Customer health score. Customer health refers to how a customer is using your product. The more they use your product, and the more they rely on it, the better; this is a signal that they’re achieving success in some measurable way. Within customer health, you can look at the frequency, breadth, and depth of product usage. Frequency refers to how often people log into your product. Breadth refers to the number of users within a specific organization who rely on your product. Depth refers to how long individual sessions are and how much engagement you generate during those sessions.
- Customer churn. No company likes to see high rates of customer churn, but they often fail to see that churn is ultimately a byproduct of low customer success.
- Net promoter score (NPS). NPS attempts to objectively quantify the likelihood of a given customer recommending your product to someone new. This is usually measured using short surveys, asking customers one or two questions about their perceptions of your brand and product. Promoters are typically successful using your product, and will recommend it to other people. Detractors are not successful, and will advise others against using your product. And of course, some people will be neutral.
- Customer satisfaction score (CSAT). CSAT is a more robust measure of customer satisfaction, and requires you to gather more data than your NPS surveys will allow. Still, CSAT and NPS are closely related; customers who find success with your platform are likely to have high scores in both areas.
- Monthly recurring revenue (MRR). MRR can’t tell you anything about how your customers subjectively feel about your product, but it will tell you whether they’re willing to pay for it. In some ways, this is an even better measure of customer success, since most people will terminate subscriptions to products that no longer bring them value.
- Average revenue per user (ARPU). Another way to look at this equation is to study ARPU; in other words, how much revenue is being generated by each individual user? This is going to drop precipitously if your customers struggle to find success and frequently end their subscriptions prematurely.
- Customer lifetime value (CLV). CLV is a common KPI in many departments, helping you understand the total value that each customer brings to your organization over the lifetime of their relationship with your brand. High levels of customer success tend to lead to higher CLV values, while low CLV values can help you diagnose a customer success problem.
- First contact resolution rate (FCR). FCR is a customer service and support metric, capturing the rate at which your customer complaints, questions, and concerns are addressed with a single interaction. Customers don’t like to go back and forth, nor do they like drawn-out, protracted resolutions; when they have a problem with your product, they want it resolved expediently. This KPI helps you determine whether you’re meeting customer expectations or whether you’re leaving them frustrated and unable to find success.
- Customer effort score (CES). How much effort does it take your customers to use your product or get the customer service they need? CES will help you measure this metric. Generally speaking, the more effort it takes to use a product, the less likely customers are willing to use it – and the harder it is for them to reach their desired outcome.
- Product usage metrics. There are several product usage metrics worth tracking to get a better understanding of how your customers are using your product. You can track your daily and monthly users, the average duration of a session, and even user behavioral patterns once they log into your product. Are there certain features that aren’t getting used? Are session durations suspiciously short? anomalies can help you track down bugs, performance issues, and missing features that stand in the way of your customer success.
- Qualitative customer feedback. Most KPIs are conveniently packaged as quantitative, objective data. But it’s also important to judge qualitative customer feedback. Ask open-ended questions on surveys and conduct occasional customer interviews to get more information about how your customers see and use your product regularly. They may even have recommendations for how you can improve your product in the future.
How to Scale Customer Success
Scaling customer success can be difficult, especially if you’re expanding to focus on a different target audience or if your number of customers is skyrocketing.
Starting out is relatively easy. Through focus groups and customer interviews, you can dive deep into customer experiences when using your product, better understand your target audience, and develop your product specifically for them.
But once your customer base starts to multiply, things become more challenging.
Use software tools to automate as much as you can, minimizing the human labor necessary to run calculations and analyze data.
Add new team members as your customer success leads begin to feel overwhelmed or overworked.
Segment your audiences as you start expanding.
But above all, remain adaptable. If your company is stuck with a specific mindset or a prescriptive set of rules, you won’t be able to grow effectively.
5 Customer Success Pitfalls to Avoid
We all have to start somewhere.
But if you’re just getting started in the world of customer success, you’re going to be vulnerable to the biggest pitfalls of the strategy.
That’s why I’ve assembled this list of the most important customer success pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t confuse customer success with other similar concepts. It’s tough to completely delineate such intricately related concepts, but you have to remember, customer success is not the same as customer service or customer experience. It’s also not the same as brand loyalty or customer satisfaction.
- Keep your customers first. Customers need to be at the center of everything you do in customer success. This isn’t about your vision for the perfect product, nor is it necessarily about the performance metrics of that product; if your customers aren’t reaching their desired outcomes, no amount of hypothetical success on your end is going to matter.
- Focus on objective metrics, rather than intuition. Similarly, it’s important to focus on objective metrics, rather than trusting your intuition. It’s both reasonable and valuable to use your intuition as a starting point; it’s how most of us come up with some of our best ideas. But you need to ground those intuitive ideas in reality if they’re going to be practical and effective to implement.
- Don’t overdeliver. To achieve greater customer success, some companies are tempted to stuff their product full of as many features as possible. But if you do this, you’ll run the risk of overdelivering. Remember, customer success is a byproduct of required outcome and appropriate experience; if your customer experience is overwrought with unnecessary additions and superfluous details, It’s going to fail.
- Work with humans, not numbers. Objective data is important, but it’s possible to over complicate your customer success strategy by focusing too much on numbers and statistics. The people using your products are real people, and you need to think about their real subjective experiences when optimizing your product for them.
10 best Customer Success Tools
Now let’s take a look at the best customer success tools available today.
Gainsight is one of the biggest names in customer success, in part because their platform has been around for many years. With Gainsight, you’ll get access to features that support strategic planning, team coordination, project management, goal tracking, automation, KPI measurement and more. It’s a powerful tool that almost any business can use – but it’s going to take some time to learn and properly implement.
Userpilot is mainly used for onboarding customers, which is a central feature of any worthwhile customer success strategy. With this tool, you’ll be able to streamline the customer onboarding process, providing customers with more education and guidance, and you’ll be able to measure your results with fine-tuned detail.
eWebinar is another onboarding tool that focuses primarily on webinars. Chances are, most of your customers are going to be onboarded remotely, making webinars one of the best and most accessible formats for educating and bringing in new users.
UserGuiding also has onboarding features to help you in your customer success strategy, but it’s distinguished in a few different ways. For starters, UserGuiding helps you create and implement visual cues and onscreen walkthroughs, so customers can learn the most important aspects of your platform.
Vitally offers a mix of different features, including customer experience analytics, automation, and project management for your customer success team. With it, you can measure and analyze customer interactions with your products throughout the entire customer lifecycle. You can also use it to measure several important metrics for customer success, like customer health score and churn rate.
6. Help Scout.
One of the best ways to build customer success is to provide better education and support for your customers – and Help Scout is an excellent tool to help you do it. Using Help Scout, you can create a thorough knowledgebase, provide live chat, and reach out to customers directly to improve satisfaction and retention.
Custify tries to make customer success easier by offering a user-friendly platform with streamlined onboarding and plenty of automation features. It also sports excellent, real-time data dashboards so you can see how your product is performing and how your customers are using it in the moment.
SmartKarrot is designed to be an all-in-one customer success platform, giving you help at every stage of the customer lifecycle and improving your approach to onboarding, education, customer experience, product adoption, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. It also has ample tools for measuring and analyzing your results.
Planhat is another platform meant to be seen (and used) as an all-in-one customer success tool. In it, you’ll find many tools to improve customer adoption, keep your customers happy, and even improve your core product. It’s also incredibly easy to learn and use, since it’s designed to be minimalistic and accessible.
10. InMoment (and Wootric).
The customer success software once known as Wootric has been incorporated into InMoment, an even more robust platform to help you measure customer success. It’s one of the best tools on this list for measuring customer-related metrics, since it can help you measure almost every conceivable customer success KPI quickly and efficiently.
With a better customer success strategy, your customers will be happier, your product will flourish, and your company will end up more profitable because of it.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.