With customer expectations of value increasing every year, customer success is emerging as an essential focus — one that can drive long-term company growth.
However, as the popularity of customer success spikes, many leaders don’t have a full grasp of what customer success is or how to create CS initiatives that push the company forward. In this guide, we dive into the details of customer success and lay out the secrets to pinning down a customer success strategy that helps you race past your company’s goals.
What is Customer Success?
Customer success is a business method that uses your product or service to help customers achieve their objectives. It’s relationship-focused client management that aligns your customer with your company’s goals—igniting beneficial outcomes for everyone involved. Ultimately, effective customer success strategies create less customer churn, lower acquisition costs, and create more upsell opportunities.
Why do businesses need customer success?
As competition increases and more and more companies rely on recurring revenue models, customer success has become a massive growth driver. In fact, according to a North Highland study, 87% of leaders now say customer experience is their main growth engine.
Why? Your company’s success is intertwined with the success of your customer. According to Gartner, two-thirds of all companies say they are competing primarily on customer experience. If customers use your product to succeed, they’ll engage with and promote your product more. In turn, the more value you give your customers, the faster your product will grow.
Still, to be effective, customer success takes three critical ingredients: people, processes, and data. After all, how can you help your customers succeed using your product if you don’t know when, why, and how they’re actually using it? In order to combine these key ingredients in a way that creates positive outcomes, you’ll need to complete three action items:
Three Action Items
To understand your customers on a deep level, it’s important to use technology to track user data, gather input, and monitor how your moves are affecting the customer as well as ROI.
If you want your customer success plans to flourish, it will take a company-wide adoption of outcomes-based metrics and processes.
Customer Success, Customer Service, Account Management: What’s the Difference?
Despite its hefty potential as a growth engine, customer success is often confused with two separate initiatives: customer service and account management. Here are the differences between customer success, customer service, and account management.
In a nutshell, customer success is about a business being proactive while customer service is about being reactive. A common place where customer service pops up is when customers have problems. In those cases, they submit tickets, send emails, and make phone calls. Hopefully, the service or support team resolves those problems, and customers continue on their way. That’s customer service.
Account management is a fairly dated concept from the agency era. In this model, account managers woo dissatisfied customers and handle problems as they arise. Like customer service, it focuses on case-by-case interactions, and it’s reactive. Also, the account management mindset is often different from customer success management—focusing more on money coming in rather than meeting customer needs.
Customer success goes miles beyond account management. Rather than focusing on problems, it seeks opportunities and solutions proactively, by collecting and leveraging as many data points as possible about the customer. What’s more, customer success informs strategy; it helps businesses better understand the customer experience and lifecycle, so they can improve it. On top of all that, customer success team members focus on the customer and how that customer can succeed as opposed to only focusing on how the company can succeed. It’s a mindset shift that sparks big rewards for everyone.
Customer Success vs. Customer Experience
To clear up a couple of extra terms, it’s helpful to understand the difference between customer success and customer experience. Basically, customer success helps companies understand the customer experience, which is the way customers use your product from their perspective.
In short, customer experience focuses on the how. Customer success uses customer experience to drive better outcomes through a product. That means going beyond simply digging into the “how” behind customer experience and striving toward three things:
Understanding the How
Understanding the Why
Using data to ensure the customer does everything better
Wondering how customer success leads to product-led growth? Here are a few ways customer success inspires positive outcomes across the company.
How Customer Success Inspires Positive Outcomes
Customer Success Improves The Renewal Process
In the technology industry, the days of locking customers in for life with contracts and technological barriers—à la traditional enterprise sales—are over. Instead, customers hold the power. Most SaaS companies now rely on free trials, freemium models, or other recurring revenue models to succeed. Within these models, companies need their customers to see the value in their product right away and stay engaged with it consistently in order to grow.
Tech businesses that can manage renewal conversations better are able to grow faster and require less capital. And customer success provides the insight, organization, and team to set up productive, meaningful, and successful renewal exchanges.
Customer Success Reduces Churn
Recurring revenue models require companies to start by crafting a minimal viable product (MVP). Then, through an iterative process—typically driven by user feedback—you need to improve that product over time. That means you have to understand your users and work to cut down churn to thrive. Customer success focuses on spotting churn red flags, but it also actively uses data to enhance the customer’s experience.
Ultimately, CS teams glean valuable feedback from customers. When they combine that information with the customer health data, they can inform product and development teams to create proactive enhancements and additions. Done right, customers will have resolutions to problems they didn’t even know they had yet. Simply put, if customers don’t have any problems, there’s no reason to leave.
Customer Success Drives Revenue
Customer success doesn’t just keep revenue in the business; it also helps generate more revenue at a lower cost. That’s because, with technology companies, opportunities to upsell and cross-sell are sitting within the product. Customer success provides a mechanism for not only creating these chances but also capitalizing on them.
As you can see, the costs associated with acquiring a new customer often outstrip the revenue you’ll generate in year one.
That’s pretty common in the subscription business model, and it’s all because of year two. Look at the costs associated with retaining that customer.
They’re rock bottom. That means the cash is almost all profit. That kind of ratio could continue for years with a solid client success effort. And this graph doesn’t even include expansions, such as upsells and cross-sells, or second-order revenue.
All told, strong retention provides a hard, high floor for growth in the subscription economy. Customer success management is the best way to make retention operational.
How Does Customer Success Work?
Ready to launch a stellar customer success initiative? When it comes to setting up operations, you can lean on a few critical components.
Customer Success Software Monitors User Activity
Customer success software connects with your business’s customer relationship management (CRM) software and your company’s product. From there, it monitors product user activity and CRM inputs. And through intelligent algorithms, the software maps trends, reports stats, and makes predictions. Additionally, it allows CS teams to add context from phone, email, chat, and in-person interactions.
Customer Success Support Helps Identify Solutions
CS support is what makes the client success platform a solution. It takes the software and gives it legs to run. The day of the stand-alone tool in tech business has passed. Now, companies need software and services that work together to identify solutions and turn them into more positive experiences.
A CS Strategy Helps Build Relationships
Customer success can make or break a business because it’s the act of proactively retaining customers and strengthening those relationships. And your strategy will lay out a path to stronger relationships as well as more revenue.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few questions to guide your strategy:
What does your existing customer experience look like?
How can CS impact your customers and their experiences?
Which content and communications channels do your customers prefer?
What’s the appropriate rhythm for engaging customers and monitoring them throughout their lifetime?
Once you have these answers, use them to map out your full customer success lifecycle. Once you’ve formed the customer success lifecycle, determine whether your organization can support it. And then construct the right model for your organization.
A CS Team Recasts Your Company
CS team members are your doers. They’re the people who transform your company from reactive to proactive. To lead a winning CS team, you can lean on your solution to ensure your customers stay engaged, realize value quickly, and are moving through your product in the best way possible.
Your organizational structure will depend on your company, but here are some functional roles that often make up excellent customer success teams:
Customer Success Managers (CSMs)
CS Operations Leaders
Onboarding or Implementation Representatives
Professional Services Experts
Upsell and Cross-Sell Reps
What’s The Best Customer Success Solution For Your Business?
Customer success is invaluable to all companies. After all, if your business has customers, you need them to thrive if you want your company to grow. However, your customer success strategy and solution will depend on the unique size, resources, and goals of your company.
The first step toward understanding what customer success solution is best for your company is determining your customer success maturity. Your company’s maturity will reveal the best next steps you need to take. For instance, if your company is still in the early stages of customer success, creating a simple yet thorough system of spreadsheets might be step one. If your company is mature, you may be ready for full-fledged automation at scale. Ultimately, the most mature companies will have the tools to track thousands of customers’ health and to reach out to them automatically.
“The first step toward understanding what customer success solution is best for your company is determining your customer success maturity.”
Once you’ve nailed down your maturity model, you’ll have what you need to start looking for a customer success management technology solution that fuels your plans. Again, your best option will depend on your company. If you’re a small company with a handful of employees, you may want to start out with simple software and build out processes. If you’re a growing or enterprise-level company, you’ll want a customer success platform that includes a best-in-class rules engine, triggers, processes, and features. In all cases, your CS solution will help your team understand customer needs and deliver an experience customers love.
Weave Customer Success into Your Full Enterprise Transformation
Customer success can be a major growth driver that launches your company past its goals. And with the customer success basics guiding your way, you’ll be on the right track to deeper relationships and higher revenue. But if you want to embed customer success in your enterprise’s full transformation plan, it will take some extra insights. Download “Customer Success as a Driving Function of Enterprise-Wide Success and Transformation” now to learn how to use technology and CS to spark positive, customer-centered change organization-wide.