18 min read
With a robust customer success strategy, your business will continue to keep customers successful and happy in every step of their journey.
What is a customer success strategy? A customer success strategy is a plan meant to ensure your customers have what they need to achieve their goals and desired outcomes in every step of the buyer's journey.
An important part of the strategy is being customer-centric, which means understanding the world from your customers’ perspective and creating the best possible experiences to build brand loyalty.
A customer-centric business makes the client the center of its ideas, philosophy, or operations. The main reason these companies exist is for their customers and keeping them happy is top priority.
Customer satisfaction is part of customer experience, which is how your clients perceive their interactions with you and how happy they are with your product.
The goal of customer success, the business practice of making certain that your customers achieve the outcomes they want while they're using your product, is to ensure they're as successful as possible.
However, customer satisfaction is not the same as customer success because even if your clients are happy with your product, they might not be truly successful using it.
One of the main drivers in the rise of customer success is the increase of subscription-based software-as-a-service business models over large one-time products. SaaS companies need to ensure users are successful with their products to justify their monthly renewal fees, otherwise those customers will cancel or churn.
However, customer success is important to every organization, not only SaaS companies, as it positively affects the business since happy and successful users are loyal and repeat customers, and they'll likely refer your company to others.
Done effectively, it can decrease churn, foster add-on sales, and increase revenue—all important business goals.
Because implementing your Customer Success strategy is actually pretty hard, there are new customer success platforms, such as Planhat, that are designed to help businesses increase customer-centricity by bringing together all the data you have on your customer, and then leveraging that data in real-time to facilitate customer success.
After you acquire new customers, you should focus on these four areas to increase their chances of success and increase lifetime value to your business: adoption, retention, expansion, and advocacy.
Having a clear process for training and onboarding during the adoption stage is key for long term success. Playbooks are an excellent way to move the customer through your product in a reliable and consistent way. Playbooks act as a cheat sheet for your success team, allowing everyone to be on the same page for new and existing clients.
Depending on the complexity of your product, the adoption phase can vary in time. For instance, a small SaaS tool might only need a quick automated tutorial, while an enterprise service may require a live training session.
The adoption stage is the perfect time to begin learning about your client’s goals and pain points if you haven’t already done so. This allows you to cater your onboarding process, training material, and product features to your customer’s goals.
By understanding what your client needs you can streamline the onboarding process to only include processes that align with their goals. This applies to product demos and one-on-one training sessions. Your customer achieves a shorter time to value, and you shorten your time spent on the onboarding process. Everybody wins.
If you’re unsure about the adoption phase for your product, consider looking at your competitors for ideas. Existing customer data is also a great resource to improve the adoption phase. Use surveys, support tickets, and retention data to find areas you can improve during product adoption.
After helping customers adopt your product, you must ensure they stay with you. These ongoing strategies will reduce churn.
Ensure your product does what your users need it to do
Make certain your product remains a good value
Develop Customer Success metrics and track your customers against them
Ensure your team provides timely support and assistance
The retention stage is all about providing great service and making data-driven decisions. If customers know how to use your product and see the value in it but churn anyway, there may be an issue with your service.
This can stem from poor ongoing support or simply losing the customer to another competitor. The key to higher customer retention lies in a quality product and a strong relationship between the customer and business.
Retain customers by ensuring they have plenty of support options. Take an omnichannel approach that meets customers where they are most comfortable. Prompt support, detailed knowledge bases, and social media groups are all great ways to support your customer base.
Customers will want to stick with businesses that truly listen and understand them, even when competing products offer lower rates. Implementing custom solutions and collaborating with customers to reach their goals is an extremely powerful way to build customer loyalty.
Don’t be afraid to check in on customers and ask them if they need anything. Offering free resources that specifically help their business can also help improve retention and build loyalty. For example, if you run an accounting SaaS company consider creating a resource that helps solve a big problem right before tax time.
If you want your customers to increase their spend with you, ensure that they're happy and design your offering in a way that they can increase their use over time.
Create product offerings that scale with your customer from basic to advanced
Offer new product modules with new capabilities
Expand usage to new departments, locations, and subsidiaries
Add consulting services to your recurring service contract
Hitting a home run in the expansion stage requires trust and timing. As you provide reliable service, honest answers, and valuable resources, trust is naturally built overtime.
Trust plays a vital role when looking to expand your business through upsells and cross-sells. Expansion is much easier when the customer sees you as a trusted advisor, versus just another commission-hungry sales team.
Customer data is invaluable when it comes to getting the timing right. For email SaaS it could be a sharp rise in subscriber count. For eCommerce tools it could be a new high in their monthly revenue.
Think about what success looks like for your customer, and ask yourself what data would indicate that success. Then ask yourself what product or service would naturally help your customer take their business to the next level.
When companies make buying decisions, they often ask for recommendations from people they know at other organizations. Consequently, turning your customers into advocates helps improve sales.
Here are some ways you can turn happy customers into advocates.:
Use your Customer Success metrics to identify potential advocates
Ask your happiest customers for referrals and reviews
Do your customers a favor for free that impacts their business and their careers.
Help your customers share their expertise and look good in front of their colleagues.
The advocacy stage is about turning customers into fans that promote your business for you. This is done through amazing customer service, attention to detail, and of course, a great product.
But how do you know when customers are ready to become advocates? Luckily, we can use customer data to track and measure customer advocacy. Metrics such as net promoter score and customer satisfaction surveys are great ways for identifying fans of your product.
Customers with a high NPS score (9–10) are great candidates for testimonials and reviews. With a little work you can invite your best customers to share their testimonials and reviews in exchange for discounts or reward points in your loyalty program. These brand ambassadors are also your top candidates for affiliate or referral programs.
To create more advocates, add more personalized value. For example, this can be through complimentary consulting or gifts on their birthdays. Simple personal gestures can turn great customers into brand advocates.
That’s all well and good, but what should you actually do? Here are some specific customer success strategies for each pillar and some ideas on how to attract customers that have the best chance of success in the first place.
Your business can't succeed without customers. But, it will succeed even more if you attract customers that have the best chances of success. Here are some tips.
When you’re searching for your ideal customer, it's all about knowing what to look for. Customer personas are extremely valuable when it comes to understanding where your future customers are, what they look like, and what they want. Use customer interviews, surveys, and collected data to build your personas.
When marketing, always refer back to your personas to make sure the content aligns with the customers and reflects not only what they want, but who they are. Having an understanding of their demographics and psychographics allows you to create content that makes your product a natural solution to their problems.
Use your customer data as well data collected while marketing to understand what messaging, images, and features get the most interest from your ideal audience. Look for engagement metrics across advertisements, product feature usage, and testimonials for reasons why you stand out to your customers. Take that feedback and continuously build on it.
It’s not enough to just attract customers that are most likely to succeed, you must also sell to them effectively. Here are some sales strategies to implement to ensure your customers feel successful from the minute you speak to them.
Arm you sales team with relevant content
Make sure the content resonates with your ideal customer
Offer a free trial to let them kick the tires
Provide highly personalized demos
Become a respected thought leader
Effective sales teams stay up to date with trends and events in the customers’ industries. This not only helps build rapport, but lets the customer know that they are working with a company that understands what they do and the challenges they face.
Extend this knowledge out to top-of-funnel marketing strategies such as blogging, YouTube videos, and social media posts. By creating helpful, relevant, and engaging content, you become a leader in the space and prospects are much more likely to trial your product.
Speaking of trials, free trials are an excellent way to bring in new clients. This allows customers to see if your product solves their problem. The beauty is that you can use customer data during the trial to help convert the user into a full customer.
By monitoring the product usage and feature adoption you can begin to predict if the user is seeing value in the product. This allows you to proactively reach out to provide support, understand the customers goals, and ensure they are set up for success.
Giving your customers a positive onboarding experience lets them know that they made the right decision to buy your product and will likely turn them into repeat customers.
Your customer onboarding strategy should include the following:
Product setup tutorials
FAQs and knowledgebase
Tips to guide users to the important features
Playbooks for Customer Success managers
Metrics to track customer progress
Use automation and continuously review where it can be used
The truth is onboarding is different for every company because every product is unique. However, all good onboarding strategies follow some basic principles whether you’re selling widgets or windshields.
Your onboarding can vary in complexity depending on your product. Simple software tools might use an automated tutorial paired with a helpful email sequence. Managed services might require an onboarding team and a conference call.
Break down every step required to integrate a customer into your product and look for ways to make the process smoother. Looking at customer satisfaction surveys is a great place to start as you look over each touchpoint.
Automation and playbooks are key to creating consistent results and ensuring your customer success efforts can scale. Look at what you need from your customer during onboarding and see if there’s anything you can automate or do for them.
Retaining customers is essential to the success of any business as your long-term customers are likely more satisfied, more likely to refer your business to other companies, and more likely to renew or upsell.
Here are some strategies to help you retain customers:
Develop health scores to identify problem accounts
Create playbooks to address common problems
Conduct regular surveys and NPS tracking
Develop programs that encourage deeper product use
Put your customer data to work for you to improve your product, your processes, and your customers’ experiences. Your customer analytics will guide you to where there are problems. For instance, if you see a drop in feature usage during a particular part of a trial, consider looking for design or technical issues during that stage.
Conduct surveys across your customer base to proactively identify unsatisfied customers. In some cases customers may need additional technical help, while others aren’t happy with a specific feature.
The key here is to let the customer know they’ve been heard and work to fix the problem quickly. Customer data trends might indicate your product is missing a feature many customers want. Use this as an opportunity to help them know they’ve been heard, and that the feature is being developed.
Lastly, customers like being valued, especially if they’ve been around for a long time. Loyalty programs that offer perks make customers feel important and incentivize them to stay to keep their benefits.
You can do everything right for customer success, and yet some of your customers will still fail. No company has 100% retention. There are many reasons why customers don’t succeed, some of them you can control, and some of them you can’t.
Use every customer failure as a learning opportunity:
Create statistical models to profile customers that churn
Develop health scores to identify problem accounts
Identify common root causes for customer failure, and fix them
Direct your marketing and sales away from failing segments
Churn is bound to happen in any industry. It’s an inevitable part of business. Use your customer retention data and churn rate to understand the reasons behind your churn. A single customer may choose to leave for any number of reasons, but groups of customers can provide insight into the “why.”
Exit surveys are a straightforward way to gauge why someone left. Before they confirm they unsubscribe, ask why they're leaving. Looking at this data quantitatively will help you prioritize what needs to be fixed.
Businesses can monitor churn on a more individual level by creating customer health scores. Health scores use live customer data to warn customer success managers when a client might be headed for the door.
You can use this data to identify the root cause of your churn issues, and in many times prevent churn by proactively reaching out for assistance.
Here are some best practices you can put into action to take your strategy to the next level:
Understanding your customer isn’t hard with the right processes in place. Make an effort during each stage of the customer journey to further understand your customers goals and challenges. For example, during the onboarding stage ask your customer what they’re looking to accomplish early on. This helps you understand their expectations and makes it easier to adjust the product and training to suit their needs.
Continue this process throughout the relationship through quarterly emails or more timely messages when your customer hits a milestone. For instance, you can configure an automation to send an email when your customer reaches their goal. When they hit this goal, you can be the first to congratulate them. This opens the door to talk about their future goals and any upsells that might help them in their journey.
You can use this same strategy if your customer isn’t hitting their goals on time or if you see a decline in product usage. Catching this early on can help your customer get back on track and re-engage with your product.
It sounds simple, but your customers need to know how to fully utilize your product to see value from it. This means they need to understand how to use your product to specifically achieve their goals. Sometimes a simple onboarding isn’t enough, especially if the customer becomes disengaged for a long period of time.
Offer many options for training that are convenient for your customer and appropriate for the product. For example, if onboarding requires complicated integrations consider dedicating a team to get it done for them. Alternatively, if the product is a simple tool, you probably don’t need to build an interactive course for it.
Responsive support, knowledge bases, and tutorials with pictures and video are great ways to provide a multitude of training options for each kind of customer. Once your support resources are created, make sure they’re easy to find. Place them on your website, inside your application, and even in email links to your customers.
Monitoring customer health is like monitoring a patient’s heartbeat. You need to always be looking for changes. Many companies can become complacent, especially with their long-term customers. This could lead to loyal customers feeling neglected and abandoning your product for a newer more competitive offer.
Monitor all customers throughout each stage of the customer journey and configure alerts when metrics deviate from the norm. For instance, a sharp drop in activity halfway through a product demo could signal the customer got stuck or isn’t interested. Or a long-term customer isn't logging in nearly as much this past month: why is that?
Pair each alert with an action item for your customer success team. This could be a manual, email or phone call, scripted message, or discount offer to help bring that customer back into your ecosystem. The bottom line is that customer data is important, but acting on that data in a timely manner is just as key
A personal experience can make all the difference, especially in a competitive space. For instance, there are dozens of email marketing solutions all competing to undercut each other and gain the upperhand. This can make it difficult to retain customers, even if your product is great and priced at an excellent value.
Personalizing the product does a few things. First, it shows the customer that they're not just another line item in your system and that you really understand their needs and took the time to make something just for them.
Second, it makes the customer more likely to stick with you, even when competing offers are cheaper. When you invest the time to create a custom solution for a customer it increases the chances they will stick with your platform because they know it's been tailored for them.
The best customer success practices come down to listening to your customers, listening to your data, and continuously improving your product. Customer success is about using data and relationship building to proactively resolve problems and build long-term relationships with customers.
In a world with so many apps and gadgets, personalization goes a long way. With powerful customer success software businesses can now automate their processes without losing that personal touch that makes their product stand out.
The Planhat Customer Success platform can help you operationalize pretty much everything above. Planhat collects and consolidates all the data about your customers into one source. Then, it lets you apply flexible queries, logic, and analytics to zero in on the right customers at the right time.
Finally apply playbooks, collaborations, and automations in real time to catch your customers before they fall, ensuring every customer has the best possible chance at success. Planhat was designed by customer success experts with the singular goal of helping you become a customer-centric business.
Customer success is a company-wide effort, and as such Planhat has included unlimited users in all its plans, unlike other vendors. To find out more download our report to learn what’s next for customer success, or experience the power of life cycle management through our free demo.
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