What is customer success?

Customer success is the business methodology of ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service. Customer Success is relationship-focused client management, that aligns client and vendor metrics and goals for mutually beneficial business outcomes.

Customer success is a more proactive approach than customer support. You're anticipating your client’s needs and helping them achieve maximum value from your product or service after they’ve made a purchase.

The importance of managing customer success

Building a customer success mentality helps you retain your customers. The customer success philosophy gained steam in the software as a service (SaaS) industry. Unlike typical products and services, most SaaS platforms operate on a subscription basis. SaaS companies understand that, to keep their subscribing customers, they need to show clients how their product provides value.

Businesses in other industries have adopted this strategy because it's a more proactive method to manage client relationships. According to Small Biz Genius, increasing customer retention by just 5% can improve your profitability by up to 95%. It's cheaper to retain customers than it is to attract new customers.

Reducing churn

A bad experience or service failure is one of the most common reasons people switch from a company to its competitor. Customer support puts you in a better position to appease unsatisfied customers and solve their problems and keep them as clients. But to be successful, the customer has to contact you. A high percentage of clients will simply choose another company, rather than trying to have someone resolve their bad experience.

The customer success philosophy makes it easier to retain clients, because it's more relational and lets your company proactively identify potential problems before they arise. Sharing a common goal with your clients empowers them to reach out if they have a bad experience or any suggestions for improvements.

Clients are more likely to be loyal to a company when there's an established relationship. When your relationship focuses on helping them reach their goals with your product or service, they are more likely to reach out when there is a problem. Because they realize the value of your offerings, they feel more comfortable approaching you with suggestions and concerns, rather than forsaking customer support and switching providers.

Measure the health of your client relationship with our free template.

How does customer success work?

The role of the Customer Success Manager is still considered fairly new, and it continues to evolve over time. The function was created as a way to strengthen customer retention and significantly reduce customer churn. Customer Success is strategic. It is designed to identify customers with growth potential, understand the value of the product/service to their vision, and proactively create a process that intensifies the customer experience. Increasing revenue is of course ideal for the business yet we also want to make the role of customer success independent from the sales process. As Customer Success Managers take on new customers, they need to identify as their advocate which does encompass upselling at every turn. We find value in features that relate to our customers goals and show them how to get the most of their investment.

What are the key responsibilities of a customer success manager?

A customer success manager (CSM) supports your clients as soon as they begin actively using your product or service. They're responsible for enhancing the customer experience by building a long-term relationship with the client. Many SaaS companies who implement a customer success strategy assign a CSM to each account, so each client has one point of contact for all their needs.

Connecting the sales and customer support process

Where a customer service representative is responsible for reacting to client problems when they arise, a CSM is responsible for managing and expanding existing accounts. They help solve customer issues with regular check-ins and drive client retention through improved customer satisfaction.

Teaching the client to use your product

Your product might offer a number of solutions to help your clients reach their goals, but if they don’t know how to access these features, they may get frustrated and leave. After the initial buying process, a CSM will often meet with new clients and train them on how to use the product.

CSMs will work with your clients to determine their goals and will walk them through different features of your product that can help them achieve these goals. They also help improve customer retention by checking in regularly with clients to see how things are going and guiding them through the benefits of your product.

Brand promotion

Another part of your CSM’s duties involves promoting new products to existing clients. As you develop new and complementary products and services, your CSM can introduce them to existing clients who might need them.

Unlike the sales and customer service personnel of traditional upselling, customers are usually more receptive to their CSM, because they've built a solid, trusting relationship together.

Your CSM shouldn’t try to upsell any one product to every client. Doing so could erode the trust that’s already been established. Instead, they should find organic ways to promote new products, suggesting only those that they know will actually benefit each individual customer.

Problem resolution

Since your CSMs are checking in with customers regularly, they can identify problems in the early stages. During regular check-in calls with customers, CSMs should take some time to ask how everything is going and encourage clients to identify any pain points or issues with their experience.

A CSM will have more than one customer to service, so they can identify issues that come up frequently, letting you fix them before they turn into larger problems. If a lot of customers are having trouble with a certain feature in your product or a key point in your service, you can work with your team to find solutions and communicate them to all customers.

Implementing a customer success strategy

The first step in implementing a customer success strategy is to personalize your products and services. Work with your top-tier customers to determine what they like about your products and use the feedback to understand how you can help other customers.

During the sales process, develop an understanding of the customer’s key issues and show them you understand their goals by guiding them on how to use your products to reach these aspirations.

Next, assign a CSM to each customer and encourage them to check in with clients regularly. Make sure they are using personalized messaging to contact each customer rather than simply sending out a blanket email with different client names. Each CSM should keep track of their clients and interact with them when it makes sense. A CSM could reach out when they’ve achieved an important milestone or when your company launches a new product that would benefit them.

Monitor your client interaction for problems. Once your CSM team gets into the habit of reaching out to customers, they will have regular touch points at which problems can be identified.

Successfully setting up a customer success strategy involves a bit of retraining on your part. You need to get your employees into the habit of setting goals with their clients to identify how your product can help customers succeed. You need to retrain them to be proactive, regularly following up with customers. You can use content and other marketing tools to refine your client relationships.

What does the customer success process look like?

There isn’t any one customer success formula that works for every company. Since it's customer-specific and driven by their needs, what works for your industry might not work in a different field. However, every customer success process has some elements in common.

1. Customer goal-setting

The first step in a customer success process is to determine the client’s goals and identify how your product or service helps the client meet these goals. Communicate clearly with your customers to determine their specific goals for your product.

2. Know how to train your clients

You, more than anyone else, know the features that your product has which will help clients meet and exceed their goals. Knowing how to communicate these properly during onboarding and other touch points with clients helps make these features stand out. When your clients understand your product’s benefits, they are more likely to use it and recommend it to others.

3. Create success metrics

You should have clear metrics to evaluate when checking in with customers. These will be different for every product and service, but they should be clear indicators that your customers are benefitting. Put together some questions that your CSMs can answer to assess client satisfaction in each call.

4. Develop your CSM team

For a customer success process to be successful, your clients need to feel comfortable with their representative. The relationship should be built on a mutual understanding of goals. Your customer success team should be full of people who are good at detecting client needs and helping solve problems.

5. Collect feedback

Once the team is in place, encourage them to engage with clients and collect feedback. By doing so, you can keep clients happy while finding new ways to innovate your products and services. Your customer success team will also gain experience that might yield new solutions for both new and existing customers, improving customer retention and increasing each customer’s lifetime value.

Tips from a customer success manager on helping customers

The role of the Customer Success Manager will vary across organizations, yet there always helpful factors that align with the industry as a whole:

Tip #1 Customer Onboarding Calls

This can either be done during the sales process or after the handoff. It is a vital part of developing your customer relationship, fully understanding the product usage case, and putting together action items and success metrics that align with the customers expectation.

Tip #2 Pointed Check Ins

Your CSMs will check in with clients regularly, but these calls should move beyond the typical conversation about how things are going. Be diligent in checking in with your existing customers with a value add (upsell a new feature or product) and not just to ask “how things are going.”

Know what the customer needs before they do and use that as an opening to start additional conversations. Being proactive in this role is the key to creating a positive experience and in turn build customer loyalty and reduce churn.

Tip #3 Customer Onsites

Often, you won’t need to visit clients onsite. Most of your check-ins can happen over the phone or in virtual meetings. But for clients who are extremely valuable to your company, either through high revenue or high product usage and innovation, a face-to-face interaction can help. These onsites let you build a deeper relationship, and they can even lead to better opportunities.

You can visit your customers in their offices to see how they're using your product and to help them use new features that can streamline their processes. You might even have a customer who acts as an advocate and partners with you to market your product to other potential customers.

Shifting from a reactive customer service philosophy to a proactive customer success strategy is a proven way to retain your clients. Collaborating with them to help them solve their problems and achieve their goals helps improve brand loyalty and makes it easier for them to choose you over your competitors.

Measure the health of your client relationship with our free template.