What is Customer Success?


If it seems like you can’t open an industry site without hearing about “customer success” these days, you’re not imagining things.

A quick glance at Google Trends – not to mention all the round-up articles sharing statistics about how powerful investing in customer success can be – confirms how much interest in the topic has grown over the past few years.

Anybody who knows me knows that I invest heavily in customer success at my Ramp Ventures companies. But I still encounter a lot of confusion about what customer success really is and how it’s executed. My hope is that this article – as well as future articles on the topic – will help you make sense of this powerful practice.

How is Customer Success Different from Customer Service?

One of the first questions people ask me about customer success is whether or not it’s the same as customer service or customer support.

In fact, customer success serves a totally different purpose. 

Customer service and customer support are, by their nature, reactive practices. Basically, you have people employed for the purpose of helping your customers whenever issues arise. They’re the bug fixers. The problem solvers. The people who get the “honor” of picking up the phone or opening emails when customers are pissed.

Customer success, on the other hand, is proactive. Its whole intent is to empower customers to get the greatest possible use out of your product – which means equipping them with the training and information needed to set them up correctly from the start.

A few of the goals typically associated with customer success programs include:

  • Increasing post-purchase satisfaction, which should serve the dual purpose of increasing business referrals and lowering customer acquisition costs (CACs).
  • Reducing churn by helping customers get to the first point of value as quickly as possible, and by ensuring they remain successful throughout their lifecycles.
  • Improving renewal rates by helping customers to become so successful with your product that they can’t imagine living without it (more on customer retention here).
  • Promoting active engagement with your product through communications based on customer data (e.g. sending a prompt if they haven’t accessed a specific feature that could play a key part in their daily workflow).
  • Identifying opportunities to upsell or cross-sell customers, based on a close understanding of what they need to be as successful as possible.

Customer success workers have a number of tools and practices at their disposal to achieve these goals. And although they may be deployed in different ways at different organizations, the common thread running through all customer success programs is driving success by improving customers’ outcomes.

How Does Customer Success Work?

The type of goals I outlined in the previous section aren’t just achieved by chance – they require two key elements:

1. A Customer Success Team

This is a dedicated role, so you need a person – or ideally a team of people – whose sole focus is customer success. I’ll talk more about building a customer success team later in this article.

2. A Customer Success Solution

Unless you only have a handful of accounts, you likely won’t be able to run an effective customer success program without some kind of tool or software to help you monitor and measure customer interactions, identify opportunities for growth, and accurately predict whether a customer will renew or cancel. 

There are plenty of options available. While the most suitable customer success solution for your business will naturally depend on your industry, product type, company size and various other factors, some of the top tools on the market include:

3. A Customer Success Strategy

Once you have identified a clear, measurable goal (or goals) for your customer success program, you need a strategy to get you there. The process for developing your strategy will probably look a little like this:

  1. Identify your customers’ goals – what does success look like to them?
  2. Create a roadmap setting out your specific objectives and related KPIs for customer success, segmented by short-term and long-term goals
  3. Cascade the strategy to your customer success team, ensuring everyone understands how it relates to them as individuals
  4. Measure the results after a set period (e.g. three months)
  5. Use the data you’ve gained to iterate and improve your approach

What a Customer Success Role Looks Like

Customer success roles exist at all levels. In the same way you have everyone from marketing assistants to VPs of marketing, you can have entry-level customer success associates all the way up to VP and director-level customer success roles.

Understandably, the day-to-day activities of each customer success role look different, depending on the level of responsibility they have. But generally speaking, customer success workers may find themselves involved in:

  • Onboarding new customers
  • Training new and existing customers
  • Consulting with customers on an as-needed basis
  • Reporting on customer success metrics
  • Advocating for the customer within the organization’s broader structure (for example, by communicating feature requests from customers to the dev team)
  • Reviewing all customer-facing collateral, from tutorials and training videos to any text within the product itself
  • Building strong relationships with your most important accounts
  • Upselling and cross-selling 
  • Communicating with churned customers to understand why they left
  • Promoting new features and updates to the product

Building a Career in Customer Success

If the list of responsibilities above got you fired up, a career in customer success might be right for you. However, there are a few things you need to know before diving in:

  • Customer success is a metrics-driven field. If you aren’t good at data analytics – or at holding yourself to target metrics – this might not be the career for you.
  • Because customer success is proactive by nature, you have to be too. This career rewards those who think ten steps ahead to what the customers they support will need next. If you aren’t good at seeing and planning for the bigger picture, take a pass on customer success.
  • You have to care about your customers. After all, you’re there to empower their success. You can’t do that if you don’t really care about what happens to their accounts. 

If you’re still with me, I’ve put together a full article on launching a customer success career here. Check it out to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of different customer success roles, as well as my best tips for getting started.

Building a Customer Success Team

If, on the other hand, you’re excited about the potential customer success holds for your company, your interests may lie more in building a team than in pursuing a career in the field.

Generally speaking, customer success teams are found at SaaS, software and other technology companies (versus retail, CPG or other B2C companies). Putting one together requires investments in technology, processes and people. Check out my article on these three elements, or take a look at any of the following resources for more information:

Ultimately, if you want to build a great customer success team, you have to be willing to put in the work. Finding, hiring and training great people isn’t easy – and neither is building the internal systems needed to make them successful. But if you’re willing to invest in customer success, you’ll reap the rewards of higher customer satisfaction, higher renewal rates, lower churn and more.

Got another customer success resource to share? Add it to the list by leaving me a note below:

Image: Pixabay

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