Customer success program prep: a six-point checklist

Customer success program prep: a six-point checklist

In part one of our three-part series on customer success (CS), we covered the definition and importance of customer success. Now let’s move on to the next phase of starting a CS program: preparation.

We cover key steps like building the right team to drive your efforts, define customer needs, and map your processes and touchpoints to align them with those needs. Then we discuss the technology that drives customer success today.

Finally, we’ll walk you through creating pre-defined, repeatable approaches to optimize each phase of your assigned process and the metrics used to measure your performance.

Preparation is the most important phase for starting a CS program. Let’s dive in.

1. Hire top talent to fuel your efforts

The success and effectiveness of your CS efforts depend on the team that drives them. You will be at the center of any CS process, so investing in top talent is important.

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best available candidates. Research shows that the turnover of those born between 1980 and 1996 costs the US economy $ 30.5 billion annually. (1) So how do you prevent employee fluctuation?

Retaining top talent through employee engagement

The key to maintaining a high level of employee satisfaction and retaining top talent lies in employee involvement. Consider the following statistics from Gallup:

  • Well-engaged teams see a 41% decrease in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity
  • These highly committed teams experience 59% less employee turnover
  • Highly engaged businesses achieve 21% more profitability for their organizations (2)

2. Understand and relate to customer needs

It’s easy to start a CS program with a strategy defined by your perception of your customers’ needs. However, this is a common mistake that can seriously affect the results of your program. To truly achieve lasting success, you need to understand what success means for your customers.

Market research helps. The best way to get this insight is to go straight to the source and ask customers what they need to be successful. Customer surveys will help you with this, especially if you offer incentives to participate.

PRO TYPE: Choose your survey participants carefully. Customers with no legitimate interest in your goal will take a survey to get the incentive without thinking critically about the responses they provided.

3. Assign the customer journey

With a fresh, reliable insight into customer needs, you can map the customer journey more precisely. When creating your customer journey map, make sure you include the touchpoints and outcomes that customers need at each stage. This serves as a roadmap to make sure you’re delivering a consistent customer experience.

PRO TYPE: This is an important step in preparing to launch your CS program. It aligns teams with a central, documented process and defines your CS playbooks (more on playbooks below).

4. Implement technology to drive your success

Much of the management of your CS program should be optimized with automation technology.

The role of CRMs

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platforms play an important role in customer success. They collect the data required for the control of CS programs, track defined KPIs and offer valuable insights into the needs, challenges, goals, etc. of customers.

A CRM solution is key to maintaining an effective customer success program. CRMs promote trusting customer relationships that are at the core of customer success. They also enable better customer data management, which is critical to achieving CS goals.

Platforms for customer success management

CSM (Customer Success Management) software gained in importance in the 2010s and is now a rapidly growing industry. Companies like Gainsight, ChurnZero and Custify are driving the industry forward.

Many companies implement CSM solutions, but these systems require the data captured by a CRM to add value. So companies invest in both systems and then integrate them.

Instead of paying for two vendors, many companies make things easier by using one of the few CRMs that offer customer success programs. This lowers costs, reduces the size of your tech stack and increases data accuracy as all data is stored in a central database.

PRO TYPE: Automation technology is the key to driving CS programs. However, always remember that certain processes require a human touch and are downgraded in automation. Contacting customers in person over the phone is a good example of the need for that human touch.

5. Create customer success playbooks

CS playbooks are process documents that describe the internal and external actions that should be taken in each phase of the customer journey. You define what your desired customer experience looks like and which important performance measures you expect in each phase.

CS Playbook Basics

Playbooks need to align with overall business goals in order to produce the results and business growth you want. In addition, each game book describes different paths that your team can take in the respective phases, depending on the customer context. In other words, a single playbook can describe 10 different scenarios to make sure you are prepared for the unexpected.

For example, playbooks are incredibly important to product adoption, but there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter approach. A CS team might need one adoption playbook version for customers who are not using their product, another for customers with low usage rates, and a third for customers with high usage rates.

Examples of customer success game books

Common examples of game books include:

  • Pre-sales playbooks
  • Onboarding and training playbooks for customers
  • Product acceptance playbooks
  • Executive change management playbooks (e.g. actions to be taken if your client hires a new CEO)
  • Playbooks for routine customer check-ins
  • Playbooks that define how to target customers at risk
  • Contract renewal playbooks
  • Customer churn playbooks

Ultimately, the playbooks you need will depend on your internal business processes. There is no single repeatable template that applies across the board.

6. Define KPIs and CS metrics

Before starting your initiative, you need to define the metrics that you will track to measure performance. There is currently no metric specifically designed for customer success teams. However, some of the best minds in this field pool the know-how to define a CS-specific metric.

Until then, CS teams use a constellation of metrics developed for other teams to triangulate their CS performance. Commonly used metrics that are used in combination include:

  • Customer churn and retention rates
  • Customer health assessment
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer Lifetime Value
  • Product acceptance and usage rates
  • Product upsell and cross-sell rates
  • Contract renewal rates
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer support ticket volume per user
  • Expansion proceeds

As you can see, this can get too complicated and confusing. Because of this, the CS community is working on defining its own metric rather than piecing together a fairly accurate measure of its performance with metrics that are not intended to measure CS.

In part three of this three-part series on customer success, we’ll cover these steps and provide guidance on how to start a CS program.

Stay tuned for part three. If you missed the first part, check out our last post: What is customer success?

Read more about it:


1. Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation, Gallup, updated 2019

2. “The Right Culture: Not Just Employee Satisfaction,” Gallup, updated 2020