The Customer Success Playbook You Need
Customer success is the brand new buzzword that is increasingly dominating corporate parlance at leading SAAS and B2B companies. Derived from the broader field of customer relationship management (CRM), this essentially involves aligning product goals and objectives towards ensuring “Customer Success,” resulting in higher customer lifetime value, increased upsell opportunities, and low churn rates.
This concept has since given rise to an entire ecosystem around it, with customer success teams, managers, certifications, and even metrics and KPIs. While it has long been practiced in enterprise IT, often under the garb of professional services, or post-sales servicing, the field has been fundamentally overhauled with the emergence of software-as-a-service (SAAS) startups over the past decade.
At its core, customer success involves going beyond product or service, to work with customers to ensure they derive the most value from the said product or service.
After all, the only way to retain customers and recurring revenues in the long run is by ensuring that the customer continues to make effective use of the product, and derives value from it, that is at least many times over the subscription cost.
Why Is A Customer Success Strategy Necessary?
In a marketplace filled with endless options, sales, marketing, and annual contracts are no longer enough to keep customers on the roster. Things are further complicated by ever increasing costs of customer acquisition, which makes it a lot more profitable to retain an existing customer, than acquiring a new one. As a result, investing in customer success remains the ideal course for most SAAS and IT services.
A customer success strategy is all the more crucial in organizations that adopt the “Land & Expand” strategy, which involves landing customers at low prices for basic products, before upselling them to higher value, and higher margin products. Such a strategy only works if customers realize value from the basic products and services, requiring extensive involvement of the customer success team.
For a long time, SAAS startups have struggled with getting customers to make full use of the host of features they’ve painstakingly built, resulting in abandonment and increased churn rates.
As a product continues to grow in sophistication and customizability, it also comes with a steeper learning curve that most customers will not be able to get on board right away, without the necessary training and guidance.
Types of Customer Success Playbooks
Customer success playbooks come in different shapes and sizes, and are used based on the customer persona, lifecycle, or the realization of an event, or certain critical metrics.
1. Partnership Kick-Off Playbook
As the name suggests, this comes at the earliest stage when the deal has just been struck, and before the customer is onboarded to the product or solution.
This is the point where requirements are clarified, expectations are set, and broader plans are laid out, and thus, it remains crucial for a winning long-term partnership.
2. Onboarding Playbook
Often the first point of churn, if not handled well, the product will be faced with low usage rates, and renewals after the contractual period ends.
3. Customer Health Score Playbook
Based on extensive data mining the CSM team may be alerted to the lackluster usage of the product, or the low-perceived value, which is a perfect time for the next intervention. With the right playbook and execution, things can be turned around, reducing churn, and increasing the overall lifetime value of the customer.
4. General Business Review Playbook
Regular meetings remain essential between the CSM team and the customers, either quarterly or half-yearly to best understand their experience, issues, and more.
This, again, requires extensive planning, and a playbook of its own, to best execute the meeting, and yield the most ideal results.
5. Renewal & Upsells
The stage with the highest possible churn rates, all of the effort invested across different stages is ultimately reflected here.
Based on the value added to customers, this can end in a failure to renew, or a significant upsell to higher value products, making it a crucial point in the entire cycle.
Getting Started With A Customer Success Playbook
So now that we have a clear understanding of the glaring need for a customer success strategy, we can discuss the right approach to come up with a standard playbook for your product, service, or company, that can be used repeatedly across a wide range of customers.
Here are certain essential aspects to consider while drafting your playbook, along with other tips, tricks, and best practices. With these churning out a playbook is fairly straightforward, and can be put together using a simple solution like Google Docs, or another best alternative to Google Drive.
1. Define Customer Success
The first step in all CSM endeavors is to perfectly define customer success, what exactly does it mean to you. In general, success can be defined as the usage rates of the product or service by the customer, whereas, for certain martech products, success can be defined based on the number of leads, or conversions that the product manages to generate, among other things.
Essentially, the customer should be deriving sufficient value to pay for product or service many times over. If not, they are either at risk of abandoning the product, or shifting to a competitor.
Once a benchmark is established, if a particular account continues to post variances, the CSM team has to step in to identify problem points, and help address the same to ensure the product continues to add value.
2. Understand Core Issues
The next on the list involves determining why the playbook is needed in the first place. Is it because the product isn’t intuitive enough to help users get a hang of it quickly, or because it is too sophisticated, requiring additional training and onboarding effort to get things up and running smoothly?
Whatever the issue is, the playbook should come up with a plan and timeline to address the same.
The trigger point in this regard is when customers fail to adopt the full feature set of a product for a number of different reasons. This can be beyond your control as a CSM manager, with issues such as budgetary constraints, personnel changes at the customer’s side, or the lack of requirements, but whatever it might be, there has to be touchpoints to best understand and report the issue.
3. User Segmentation
Once you have the goals and objectives in order, and the various trigger points, it’s important to understand that a playbook cannot be one size fits all. Depending on the customer’s persona, there are certain outreach methods, and even types of playbooks that are best suited for each.
This can be based on certain behavioral trends, different stages in the customer relationship, and more.
Segmentation essentially involves clubbing together similar customers, making it easier for tracking, reporting, and targeting when it comes to outreach.
In fact, different playbooks and approaches will be necessary depending on the customer lifecycle, with an initial onboarding playbook being different from a regular business review, along with different approaches periods of low usage and contract renewals.
4. Determine Placement
As discussed above, CSM playbooks cannot operate based on a one size fits all approach, and beyond the appropriate trigger for a playbook along a customer’s journey, there are different playbooks earmarked for various events, metrics, and stages to perfectly suit customer requirements.
It is worth noting that sometimes an overzealous approach to CSM might cause disruptions and annoyance at a customer’s end, making it crucial to take a calculated approach in this regard.
A playbook aimed at onboarding will remain focused on the broad familiarization of the product, while a general review will mostly focus on the pain points. CSMs can further manually trigger different playbooks for customers if they feel the need.
5. Tracking, Reporting & Optimization
Modern customer success management thrives on data, and as such, a CSM playbook is never complete, and is constantly tracked, analyzed, and optimized based on the key metrics generated. This essentially helps determine the success of the playbook, along with that of the broader customer success management team, with corrective measures taken to address any variances and shortfalls.
This stage often concerns itself with a few essential questions, such as, is the playbook helping deliver additional value to customers? Are usage metrics improving following each intervention based on the playbook? Have renewal rates improved ever since implementing the playbook?
What bottlenecks and frictions continue to persist when working towards customer success, and how can they be addressed?
Customer success management remains a young, fledgling movement in global business that is continuing to make strides. The growth and adoption of this system at leading companies and startups across the world, points towards a shift away from the age-old reactive approach to customer service, towards a more proactive strategy that remains focused on delivering value to customers.
In an increasingly competitive, and high-cost global marketplace, where prolonging customer lifecycles remain crucial for bottom lines, CSM stands to unlock substantial value. While still in the purview of SAAS and enterprise IT, it is quickly making its mark in other segments, with a growing range of tools, templates, and frameworks, all aimed at successfully implementing CSM systems.