Customer success is a mindset (and typically a department) in organizations that make sure customers get their expected value from your product. It is a rapidly growing segment in the SaaS space with heavy investment from companies of all sizes. Salesforce has nearly 4,000 staff members dedicated to customer success. Customer success initiatives are not one-size-fits-all and will change as your business goals change.
This guide aims to give you instructions on building out your customer success initiative and is targeted at SaaS companies looking to build out a customer success team.
Spend time with stakeholders to understand their expectations and problems they face.
Management - Work with management to understand the short-term (90 days), medium-term (90-180 days), and long-term (1-2 years) company goals. This will guide focus areas and KPI selection for your customer success initiative.
Product Management - Work with product management to understand the rationale behind features and your product roadmap. The customer success team should be able to clearly articulate a set of use cases and best practices for your product to each of your customer personas.
Customer Support - Work with customer support to understand common and recurring issues. You'll use this information to help communicate best practices to avoid these problems.
It's also helpful to spend some time going through support tickets to help understand common problems.
- What is your company's short- to long- term financial goals?
- What is your company's short- to long- term operational goals?
- What are your most popular features?
- What are your most incorrectly used features?
- What kind of tickets do new customers usually send?
- What kind of tickets do incumbent customers send?
Customer success is actively involved in maintaining good customer relationships. Use this time to understand your customer's business challenges, how they are using your product to solve those problems, and areas where your product is not able to solve those problems.
Key customers important to customer success: i) top paying customers, ii) high usage customers, iii) low usage customers, iv) recently churned customers.
- What are the use cases for your top paying customers?
- What features do your high usage customers use the most?
- What use case can increase low usage customers' usage rate?
- Did recently churned customers leave because of the product, customer experience, or other?
Customer success plays a key role in onboarding by providing initial training, addressing use cases, and communicating the value your product provides.
An onboarding framework consists of steps a customer should take to get the most out of your product. It is important that after every onboarding step, the customer feels like they created value.
You should have one onboarding framework for each use case your product addresses.
- For each onboarding step, how should we communicate usage instructions: popup, documentation, screencast, or live walk-through?
- What features / use cases do customers get stuck on (can get this info from talking to customers or from your analytics/tracking software)?
B2B SaaS customer's typically follow the following steps through the life of their subscription. A customer success initiative should associate measurable milestones with steps 2-4 of the lifecycle.
1. Acquire is the process of signing up customers. Customer success is not actively involved in this step.
2. Onboarding is a customer success team's first interaction with the customer. Customer success teams should ensure that the customer is aware of any applicable documentation, tutorials, videos or any other materials.
3. Renewal is an area that customer success can play a major role in. The renewal process starts with the very first customer interaction, with every interaction and experience playing a role.
4. Upsell involves selling a higher product tier or additional add-on features. When discussing upselling it's best to discuss them in the context of how it will benefit the customer instead of a list of features.
- When onboarding, what materials should be available for each use case?
- What are the key indicators that tell us a customer will not renew (eg, decreased product usage or increased unresolved support tickets)?
- What actions should trigger discussion about upselling?
KPIs (key performance indicators) help quantify the success of your company or any activity your company performs.
You can leverage the KPIs you're already tracking for your customer success KPIs.
Choosing a set of KPIs to optimize should be a careful process involving the customer Success team and management. Some common customer success KPIs include MRR retention rate, churn rate, and LTV to CAC ratio.
- Which KPIs should customer success focus on?
- How will we get the data for those KPIs?
Account health is an aggregation of customer interactions used to determine how satisfied a customer is with your product. From our experience, companies typically already measure the metrics used to calculate account health.
Account health methodologies are different for each company, but are typically composed of four components: i) a utilization score, ii) an engagement score, iii) a sentiment score, and iv) a return on investment (ROI) score.
You'll typically want to calculate each component at the account level and then aggregate by your product's usage plan.
The measurable pieces that go into calculating the above four components can include utilization percentage, total support tickets, unresolved support tickets, last touchpoint, and account forecast value. All of these metrics are likely already captured through your CRM (eg, Salesforce, HubSpot), support ticketing system (eg, Zendesk), or application analytics framework (eg, Intercom, Segment).
- What metrics will we use to calculate account utilization?
- What metrics will we use to calculate account engagement?
- What metrics will we use to calculate account sentiment?
- What metrics will we use to calculate account ROI?
You can typically get by with tracking a very rudimentary account health using an Excel file if you have less than 10 customers and are mostly calculating financial metrics.
The next step after Excel are customer success platforms, which can help teams aggregate data with best practices in mind to calculate health metrics down to the user level. They also provide standardized workflows for customer success teams to make it easier to scale your customer success team.
From our experience, you'll want to start looking at customer success platforms when you have at least one full time customer success team member so you can begin building your set of standard work.
- How often should management review customer success metrics?
- When should we start looking into customer success platforms?
- How much ARR should customer success managers handle? (Industry average is $500k/manager for new teams and $1-2 million/manager for teams with a robust set of standard work)
Originally published November 12, 2020, updated January 1, 2021