An Introduction to Customer Success Strategy

Various efforts and tools employed for customer success.

Customer success strategy can be understood in contrast to customer acquisition strategy. Whereas acquisition strategies focus on creating new customers, success strategies focus on the overall relationship with customers. However, customer success strategy must concern itself with the customer before making a sale. While acquisition is vital to any business, customer success strategies are increasingly regarded as being more critical to expansion and productivity.

Two primary principles are at the core of customer success strategy. Increasing value in an existing customer is critical to growth and profit. Customer success strategy is also based on the principle of maintaining value and growth through mitigating the loss of customers and retaining long-term relationships with them. This entails supporting a customer at each juncture in their engagement with a company until they have attained their goals. But customer success strategies also involve creating and exceeding a customer’s perceived interests.

The following sections provide an overview of the strategies executed by customer success teams.

Customer Success Strategy Summary

What is a Customer Success Stategy?

The philosophies and practices of customer success are a developing and evolving field. As a result, the strategies implemented to achieve customer success are diverse, complex, and adaptive. Customer success strategy begins from the earliest stages of engagement with the customer, before the sale or acquisition, and applies even to strategies employed in the case of customer churn. The following sections provide a brief overview of the common strategy used by successful companies, including quotes from industry experts.

  • Early-stage strategy
  • Long-term strategy
  • Back-end strategy

Early-stage strategy

The earlier stages of customer success strategy involve targeting the correct customers, educating the properly targeted customers, and providing illustrations of successful customers. Earlier stages of strategy also include the sales and onboarding process.

Targeting the correct customers is less traditionally associated with the strategies directly related to customer success practices, but it is crucial in accomplishing a customer’s goals and interests. A comprehensive and nuanced Ideal Customer Profile is a viable asset, especially for sales and marketing teams. Acquiring customers ill-suited to the company’s product or service introduces potentially insurmountable challenges to realizing success for the customer. Valuable resources and time are easily lost or impaired by managing a customer that is not a good fit for the product or service.

Director of Customer Success at Unbounce, Jonas Stanford: "Customers are most often viewed as a whole, but your customer base is a collection of unique experiences and potential opportunities. Treating them as a single audience usually doesn't lead to very successful initiatives."

Customer Success Strategy

A second early strategy for attaining customer success is educating the company’s target audience. Publishing free customer marketing content is a manner of implementing this strategy. This content is the business process of providing suitable and useful information that attracts, engages, and acquires an identified audience. Equipped with education about a product, service, or company, the customer is empowered towards success before the sale, increasing the opportunities for their ongoing and future success.

Another strategy towards educating a customer involves providing illustrations of previously successful customers. A company can publish case studies or provide testimonials that deliver evidence of other customer’s successes. Furnishing this proof is an instrumental motivation for prospective customers to purchase a product or service.

Strategies employed in the early stages of sales and onboarding are also critical to a customer’s success. As previously mentioned, an understanding of the ideal customer can be as crucial as understanding who is a poor fit customer. This identification allows sales strategies to be selective and aims to acquire customers more likely to succeed. Critical to this early stage of the strategy is equipping employees to identify customer goals during the sales process. Determining for the customer if the product or service is a suitable solution is cardinal for potential success.

Aligning the sales process with the onboarding process is also paramount to customer success strategy. A customer must obtain immediate value. An efficient transition from sale to onboarding can be achieved by personalizing the onboarding experience to individual customer needs. This process can also be automated to trigger tailored training or content based on the customer's initial survey. It is also critical to discern and communicate remarkable milestones in the customer’s journey. Providing a clear and individualized pathway to each customer illuminates how they can define and measure their success.

Head of Platform Partnerships at Intercom, Jeff Gardner: "The faster you can help customers understand and extract value from your product that is in line with their business goals the stickier and more successful they’ll be."

By employing and managing strategies in the early stages of the customer success process, a foundation is established for long term strategies.

Long-term Strategy

Once an ideal customer has been identified, educational efforts have been made, and the customer has begun using the product, the longer-term strategies can be executed.

The first of these strategies involves refining and amplifying customer support. Responding to a customer as expeditiously as possible assists in communicating care for the customer and their success. Increasing customer support response teams can involve merely informing the customer that their inquiry has been received when the necessary staff is not immediately available to provide answers or solutions.

Educating a customer and assisting in developing the customer’s milestones and goals involves exceeding their perspectives or expectations. Customer success strategy can be used to expand a customer's way of thinking about the product or service. This understanding can be achieved by exploring a customer’s intentions. Opportunities to guide the customer in alternative directions can be rendered from gaining knowledge about the customer's motivations.

Customer experience authority and founding partner of CX Speakers, Don Peppers: "Your primary job [as a customer success manager] is to challenge your customer to think, in order to make them more successful."

A critical component to customer success strategy is proactive efforts. Rather than waiting for a customer to clarify a challenge or request assistance, customer success strategy can anticipate issues. Customers too commonly choose not to bring problems or failures to a support or customer success team, rather they often cease purchases or cancel services.

An extension of the strategy to remain proactive in the customer process is the effort of providing reminders and scheduling periodic examinations with customers. Reminders are especially pertinent in the renewal effort. Beyond merely offering a reminder to renew, customer success strategy also presents rewards, such as exclusive discounts or additional benefits that drive customer loyalty and encourage retention. Over the course of the lifecycle, a customer’s objectives and requirements are likely to change. Scheduling recurring assessments and dialogue with the customer is a proactive strategy to remain engaged with their evolving needs.

Vice President of Marketing at Uptick, Ian Fyfe: "With so much competition out there, you don’t just need to deliver superior subscription products and services—you need to enhance the entire customer experience."

Back-end Strategy

Customer Success Strategy and its Building Blocks

Both early and long-term strategies are designed to increase the value a customer receives from their engagement and sustain a lasting relationship through achieving success. But these strategies do not guarantee that a customer will not cancel a subscription or terminate purchases. In this scenario, a customer success strategy also aims to derive as much information and knowledge from the experience.

Customer success strategy is evolving and growing, resulting in efforts that can be viable for a temporary period and necessitate constant adaptation. The exercise of adapting and modifying is assisted through automatic cancellation surveys. Inquiring about the details and motivations for a customer’s cancellation can inform improvements on the product or service, possibly even result in methods that encourage the customer to return.

Co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates: "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."