Customer success. It’s not just a rebranding of “customer service.” It’s a new mindset, strategy, and team aimed at delivering maximum value to your customers.

We reached out to customer success leaders across industries to probe their minds—and experience—for insights that you can apply to your business.

And they covered the whole cycle—customer journey, onboarding, feedback, communications, strategy, hiring, tools, even exit surveys.

Here’s what 17 experts had to say.

1. Master human communication

When it comes to communication, Jeff Gardner, director of Customer Support at Intercom, says:

  • It’s got to be easy. Don’t make customers jump through hoops to use your product.

  • It’s got to be effective. Know everything about your product, including its limitations.

  • It’s got to be authentic. Make sure everyone’s aligned on your fundamental cultural values.

2. Understand your customer journey

Russel Lolacher, The Upsell.com:

You’re not ‘customer-first’ if you don’t understand their paths to you.

Walk the journey of your customers–from awareness to customer retention. Map every time they come in contact with your business, and take action around that information.

3. Put customer needs first

Tyler Wanlass, product designer at Respond by Buffer, shares an example:

Instead of focusing on the four or five steps that are important to you as a company or product, think about what helps your customers move their day along to achieve success.

It’s easy to treat products as a pile of features without thinking about the specific paths and experiences your customers can and will have.

4. Spend extra on onboarding

George Szundi, marketing & growth at Natero:

Customers who achieve initial value during onboarding are more likely to become long-term customers, while those who lose interest, get confused, or don’t receive early results will undoubtedly churn.

Spend extra resources on your onboarding process. It’s a worthy investment towards preventing churn. Leave automation and alerting until after the customer has initial success with your product.

5. Develop a customer success strategy

Here’s Loni Spratt, head of Customer Success at Entelo, on how to create your customer success strategy:

  • Start with immediate business needs. Onboarding? Renewals? Advocacy? Expansion?

  • Build a team and develop processes

  • Align CS team metrics with overall business objectives

  • Use data to be more proactive instead of always firefighting

  • Communicate with all teams daily to ensure the voice of the customer echoes throughout the organization

6. Cut corporate speak

To leave a better impression, Gary McGrath, Customer Success Team lead at Kayako, recommends:

Avoid the temptation to be overly ‘professional’ or ‘corporate’ through templated responses. It might look reasonable to you, but the customer on the receiving end sees a canned response by someone who’s just going through the motions.

7. Distill data into actionable cohorts

Here’s Jonas Stanford, director of Customer Success at Unbounce, on why data is essential to your customer success strategy:

“Customers are most often viewed as a whole, but your customer base is actually a collection of unique experiences and potential opportunities. Treating them as a single audience usually doesn’t lead to very successful initiatives. And your ability to distill them into actionable cohorts is determined by the granularity of the data you gather.”

8. Learn how to ask

Sophie Fitzpatrick, research & support at Marvel App:

Feedback can build up a clear picture of your user base and how people are using your product to bring their ideas to life.

  • Keep communication open and flexible so that your users can reach out directly at any given time through their preferred method.

  • Respond personally to user feedback. This encourages further feedback and strengthens your relationship with your users.

  • Invite feedback at certain times along a user’s journey. Measure support using C-Sat surveys and introduce it at regular intervals.

  • Don’t directly ask what feature a user would like. Instead ask how they use the product, their pain points and their successes.

9. Build customer loyalty through feedback

Dan Steinman, chief evangelist and CCO Emeritus at Gainsight, says the best feedback comes from selected customers, not en masse. To get it:

  • Pick specific customers that you believe represent your future.

  • Talk through the entire customer process with them, from their sales experience to their onboarding to their use of your product as a mature customer.

  • Find out what’s truly important to them. And do this quarterly.

One side benefit is that these customers will become even more loyal as a result of feeling more involved in the evolution of your customer satisfaction strategy.

10. Automate communications

Keri Keeling, VP of Customer Success and Operations at Bluenose Analytics:

“Leverage product usage data and automation to ensure that your communications are scaling with your customer base. A good way to do this is to trigger emails based on usage patterns. This helps you communicate to the right users at the right time for the right reason.”

11. Listen carefully to stay one step ahead

When interacting with customers, Grace Boyle, director of Customer Success at FullContact, says to keep these things in mind:

  • Listen more than you talk.

  • Be empathetic.

  • Always strive to delight your customer.

  • Anticipate customer needs to stay one step ahead.

  • Be proactive versus reactive.

12. Prioritize feature requests

Here’s Karina Norkaitienė, Customer Success manager at MailerLite:

“We use Trello to register each feature request. We then rate them based on the number of requests, the time needed for development, and how it aligns with our vision: ‘Taking difficult problems and making them simple.’ This helps us prioritize requests and keep them actionable.”

13. Mine customer story and data

Joe Daniel, director of Customer Success at Chargebee:

Each customer has different motivations, concerns, and problems to solve. This is your customer’s story.

On the other hand, tools like Intercom, Splunk, and Typeform provide data on how your customers interact with the product. This is all part of being data-driven.

Leverage this information–story and data–to ask very specific and contextual questions about your customer. By doing this, they’ll know their time is valued.

14. Measure your efforts

Omer Gotlieb, co-founder & chief customer officer at Totango:

“To make sure your customers are deriving value from your product and progressing along their journey, track and measure your efforts. This ensures that your investment in acquiring those customers pays off, and that your customers are adopting your product into their organization.”

15. Hire the right people from the start

Stephen Noone O’Connor, global director of customer experience at Vend, looks for five key traits for the first customer success hire:

  • Adaptability. If your first customer success person is unable to adapt quickly and successfully, they won’t succeed.

  • Resiliency. Early customers have high expectations and require lots of hand-holding, so there are a lot of ups and downs to navigate.

  • Empathy. Your hire needs to listen and understand what customer are saying to manage their pains.

  • Time management. Maintaining a work-life balance is crucial. So allow them time to recharge their batteries, and make sure they do it.

  • Industry experience. It’s an absolute must for your first hire. Without it, the feedback you get from customers won’t be as valuable.

16. Use the right tools

Make sure you have the right systems in place, as recommended by Zoltan Radnai, global director of customer care at Prezi:

“A few years ago, we found some limitations with both success and support platforms. So, we developed our own Customer Database Management platform, while still using a variety of other services with useful features. The important thing is to keep it transparent with all crucial information shared.”

17. Improve churn through exit surveys

Ingmar Zahorsky, director of Customer Success at ChartMogul:

One analysis that has helped us improve churn is “churn reason segmentation.” Here’s how we do it:

  • Conduct exit interviews with all customers. To improve completion rates, require them to contact you to close their account.

  • Compile the data monthly.

  • Map the responses to a set of primary churn reasons.

  • Correlate the MRR lost to each churn reason.

  • Order the list of primary churn reasons by MRR lost.

And then take actions to improve retention based on this feedback.

So, there’s some tips from the experts. But where do the experts go for help? Here’s where customer success teams go to get their support.

How you ask is everything.

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