1 The basics of customer success

In 1750 BC Nanni was irate. He’d paid for fine quality copper, but got junk metal instead. And to top it off, the delivery was late. So Nanni complained onto his clay tablet, where it remains in the British Museum as the first customer complaint in recorded history. And then he found a new vendor.

Companies smartened up over the next 3000 years. And when Marshall Field opened his first US department store in 1852 he coined his famous phrase: “Give the lady what she wants.” Followed by, you know it, “The customer is always right.”

These phrases echo the key concepts of outstanding customer service. And they’re still essential to building a successful business in today’s world.

But this is not customer success.

What is customer success?

Customer success has its roots in the SaaS world.

Now in case you’re still living in Nanni’s ancient Babylonia, SaaS stands for Software as a Service. Think Dropbox, Slack, Trello, Moz, Zapier, HubSpot, Intercom. All software, all services, all helping people to get jobs done.

To use these services, customers pay a recurring monthly or yearly fee. And they also hold a card called “cancel anytime.”

So in this subscription economy, you’ve got to continually prove to the customer that they’re making the right decision to do business with you.

That’s right. You’re now in the relationship business.

If you’re not sure how this transformation happened, or why it matters, this infographic has all your answers:

Now the question is: will your customers stick around, or are they heading over to your competitor right now?

Because here’s the reality: people don’t want your product. They want their problems solved.

And that’s where customer success comes in.

As Jeff Gardner, director of Customer Support at Intercom, puts it:

So where do you begin?

It starts as a mindset—a shift from selling a product to delivering value. It’s dedication to creating a truly customer-centered business. It’s a long-term game built on mutual benefit.

Customer success is also a vehicle for helping customers succeed with your product, beyond expectations. How? By helping users adopt your product, by being there when your customers need you, and by reaching out with solutions people didn’t even know they needed.

And that fits right into your business goal: to proactively impact customer lifetime value by increasing retention and driving growth.

How to get started with
customer success: a blueprint

By now you should be thinking, “Great, it’s time to get serious about this. If only I knew how to get started…”

I’m happy you asked. Here’s your roadmap for the rest of this guide. As we move along, we’ll stop off at each point to dig in a bit deeper.

(By the way, you can take shortcuts with that handy menu on the left.)


Design experiences through proactive engagement

The new customer journey’s got a lot more touchpoints than before. From onboarding to nurturing to upselling, you’ve got to continually prove yourself. Start by understanding your customers–who are they? What do they need from you? What are their expectations and motivations? Then work on creating the ultimate user experience.


Treat interactions like conversations

Lasting relationships start with communication. So ask yourself: how should I be talking to my customers? What channels are best? And how do you balance polite with professional? Just remember, they’re all humans you’re talking to. So treat them accordingly.


Use feedback to improve retention, reduce churn, and drive growth

The first step in retaining people? Find out why they’re leaving. And how do you drive growth? By learning the reasons why your highest-value customers pay what they do. The method’s always the same: feedback.


Build a best-in-class customer success team

These are the people that make it all work. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How should I structure my team?
  • Who should I hire?
  • How should I onboard and train new hires?


Define the metrics that matter

Surprise: customer success is data-focused. And data can be your best friend or a huge distraction. So what should you focus on? And why measure in the first place? Oh, and make sure you understand how it all fits into the bigger goal: increasing net retention, or reducing net MRR churn (psst, they’re the same thing).


Get the right tools

Handling support tickets, doing outreach, managing accounts. These aren’t things you can do with email and a spreadsheet. You’re going to need the right tools.

The right tech will let you observe user behavior at a granular level. Clicks, keystrokes, and even seconds spent on a given task can now be tracked. Companies that leverage this data are better informed to take care of their customers.


Reach out to find out

Feedback from tickets and analytics from product use are great sources of insight. But to know what your customers really think and feel, you’ve just got to ask. Customer feedback, NPS surveys, and exit surveys are your best friends.

Ready to go? The journey begins with experience…