May 12, 2021

How to Find your Company’s Definition of Customer Success

For your business to scale sustainably, you need satisfied, successful customers. But, it can be difficult to know where to start in order to achieve that.

Your customer experience is unique, so you can’t merely replicate customer success strategies from other successful businesses and expect them to work the same for you — but without a customer success function in place, you also won’t have the data to be able to create a process around what your business needs.

According to SaaSWorks Head of Operations Mike Redbord, the first step of understanding what your company’s customer success function should be is to look at what you sell and how you sell it.

“Customer experience is a combination of a couple things. It’s what you sell (your product or services), how you sell (your price, additions, packages, sales process) and how you service and deliver (through product and through people),” Mike says. “Customer success to me is filling in the gaps of those three to make everything work, and that special formula is unique to every business.”

Define Your Customer Journey

However, initially approaching the function of customer success in terms of the gaps between product, sales and service isn’t the most customer-centric angle.

“Instead of starting with the gaps you see and feel in the business today, instead ask yourself ‘What is the customer journey?’ Forget about customer success. Customer success is a function; it’s about employees. Instead, think about the customer and their journey, which is about your buyers,” Mike says. 

Get a thorough understanding of what the customer journey looks like for your company, what the points of value are and what various paths customers can take. Where in that journey is a human touch required in order to provide value for your customers? That’s where your customer success function will need to come in.

Some customer needs can be adequately addressed with an automated email or bot. Other aspects of the customer journey can occur entirely within your product and be completely software-driven. Some value was delivered in the marketing and sales process. When you account for all of that, what’s still missing that needs to be filled in?

“I like to start with the journey and then figure out what we need to do to deliver customers to a successful destination for each customer,” Mike says. “What is product well suited to do, what are other tools well suited to do and what are people really good at? That gives you a roadmap to building out the customer journey on top of what it is you sell.”

Onboarding, renewals and communicating and assessing mindset across the journey are all responsibilities that typically fall to customer success. But the specifics that your customer success function will need to focus on will depend on the maturity of that function.

Learn how to satisfy and retain existing customers to scale your business with  our Customer Success Guide.

How Customer Success Matures

“Customer success is a broad umbrella out there. If you think of it as something that helps deliver on the customer journey in general, the first pieces of important work the customer success team will do is to deliver on the key moments of value for the customer,” Mike says.

For most companies, those key moments of value are onboarding and renewals. So, the first iteration of a customer success team is often centered around optimizing those two processes and improving success rates through those key moments. However, when you focus only on onboarding and renewals, you leave a lot of empty ground in between those two milestones. Finding ways to be proactive in that space is often the next phase of customer success.

“Most customer success teams evolve to adopt this mindset of ‘If I can be proactive in the middle of the lifecycle — which is where most of my customers are at any given time — then I’ll be able to improve renewal rates.’ It’s a natural next step after tackling renewal and onboarding as a customer success team.” Mike says. 

So, the questions that guide the day-to-day work of your customer success function shift from being just “How do I get customers successfully set up with our offering so they can get value from it?” and “How do I get customers to lengthen their engagement with our company?” to also include “In my limited proactive time, who do I reach out to in order to make the biggest possible impact?”

As customer success functions first reach this more proactive phase, the decisions made are typically at the individual level based on intuition and whatever data CSMs have available to them. Each member of the team has their own proactive formula.

The next evolution of customer success is to move toward making data-driven decisions about proactivity at the company-wide level.

At this phase in your company’s growth, you can start to identify trends about what creates the best experience for your customer and outcomes for your business. Maybe you should be holding check-in meetings once a quarter or maybe you need to focus primarily on onboarding because that’s where the most friction lies. You can use that data to operationalize customer success and create a process for providing the best customer experience possible. 

The Takeaway

The role customer success needs to fill at your company will change as your business grows and your product offerings evolve. 

“One of the common fallacies I see about customer success is that there is a right way to do it,” Mike says. “There isn’t a grand unified theory of customer success because it has so much to do with what you sell and how you sell, and that’s special to every company. There is a collection of tools of the customer success trade, it’s just that the application of those tools needs to adapt and flex for every business’s customer success function.”

So while there is a best way to do customer success at your company at a given point in time, there’s not a universal right way or a playbook you can simply adopt outright. Each company has its own unique customer experience, and world-class customer success teams recognize and reflect that fact in unique applications of their customer success teams.

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Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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