In part one of our three-part series on customer success (CS) we covered the definition and importance of customer success. Now let’s move to the next phase of launching a CS program: preparation.

We cover important steps, like building the right team to drive your efforts, defining customers’ needs, and mapping your process and touchpoints to align with those needs. We then discuss the technology that drives customer success today.

We wrap up by walking you through creating predefined, repeatable practices to streamline each stage of your mapped process and the metrics used to measure your performance.

Preparation is the most important phase of kicking off a CS program. Let’s dig in.

1. Hire top talent to drive your efforts

The success and effectiveness of your CS efforts hinge on the team that drives it. They will be at the center of every CS process, so it’s important to invest in top talent.

However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best candidates available. Research indicates that employee turnover of those born between 1980 and 1996 is costing the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.(1) So, how do you prevent employee turnover?

Retaining top talent through employee engagement

The key to maintaining high levels of employee satisfaction and retaining top talent lies in engaging employees. Consider the following statistics from Gallup:

  • Well engaged teams see a 41% drop in absenteeism and a 17% rise in productivity
  • Those highly engaged teams experience 59% less employee turnover
  • Highly-engaged business units generate 21% greater profitability for their organizations (2)

2. Understand & relate to customers’ needs

It’s easy to start a CS program with a strategy defined by your perception of what your customers need. However, this is a common mistake that can have serious impacts on your program’s outcomes. To truly drive lasting success, you need to understand what success means to your customers.

Market research helps. But the best way to gain this insight is by going directly to the source and asking customers and what they need to be successful. Customer surveys help you do this, particularly if you offer incentives for participation.

PRO TIP: Be sure to carefully select your survey participants. Customers without a vested interest in your objective will complete a survey to receive the incentive without thinking critically about the answers they provide.

3. Map the customer journey

With fresh, reliable insight into customers’ needs, you can more accurately map the customer journey. When creating your customer journey map, be sure to include the touchpoints and deliverables customers require at each stage. This will act as a roadmap to ensure you deliver a consistent customer experience.

PRO TIP: This is a vital step in preparing to launch your CS program. It will align teams around a central, documented process and define your CS playbooks (more on playbooks below).

4. Implement technology to drive your success

Much of the administration of your CS program should be streamlined with automation technology.

The role of CRMs

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms play a major role in driving customer success. They capture the data needed to drive CS programs, track defined KPIs, and provide invaluable insight into customers’ needs, challenges, goals, etc.

Having a CRM solution in place is key to sustaining an effective customer success program. CRMs drive trusting customer relationships, which are at the core of customer success. They also facilitate better customer data management, which is vital to achieving CS objectives.

Customer success management platforms

Customer success management (CSM) software started to gain traction in the 2010s and is a rapidly growing industry today. Companies like Gainsight, ChurnZero, and Custify are moving the industry forward.

Many businesses implement CSM solutions, but these systems need the data captured by a CRM to deliver value. So, businesses invest in both systems then integrate them.

Instead of paying two vendors, many organizations simplify things by using one of the few CRMs that offer customer success programs. This lowers costs, reduces the size of your tech stack, and increases data accuracy as all data is stored in one central database.

PRO TIP: Automation technology is key to driving CS programs. However, always remember that certain processes require a human touch and are devalued when automated. Personal, telephone outreach to customers is a great example of the need for that human touch.

5. Create customer success playbooks

CS playbooks are process documents that outline the internal and external actions that should occur at each stage of the customer journey. They define how your desired customer experience looks and the key performance benchmarks you expect to hit at each stage.

CS playbook basics

Playbooks need to align with overall business objectives to drive the results and business growth you seek. Moreover, each playbook outlines various paths your team can take at each respective stage based on individual customer context. In other words, a single playbook can outline 10 different scenarios to ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

For example, product adoption playbooks are incredibly important, but there’s no cookie-cutter approach. A CS team might need an adoption playbook version for customers who aren’t using their product, another for customers with low usage rates, and a third for those with high usage rates.

Customer success playbook examples

Common playbook examples include:

  • Pre-sales playbooks
  • Customer onboarding and training playbooks
  • Product adoption playbooks
  • Executive change management playbooks (e.g. actions to take if your customer hires a new CEO)
  • Playbooks for routine customer check-ins
  • Playbooks that define how you’ll address at-risk customers
  • Contract renewal playbooks
  • Customer churn playbooks

Ultimately, the playbooks that you need depend on your internal operating processes. There’s no repeatable template that applies across the board.

6. Define KPIs & CS metrics

Before kicking off your initiative, you need to define the metrics you’ll track to measure performance. There is currently no metric specifically designed for customer success teams, but some of the best minds in the space are pooling expertise to define a CS-specific metric.

Until that happens, CS teams use a constellation of metrics designed for other teams to triangulate their CS performance. Commonly used metrics used in combination include:

  • Customer churn and retention rates
  • Customer health score
  • Net promoter score (NPS)
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Product adoption and usage rates
  • Product upsell and cross-sell rates
  • Contract renewal rates
  • Customer satisfaction levels
  • Customer support ticket volume per user
  • Expansion revenue

As you can see, this can become overly convoluted and confusing. That’s why the CS community is working on defining its own metric rather than piecing together a somewhat accurate measurement of their performance with metrics not intended to measure CS.

In part three of this three-part series on customer success, we’ll cover those steps and provide guidance around how to kickstart a CS program.

Stay tuned for part three. If you missed part one, bring yourself up to speed by reading our recent post, What is customer success?

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1. “Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation,” Gallup, Updated 2019

2. “The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction,” Gallup, Updated 2020