Article | 11 min read

What is customer success? (+ why every business needs it)

Customer success is all about ensuring buyers reach their goals. Create a customer success strategy to increase retention and help your business thrive.

By Court Bishop, Contributing Writer

Published June 5, 2017
Last updated May 18, 2022

What if we told you that your company’s success depends on someone else’s success? Well…it does. Your business can’t thrive if your products or services aren’t helping consumers reach their goals. In today’s customer-centric marketplace, the top-performing companies are those that prioritize customer success more than their competitors do.

Customer success is the best way to boost buyers’ long-term happiness. And happy customers, in turn, increase your company’s longevity.

What is customer success?

Customer success is a company initiative or department focused on making customers love your business so much that they want to continue purchasing your products or services. It’s all about building strong relationships and understanding customers’ goals.

Essentially, customer success strives to help your buyers get the most value out of their purchase from your company. Customer success drives customer experience (CX) forward and facilitates an ongoing—and successful—partnership between your business and its customers.

To achieve customer success, your customer success managers and their teams should proactively connect with your customers throughout their lifecycle with your company.

Customer success vs. customer service vs. customer experience

While there are some similarities and overlaps, customer success shouldn’t be confused with other teams and groups that deal with customer support and management.

Customer success

Centers on helping customers become confident, knowledgeable experts who can then use a company’s products or services to crush their goals. It focuses solely on customer objectives, long-term growth, and satisfaction.

Is all about supporting customers in their discovery, use, optimization, and troubleshooting of a product or service. Support agents often answer questions about product features, resolve short-term problems, and provide information about technical issues. But customer success teams aim to anticipate clients’ needs and offer strategic guidance before clients ever even need to contact support.

Teams focus on individual touchpoints along the customer journey. They evaluate where there may be issues and how to make every interaction the best it can be. Customer success teams, meanwhile, hone in on the end result of that journey—they’re working to deliver the desired outcome and improve their clients’ bottom line.

Ultimately, these teams should collaborate with one another to create a positive, successful experience for each customer.

Why is customer success important for business?

To put it simply: it helps companies succeed. When customer success teams help buyers accomplish their goals, it’s clear that the product or service provides value for users. As a result, it strengthens the relationship, builds trust, and leads to higher satisfaction.

Customer success interactions also allow companies to collect valuable information about their audience. And the more teams learn about their clients and their needs, the better they’re able to deliver quality experiences and create a healthier customer lifecycle.

Your business success is tied to your customers—through sales, revenue, and retention. Happy, loyal buyers often become brand advocates and rave about your company through product reviews, social media posts, and word-of-mouth recommendations.

How does customer success work?

Although your specific approach will depend on your company size, resources, and objectives, there are a few components all top-notch customer success strategies should include.

Your team needs customer success software that connects with your company’s CRM. You must be able to monitor user activity and trends. An effective CRM can generate data-driven reports and predict customer behavior—which can help your team identify solutions to problems before they arise.

Your team should also shift their customer relationship-building tactics from reactive to proactive. When you quickly show users the value of your product or service, you keep them engaged. You can achieve this by walking new clients through the onboarding process and ensuring buyers are implementing your offerings effectively.

Customer success management

A customer success manager (CSM) oversees a company’s customer success representatives and carries out a customer success strategy that proactively engages buyers. Managing customer success also means measuring customer success—this begins with tracking key customer success metrics.

Aside from monitoring customer engagement and collecting feedback, your team should also track churn rate, account expansions, and Net Promoter Score®. This data can provide a big-picture view of how your efforts are paying off.

  • Churn rate is the percentage of customers that leave your business during a given period of time. To calculate your customer churn rate, divide the number of lost customers during a specific period by the total number of customers at the start of that same period. Then, multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage.

    churn rate formula

    Ultimately, you want to reduce churn. While many factors affect churn rates—including changes in the business, pricing, and world economy—customer satisfaction remains one of the biggest reasons for defection. So, if your strategy is working to improve satisfaction, your churn rate should decrease over time.

  • Account expansions illustrate how your accounts are growing over time as a result of upselling and cross-selling. To determine how much an account has increased, take the current monthly revenue and subtract the initial monthly revenue. Then, divide that number by the initial monthly revenue and multiply by 100 to get a percentage.

    account expansions

    If your team is resonating with clients and effectively cross-selling and upselling your products, you should see a larger percentage of expansion opportunities over time.

  • Net Promoter Score® (NPS) measures customer loyalty by asking one simple yet highly telling question: “Would you recommend our product or service to a friend, family member, or colleague?” This question is usually asked in a follow-up survey format. Customers who respond positively are considered “promoters,” whereas customers who respond with low scores are considered “detractors.” To get your NPS, subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.

    NPS formula

    If your strategy is working, then customers feel supported. This means they’re more likely to go out of their way to promote you to people they know.

Success for all

Businesses are at their happiest when their customers are. Improve long-term revenue by improving customer service.

Key responsibilities of a customer success team

The role of the customer success team is to help buyers achieve their goals with a company’s products or services. This results in better customer experiences and strong relationships—leading to business growth and additional recurring revenue. Three key responsibilities help teams make an impact.

Provide personalized customer experiences

Customer success teams aim to connect with customers on a deeper level and understand what success looks like to them. They treat buyers like VIPs and help them create a customized strategy to reach their goals, making each client feel valued and boosting customer loyalty.

CSMs often stick with the same customer, from customer onboarding throughout their time as a client. They constantly check in, provide best practices and industry insights, and help their customers adjust their plans to best fit their needs.

Providing these positive, personalized customer experiences is critical, especially in the COVID-19 era. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, more than 60 percent of consumers say they have higher customer service standards after the past year. And 90 percent will spend more with companies that personalize the customer service they offer.

60% of consumers say they have higher customer service standards after the past year.

The message is loud and clear. Consumers demand a tailored, top-quality experience—and they’re willing to spend more to get it.

Improve retention

Customer success departments also strive to increase retention rates. Customers are less likely to leave if they have a dedicated partner helping them maximize value and meet their long-term goals with your products or services.

A Gartner study showed that “the average probability that [a] customer would stay [with a company] when presented with an opportunity to switch was 82 percent after a value-enhancing service interaction.”

Lingopie, a subscription-based language learning application, is a great example of how this plays out. By focusing on client success, listening to customers, and delivering value, Lingopie reached a retention rate of 79 percent after four months—which was higher than other subscription apps like Netflix and Disney+.

Find opportunities to cross-sell and upsell

Customer success teams are focused on forging relationships, so they’re in an ideal position to cross-sell and upsell. Their ongoing relationships with customers and their understanding of clients’ goals make these sales opportunities feel organic and authentic, rather than aggressive.

The basis of a great client–success manager relationship is trust. While a pitch from your sales team can easily come across as pushy, a recommendation from your trusted success rep can sound like a solution. It’s a lot like receiving advice or recommendations from a friend.

Your team should only suggest products when they can truly solve a customer’s challenge or help them grow. So, coach your CSMs on the strategic thinking skills needed to pinpoint the customer’s actual needs. Teach them how to approach their suggestions genuinely. You can also consider creating a cross-selling/upselling “decision tree.” This format would give your CSMs an “if/then” model to use for determining when a cross-sell or upsell may be beneficial to mention to a customer.

For example, the tree may state: “If a customer is complaining about not having enough user licenses, then you should consider whether the customer’s current setup is conducive to their needs or needs to be reworked.” This approach allows CSMs to present the customer with options based on their needs without overly pushing the additional expense.

3 tips for building a customer success strategy

Developing a customer success strategy is critical for the best results. Keep these tips in mind as you move forward with creating and implementing your strategy.

  1. Form a diverse and dedicated customer success team

    customer success

    Customer success starts by forming the right team of people who are all-in for your clients.

    This team should be separate from customer service, account management, and other similar customer-centric departments. While your team will likely work closely with these departments, you need them to focus on building connections with your customers and helping them succeed.

    For a small business, a customer success team may be a strategic hire of just one specially trained customer support representative. But in software as a service (SaaS) companies, enterprises, or subscription-based businesses, customer success should become a larger department with team members dedicated to specific accounts. You’ll also need CSMs who lead your team and are responsible for your buyers’ long-term victories with your products or services.

    Keep in mind that it’s important to have a diverse team—in all aspects. When team members come from varied backgrounds and experiences, they bring different skill sets and perspectives to the table. This diversity enables your CSMs to be more innovative and creative when helping clients.

  2. Diagnose key problem areas and replicate wins for your customers

    customer success

    Once your rock-star team is in place, you can leverage technology to pinpoint your customers’ big wins and stumbling blocks to success. After you’ve identified these significant areas, you can offer personalized solutions.

    Have your support agents and other customer-facing departments log client interactions and note common customer complaints and frustrations. A CRM tool is extremely helpful here. It allows you to track interactions in real-time, share information across departments, and more.

    You can then dive into the data and look for problem areas—just remember that a recurring issue may have nothing to do with your product or service. The problem could be relatively simple but incredibly annoying to your customers, like consistent billing issues.

    Similarly, it’s also beneficial to look at some of your successful customers and determine what’s going well. You can hone in on what they love so much and begin replicating that consistently.

    Once you’re aware of the highs and lows for your clients, your team can use that information as the foundation for a strong customer success strategy.

  3. Get everyone to buy into the customer success process

    customer success

    Customer success must be a company-wide initiative. The most impactful way to do this is to create a customer-centric culture that starts at the top and trickles down.

    Of course, building a customer-centric culture and championing customer success is easier said than done. Leaders don’t always understand that customer success and business success are intertwined.

    A key part of securing support from C-level executives and leadership is sharing the benefits of your customer-centric efforts with them regularly. Discuss the positive effects on retention and revenue, and share data whenever possible—perhaps via an interactive webinar. It’ll be hard for execs to ignore your endeavors when they see the direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

    Once leadership is engaged, it’s much easier to get the rest of the company on board. Team leaders can spearhead customer success initiatives, approve policies or product changes that improve the customer experience, and more. This customer-centric mentality will naturally spread across the rest of the company.

Invest in a CRM to skyrocket customer success

Customer success is vital to your organization’s long-term growth. The most important first step is defining customer success for your business and making customer happiness a company goal.

Once you start, it’s important to track your customer success stats over time. Make this easier by investing in a robust CRM—it’s the gold standard of metric management for a reason. This tool puts all your client data at your team’s fingertips, enabling them to build meaningful relationships and turn new customers into loyal fans.

Success for all

Businesses are at their happiest when their customers are. Improve long-term revenue by improving customer service.

Success for all

Businesses are at their happiest when their customers are. Improve long-term revenue by improving customer service.

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