Successful SaaS businesses are built on an ever-growing base of customers. But it’s nearly impossible to continuously grow your customer base if your customers aren’t happy. Happy customers give you lower churn, a stronger brand, lower acquisition costs and higher lifetime value. To keep your customers happy, you need a strong customer success plan that will ensure that they become consistent users of your platform and get lots of value from it. So how do you create a customer success plan? In this post, we’ll cover what a customer success plan is, why you need one and seven steps to creating your customer success plan.

 

What is a customer success plan?

A customer success plan lays out what customer success looks like (that is, what is the definition of success) and how you’ll help your customers achieve that success. The customer success plan is the roadmap that customer success teams use to operate. It ensures that the right resources are being delivered to your customers so that your customers will receive value from using your product.

 

What’s the difference between customer success and customer service?

You’ll sometimes see “customer success” and “customer service” or “customer support” used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Customer success is a proactive approach to making your customers successful (the function is sometimes even called “customer happiness”), whereas customer service or customer support is a primarily reactive function that handles unanticipated issues or needs from customers. Customer service is reactive because it’s usually the customer who initiates the interaction with service or support, whereas the customer success team initiates the interactions with customers. Another way to think of it is that customer service or support is about putting out fires, whereas customer success is about the long term experience that your customers have with your product.

Why should you create a customer success plan?

There are a number of different reasons that you should create a customer success plan, but a few of the most important are to reduce churn, increase upsell and cross-sell opportunities, and increase recurring revenue.

 

Reduce Churn

As we mentioned in the introduction, decreasing churn, and thus, increasing retention, is a key component of growing a successful SaaS business. High churn creates a “leaky bucket” situation where, although you may be successfully acquiring new customers, that topline customer growth is being offset by customers who are churning and leaving your business. If customers are churning out at a high rate, you need to acquire customers even faster, making it very challenging to grow your business. Conversely low or negative churn becomes a tailwind that makes growth much easier. A good customer success plan will ensure that customers are happy users of your product, so they will be much less likely to churn.

 

Upsell and Cross-Sell

Another way that happy and successful customers impact your business is that you’ll have more success increasing upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Upselling is getting your customers to buy into more feature rich, and more expensive, tiers of your product. Cross-selling is selling additional products to existing users. To succeed with either strategy, you first need to make sure that your customers are happy and successful with your core product experience, which is the fundamental goal of your customer success plan. Once you’ve achieved that, your customer success plan can include tactics to move your customers towards premium tiers or additional products.

 

Increase Recurring Revenue

Both of the items that are covered above have the effect of increasing recurring revenue. Other ways that happy and successful customers help increase revenue are by strengthening your brand and providing you with referrals. These serve as a tailwind in your customer acquisition strategy, bringing you more inbound inquiries and making the sales process much easier.

How do you create a customer success plan?

So you’re ready to create your customer success plan, but where do you start? Here are seven steps to get you on the right path.

 

1. Identify the customer’s end goal 

To create an effective customer success plan, you have to understand what success looks like to your customers. A well-aligned sales process will identify the prospective customer’s goals and how they align with your solution before those prospective customers become actual customers. That way you can avoid any misalignment between your prospect’s expectations and the value that your solution provides. Once the prospect becomes a customer, these goals can be handed off to the success team and become the pillars of your customer success plan.

 

2. Map processes to Aha! Moments 

Your SaaS product probably has one or more aha! moments. These are the moments during the product experience when your customer says “aha! Now I understand why this solution is so important to my business.” These are critical moments that shift from your product being perceived as a nice to have, interesting piece of software, to an essential part of your customer’s business. Customers who reach that aha! moment become far stickier and far less likely to churn. You should identify those moments and then create processes in your customer success plan that will ensure that your customers get to those moments as soon as possible.

 

3. Define customer success metrics

In addition to understanding the customer’s end goal, there are other metrics that will help you evaluate the health of each account. These will likely include some activity-based metrics such as daily, weekly, or monthly average usage. You may use one or more of these depending on the nature of your product. You may also develop custom health metrics that align to the customer goals, progress to aha moments or other relevant usage metrics. This health score can be analyzed across all customers (how healthy is my customer base as a whole?), individual cohorts (what is the health score of my highest paying customer?) or individual accounts (which may be useful in preparing for a quarterly business review or other customer checkpoint). Curious about more customer success metrics? We interviewed leaders across the industry to compile this post of the Top 15 SaaS Customer Success Metrics.

 

4. Build a great customer success team

The right team to support your customer success plan will depend on the nature or your product, and whether you apply a high touch, low touch or hybrid customer success model. Your customer success team may need to be more or less technical, depending on the nature of your product. All that said, good customer success managers are deeply committed to the success of customers, are personable and empathetic. A passion for constantly improving the process will also make for a more successful customer success hire. In addition to your full time customer success team, you should include input from sales, marketing, and product teams, since they each have critical roles to play in customer success.

 

5. Align your customer and product teams

At Parlor, we’re focused on improving the customer feedback lifecycle. So we’ve done user interviews with product and customer teams across a wide variety of SaaS companies. One thing that’s surprised us is how consistently product and customer teams struggle to work effectively together. Product teams mostly want to develop a product that customers will love, but they feel that most of the feedback that they receive from customer-facing teams is anecdotal. Meanwhile, customer teams talk to customers every day and believe that they know what customers need most, but they struggle to make an effective case to the product team. While intentions are often good, the disconnect makes it much harder to keep customers happy and successful, because these two teams are both essential to the customers’ experience. Aligning product and customer teams is a big topic on it’s own, but some effective tactics include sharing key goals across both teams, adopting a toolset that both teams commit to using and emphasizing regular and open communication between the teams.

 

6. Choose the right tools

There are many different tools designed to help with various aspects of managing customer success. Choosing the right tools can be overwhelming, so focus on the tools that align to the goals of your customer success plan. Some tools, such as customer feedback management tools, will be used by multiple teams. So make sure that all teams that will use the solution are bought in and committed to adoption. After all, the best tools won’t help you if the team isn’t invested in using them.

 

7. Collect feedback from your customers

Once you’ve put your customer success plan in place, you need to understand what’s working and what isn’t. Feedback mechanisms like NPS and CSAT can give you a high-level understanding of overall customer satisfaction and happiness. But these metrics are too blunt to help you understand specifically what’s working well and what isn’t. In app feedback approaches focused on specific aspects of the customer experience, such as feature fit index and customer effort score give you a much more actionable understanding of opportunities for improvement. You can gain even more insights by targeting in app feedback towards specific user cohorts, such as new customers or high value customers.

Your customer success plan is never “done”

The steps outlined above will get your well on your way to building the right customer success plan for your business. But you don’t just build the plan, put it into action and forget about it. As your business grows, your product continues to change and your customers’ needs evolve, you need to constantly iterate and improve your plan to make sure that it’s aligned. This ongoing commitment to your customers’ success isn’t easy, but making your customers successful and keeping them happy will ensure that they reward you with their continued business and help spread the word about your amazing product.