A Handy Guide to Understanding Customer Success Strategies

Geoff Whiting

What’s the difference between a company you like and a brand you love?

For most of us, it’s that the brands we love have helped us accomplish something big that we wanted to do, instead of just filling a need. They take steps beyond the sale to ensure we meet those aspirational goals and are better at the end of the interaction. In other words, they help us achieve success.


customer success strategies
Customer success is the difference between a brand you love and one you hate.


That’s the crux of customer success, and it’s also the heart of a great business relationship. It’s why some airlines have loyal customers (they make it easy and enjoyable to go see our family, instead of treating us like we just want to fly on a plane). It’s why many people have a go-to brand for nice clothes and shoes. 

And, it’s why you’ve stuck with the same software company for 10 years because they know your name.

Those brands have implemented practices and strategies designed to help. You can significantly improve your chances for developing the same kind of recurring revenue and customer loyalty by building out your own specific customer success strategies.

Before you dive into choosing your strategy, it’s important to understand why it works and how it operates within your broader efforts. And don’t worry, we’ll have a couple great resources at the end to help you finalize the right strategy for your business.

What is customer success?

what is customer success?
Customer success is the function at a company responsible for managing the relationship between a vendor and its customers.

The terms here can feel a little unclear so let’s define our terms.

Customer success is when your customers are able to achieve what they want (better sales, greater efficiency, reduced injury, fewer new worry wrinkles) thanks to how they interact with your company, whether that’s products or services.

It’s more than just how happy they are with you.

Your customer moves from being satisfied to a success when they’ve met that goal. So, you still get the benefits of a satisfied customer (according to customer support statistics, like being up to 14x more likely to buy from you again) and add the cherry on top that your customer has gained a specific value because of you.

For example, at CloudApp, we were specifically able to “shortens interactions that typically require at least two or three replies down to one easy GIF or video” for Gainsight, enabling their support reps to respond to more needs more quickly. They might have been satisfied with video sharing because it’s pretty awesome, but success came when our tools specifically helped their customer service team.

Another essential difference is that your customer needs to specifically tell you about the success, you can’t just look at your own metrics and try to infer it.

Why do I need a customer success strategy?

customer success principles
Customer Success ensures customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service.

The principles of customer success are straightforward: make people happy by being useful in a specific way. Executing on that can be extremely difficult.

Companies, in general, can’t create a specific strategy that applies to every single customer. There’s variation and adaption to the process, even if your products or services don’t change. To adapt, you’ve got to look at what your customer wants to achieve, and why they want to achieve it.

You want to put together a strategy or framework that allows you to adapt your positioning to meet different goals. Think of the customer personas you’ve created or how you talk to the different types of customers you have. In the B2B business model, we’re often speaking with multiple stakeholders who want to see specific processes become more efficient (managers) or who want to achieve top-line growth (executives).

We might create different blogs or emails or demos for these groups. But the product we offer is always the same. Our strategy is what changes, allowing us to discuss specific benefits related to those specific goals.

Track the different aspirational goals your customers have (efficiency or sales) and then tie your company to a specific process that achieves them. 

What you and your team will love by building out a strategy is that you get to think about all the different ways you help your customers.

They’re the perfect ideas to brainstorm for your sales calls and lead qualifiers as well as case studies, blog posts, infographics and more. Building your strategy is an exercise in understanding who you are and how you help.

Customer success journey map

customer success journey map
Like any other difficult-to-navigate area, customer success needs a map. Source: Custify

The customer success strategy itself is best thought of like a map. It’s a tool that describes the journey and makes it easy to get to from point A to point B, but it allows for plenty of flexibility around the exact route. Twenty people with the same map can take 20 different paths, and it’s all okay.

From your development standpoint, you’re building out to support their entire journey, not just a single aspect. Customer experiences are going to change and shape as they progress, giving us a need for something that’s dynamic. Your framework requires a core components you’re familiar with, such as milestones, tasks, and email follow-ups, but you’ve got to think about them fluidly to allow people to move back and forth between these.

That said, one traditional and fixed element for each item will be the measurements and metrics you need to track success at the goal of moving customers further along toward a sale. Metrics will help you understand if your map is detailed enough and how it can be improved.

ClientSuccess has a great take on this topic, and we especially like their understanding that the map and journey change based on major customer factors. They specifically look at how company size dramatically changes how people will move along your map.

customer success journey map example
An example of a customer success journey map. Source: ClientSuccess.com

Check out the rest of their thoughts here.

Always come back to looking at the map as if you were a customer. Do you have all the information you need to get where you’re going? Does it tell you enough about how to achieve your goal when you reach the destination? What are the milestones you reach along the way? And, what’s missing?

Keys to Understanding Customer Success Strategy

  1. Segmenting customers
  2. Educating customers
  3. Collecting data
  4. Adjusting your map 
  5. Being a person

Management and the customer success strategy

Having the plan in place is the first big piece of the puzzle. Next comes managing the process and how potential customers move along your map in order to achieve their desired outcome. You can do a few things to adapt your journey and funnel to help prod people along, and they’re familiar to your marketers.

Some lists may feature 8 elements or 12 steps, but when you drill down to it, there are five significant things to consider for managing how customers interact with your success strategy.

1. Segmenting customers

Going back to our map discussion, we know that not everyone starts at the same location or takes the same path. However, you are going to see similarities in these when customers are similar to each other. So, when you have successful customers who started at Point 1, Point 2, and Point 3, you can review their journey and treat new customers starting at those points similarly.

You might segment based on how someone discovers you (ads vs LinkedIn posts vs organic traffic to blogs) and serve up distinct follow-up content. Or, you might look at the questions they ask and go that route.

The element to be mindful of here is the end-goal of the customer. You want to segment in ways that group customers around the what and why that they’re trying to achieve. Segmenting solely on geographic or size factors can lead to a poorer success strategy. 

2. Educating customers

The free-form nature of this journey requires you to inform leads and potential customers about your company. Manage their expectations for the process, provide lists of requirements and milestones, and ask the customer to do their homework.

By pursuing their success, not just a sale, you need to take a more active approach to engagement. Doing this through the lens of educational content will demonstrate your desires to the customer and keep you both accountable. It also makes them more receptive to the prompts you have built-in to keep people on track and avoid lost sales or abandoned carts.

One of the most important elements of education is communication. Customer success management is all about reaching out with what you think is the right message and adapting based on the yes/no response you get. Guide customers to the next steps you want them to take by engaging with them, and actively listening to what they have to say. Collaborate with them.

The more responsive you can be, the better. That’s why you’ll want a variety of images, videos, GIFs, and other options that quickly deliver your message in multiple ways.

Communication is also internal. Your representatives should provide as much customer information and feedback into your CRM so that each interaction is informed by what’s already happened and what the customer wants to happen next. 

3. Collecting data

There’s a lot of information involved this approach. You’ve got to define parameters for customers, segment them on multiple factors, and be able to deliver information in various ways. Plus, you’ve got to know if any of that is successful.

customer support data
It’s probably time to beef up your technology stack.

It’s probably time to beef up your technology stack.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of software available to help. There are some specific Customer Success tools that are designed to boost your CRM (or are contained within it) to give you structure. Look for something that allows you to track how people move and the success of each step, interaction, or content served.

You’ll want to gather as much interaction data as possible and track it across a customer’s entire journey. Work to give it the right context so you can understand what’s working and what isn’t. Collect as much as you can.

4. Adjusting your map 

After you’ve collected that data, it’s time to process it and adapt accordingly. Use your preferred analytics or business intelligence tools to see what is more likely to drive someone to the next step and where people fall off along the way. Also, look for areas where you can automate in order to make the process more efficient.

Learn as much as you can and adapt your map when you see patterns and key drivers.

Ultimately, you’ll end up with a map that has a variety of interactions and touchpoints that allow people to move along or get help when they need it — either by asking or by intervening when certain actions aren’t taken by a certain time. It’ll be useful internally too.

5. Being a person

This is all still a people-centered operation. 

Over-automation can make customer success strategies feel impersonal, when they must be personal in order to understand adapt to why your customers want to accomplish specific goals. This context is something that people can master pretty easily, but machines aren’t great at yet.

Use tools that make it easier for you to be helpful or to get out of the way, but don’t rely on them to provide service and answer questions. While there’s a lot of customer success software out there right now, the relationship that you’re trying to build is between you and the customer. It’s still people-to-people.

Keeping the human aspect in mind will help you treat the customer right throughout the entire process.

Customer success and SaaS

Software pioneered the current SaaS subscription model that we’re all now familiar with for Microsoft Office, corporate email, design tools, apps on our phones, and much more. It was the start of the modern push for customer success. 

Customer success and service: what’s old is new again

The SaaS still remains a driving force for customer success guides and discussions is that their businesses depend solely on this model. Focusing on success ensures that customers are satisfied, making them less likely to cancel their subscription. SaaS is dependent on recurring revenue pricing model, not only for stability in budgets but also because long-term customers have service and supports costs that go down over time.

Not only is it more expensive to acquire a new customer than keep an old one, it’s also more expensive to get your new customer comfortable using the software without flood of helpdesk tickets.

SaaS companies also benefit from delighted customers who are willing to talk about their successes with the product. These case studies and testimonials mean the SaaS company doesn’t have to claim it’s software does X, Y, and Z, someone else can — that’s a big benefit for things like relying on custom A.I. when customers aren’t in a good place to tell the difference between yours and someone else’s capabilities.

No matter your company type, you can use this step too. Pairing testimonials to different steps and promises on your map is a good way to build trust. It also avoids the trap of throwing too much marketing at a customer.

Getting started with your customer success journey map

customer success journey map
Having a visual communication tool is key to creating a journey map.

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget that promise to give you some of our favorite options for choosing the right strategy. Now that you know how it all fits within your business and customer service goals, here’s one of the best, a step-by-step build from HubSpot.

HubSpot provides a good framework for creating your strategy that lives long past customer acquisition — while they’re trying to pitch you their customer service software, reading at least the sections on loyalty and value realization are worth it.

Strikedeck has a whole set of swipe files available here that includes a template for understanding customer success strategies and KPIs that you’ll find useful. And, if this process is new to you and now your responsibility, we like this Customer Success Box guide for what to do during your first 90 days.

Good luck getting started and tell us how it goes.

And don't forget to try CloudApp for free today. We’ve made it easy for you to record screens, create videos and GIFs, and annotate images. That’s ready-made content for every step in your customer success journey, and an easy way to ensure your communications are clear.


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