Customer success is a rather new idea, an evolution of customer support & sales account management over the last decade and a half. It takes a lot to build a great customer success team at an organization — so much so, it doesn’t happen overnight, and needs a lot of guidance.
To help push you in the right direction, we’ve put together some byte-sized strategies from success thinkers (and a few others) the world over.
1. Customers, not cash
“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.”– Ray Kroc, McDonald’s
Build it, and they will come. Not so true. Prioritizing customer happiness over profits will ultimately bring you both. Perfect customer success first starts with giving a damn. Really, truly & passionately giving a damn about your customers being successful, even at the expense of your bottom line.
2. Data levels all arguments
“To make sure your customers are deriving value from your product and progressing along their journey, track and measure your efforts. This ensures that your investment in acquiring those customers pays off and that your customers are adopting your product into their organization.”– Omer Gotlieb, co-founder & chief customer officer at Totango
Customer success is such a human-driven process, you need to track everything. You need to set strong goals and iterate towards meeting them. Be warned, however, happiness is hard to quantify. You’ll likely need to track against multiple metrics to judge success.
3. A good carpenter uses good tools
“A few years ago, we found some limitations with both success and support platforms. So, we developed our own Customer Database Management platform, while still using a variety of other services with useful features. The important thing is to keep it transparent with all crucial information shared.”– Zoltan Radnai, global director of customer care at Prezi
It’s impossible to scale customer success, especially at large organizations, without a wide assortment of tools at your disposal. Consider quarterly audits on the tools you’re using and the workflow you’re using them in. Nothing kills customer success faster than high latency in knowledge transfer.
4. Stop sticking the softballs
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”– Bill Gates
So many organizations make the mistake of over-focusing and pandering to their happy customers. Sending them swag, doing case studies, etc. This forces you to fall into an echo chamber of happiness. Build a culture that acknowledges unhappy customers as a brilliant opportunity to learn where to improve.
5. Drop the funnel focus on outcomes
“you can focus on adoption, retention, expansion, or advocacy; or you can focus on the customers’ Desired Outcome and get all of those things”– Lincoln Murphy, one of the pioneers of Customer Success
Sticking on a single area of a funnel (and celebrating wins in that area, while ignoring the others) is the peak of customer success vanity metrics. Instead, focus on outcomes. What do your customers want, and how are you stopping them from getting it? You’ll solve the entire funnel that way.
6. Don’t treat feature requests as an afterthought
“We use Trello to register each feature request. We then rate them based on the number of requests, the time needed for development, and how it aligns with our vision: ‘Taking difficult problems and making them simple.’ This helps us prioritize requests and keep them actionable.”– Karina Norkaitienė, Customer Success manager at MailerLite
Stop brushing off feature requests with softball customer support answers. If someone goes through the trouble of requesting a feature, it means two things. 1) they care about your product enough to request a feature. 2) they care enough about a feature to bother requesting it.
7. It starts at the top
“The way management treats their associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers..”– Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart
If your top executives are dismissive of customers and dismissive of their employees, how do you expect the people on the ground floor to behave? Make empathy and success a universal concept to all customers, employees, and anyone in between. Be good and it’ll spread.
8. All-hands support
“At Buffer and many other customer-centric startups, the product, marketing, and engineering teams all listen to customer questions and answer them directly. This has changed through the years as the needs and team have grown. In its current form, just about everyone in the company ends up hanging out with the Happiness Heroes for about a half day each month.”– Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer, Kopprasch
Many top-tier technology companies like Buffer, Zapier & Toggl have introduced customer support & happiness as partial functions for all employees. Every employee should stay on the pulse of the customer, and encourage everyone to do a few hours of work a week ensures that organizational empathy never wanes.
9. Focus on your customers, while your competitors focus on you
“We’re not competitor obsessed. We’re customer obsessed.”– Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Making Customer Success the central feature of your organization, rather than chasing bottom lines or obsessing with your customers, is a more reliable way to grow. Competitors, trends and recessions come and go – aligning your north star around customer happiness will make sure you never fail.
10. Under-promise, over-deliver
“The key is to set realistic customer expectations. And then not to just meet them, but to exceed them. Preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.“– Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Group
Companies that advertise their customer success function as a selling point often don’t end up having a great customer success function. Companies that focus on selling their features, but back it up by an infinitely, delightful success function always win on customer loyalty.
11. Don’t compartmentalize
“Customer service is not a department, it’s an attitude.”– Unknown
We’ve touched on this already. Don’t just throw together a team in the basement to field all requests. Customer success needs to be built into your DNA. Into all employes, into your product teams, driving your marketing messaging, etc.
12. Find the bottleneck
“At the outset of a startup, engineering throughput can be a limiting factor; the team simply can’t code fast enough. At some point, the product launches but no one knows about it. Marketing is the bottleneck. When customers come rushing through the door, money in hand, sales and customer support might stunt the growth of the company. Other times it’s culture or product market fit or money or competition. But for each startup at every stage there is a limiting factor.”– Tomasz Tunguz, Redpoint
Figure out the rate limit that’s driving organizational friction, and use your success function to try and help grease those wheels.
13. A bug is a blessing
“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter
Oddly, preventative medicine isn’t all that crucial in development. Rather than spending months and months after schedule polishing a new product release, throw it out there and deal with bugs as they come. Fighting bug reports with delightful customer success just ends up winning you advocates.
14. Actually meet customers
“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed at how many companies don’t listen to their customers.“– Ross Perot
How many of your employees have ever actually met a customer? Getting real feedback from real people is essential to driving product innovation. Make customer visits a regular (and necessary) expense.
15. Relationships, not sales
“Make a customer, not a sale.”– Katherine Barchetti
Treat your customers as relationships. Even at scale, build lines of communication with them that go beyond just first purchase. Your recurring revenue will thank you.
16. Satisfaction isn’t good enough
“Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.” -Ken Blanchard
The days of “good enough” are long gone. A relic of old GNU software that crashes more often than works. Nowadays, customers expect a standard, and if you want that word-of-mouth referral channel, you need customers to go above and beyond in their fandom for you.
17. Be transparent with your values
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand”– Howard Schultz
Customers increasingly buy into companies they actually care. Don’t be afraid to wear your values on your sleeve, and your customers will do the same.
18. Be vulnerable
“It’s through vulnerability that human beings create connections. The more vulnerable we can be with one another, the more that we’ll trust one another and the more we’ll be able to collaborate effectively.” – Neil Blumenthal
Drop the canned lines and overly professional responses. Be vulnerable. Be honest about your screw-ups. Actually empathize with your customers. They’ll connect with you on a much deeper level.
19. Word-of-mouth is the only channel that scales
“The more advocates you have, the fewer ads you have to buy.” – Dharmesh Shah, CTO Hubspot
As ad CPAs continue to spike and SEO becoming less and less gameable, the only challenger left on the field is word-of-mouth. Nothing drives word-of-mouth (well, besides a killer product) better than brilliant customer success. So make success part of your growth function as well.
20. Assume interest
“When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed.” – Indra Nooyi
Go into every success scenario assuming a happy customer, and an impending sale. It’ll put you in a frame of mind to approach their problems in a positive way. Will it into existence.
21. Confide, don’t convince
“We don’t want to push our ideas on to customers, we simply want to make what they want.”– Laura Ashley
The worst thing you can do is use success as a sales technique for convincing your customers about a new tool they don’t actually like. It shouldn’t go product > success, but rather success > product.
22. Make success your competitive advantage
“Goodwill is the one and only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.”– Unknown
Even technology businesses, long famous for their absurd monopolies and huge margins, are now losing technological advantages. If you’re looking for a way to stand out from the field, there’s only one tried and true: customer service.
23. Fewer sales, more success
“Smart companies have realized that customer loyalty is the most powerful sales and marketing tool that they have.”– Bill Price, Founder of Driva Solutions
Nothing screams dysfunctional company quite like massive sales teams backed up by tiny success teams. The smarter, modern approach is simple. Use sales for prospecting and success for delivery. Make it a 1:1, or lean towards success, so you can scale.
24. The bots aren’t there yet
“People don’t want to communicate with an organization or a computer. They want to talk to a real, live, responsive, responsible person who will listen and help them get satisfaction.”– Theo Michelson, State Farm Insurance
Live chat and bots are all the rage these days. But as we descend into another AI winter one thing is clear — they’re still not that useful. For now, stick to what’s always worked. Real, empathetic humans.
25. Timing matters
“The longer you wait, the harder it is to produce outstanding customer service.”– William H. Davidow
You can’t suddenly switch on the “good customer support” button someday. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get everything in place. Culture is a castle. Every day that goes by, a brick is laid, and it’s really hard to renovate those walls.
26. Only 100% is good enough
“Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction… you must improve.”– Horst Schulz
Your north star is simple – 100% customer satisfaction. All that goal does is one thing: keeps moving your dial upward. If you set a goal any lower, you’ll eventually hit a plateau.
27. Time elapsed doesn’t matter
“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”– Peter Drucker
One of the worst vanity metrics in customer success is time spent on a case. The amount of time you spend on a case doesn’t matter. Too much time spent doesn’t mean wasted time or extra diligence, nor do short case turnarounds mean a lack of attention nor a unique efficiency. It doesn’t matter.
28. Every (wo)man needs a code
“Make a list of commitments to those you work with and for. Your commitments can be a policy for customer service, an ethic by which you work or something physical, like a walkway across the highway.”– Teresa de Grosbois; Karen Rowe, Mass Influence
Set a list of commitments, and make them public. This is the guarantee every customer can expect from you, and your success agents must go above and beyond to meet them.
29. Understand the journey
“You’re not ‘customer-first’ if you don’t understand their paths to you.”– Russel Lolacher, The Upsell.com
You need to understand exactly who your customer is and their behavior. More specifically, how they got to the point of asking for your help? Only then can you empathize with them deeply, and solve their problem in a meaningful, lasting way.
30. The winners will automate first
“Leverage product usage data and automation to ensure that your communications are scaling with your customer base. A good way to do this is to trigger emails based on usage patterns. This helps you communicate to the right users at the right time for the right reason.”– Keri Keeling, VP of Customer Success and Operations at Bluenose Analytics
If you aren’t spending half your customer success budget on a Zapier subscription, you’re doing something wrong. Automated messaging at scale is how you’ll make killer support scale to the millions. And if you’re not doing it, your customers will be.