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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Net Revenue Retention is the measure of the percentage of recurring revenue you have retained between two periods. If you have an NRR of over 100%, it means that your revenue from expanding existing customer contracts exceeds the revenue you have lost from customer churn.
A great customer success plan will help your CSMs cross-sell and upsell, as well as maintain the customer you already have.
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.
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 misaligning your prospect's expectations and your solution's value.
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.
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."
For many, a "PQL" or "Product-Qualified Lead" is registered when a prospect in a free trial or freemium tier hits an "Aha" moment while also fitting an ideal customer profile.
These critical moments 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.
Part of the mapping process here should be focusing on what defines an "Aha! Moment" and how that fits into your PQL strategy.
You should identify those moments and then create processes in your customer success plan to ensure that your customers get to those moments as soon as possible.
In addition to understanding the customer's end goal, other metrics will help you evaluate the health of each account. These will likely include 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 with 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 another 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.
The right team to support your customer success plan will depend on the nature of 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.
That said, good customer success managers are deeply committed to customers' success and are personable and empathetic.
A passion for constantly improving the process will make for a more successful customer 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.
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, teams talk to customers daily and believe 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.
Still, 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.
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 with the goals of your customer success plan.
Critically, you need to invest in a solution for tracking your customers' behavior within your product and identify any signals for expansion or risk of churning.
While many tools are meant to capture product usage data and send it to various other tools in your stack, they almost exclusively require a technical team in your organization to implement - and often administer.
Parative is the only Customer Behavior Platform that surfaces this data to the teams that actually need it when they actually need it and empowers them to take the necessary actions.
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 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 for specific user cohorts, such as new or high-value customers.
Creating success plans is a challenge, especially if you are tasked with starting from scratch. Whether you are a Customer Success Manager who is just trying to optimize their customer success strategy or a VP of CS who wants to get customer retention under control, building a robust success plan can be a pain.
Have no fear; here is an example customer success plan for you to work with.
Want to get your copy of this Customer Success Plan Template? You are in luck! Click Here to grab it.
Section 1: Customer Overview
This section should serve as an overview of the customer your team is focusing on. It should include fast facts about the company and information on its history so you can understand how your product or service can best assist them.
Include details such as:
You may also want to include more detailed information, such as the company's mission, vision, etc.
Many, if not all, of these details should be in the CRM and gathered during the sales process.
Section 2: Customer Goals and Objectives
In this section, you will focus on the customer’s value expectations to create opportunities to grow customer relationships that are more strategic in nature. These relationships safeguard against competition while increasing customer loyalty.
Using the foundations from the previous section, fill out the prompts below so you can understand the customer's priorities. If you’re in direct conversation with people from the customer, ask them these questions so you can better help the company.
This section should include:
Section 3: Customer Journey Map
In this section, you will map out the customer's journey with your product or service, from initial contact to post-purchase engagement. This will help you identify key touchpoints and opportunities for engagement and improvement.
Section 5: Customer Success Team Structure and Roles
In this section, you will outline the structure and roles of your customer success team, including the responsibilities of each team member.
Section 6: Onboarding and Training Programs
In this section, you will outline the onboarding and training programs that will be provided to new customers to ensure they are able to fully utilize and benefit from your product or service.
Section 7: Communication and Engagement Plan
In this section, you will outline the plan for communication and engagement with your customers. This should include the frequency, methods, and channels of communication, as well as the key stakeholders and decision-makers.
Section 8: Continuous Improvement and Feedback
In this section, you will outline the plan for continuous improvement and feedback, including the processes and methods that will be used to gather customer feedback, analyze it, and make improvements.
Section 9: Action Plan
In this section, you will outline the specific actions that will be taken to implement the customer success plan. This should include a timeline, resource allocation, and key milestones.
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 ensure it’s aligned.