I'm a customer success manager, and I've been in this business for years. I've seen a lot of teams try their hand at customer success planning and fail miserably. But that's okay! No one is born knowing how to be successful; we all have to learn from our mistakes first. This piece is about all the things I’ve learned through trial and error.
Why do you need a customer success plan?
You're reading this because you want to create a customer success plan.
- Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
- You've read that it can help you increase revenue, reduce churn and improve customer satisfaction.
- You might be thinking about it now because there's a new product coming out soon and you want to maximize customer experience using it.
A customer success plan will help you do just that by giving you an overview of what has worked in the past and what hasn't worked so well (so that you can improve upon those things). You can also use this as a way of identifying potential problems before they occur by looking at trends in customer satisfaction scores over time or across different customer cohorts.
In simple terms a good customer success plan template can:
- Predict and therefore reduce churn
- Increase customer retention
- Deliver value to your customers
- Keep effective communication between CS and the other functions within the business, especially sales
TL;DR - swipe the free template
Throughout this piece, i'll be giving examples & notes on what to include in a plan. It's all pulled together in a Google Doc here. Open it, hit 'File' --> make a copy. Customize it as you need.
What will your customer success plan include?
Your Customer Success plan should include all the aspects of customer success management. It's a living document that will be reviewed regularly and updated as needed, so it's important to make sure you have thought through what your plan will look like before you start drafting it.
The following are some examples of what could go into your Customer Success Plan:
- What are the key elements of a customer success plan?
This is where you'll want to think about how you define success for both yourself and your customers--and how those two things can align with one another in order for both parties to achieve their goals. You may want some sort of objective metric (such as number of customers who actively use your product), but if not then just make sure there's something tangible at stake here!
A good customer success plan also has clear goals and benchmarks for your team.
To set goals, you need to know what you're aiming for. For example: "We want to increase our trial-to-paid conversion rate by 20%." Or maybe it's something more general like "increasing customer satisfaction" or "building a better brand image." These are all great things to work towards--but how do we get there?
The next step is defining what success looks like so that everyone knows what they're working toward when they create their own plans later on in this process. This can be as simple as saying something like: "Our goal is for customers who have been using our product for three months or longer who indicate they would recommend us at least once per month."
1. Handover from sales to customer success
The first step is to define the roles and responsibilities of each team member. This is especially important in SaaS because the handoff between sales and customer success can be tricky. Especially when you have multiple people on each side. If you have a dedicated sales team, then make sure your customer success manager is included in all conversations with them.
The goal is to create a seamless transition from when your customers sign up for your product or service to when they start using it on their own. You'll also want to set clear expectations for what they will do, as well as establish a timeline for when they need to be in place. When it comes to onboarding, there are many different ways to do it. You can create a handoff document that both sales and customer success will share with each new customer, or you can set up a process that involves regular meetings between the two teams. It all depends on what works best for your company.
Once you have this information, it's time to create an actionable plan that outlines how each person will work together with their counterparts on other teams so that customers receive consistent service through every stage of their lifecycle. Ideally, the plan will include a timeline and specific responsibilities for each team. For example: “Sales will call on new customers within 24 hours of onboarding,” or “Customer success teams are responsible for reaching out to customers every 30 days to check in and ensure that they're still receiving value from their subscription service.”
Once you've outlined your plan, it's time to get everyone on board. If anyone is unsure about what’s expected of them, ask questions until everyone is clear. The last thing you want is for there to be confusion or tension between sales and customer success—especially because it can lead to poor customer experiences down the line.
Make sure that everyone understands their role in the customer experience journey, and what they can do to improve it. You might need to meet with each team individually or create a company-wide training session where you walk through the plan together.
2. Onboarding flow
When you're creating a customer success plan, it's important to think about the onboarding process. The best way to do this is by creating an outline of what your customers can expect during their first few months with you.
After the handoff with the Sales team, it's time to get to some serious CS business. The onboarding of your customers is 86% responsible for how well the rest of your partnership will play out so you want to make it as seamless and wow-worthy as possible.
You'll also want to make sure that everyone involved knows their role in helping customers get up-to-speed on their products or services--this includes both members of your CSM team as well as support staff like salespeople and engineers who may interact with new leads during this time frame.
The following steps will help guide you through the creation of this outline:
a) Create checklists for each step in the onboarding flow
...so that there are no gaps in communication between yourself and your new customers (i.e., "Once we've talked on the phone, here are some things I'd like from you before moving forward"). This ensures that everyone knows what is expected from them at every stage of their relationship with you as well as when they should expect further contact from someone on staff.
Ask yourself, "What are the most important things that a new customer needs to know before they become customers of ours?" This will help you identify what information should be included in your checklists.
b) Consider creating an email template
...that can be sent out after every stage of the onboarding process so that everyone is consistently informed and on the same page with regard to what needs to happen next.
c) Be specific with timeframes and customer requirements.
The onboarding process is a two-way process. Just as you need to perform tasks on your side to implement your solution with the customer, they’ll likely need to do some on their side as well - be it technical implementations, design work or internally aligning their teams for the new project. During the onboarding phase, it’s important to communicate and confirm timelines with the customer so that everything is being carried out without delays or frustrations on either side.
d) Consider how you can make your onboarding process more customer-centric.
What are the most important things that new customer needs to know before they become customers of ours? This will help you identify what information should be included in your checklists.
3. Ongoing engagement plan
Make sure you have a plan for how to engage with customers on an ongoing basis. You can't just send them one email and expect them to stay engaged with your product or service, especially if it's something that requires ongoing use. Keep them updated on the latest features and benefits of your product, as well as industry news that may affect their business (and therefore their usage of yours). Include in this section how often you will communicate with customers and how you will do this (email? In-app notifications?).
The next step is to develop strategies to maintain engagement. This can be done by establishing customer success milestones and implementing feedback loops.
Customer success milestones
These are specific goals that you want your customers to achieve within a certain timeframe, such as having them complete an onboarding process or reach a certain level of adoption in their first month with your product.
Once you’ve identified the most important milestones for your customers, you can begin to create a plan for how you’ll measure their progress and provide ongoing support. By focusing on specific metrics, such as revenue or customer satisfaction scores, it will be easier to determine whether or not your customers are reaching their goals.
These are tools for collecting data about how well these milestones are being met so that you can make adjustments if necessary--and keep track of progress over time as well! The feedback loop is an integral part of the customer success process because it helps you create a plan for how you’ll measure your customers’ progress.
It also allows you to take steps toward improving the product or service itself, based on what customers are telling you about their experience with it. Finally, the feedback loop is a way of making sure that you’re listening to your customers so that you can be more responsive to their needs in the future. By collecting and analyzing data about how well your products or services are meeting customer expectations.
4. Idle/non-responsive accounts & how to handle them
Okay, so you've got your accounts organized by frequency of contact. Now it's time to decide what to do about your most inactive accounts.
- What type of outreach or intervention should be done?
- Should they be prioritized in some way (i.e., given more attention)?
Proactivity is key - Identifying customers at risk of churn and proactively reaching out to them is a great way to keep your customers happy and reduce churn. You should identify customers who have been inactive on your platform for an extended period of time, then reach out to them with automated emails that offer advice or assistance in getting back up and running. When possible, you can also provide these customers with reasons why they might want to stick around: perhaps there are new features being released soon that would benefit them as well as other users on your platform.
Establishing strategies to re-engage customers - When it comes to identifying customers at risk of churn, there are a few different ways you can go about it. You can use your customer success data to identify accounts that haven’t logged in for a while or opened new tickets in the past 90 days (which could indicate an issue with support), or customers who have reduced their monthly spending by over 50% compared with previous months.
Implementing customer outreach processes - The last but not least step in the customer success process is to identify customers at risk of churn and then establish strategies for re-engaging them. This may include sending out targeted emails, setting up one-on-one calls, or even attending in-person events where you can meet with your customers face-to-face.
5. Customer renewals process
Now that you've got your plan in place, it's time to think about how to handle renewals.
The first step is to figure out what metrics need to be tracked for customer success. What are the key indicators of success? How will you measure them? This can be tricky because every company has different goals and objectives when it comes to measuring the success of its customers. It's important that everyone on your team understands why this information is important--and how it impacts their work.
- Developing strategies to increase customer retention: The renewal process is the final step in the customer success funnel. It’s a critical step because it ensures that customers who have been with you for a long time are still happy—and continue to spend money with your company. The goal of this process is to identify customers who are nearing their contract expiry dates and either renew them or upsell them on new products or services. The renewal process usually involves:
- Checking in with customers to ensure they are still happy and getting value from your product or service.
- Identifying customers who are nearing their contract expiry dates and making sure they know what’s needed to renew their contracts.
- Upselling additional products or services for those who are interested.
- Automating renewal processes: The key to automating this process is to make it as easy as possible for customers to renew their contracts. This means providing them with all the information they need, in an easy-to-understand format, at exactly the right time. To do this, you need a system that can: - Automatically identify customers who are nearing their contract expiry dates (using either your CRM or billing systems). - Provide them with information about how much longer they have left on their current contracts and what’s required to renew.
- Monitoring renewal metrics - To measure the success of your customer retention strategy, you need to establish clear and specific metrics.
These should include:
- Customer renewal rate (%): The number of customers that renew their contracts on time each month (or any other periodicity you’ve agreed on).
- Expected Revenue Renewal rate ($): The revenue you expect from each customer after renewal. This is what I use for forecasting renewals for the next quarter as well, for example. It’s a useful metric because I get to wonder which accounts are definitely going to renew and which I sense are not a closed deal. Then, I double down in team efforts on the latter.
- Actual revenue renewal rate: Did the customer upgrade or downgrade
- Churn rate & churned MRR during the specified period
- Customer retention costs: how much money you’ve spent on customer retention efforts over a specified period. Be it working hours, subscription tools you used to cater to their needs, engineering effort and so on. It depends on what you offer but you get the gist!
6. Customer success quarterly review
The customer success quarterly review process is a quarterly meeting between your team and your customers. This meeting allows you to analyze customer data, identify areas for improvement, and implement strategies for growth.
The customer success quarterly review process is broken down into 3 phases:
- The discovery phase: This is where you hold a renewal meeting with the customer to present them with your findings and ideas, with the ultimate goal being to get their commitment for the next billing cycle. It allows you to highlight what worked well so far and identify areas of optimization. This process is essential to the success of your customer relationship. It helps you understand exactly how well your team is meeting their needs and provides an opportunity for both sides to evaluate progress together. Customer success managers should regularly review their customers' performance metrics, such as revenue growth and ROI to ensure that they are on track with their goals.
- In the planning phase: This is where you put all your knowledge into actionable steps. Depending on the product/service, you can draft a strategic plan towards the updated goals you’ve outlined with the customer in the renewal meeting.
- The implementation phase: where your team implements the strategies they developed during the planning phase. In this phase, you can put your ideas into action and make sure that everything is working as intended. Then reassess and re-adjust, if needed.
The customer success quarterly review process is a great way to build your customer relationship and ensure you’re providing the best service possible.
A customer success plan is not just a manual, it's a living document that provides clarity to your team on how to proceed with customers. A well-defined and thoughtful customer success plan will help improve customer relationships and build a strong brand.
So, don’t forget to frequently revisit your customer success plan. CS retro sessions are an opportunity for your CS team to look back at what was accomplished in the previous quarter, discuss progress made toward goals (and how to improve), review feedback from customers and stakeholders (and how you'll use it), then set out new initiatives for the upcoming months based on all this information while keeping an eye on longer-term objectives like increasing sales or growing market share.
The key takeaway from all this is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to building relationships -- they take time, effort, and dedication from both sides.
You can download the free customer success plan template from here. Check it out and let me know if you have any suggestions!