The Ultimate Guide to

Customer Success in SaaS

The Essential Handbook for Building the Modern Customer Success Program.

Why you should

Read This Guide

The SaaS business model, which runs on recurring revenue, needs Customer Success to survive. As such, people are looking for answers on how to nail their Customer Success initiatives. Whether you’re finding yourself asking “what is Customer Success?” or you’re a seasoned CS practitioner, this resource is for you. Continue reading on to access the chapters below.

WHO IS THIS CUSTOMER SUCCESS GUIDE FOR?

At ChurnZero, when we set out to create this guide to Customer Success, we wanted to help SaaS businesses that were looking to get started in Customer Success. We asked ourselves: “If we were brand new to Customer Success or standing up our first team, what would be absolutely essential to know? What do we know now that we wish we knew in those early days?”

As our team pondered these answers, which would later form the outline of this guide, it became clear that what we were building wasn’t just for novices, but seasoned practitioners alike.

Because no matter where you are in your Customer Success maturity – whether you’re starting from ground zero or looking to scale an already successful team – you cannot underestimate the importance of knowing the basics.

Getting the fundamentals right increases your capacity for sustainable growth and readiness to capitalize on opportunities for expansion. It allows you to take more calculated risks and ignore the “best practice” advice when it doesn’t serve you in a particular situation – instead of contorting yourself to conform to ill-fitting templates and rules.

The goal of this guide is lay the groundwork needed for you to have a clear-cut, solid understanding of the what, the how, and the why of Customer Success. After reading this guide, you should feel
confident in your knowledge of Customer Success fundamentals and comfortable launching and running a team of your own.

In this guide, we distill down the vast learnings, expertise, and experience that our team of Customer Success executives and professionals have amassed over a decade of working in various roles in the industry. As a Customer Success software vendor, we have the distinct opportunity to talk with hundreds of Customer Success teams of all shapes and sizes day in and day out. Our insight into the inner workings of a diverse range of Customer Success functions, combined with our own experience managing a high-performing Customer Success organization, gives us a comprehensive view into the DNA of exceptional Customer Success teams and what it takes to become one.

The Ultimate Guide to Customer Success in SaaS

Table of Contents

    CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CUSTOMER SUCCESS?

    Most definitions of Customer Success try to capture the sentiment of helping customers get value from your product, reach their goals, and find success. Which is correct but leaves much to be desired in way of understanding and application.

    Because Customer Success rhetoric draws from overused business words like “value,” “goals,” “outcomes,” and “success,” definitions of the practice make most of us none the wiser and left wondering: but what does that really mean?

    As a newer organizational function, people unfamiliar with Customer Success often try to compare it to other well-known functions they do understand, such as Customer Support or Sales. This is reasonable given that we all need a frame of reference to build context from when trying to understand new concepts. And while likening the functions can serve as a helpful point of orientation…

      CHAPTER 2: CUSTOMER SUCCESS EVERYWHERE: AN ORGANIZATIONAL PHILOSOPHY?

      At ChurnZero, we subscribe to a “Customer Success Everywhere” philosophy. As you may have surmised, this means we believe that Customer Success should be embedded everywhere within an organization. It’s a bold statement, yes – and we acknowledge that it sounds a tad self-serving – but we think you’ll become a believer once you hear us out.

      It’s success for your Customer Success team.

      Without a way to track their customers’ usage, journey, and health, Customer Success teams are forced to live in a perpetual state of the unknown. Actions, decisions, and renewal forecasts are ruled by gut feels and best guesses: What are the odds that my customer renews? What does my customer need right now? When’s the right time to reach out? Where’s my customer struggling most in their adoption?

        CHAPTER 3: CUSTOMER SUCCESS RESPONSIBILITIES

         

        In this chapter, we’ll cover the main responsibility areas of Customer Success including:

        • Customer Success Operations
        • Customer Onboarding
        • Product Adoption
        • Business Relationship Management
        • Customer Renewals
        • Customer Expansion
        • Customer Advocacy

        For each responsibility area, we discuss its value and why it matters, objectives, and common pitfalls.

          CHAPTER 4: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUSTOMER SUCCESS, CUSTOMER SUPPORT, ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT, AND PROFESSIONAL SERVICES?

          Customer Success is an emerging field, so it’s understandable that there’s some confusion around how it differs from the longer-standing functions of Customer Support, Account Management, and Professional Services.

          To add another layer of complexity, Customer Success roles come in all shapes and sizes. There are Customer Success Associates, Customer Managers, Directors, and so on. The exact responsibilities of a Customer Success professional will vary by company and departmental synergies.

          But regardless of their differences, Customer Success professionals have one common mission: to ensure customers achieve their outcomes with the solution they purchased. Now, let’s dig a bit deeper to understand how Customer Success is unique from its customer-facing counterparts…

            CHAPTER 5: WHY IS CUSTOMER SUCCESS IMPORTANT TO SAAS?

            The SaaS business model, which runs on recurring revenue, needs Customer Success to survive. SaaS businesses realized that pouring money into customer acquisition and marketing without investing in a Customer Success function to retain their newly acquired customers results in a leaky bucket.

            Customers purchase your product. Customers aren’t adequately onboarded or trained on your product. Customers don’t use your product to its potential. Customers aren’t held accountable to their product-related goals. Customers fail to realize value from your product. Customers can’t justify your product cost at renewal (which often masquerades as budgetary issues). Customers churn. You waste money on replacing your old customers with new ones. And the cycle continues.

            Now, considering that it’s 5-25x more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one, a SaaS business with a leaky bucket is spending exponentially more just to maintain their business. Companies can no longer take their current customers for granted because the cost of losing them is too high. Recouping your customer acquisition costs eats up 12 to 24 months of subscription revenue…

              CHAPTER 6: CUSTOMER SUCCESS STRATEGY

               

              In this chapter, we dive into the strategy areas that help Customer Success organizations achieve their goals, make key decisions, allocate resources, reduce customer churn, expand accounts, and exceed customer expectations. The strategy areas we’ll cover include:

              • Ideal Customer Profile and Customer Fit
              • Customer Segmentation
              • Customer Goal Setting
              • Customer Journeys
              • Renewal and Expansion
              • Compensation Plans
              • Establishing Organizational Alignment
              • Performance Metrics

                CHAPTER 7: WHAT DOES A MATURE CUSTOMER SUCCESS ORGANIZATION LOOK LIKE?

                What your Customer Success team looks like will largely depend on your organization’s size, solution complexity, and go-to-market strategy. If you’re standing up a Customer Success function for the first time, you may only have one or a handful of CSMs who do it all. Whereas, if you’re a fast-growing team, you’re likely ready to bring on more specialized roles such as operations and onboarding to drive greater productivity and efficiency.

                Now, this section won’t delve into the specifics of workforce planning due to the many organizational nuances at play. What we will cover is the basic structure of a Customer Success team so you can understand the types of roles and skill sets needed to maintain high performance as your team grows…

                  CHAPTER 8: DOES CUSTOMER SUCCESS NEED ITS OWN TOOL?

                   

                  If Customer Success wants to operate with the level of sophistication, precision, and consistency of that of their Sales and Marketing peers, then they, too, need to invest in tools that were purpose-built for them. You’d never expect a Sales team to get by without a CRM – or a Marketing team to make do without a marketing automation or email platform.

                  Renewal forecasting. Business review scheduling. Usage tracking. Journey mapping. Health scoring. Expansion selling. All these tasks and activities require a deliberate and exacting focus that’s not achievable without having a degree of automation and a single source of truth for customer data.

                  Working out of spreadsheets and other team’s legacy systems puts Customer Success at an inherent disadvantage. Scalability will always be out of reach. Repetitive processes will dictate productivity and performance…

                    CHAPTER 9: HOW TO GET STARTED WITH CUSTOMER SUCCESS

                     

                    If you take away one piece of advice from this Customer Success guide, let it be this: the single most important thing you need to do to get started with Customer Success is to do just that: start.

                    Customer Success is still a new field. Strategies are still being tested. Best practices are still being formed. If you wait around for someone else to write the supposed “be-all, endall” owner’s manual on Customer Success, then you’ll never start, because that manual will never fully exist. It’s up to you to write your own while taking inspiration and guidance from others along the way – and become the Customer Success champion that we know you are.

                    Because the downfall of most Customer Success programs isn’t from choosing the wrong KPIs or team structure, but rather, from believing you must have everything perfectly in place to begin…

                    Ready to Read More?

                    The Ultimate Guide to Customer Success in SaaS is a great resource to bookmark and continue to reference as your customer success organization matures.