A customer success strategy is all about helping customers achieve their goals. It’s built on the idea that, when your customers win, you win too.
The idea of customer success rose to prominence in the Software-as-a-Service world, where customer retention and renewals are the bread and butter of profitability. It has since expanded to include other industries, from retail to healthcare.
Basically: if you have customers, you should think about implementing a customer success strategy.
Unlike customer experience and customer service, customer success focuses on the key goals your customer wants to achieve with you. Your job is to make those goals happen using your products or services, as quickly as possible, to their maximum effect.
So let’s break down some customer success strategies you can use to make that happen.
But first… what is a customer success strategy?
Customer Success means helping your customers get what they need from their purchase. It’s about making sure customers are happy with the value they get from you. A customer success strategy outlines the actions you’ll take to keep customers moving toward their goals throughout their relationship with you.
It can include elements like onboarding, proactive engagement, education and training, success metrics, retention and churn management, customer feedback and communication, team and technology, and continuous improvement.
It’s an ongoing effort, too. Early on, customer success can help you engage potential clients and pitch your product or service. Once they buy, you can focus on getting them up to speed so they see the immediate value of what you offer. And over their time with you, you’ll build a deeper relationship that results in renewals, increased sales, and perhaps even referrals!
Customer success comes to life when your entire organization is on board with your strategy – which means it’ll likely need buy-in and commitment from a wide range of departments. That could include everyone from marketing and sales to finance and product development.
Finally, a customer success strategy is a living, breathing initiative. It’s a good idea to revisit it now and then based on the feedback you receive from within your organization and from your customers at large.
Why do you need a customer success strategy?
Ultimately, customer success strategies serve two organizational goals: increasing revenue gained through customer retention, and reducing costs associated with customer churn and acquisition. Both are critical to the health of your business.
Let’s dig into the key benefits a little deeper.
- Higher retention: When customers succeed in their goals thanks to the products or services you offer, they have good reason to keep using you in the future.
- Greater revenue: As Gerard Recio, Director of Customer Success – Commercial at Hootsuite puts it, “a 5% increase in retention can grow profit by 75%. That translates to hundreds of millions of dollars in considerable revenue over a 3-5-year time frame.”
- Opportunity: Factor in the revenue potential you gain from cross-sells and upsells the longer a customer stays with you, as they grow their own business.
- Saving on acquisition: Retaining a customer costs five times less than acquiring a new one – meaning you get greater ROI the longer you keep those customers around.
- Reducing customer churn: Customer success can make the difference between losing a customer (and then needing to acquire a new one to take their place) and winning back their business.
- Competitive advantage: In a world of high customer expectations and ever-crowded marketplaces, customer success strategies can help you stand out from other players in your industry.
Customer success strategy frameworks
Typically, a customer success strategy maps to your customer journey. At every stage, you define what actions, touchpoints, feelings, and solutions you want them to experience.
If you’re just beginning, don’t worry! Consider starting your customer success strategy with the Awareness → Education → Acquisition → Onboarding → Support → Value realization → Loyalty → Expansion framework from Hubspot and Precision Marketing Group:
- Awareness: First impressions matter! This is your chance to nurture prospective customers and qualify whether you’re a good fit for each other.
- Education: Establish your credibility and trustworthiness by giving potential customers a place to learn more about their pain points and opportunities.
- Acquisition: Make sure your customers get the best experience with your product or service by setting mutual expectations and defining mutual goals.
- Onboarding: Show customers how to get the most value out of your offering, and reduce ramp-up time to success as much as possible, straight off the bat.
- Support: Remove roadblocks quickly and efficiently when customers (inevitably) get stuck or have questions about your product or service.
- Value realization: Solidify that “aha!” moment when customers realize they can’t live without you – and keep it going throughout their time with you.
- Loyalty: Deepen your relationship as customers become advocates and evangelists who are ready and willing to tout the benefits of your brand to others.
- Expansion: Help customers hit their growing goals (and increase their lifetime value) with cross-sells, upsells, increases in sales volume, etc.
In the end, your framework should help you fill in the blanks: “Our customer success strategy helps our company accomplish _____ by helping our customer achieve ______ while creating an experience that is _______.”
Customer success strategy ideas you can use
When it comes to customer success, no two companies are alike. That means the specific strategies you choose for your organization will depend on your industry, the folks you serve, and the things you sell.
No two customers are alike, either. Which are most likely to convert? Which are most likely to stay around for the long haul? Which are most likely to upgrade with you? Which are most likely to sing your praises to anyone who’ll listen? Those are the ones you’ll want to segment and target with the customer success strategies you choose.
In a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all world, here are 11 ideas you can start with (and make your own!)
1. Start a product or service education program
How can your customers find success with your product or service if they don’t know how to use it? Customer education aims to teach people more about your offerings on three main fronts:
- Presale: Help potential customers realize they need what you offer. This is your chance to entrench yourself as a credible and trustworthy teacher to people who are learning about you for the first time. People who engage with your customer education materials at the beginning of their journey may make better leads for conversion down the funnel.
- Adoption: Teach new customers how to get up and running fast, so they see value fast, too. This might mean guiding them through the most-loved features, or providing personalized support and recommendations based on their individual needs. At the same time, you’re also building a beautiful relationship with them!
- Ongoing: Show existing customers how to go deeper into your product or service, with advanced knowledge that unlocks even more potential. Keep them up-to-date with any new features or product changes, too!
Customer education can take many forms, including blog articles, how-to videos, knowledge bases, and (our favorite) online courses.
Online courses in particular are highly scalable. You can answer those big questions and guide customers through their goals on a many-to-one basis, without draining your time or resources. We also love them because they’re engaging, with different lesson types, quizzes, and communities – and engaged learners stick around!
2. Guide customers through your onboarding process
Guided onboarding focuses on the get-up-and-running portion of your customer’s journey.
Your goal with guided onboarding is to arm customers with the information they need to feel confident in two ways:
- They know how to get started
- They realize value immediately
The sooner you can get customers up to speed, the less likely that dreaded buyer’s remorse will kick in. That’s why it’s impotent to put your best foot forward and answer the most commonly asked questions. Be as proactive as possible with the resources and training they’ll need.
Guided onboarding is more involved than handing over an Ikea manual and saying “get to work” – hence the word, “guided.” Some examples include:
- Online learning resources, such as articles and knowledge bases (We use this approach ourselves, on the Thinkific Blog).
- One-on-one sessions where you show them the features that will help customers the most.
- Regularly scheduled webinars where customers walk through the basics with larger groups.
- Online courses and academies where customers can self-serve their learning, targeted to areas that interest them the most and meet their specific goals.
Want to see guided onboarding in action? Look no further than Later, a social media management platform that combines scheduling with marketing and analytics. Before discovering Thinkific, they ran webinars to onboard new customers but found it to be a huge drain on time and resources. After launching the course to more than 13,000 students (and counting!) they saw a 320% increase in retention, a 467% increase in adoption of features, and a 368% increase in purchasing paid plans.
Hootsuite uses guided product onboarding, too! Hootsuite’s online Academy has played an important role in customer success, turning customers into brand advocates. Since replacing in-person training and webinars with Thinkific Plus, Hootsuite has trained more than 450,000 students and certified 72,000 people on their platform.
3. Communicate often (and communicate well)
When it comes to customer success, it’s all about ABC – Always Be Communicating. From first “hello!” to latest update, you should have a plan to keep in touch on the regular. That could mean sharing helpful tips or checking in for potential issues before they emerge.
Successful relationships of any kind hinge on good communication between all parties. In business, it can help you build deeper connections with customers, keep them engaged, and remind them of your value.
Communication can involve anything from automated emails to personalized one-on-one calls from a customer success representative. There’s a lot you could include in a communication plan, but no matter what approaches you choose, we recommend considering:
- A welcome message that offers clear instructions and next steps to help new customers get started
- Follow-ups at regular intervals to check in on how customers are doing and ask if they have any questions or needs
- Targeted touchpoints that trigger at certain time intervals or when customers show certain behaviors (for example, if they haven’t logged into their account in the past week, or if usage drops below a threshold)
- Marketing messages to promote added features, options, tips, and recommendations that customers might find helpful
4. Ask customers for feedback
While your customers are learning from you, you can learn from your customers! And there’s a lot to learn when you ask them for feedback directly (for example, sending out satisfaction surveys) or collect feedback indirectly (tracking usage and customer behavior).
- Happy customers can tell you which features make the biggest difference in their day-to-day lives, so you can focus your efforts on the features and components that drive the most value for them. The more they love, the more likely they’ll be to stick around.
- Believe it or not, unhappy customers are just as valuable. They can help you identify gaps in service that you didn’t see yourself. The more you know about your could-be-betters, the better you’ll be able to serve the next customer. (And by reaching out for feedback and implementing their suggestions, you might win those unhappy customers over!)
- There are even lessons in the ones who got away – potential customers who never converted in the first place. If you know what changed their mind, or swayed them away from you, you can learn how to prevent others from leaving.
What customers say is one thing… but what they do is another! Trends in customer behaviors can tell you if there are places in their journey where they engage enthusiastically or lose interest. Tracking these metrics can also help you determine if changes are effective.
5. Build your dream customer success team
Who actually delivers on your customer success strategy? More and more companies are turning to Customer Success teams to make the magic happen.
In fact, we’re one of them! Our Customer Success Team is built of incredibly smart and experienced people dedicated to helping our customers hit their goals. We work with our customers through three main phases:
- Implementation and launch: Our dedicated Launch Specialists walk you through platform migration, implementation, and launch for your online academy. They assess your goals and match you with the best strategies to bring them to life.
- Growth and strategy: Our Customer Success Managers are dedicated resources who serve as trusted strategic advisors and coaches to support and accelerate your growth as you achieve your timelines and milestones.
- Ongoing priority support: Our technical support reps are masters at handling urgent questions or troubleshooting issues that pop up along the way.
As for the team you build, that’ll depend on the size of your business, the resources at your disposal, and the needs of your specific customers. It might include roles such as customer success reps, onboarding or implementation reps, training reps, upsell or cross-sell reps, and account managers.
6. Offer top-tier customer support
Nope, customer support isn’t the same thing as customer success – though support is an important part before, during, and after purchase!
While customer success is all about being proactive with customer issues (hopefully solving them before they become issues at all), customer support is the reactive part of the equation when issues inevitably arise.
More than call centers and IT specialists (though they’re important!) customer support includes a wide variety of helpful resources, including:
- Knowledge bases and self-serve portals where customers can search for their problem and find relevant content to help them solve it.
- Chatbots that can answer questions, guide customers through solutions to basic or common issues, and escalate tricky cases to a knowledgeable human agent.
- Online learning that teaches customers the specifics about their favorite features and how to use them to their greatest advantage.
In most cases, customers prefer solving problems themselves. For you, that means that you should provide them with the right support content when and where they’re looking for it. But when they do need to contact a live agent (and let’s face it, some people simply prefer reaching out to another human), it’s important to solve as many issues as you can on the first call.
7. Encourage customer loyalty
Happy customers are customers who consistently hit their goals. And customers who hit their goals are customers who stick around. In other words, they’re loyal.
Loyal customers tend to buy more products from brands they like, spend more per purchase, refer other likely customers, share their positive experiences via reviews and testimonials… and even forgive you when hiccups happen.
Building loyalty can be as simple as sending a heartfelt “thank you.” Depending on your business, it could also include:
- Loyalty programs that reward customers with upgrades or discounts when they’ve reached certain tiers of tenure or spending
- Point programs that motivate customers to engage with your product or service on a regular basis or in new ways
- Communities that allow customers to make meaningful connections with each other, turning your brand into a place where they find belonging.
- Transparency and honesty in how you communicate with and treat your customers.
8. Expand and extend new offerings
Renewals are great – they keep the revenue coming in at the same level, month after month (or quarter after quarter, or year after year). And high renewal rates signal that customers are indeed finding some success with your product or service. After all, if they weren’t, they’d jump ship to a competitor!
But what if you have more to offer, that would help your customers achieve higher goals? Or achieve their existing goals more effectively? That’s where expansion offers come in.
Typically, you can think of expansion offers in two categories:
- Upsells: Offering customers a higher-end version of the product or service they currently use. (For example, supersizing a regular order of fries.)
- Cross-sells: Offering customers a different – but complementary – product or service that can help. (For example, adding a dipping sauce on the side.)
Expansion offers can help customers discover how to make success easier with your product or service. By the time you encourage them to upgrade or make additional purchases, however, they should a) already see value in your offering, and b) have a genuine need for what you offer. So keep an eye out for those green flags in your metrics, communications, and feedback that signal opportunities for expansion!
9. Keep tabs on customer churn
Much of customer success focuses on the people who stick around – but what about the customers who leave? Your customer churn rate can tell you a great deal about what didn’t go as planned… and why.
Customer churn rate describes the number of customers who left your company within a certain period. For example, if you started the month with 100 customers, and ended the month with 90, your churn rate is 10%. (It can get more complicated than that, but this serves well enough as an overview.)
By tracking the customers who drop out from your product or service, you can start to answer deeper questions, including:
- Which customers are most likely to leave? By paying attention to different segments of your customer base that trickle out, you can better hone your leads or position your offering earlier on in your conversion funnel.
- At what stage are customers most likely to leave? You may see common trends emerge when customers hit certain milestones in their journey with you. Knowing what those milestones are can help you focus on improving the experience at key stages.
- At what age are customers most likely to leave? If you see a drop-off happen over and over again after a certain amount of time, it could be a sign that customers aren’t feeling supported, or aren’t seeing value quickly enough.
10. Launch referral, affiliate, and partner programs
Successful customers may find your product or service is more than remarkable; it’s also remark-able. In other words, it’s worth talking about within their own networks. Word-of-mouth marketing is a double-win: it helps build your customer’s brand (as they recommend helpful products and services like yours) and your own brand (as you reach audiences that align with your best customers).
Great relationships with your customers are great in and of themselves, but they can broaden the potential market and revenue for both parties! That’s why referral, affiliate and partner programs make our list of great customer success strategies.
- Referral programs leverage existing trusted relationships with people who have used your product or service. That can include existing customers or people and businesses you work with.
- Affiliate programs target well-followed influencers and thought leaders in your sphere who can help you spread the word. These people may not have deeply personal relationships with their audience, but they have the power to reach more potential customers than you would on your own.
- Partner programs can include sponsoring, co-creating, or co-branding with another organization or person. For example, if you tackle pain point A, you may partner with someone who tackles related pain point B and present a united solution on both fronts!
Generally, partner programs involve some form of compensation, whether it’s a discount offered to customers who bring in good leads, or revenue sharing with a partner on a combo online course you offer.
11. Reward customers and partners with certificates
While rewards like points and discounts can play an important part in customer loyalty programs, there’s something about a certificate that motivates above and beyond!
Certificates are official, verifiable, and secure proof of course completion. By offering your customers certificates when completing your course, you help them send a message about why they rock. It helps them build trust and credibility as a professional among their audience, showcase their accomplishments, and give them something tangible they can strive for (and celebrate)!
Certificates can act as an outcome in your customer’s journey. They can entice your customers to enroll in a course in the first place, and find success upon achievement.
They can also act as a milestone if you’re offering multi-tiered or continuing learning. The more certificates your customers earn, the more they send a message about the depth of understanding and range of practice.
At Thinkific, we make certificates a breeze:
- Issue certificates with automated details like student name, completion, and expiry dates
- Create beautiful certificates that reflect your brand, logo, or custom fields
- Access certification history, edit, and reissue certificates within one platform
Graduates can easily share their certificates directly to LinkedIn – and you can certify your partners as well!
What customer success strategies will you choose?
Focusing on customer success means focusing on three Rs: retention, revenue and relationships. And no matter the business you run, you can build a strategy that fits both you and the people you serve.
But the best news yet? You don’t need a full-fledged team of experts or a massive budget to make customer success a reality! You can see big results even by starting small, with clear goals and the right tools at your fingertips.
Ready to improve customer success in your organization?
Download your free Ultimate Customer Success Guide now.