Customer Success, Part 1: Setting the Stage for Customer Success

This guest post by Francoise Tourniaire is the first in a series that takes an in-depth look into creating a successful Customer Success program. The series continues in Part 2, Creating a Scalable Customer Success Program, and Part 3, How segmentation delivers value to customers – and your business

What is Customer Success?

The idea of customer success is that appropriate nurturing yields loyal customers, which in turn yield profits. Customer success aims to:

  • Increase customer adoption, which leads to
  • Increase customer retention, which leads to
  • Reduce customer churn and
  • Increase expansion revenue

Customer success is the brainchild of SaaS vendors, but the approach and techniques can apply to all organizations.

What Does Customer Success Consist Of?

Customer success organizations provide a range of services, which can be organized in five categories:

  • Onboarding to help customers get started with the vendor’s product or service. Onboarding is more than pure training: it also helps customers navigate the setup and customization of the tool. Onboarding occurs at the beginning of the customer lifecycle, but it can continue as customer usage expands, new users are added, and existing users discover more sophisticated uses of the product or service.
  • Customer health monitoring. This includes monitoring the usage of the tool as well as ongoing communications with customers.
  • Retention. If a customer is determined to be at risk, specific initiatives may be deployed to rescue the relationship, from a simple conversation to touch base with the customer to offering additional training or adoption assistance.
  • Lead generation. Customer success organizations diligently cultivate leads from existing customers, usually passing them on to the sales team, but sometimes closing them themselves. Some customer success organizations also own the renewals of subscriptions and maintenance contracts.
  • Customer advocacy. Providing structured feedback from customers to internal teams is an important function of customer success organizations.

Are All Customer Success Organizations Alike?

No! Customer success organizations have a variety of roles. Differences are common in these four areas:

  • Whether they own the onboarding This is usually the case, sometimes through a specialized subgroup. For complex products and services that require a professional services team, onboarding may still exist in the form of encouraging users to engage with the platforms.
  • Whether they are responsible for technical support. Usually not, especially for more complex products: a separate team handles technical questions. But customer success managers are sometimes asked to provide first-level support.
  • Whether they are directly responsible for renewals. Usually, a dedicated renewals team or the sales team itself takes responsibility for renewals (assuming renewals are not automated), although the customer success organization is often measured by the renewals percentage.
  • How much selling they do. Most influence and suggest, but do not have a sales quota, so as to minimize conflicts of interest with customers and channel conflicts with the sales team.

How Do I Get Started With Customer Success?

If you are starting from scratch, the first step is to identify your main issue: do customers never start to use your products? Do they start, but then lose interest? Do they fail to renew? Fail to expand? Or do you simply not track any metrics?

Focus your initial efforts to resolving your main issue. Perhaps it’s simply starting to measure retention (or its mirror image, churn).  Or it may be putting in place a robust onboarding program so customers can get started in an orderly manner. Or analyzing the reasons why customers fail to renew.

Make sure that the initial efforts are proactive, not just aimed at preventing customer escalations. Escalation management is important, but it is a support function, not a customer success function.

In our follow-up posts, we will show you how to segment customers and how to define reusable processes for onboarding and retention.


Francoise Tourniaire is the founder of FT Works and co-founder of ChurnSquad. Both companies provide consulting, training, and coaching to create and improve customer success initiatives. Her most recent book, The Art of Support: A Blueprint for Customer Success and Support Organizations, is now available on Amazon. Contact Francoise at FT@ftworks.com or 650 559 9826 for more information.