Guide to Customer Success: Definition, Value, and More

Guide to Customer Success: Definition, Value, and More

Customer success equals business success. Implement these strategies to see the benefits.

Customer success may seem like something reserved for big businesses—a department and a luxury meant for mega-corporations that actually have departments and can afford luxuries. 

But, investing in customer success at an early stage can help your company get ahead and lay a solid foundation that’s crucial for long-term success. Establishing a game plan to prioritize and implement it will set the stage for future wins. 

These data points reveal a more specific breakdown: Highly engaged customers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per transaction, and have 3 times the annual value compared to other customers.

A highly engaged customer refers to one who regularly interacts with your team. They read your emails, follow you on social media, and have a relationship with customer success (whether through individual correspondence or more general blog posts and knowledge base articles).

Improving customer success leads to higher engagement, which leads to more dollars spent. In this guide, we’ll break down the definition, importance, and strategies for customer success that growing e-commerce stores can start to implement today.

What is customer success?

Customer success is a method of serving customers that enables them to get the most value from your product or service for their own benefit.

The goal of customer success is three-fold:

  • To increase revenue (of course),
  • To improve customer retention, and
  • To inspire customer loyalty and referrals. 

The definition is simpler than you might think. Truth be told, you can work on customer success with a small team or with no specific team at all. Customer success is closely connected to the other “customer” teams—like service and support. Ultimately, the goals of each different team align and some best practices will even transcend teams. 

How does customer success differ from customer support and customer service?

The difference between customer success, customer support, and customer service lies in two distinct areas of thought: Language and connotation vs. actual job responsibilities.  

First, looking solely at the lingo:

  • Customer service refers to a dated understanding of the department dealing with customer complaints and technical issues. 
  • Customer support refers to a more holistic approach to incorporating customer experience into your overall business strategy. 
  • Customer success signifies a more robust approach to retention, placing the importance on building strong, mutually beneficial relationships between customers and your business. 

Second, breaking it down by tasks and responsibilities: 

  • Customer service defines the reactionary response to customer requests and issues. 
  • Customer support covers the proactive territory of educating, onboarding, and retaining customers.
  • Customer success ties team goals to customer wins, directly tracking and improving long-term customer metrics.    

Early-stage e-commerce businesses will most benefit from setting up a robust customer team that plans to cover all these bases. If you can establish a tight relationship with other departments like marketing or product, it’ll make the task much easier.  

Customer support is (usually) a one-time, short-term effort per customer. Customer success dives much more deeply into the relationship your customers have with your product or service.

If you’re a small business, you don’t need a designated customer success specialist (yet). Just make sure your support person or team is aware of the importance of customer success as a separate function with its own goals and is working towards implementing it.

A quick note on a common misconception:

Customer success is often positioned against customer service, support, or experience. In the worst accounts, it’s touted as “better than.” In others, it’s still defined by how it differs from those fields.

I want to make it very clear that in practice (at least in successful practice) customer success is blended into customer service, support, and experience. Especially at startups or small businesses. These terms are just terms. The practice of any one relies on and includes the others.

Now, why do I need to explain this? Because in my experience, business owners often think their customer support team can’t take on customer success tasks. They think they need to wait to hire a dedicated team before implementing any success strategies. And it’s all because these terms are defined in such opposition.

When you understand that your support rep can take on success tasks, and your support manager can drive customer success metrics, you can move forward without feeling like you’re doing it “the wrong way.”

I’ve done customer support, customer experience, customer advocacy… Regardless of my title, customer success strategies were on my plate. As they should be.

Now that my bone is picked, hopefully you feel capable of trying some customer success strategies even if it’s not in your job title.

How does customer success provide value for a business?

Customer success inches you closer to that “wow” moment to differentiate you from your competitors. It minimizes customer effort, informs them of new value propositions, and increases satisfaction. 

All this leads to less churn, more repeat purchases, and referrals. In other words: More money. 

Check out this research from HubSpot about the connection between customer success and company revenue:

Basically, growing companies are 21% more likely than their stagnant counterparts to say that making the company’s customers successful is “very important.” You should definitely consider customer success management part of your strategy as you go forward.

4 customer success metrics to measure value

The metrics we use to track customer success are the same metrics we use to track overall business health.

The correlation between customer success and business growth is clear, but it’s not in a vacuum. When everything comes together—customer success, support, product, marketing, sales—they’ll all tip the scales to improve the following.

1. Churn

Customer churn describes the drop-off in engagement with a customer, whether they no longer actively use or purchase a product or formally end a service agreement or subscription.

High churn rates signify low levels of customer satisfaction and decreased business growth.

2. Retention 

Customer retention describes the ability of a company to maintain its current customer base after their initial acquisition.

High retention rates indicate customer desire to continue using or purchasing a product or service, which leads to repeat purchases, increased revenue, and steady business growth.

3. NPS 

NPS (Net Promoter Score) measures a customer’s desire to recommend a product or service. An NPS Survey generates the numerical value associated with this score by subtracting the percent of detractors from the percent of promoters for a given time period.

  • Promoters: Customers who selected 9 or 10 on their NPS survey.
  • Passives: Customers who selected 7 or 8 on their NPS survey.
  • Detractors: Customers who selected 0-6 on their NPS survey.

NPS is measured on a -100 to +100 scale:

  • -100-0 = Bad NPS
  • 0-50 = Good NPS
  • 50-70 = Excellent NPS
  • 70-100 = World-class NPS

4. Average resolution time 

Average Resolution Time measures the amount of time elapsed from when a customer support agent first opens a customer’s email to when they send out a final reply signifying the resolution of the query.

Help desk platforms track the exact time spent on each ticket then aggregate to provide an average resolution time.

The more effort put into customer success strategies, the easier it will be for customer support to resolve tickets.

Customer success ensures that each customer has access to proactive resources, lowering the average resolution time within the inbox. 

Customer success strategies for e-commerce stores

The best customer success strategies for e-commerce entrepreneurs rely on low effort, high reward tactics. You want to find strategies that scale. As your business grows and expands its offerings, your customers should always be able to rely on your team to provide personal assistance at scale. 

Here are seven customer success strategies specifically designed to boost e-commerce sales. 

1. Follow up with potential customers from your blog 

Blogs bring in tons of potential customers and sales leads with minimal effort relative to the result. Keeping a blog on your website is a great way to garner SEO power as well. 

One customer success tip is to include a prompt encouraging readers to provide their email addresses on each post so you can follow up with them.

Let your customer success team take the reins from here. You can use email marketing software to automatically send a message with a welcome discount or coupon code to encourage purchases. 

2. Check in with customers as they hit benchmarks

Once customers are in the door—whether they’ve purchased something or signed up for a newsletter—your customer success manager (CSM) and team can focus on relationship building.

Set up benchmarks to foster a personal connection throughout the buying journey. 

You know your customer journey better than anyone. Use these assumptions to anticipate your customers’ needs and improve their success with your product.

3. Educate customers on similar products 

Customer education is at the heart of customer success. Present similar options to your customers to let them know about the differences and similarities between offerings. This will ultimately help them make an informed decision. 

When customers have more information, they can feel more confident about their purchase. This leads to higher customer satisfaction and more likely repeat purchases. 

4. Touch base with customers as you add new products

Adding new products is a great reason to touch base with customers. You can encourage repeat purchases while fostering brand awareness. 

Customer success can create a campaign using new offerings as a talking point. Pop into your customers’ inbox with some valuable information to foster the relationship and encourage retention.

5. Upsell and cross-sell

The more obvious goal of many customer success strategies is upselling or cross-selling. In the best-case scenario, you want to encourage happy customers to become even happier by upgrading or adding additional products to their shopping bag.

Identify instances where upselling will benefit both the customer and the business. That’s really the whole point of customer success. 

6. Offer new perks to previous customers

A particularly effective customer success strategy informs customers that you’re constantly innovating for them. Whether by adding new perks or truly listening to their feedback.

For example, Bombas offers an incentive for referring a friend where both of you benefit. Your friend gets a discount and you get credit to the store. 

Ultimately, the biggest beneficiary is your company. You get a repeat purchase and a new customer out of this one promotion. 

7. Provide extra assistance for cart abandonment

Make sure your e-commerce site tracks cart abandonment. This will help you target marketing for those who need a little extra push. 

Set up an email marketing campaign to remind customers of the items they almost bought. 

Reaching out via email is a great way to introduce your customer success team and provide answers to any lingering questions. This extra push may be all that’s needed to make the sale. 

Hiring for customer success

Hiring is hard for any position, and customer success is no exception. There are the usual hiring strategies you see recommended everywhere (look at results over qualifications, give people a test project, etc.). But here are three things to keep in mind when hiring specifically for customer success roles.

1. Ask interview questions for culture fit

The standard advice of “hire for culture fit” is extra important for customer success team members. As the voice of your company, the tone and personality of their interactions with customers will be crucial for customer retention and happiness.

Give a special focus to culture fit during your interviewing process through unique interview questions. Josh Tolan, CEO of video solution Spark Hire, uses these five questions when evaluating a candidate for culture fit:

  1. In what type of work environment are you most productive and happy?
  2. How would past coworkers best describe your work style?
  3. What management style motivates you to do your best work?
  4. When working with a team, what role are you most likely to play?
  5. What were the positive/negative aspects of your previous job and work environment?

Modify those questions to fit your company and your situation. But don’t hire someone if they’re not a good fit for your organization, even if their resume is stellar otherwise.

2. Prioritize writing skills

Writing is critical in customer success since the majority of interactions are done by email or chat. Basecamp founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier, drive this point home in their book on remote work cultures: Remote: Office Not Required.

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.”

If a candidate’s communication with you isn’t clear, effective, and easy to understand, it won’t be for customers either.

3. Look for people who are customer-centric

No matter their background, look for people who are very customer-centric. They’ll be the ones who bring fresh, creative approaches to customer problems, especially those sticky ones you don’t see coming. 

One of my favorite stories about hiring for customer centricity is from a Harvard Business Review interview with Patty McCord, Netflix’s former Chief Talent Officer.

“When we started opening up the service to people to build applications, to build their own apps to use Netflix, there was a guy in Arizona who wrote this really cool app that we all really loved … So, I’m like, ‘Well let’s go find him.’”

The developer they were seeking wasn’t even employed as a developer at the time. He was working in a bank. But they found him and flew him to Netflix’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

“So, he’s a really fresh perspective on what to do that’s not just technical. He very much is customer-centric. So, we interview him all day long, and at the end of the day, he says to me, Are you going to hire me to do what I love to do? And I said, Yes, we are.”

Hiring people who are lovers of your brand or category already is not an act of ego, rather it’s a smart business decision. When your employees love your product, your customers will too. 

Job boards to find qualified candidates

Once you have an idea of who you’re looking for, find them using one of these trusty job boards. They both have specific sections for customer success roles. 

  • WeWorkRemotely: The largest remote work community in the world. They have a dedicated section for customer support. The cost is $299 for a 30-day listing.
  • Support Driven: A job board specifically for a community of customer professionals. Most applicants here will already have experience working with customers online. A standard job post is $150 for a 30-day listing.

Customer success tools

A good customer success team becomes great with the right tool stack. For small businesses, you want tools that allow you to stay agile and keep interactions personal. Nothing too bulky or complicated. In fact, the best customer success tools should keep your team lean by covering tedious tasks you’d otherwise need to hire entry-level employees to do. 

Here are three customer success tools to help your team prioritize customer relationships and automate tasks. We’ll break down what each tool does and how to use it for customer success.  

1. Groove for customer insights

Using a tool like Groove for customer support allows you to communicate with customers and organize inquiries as they arrive. 

Beyond the core functionality as a shared inbox, a reporting dashboard tracks key customer success metrics like CSAT and reply time. You can even track trending topics using tag insights to turn qualitative insights into quantitative reports. 

This data enables you to prioritize product requests and track feedback to keep customers happy. Use objective insights like these to support all your business decisions.

2. ConvertKit for marketing and retention emails

ConvertKit makes it really easy to separate recurring, automated emails from one-off broadcasts in the dashboard. You can even create landing pages and forms from the platform. 

For customer success, you can set up ConvertKit email campaigns to automatically welcome new customers, provide guidance for your product, or send cart abandonment emails. 

By separating audience segments based on user or product type, your team can tailor product education as appropriate. Plus, ConvertKit enables you to engage with high-risk customers as soon as possible to prevent churn.  

3. Calendly for scheduling customer chats

What’s one of the best (and easiest) ways to ensure customer success? Talk to your customers. Often. 

Use Calendly to allow customers to easily put time on your calendar for a chat. 

Calendly removes all the usual back-and-forth associated with scheduling. Plus, you can set up confirmations and reminders to include meeting links, reference docs, or phone numbers. 

The greatest customer success insights come from talking directly to users, asking follow-ups during the conversation, and picking their brains in an informal setting. 

Tips for customer success success

We covered a lot in this guide to customer success. Here’s a quick recap: 

First, understand what customer success is (and isn’t) to fully implement it at your company. Understand that you can still focus on customer success even without a designated customer success team. 

Second, track the value of customer success by measuring key metrics like:

  • Churn
  • Retention
  • NPS
  • Average Resolution Time 

Next, build customer success strategies that are low-effort, high-reward, and scalable. Email marketing, blogs, product education resources, and upselling are all great options. 

When you’re ready to hire for customer success, focus on the most important qualities:

  • Culture fit
  • Writing skills
  • Customer-centric mentality 

And finally, when choosing the best customer success software, use these guiding principles to drive your search: 

  • Simplicity: Software should be easy to understand and able to adapt to your needs with minimal effort. 
  • Cost-effective: Weigh the price of purchase against the amount of money saved in employee time and customer retention. 
  • Speed: If it takes too long to set up or doesn’t immediately integrate into your workflow, move on to the next option.  

The right toolkit is the secret to successfully scaling a growing business. Stay lean by bringing on tried-and-tested software before hiring new employees. Rely on these customer success platforms to stay ahead of customer issues, monitor happiness, and educate with ease.

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