Jun 27, 2023

Read Time 5 min

Four steps to build a digital customer success strategy from scratch


The macroeconomic environment is on nearly everyone’s mind these days. In business, particularly among customer success professionals, it conjures up one key question: how can we do more with less?

The answer is simple: you need a digital-first strategy. A digital approach is key to improving business growth metrics such as net revenue retention (NRR) and gross revenue retention (GRR).

In my view, an effective digital customer success strategy has four key steps involving:

  • Customer data
  • Customer segmentation
  • Automation
  • A customer journey map

1. Customer data collection and organization

One of the things that hamper CS organizations from building a digital strategy is concern over their data quality. They feel it’s not good or clean enough to use. That sense threatens to derail the initiative from the start.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that you’re never going to have clean data. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough. Focus on getting the most accurate data you can and take comfort knowing you will iterate and improve data quality over time.

The data you need is anything that helps you to better understand a customer’s interactions with your company and its product. Common sources of customer success data include:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) systems
  • Product support or helpdesk ticketing
  • Product usage
  • Email or calendar invitations
  • Customer chat logs
  • Engagements with finance or accounting
  • Customer surveys such as the Net Promoter Score
  • Learning management systems
  • Online customer community involvement

Once you’ve collected the data, you need to organize it. This will help you understand customer health across the journey.

I recommend organizing data into four quadrants broken out by objective and subjective data—and by internal and external data.

Sample data points to use in digital customer success

  • Objective internal: Product usage, degree of utilization, engagement with high-value features, support tickets and service level agreement (SLA) concerns.
  • Objective external: Customer communication, both in terms of quality and consistency, the state of customer champions or decision makers, status of the company, industry and economy and customer tenure.
  • Subjective internal: Results of periodic business reviews, Customer Success Manager (CSM) sentiment, engagement and responsiveness, customer fit within the ideal customer profile (ICP).
  • Subjective external: NPS, customer satisfaction scores (CSAT), customer advocacy and perceived return on investment (ROI).

It’s worth noting that organizing data is considerably easier if your company uses a unique account identifier—that is one code that uniquely identifies a customer universally across all company systems.

In terms of data accuracy, the account fields and contact fields are the most important. This is because a customer success platform will pull data from these two fields.

2. Customer segmentation

There are many sound ways to think about segmentation. Organizations in a growth phase typically start with contract value and especially the long-tail customer. Whatever you choose, I encourage you to keep it simple and remain flexible.

Flexibility is important because as your organization grows and matures it will need to scale its efforts. This affects your customer segmentation strategy. We recently underwent this exercise ourselves at ChurnZero when the CX team re-segmented our entire customer base as part of a book shift. Like us, many companies will start considering size, such as customer-company headcount, or product type.

Combinations are a good technique for customer segmentation as well. For example, you could use contract value and customer employee count and product type. One word of caution I’d offer is that if segmentation is new to your company, leave categories that require more specialized knowledge—like industry vertical, servicing needs, and use cases—until later.

You will usually have exceptions in segmentation. There is always that one account executive who sells a million-dollar deal to a four-person company. However, don’t segment your customer based on edge cases like that one. Instead, follow the 80/20 rule and manage the outliers by exception.

Finally, a digital CS strategy isn’t only for long-tail customers. It can be highly effective for all customers. For example, surprise and delight customers in onboarding by sending them a video from your CEO welcoming them. This is all but guaranteed to be well received by customers of all sizes.

Customer segmentation approaches in customer success: growth phase: contract value; scale phase: customer employee count, product type; optimize phase: industry/vertical, servicing needs, use case

3. Implement Customer Success automation

The next step in a digital-first strategy is to implement automation via a Customer Success Platform (CSP). Whether you chose a platform like ChurnZero, or another solution, I’d encourage you to avoid thinking of automation as synonymous with an email campaign.

Email is a useful vehicle, but the business world is drowning in it. There are many other channels you can use to connect with customers digitally. Some of these include in-app communication and walkthroughs, chatbots, customer communities, knowledge bases, videos, and webinars, to name a few.

4. Develop a simple customer journey map

The next step is to outline your digital customer journey. This is a visualization of what your company wants customers to think, feel and experience as they progress through their relationship with your product and services.

A best practice is to keep your customer journey map to a single page. There’s a tendency to over-engineer customer journey maps and it becomes untenable. I recommend keeping it simple—and then adding to it over time.

You’ll need to partner with other functions in your organization to put a digital CS strategy in place and a customer journey map will help you to articulate what you are trying to accomplish. For example, when you ask product management for product usage data, they’ll understand what you need and why.

Marketing is another key partner. You’ll need their help to develop the right content to deliver to customers at the right stage in their journey.

Be sure to include a feedback loop for customers. This will help you understand what your customer is thinking as they navigate through the digital journey. Are they getting value out of it? Is it a good experience? This is where you gather data and anecdotes to figure out what you need to do to improve your map for customers.

Another big part of building a customer journey map is weaving in a content refresh process with your partners in marketing. In SaaS, your product, processes, and initiatives are always changing, and supporting content can go stale. I recommend striving to refresh customer success content on a quarterly basis. That cadence seems to strike a balance between keeping content fresh without overwhelming the team.

Generative AI tools, such as Customer Success AI™, can help produce or refresh content. We use it ourselves to quickly write emails, summarize meeting notes, and create scripts for videos, among other content types.

Note: Click on image to enlarge.

Digital-first is a process, not a destination

Many of the best SaaS companies on the market today are experiencing success with a digital approach. The key for most of them is that they started by keeping this project simple and small—and then iterated and improved it over time. To that end, keep in mind a digital customer success strategy is a process, not a destination.

Learn how you can use a customer success platform, like ChurnZero, to get started with automation in our blog, “5 digital Customer Success tactics that ChurnZero makes easy.”


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