The Guide to Customer Success in SaaS

Your Handbook to Building a Modern Customer Success Program

Table of Contents

  1. Who’s This Guide For?
  2. What Is Customer Success?
  3. Customer Success Everywhere: An Organizational Philosophy
  4. What Are the Responsibilities of Customer Success?
    1. Customer Success Operations
    2. Customer Onboarding
    3. Product Adoption
    4. Business Relationship Management
    5. Customer Renewals
    6. Customer Expansion
    7. Customer Advocacy
  5. What’s the Difference Between Customer Success, Customer Support, Account Management, and Professional
    5. Why is Customer Success Important to SaaS?
    6. How Do You Build a Customer Success Strategy?
    1. Ideal Customer Profile and Customer Fit
    2. Customer Segmentation
    3. Customer Goal Setting
    4. Customer Journeys
    5. Renewal and Expansion
    6. Compensation Plans
    7. Organizational Alignment Around Customer-Centricity
    8. Key Performance Indicators
  6. What Does a Mature Customer Success Organization Look Like?
  7. Does Customer Success Need Its Own Tool?
  8. The Secret to Getting Started with Customer Success

Who’s This 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 they don’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 team, gives us a comprehensive view into the DNA of exceptional Customer Success teams and what it takes to become one.

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 wellknown 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, doing so also paints Customer Success in broad strokes and invites the wrong assumptions.

As a result, we’re frequently made to define Customer Success by what it’s not.

Customer Success is not Customer Support or a call center.
Customer Success is not Account Management with a trendy name.
Customer Success is not just about the renewal.

So, what is Customer Success?
Customer Success connects why customers buy your solution (their purchase intent) with what your customers get (realized value and outcomes) using a proactive and prescriptive customer management approach to reach both your customer and your company’s goals. To help unpack this definition a bit more, we’ve broken it down into three main parts which we outline in the remainder of this chapter.

1. Customer Success connects why customers buy your product with what your customers get.

How this connection materializes in terms of real-life application looks different for every company based on their solutions, their team, and their focus. This dependency adds to the ambiguity around what Customer Success actually does. (Don’t worry, we cover this in Chapter 3.) Regardless of whether Customer Success is delivered to the customer in the format of face-to-face consulting or self-service guidance, the same tenet applies: Customer Success is not only about the how-to of your product but also, and more importantly, about the why.

At the end of the day, you don’t retain customers by showing them how to use your product – although a necessary requisite. You retain customers by showing them why your product makes their life better and then showing them how to put that expertise into practice. For instance, let’s look at ChurnZero’s customer health score feature. The value isn’t in showing customers how to add a criterion (say, product usage) to their customer health score. The real value is in educating customers on why this criterion matters in the first place. In this case, it’s because product usage is a leading indicator of a customer’s likelihood to churn. It’s a critical component of measuring customer health, which helps you predict churn and deliver forecasts that your executive team trusts. To grow in your role or life, it’s not enough to know how to do something, you need to know why you do it.

Customer Success amplifies your customers’ “why.”

When you begin to understand why you do you what do, instead of blindly following along or only half understanding, you become more competent. Your competence gives you more confidence. Your confidence allows you to act with greater conviction and vision, which in turn allows you to make more informed decisions instead of letting the status quo and generic best practices dictate the trajectory of your work and success. You no longer jump from template to template in search of answers and reassurance. Instead, you have the foundation and skillset to build them on your own.

This is the power that Customer Success gives your customers. When you focus on making your customers the best versions of themselves, the renewals and the expansion and the advocacy naturally follows. But it starts and ends with the customer.

2. Customer Success uses a proactive and prescriptive customer management approach.

One of the defining traits that sets Customer Success apart from its more reactive counterpart (Customer Support) is that Customer Success was designed to be proactive at its foundation. This means Customer Success does things like:

  • Prevent customer dissatisfaction and churn before it happens.
  • Preemptively clear roadblocks to customers achieving their goals.
  • Answer the questions customers aren’t asking.
  • Anticipate customer needs by understanding their journey and tracking their behavior.

But being proactive isn’t enough to keep your customers. Knowing that customers don’t renew on generic experiences, Customer Success must also be prescriptive in their guidance and approach. This means Customer Success does things like:

  • Consider the customer’s context when sending engagements and consulting.
  • Design customer journeys that prioritize the customer’s goals before the company’s goals.
  • Send highly relevant messages based on an individual customer’s usage, setbacks, wins, company news, industry happenings, and so on.

Customer Success delivers exactly what a customer needs, exactly when they need it. This may sound like a tall order – and it is. Which is why having real-time customer usage data, defined customer journeys, accessible customer touchpoints, and customer health scoring are fundamental to both your success and your customer’s success.

ACTIVITY TYPE Proactive Reactive Reactive and
ENGAGEMENT TYPE Ongoing Inbound and
Inbound and Outbound
and Transactional
Outbound and Billable
OVERALL GOAL Drive Business
Quality and
Speed of Resolution
Generate Sales Deliver Business

Key customer information (role,
contract size, license count)

Customer lifecycle
stages and milestones

Company Maturity

Customer Behavior

Desired Engagement

Potential Value

Goals Driving

Product Use Cases

Product Fit

Strategic Value

Demographics, firmographics,

Usage and Value Gained

“Whenever you are stuck searching for the optimal plan, remember: Getting started changes everything.”

– James Clear