Buyers today have more options, more information, and greater demand for attention and service than ever before. Costs of customer acquisition continue to rise, and margin for error in service and support continues to tighten. Buyers simply expect more from providers. The days of reactive customer support, low-value touch points, and hands-off contract renewals are over. The shift in power to the buyer requires hyper-focussed attention on customers' success using our products and services. Sufficient is not enough. We must understand our customers’ desired outcomes, and implement targeted approaches to help them achieve those outcomes. 

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. -- Theodore Levitt

When we deliver experiences that help customers achieve their desired outcome, they stay with us, invest more with us, and refer new business to us. In other words, customer success is critical to winning and keeping business today. 

Below is gap intelligence's twelve-step playbook to win and keep business with customer success:

1. Create a Culture of Customer Success

Customer success results from teamwork. Everyone shapes the customer journey, either indirectly or directly. Whether it’s asking the right discovery questions up front, onboarding customers with relevant solutions, addressing customers’ needs, or developing products and services that actually help your customers win -- customer success is influenced by everyone.

When customer success is prioritized as a universal focus across the business, and consistently talked about and celebrated, everyone is encouraged and better equipped to improve solutions offered, messaging used, and customer experiences. 

2. Target the Right Customers

Helping clients win with your products and services begins with targeting the right customers. In addition to finding customers that are ready and willing to invest in your solution, it is critical to identify upfront which customers have the highest probability of achieving success. 

  • How does the customer define success with our product or service?
  • Is the customer a good technical fit (e.g. technology, solutions, delivery format, etc.)?
  • Is the customer a good portfolio fit (e.g. potential for new growth and opportunities, brand association, etc.)?
  • Is the customer a good timeline fit (e.g. decision process, launch and delivery expectations, desired term, etc.)?
  • Is the customer a good budget fit?
  • Does the customer have the necessary resources to implement our product or service? 
  • Is the customer a good process fit (e.g. decision process, engagement expectations, etc.)?

Gathering a clear understanding of your target customers will improve outcomes in the later stages of the sales process and customer success plan, and minimize issues associated with customers that fail to achieve success with our products and services due to miscommunication or lack of fit that could have been determined up front. 

3. Deliver Value in Every Touchpoint

Each contact with a customer is an opportunity to deliver value and further customer success. How are you adding value in your customer touches? Avoid the 'check in'. Checking in, or asking for something is not valuable to a customer. Give them a reason for them to want to hear from you. Tell them about a new features or update to your product or service that will provide immediate benefit to them. Invite them to relevant webinars. Share helpful content. Save them time. Help them win. Show them you care. 

4. Showcase Customer Wins

Target customers are more likely to purchase products and services when they see proof of other clients success. Collect wins (big and small) and promote them to help your target audience see other businesses just like them using and achieving success with your product or service.

5. Ask the Right Questions Early and Often

Thorough discovery begins with understanding the customer, their workflows and needs -- then identify how your product or service can help them succeed (based on their definition of success). Often, customers may not know how your solutions can help them achieve their objectives. By listening to them (and asking the right questions), we can successfully guide them towards the right solution. Understanding what your customer’s specific goals are, in order of priority, helps to provide them with relevant training and resources to help accomplish their goals as quickly as possible.

It’s essential to think of the customer journey from the customer’s perspective, not your perspective. For example, most companies approach implementation from a checklist of what needs to get done to declare victory. Instead, think of what a customer expects to accomplish during implementation. It doesn’t change the checklist; it reformats it and allows you to deliver results that truly matter to customers.

6. Customize Onboarding Plans According to Customer Needs

The onboarding experience is a critical stage to customer success. Invest time up front with your new customers in small groups or individuals. Learn about them and unmask how your solution or service can impact success for their company and themselves. Keep it simple. If your product or service adds more time and effort in a customer’s day, they will not use it, even if it can help them. 

7. Show Customers Immediate Value

When a new customer gets immediate value from your product or service, they are more likely to continue using it. The faster you can help customers understand and extract value from your product, the stickier and more successful they will be. Help your customer by identifying a quick win they can achieve with your product, and create an onboarding experience that helps them achieve that quick win as soon as possible. When a new customer gets value from your product, no matter how small, it creates positive momentum. 

8. Establish Customer Success Milestones

Identify and articulate the steps needed for the customer to achieve their desired result with your product. 
Articulating these steps to your customer upfront provides them with a clearly defined and measurable pathway to achieving success, and helps them track their own progress. Provide the necessary training and resources to implement each step. There should be no confusion as to how to use your product to achieve their desired result.

9. Increase Customer Response Time

A simple, yet highly effective way to show customers you care about their success is to provide easy avenues for communication and respond as quickly as possible when they ask for help.

  • 41% of companies do not respond to customer service emails
  • 90% of companies do not acknowledge or inform the customer that an email has been received
  • The average response time to handle a customer service request is 15 hours and 17 minutes

Respond to all customer support emails as quickly as you can (within the first hour, if possible). Even if the person that responds to their inquiry doesn’t know how to help them, the simple act of letting them know that their email has been received and that someone will help them as soon as possible shows they matter and that you care.

10. Be Proactive

Customer support is reactive; customer success is proactive. 

  • Schedule periodic “needs assessments” that line up with client planning cycles
  • Send value-add content relevant to individuals or teams based on knowledge from early and ongoing discovery
  • Notify customers of feature enhancements and problems before they find out for themsevles
  • Include customers in product and service enhancement planning stages

Stay proactive with how your customer defines their success with your product or service. It will change over time, and ensuring that you’re in sync regularly is important. Don’t assume you know. It needs to be explicitly discussed regularly.

Silence is a retention killer.

11. Team With Customers to Develop Solutions

Customers can be the best source of ideas for product and service improvements. Establish an efficient method to collect, organize, and prioritize suggestions from your customers. Make sure they know you want them involved in the solution enhancement and t. When they see that you actually follow through on creating products and/or features that they asked for, it helps to instill within them a sense of pride and ownership of your product, knowing that their feedback contributed to its development.

Never assume you know what your customers need. Just as the needs of your business will change over time, so too will the needs of your customers. Be willing to listen to your customers, adapt to changing needs and innovate new solutions regularly.

12. Measure Customer Success

What gets measured gets done. Create key metrics or KPIs that provide real-time visibility and measurement of your customer success initiatives.

A few KPIs to consider:

  • Product utilization by feature (e.g. what’s used), depth (e.g. how much of what’s available is being used), and breadth (e.g. usage across customer account)
  • Portfolio growth (e.g. growth from expansion + upgrades + renewals minus losses from downgrades + cancellations + churn)
  • User and account retention rate 
  • Product adoption (e.g. user and activity growth by feature and frequency)

With a clear picture of customer account health and status, you can make better decisions, stay on top of customer issues, and mitigate surprises. As you collect this data, you can start to organize your customers into specific segments. Since different segments will require different levels of support, you can use this data to refine your customer success strategy and allocate resources more effectively.

Customer success is a direct impact on business success, and must be included as a top priority to grow and thrive. 

For more than 16 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at info@gapintelligence.com or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.