Customer Success | 11 MIN READ

Creating a Killer Customer Success Plan: Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid

What is a customer success plan? What are the best practices and steps involved in creating a customer success plan? Read on.

Shoeb Ahmed
Shoeb Ahmed
Sep 25, 2020

Customer-success-plan

customer success plan

If you are in the field of customer success for quite some time, you would have known the definition of it by heart by now. It is a business strategy through which you ensure that the customer is able to reach their goals by using your product. Needless to say, all strategies are just theory as long as they don’t have an action plan for success. And the above said strategy calls for a customer success plan that we are going to discuss today.

Customer success is a broad field in the SaaS industry. You can go haywire around all the different topics it surrounds. There are so many directions to proceed, so many concepts to integrate in your customer success strategy.

Take for example, net promoter score, adoption rate, retention rate, etc. These are few of the important concepts in customer success. You can spend days or weeks around measuring these metrics and try to come up with some insights on your efforts. But until you have a consolidated plan around these insights, your efforts would go to waste.

Planning is as important for any business as the different insights they glean from the surveys. It has been found in a survey that around 30% of small businesses fail within their first five years due to poor planning.

What is a customer success plan?

If a customer success management strategy is about helping your customers achieve goals through your product, then a customer success plan is the “what” and “how” part of it. The plan states what value and how you would deliver them to the customer. It consists of the series of actions you would take to meet your customer’s expectations that you can possibly deliver.

Expectations can arise from both ends – customers as well as vendors. A customer may expect your product to reach their business goal e.g. growing to thousand users. While your company may have an internal goal to reach your customer’s time to first value within a month.

To fulfil the expectations of both sides, you need a solid plan that would clearly state the actions you would take. It should be realistic, measurable and achievable to hold its viability. A customer success plan becomes a key tool for a CSM to align their resources, tasks, time and efforts to meet the end goal.

Benefits of customer success plan

Few of the benefits of having a customer success plan can be:

Consistency of efforts in customer lifecycle

A customer success roadmap makes sure that you always have the end goal of your customer in mind. This way you never wander-off in your efforts towards meeting the customer’s expectations. Every stage of the customer lifecycle must have their typical customer success goals. And a plan helps ensure that you are always taking steps in the right direction through the right resources at the right time.

Mitigating unpleasant surprises

Through a plan, you would surely achieve your end-goals if you tread through the right path. Hence, when any unexpected requests come from your customer, you can measure in advance whether that is achievable or not. If not, then you would have the right knowledge of what to tweak in your plan to meet those expectations.

Saves execution time

It has been commonly observed that the time spent on firefighting issues is always more than the time when you were already prepared for it. Planning takes care of the unprecedented issues in advance so that you are always prepared for any possible outcome.

Creates better outcomes with lower operational costs

Through a customer success plan, your time and efforts reduce considerably. You don’t have to spend time and money on wondering what you should do next when you reach a milestone. Your customer success team would always be prepared to proceed to the next stage in the customer journey.

Best practices and steps for creating a customer success plan

Best Practices - Customer success plan

A holistic customer success plan would help you identify customer expectations and the processes to achieve them. Basically, these are the steps involved in creating such a plan.

Identify expectations

You must help your customers express their expectations from your product right from the beginning. The best time to discover these expectations is the customer onboarding phase. Through strategic discussions you must unravel their expectations from you.

Then you must clarify right then and there itself about what expectations are achievable and what are not. While at the same time, you must have a clear understanding of your own expectations from the customers e.g. quick adoption, brand advocacy, etc.

Create processes to meet goals

Those expectations are the goals you would be directing your customer success plan towards. This is the “how” part of your plan. You must lay out clear steps you would be following towards meeting those goals. Make sure to cover all the possible scenarios that can occur during the course of action.

For example, if your customer’s expectation is quick onboarding, then you must have the right training material already in place along with the team of experts who would configure their systems.

Use metrics to measure the progress

Through right metrics, you must measure the progress of each of your customer success processes. For example, you must measure the time your customer takes for onboarding. Having a pre-defined ideal metric for each stage would help you know the efficacy of your processes. It will also help you know how you can increase the efficiency of the process.

For example, if you have already defined that the ideal time for onboarding is 60 days, then you can measure in real-time whether that is achievable or not.

Assign employees and schedules for each stage

Each stage should have a responsible person for its execution. Their responsibility lies in ensuring that the goal of their respective stage is being monitored and met. They would also measure the data for that stage and cross-check with the pre-defined ideal metrics.

The pre-assigned schedule must be followed that helps in tracking the progress of the tasks. Any lag in the execution must be properly reported to the superiors for taking corrective measures.

Using a customer success plan template would help you cover all aspects of planning and execute with the right steps.

Few Mistakes to avoid

Facing unprecedented challenges while executing a plan is natural. You cannot completely address all the challenges beforehand. Yet, there are few common mistakes that you can be preventive of.

Not considering customer’s inputs into the plan

No matter how thorough and foolproof you have made your plan, if you forgot to take the customer’s input, it would most likely fail. Setting up customer goals is the first step. You must take every measure to include their views rather than assuming on your own.

Overdelivering

Creating a plan with ambitious goals that are hard to achieve can turn out to be disastrous. Make sure they are realistic and achievable. Otherwise they would turn out to be a failure.

Using vanity metrics

Using the right kind of metrics to measure your progress is must. Sometimes, CSMs use vanity metrics to measure their efforts that give a false sense of achievement. There is nothing more misconceiving than that.

Lack of improvisation

A plan is a set of guidelines to execute when all things are in place. But sometimes when surprises occur, you must be able to improvise and re-prioritize your actions for a quick solution. An example could be an early warning of churn right after onboarding. Your plan should always be in a state of further enhancements.

The Best Way to Create a Customer Success Plan Template

The job of a customer success team is to decrease churn and improve retention rates. Having a customer success plan can help chalk clear outlines of the customer lifecycle. The main KPIs that should form the core of the customer success plan include health score, upgrade percentages, NPS, expansion revenue, and more such.

  • Set the expectations right
  • Activate onboarding process
  • Understand the product right
  • Take action to improve customer value
  • Help reduce churn

Customer Success Plan Templates

The customer success plan template will help you offer value across the customer lifecycle. By adding your company teams like marketing, sales, and CS teams to your customer journey, you can create an effective engagement strategy that is ongoing.

The key elements of a customer success plan template include-

  • Show how your product meets or exceeds customer expectations
  • Help them realise the product value
  • Increase product adoption
  • Create advocates and prevent churning
  • Align customer expectations with your actions to expand

Customer Onboarding for Free Trials Template in a Customer Success Plan

Sign-up requirementsIn this step, you need to collect basic information. Automate this process as much as possible.
Welcome EmailThe next step in the customer success plan should be with a welcome email. This email should have information for a free trial basis. Links of tutorials, forums, blogs, etc. should be helpful.
Simplify the processEnable customers to understand the product via automated help. Don’t involve humanly until when absolutely necessary. Have metrics installed in the free-trial process. Determine how the product experience works.
Identify the customer’s aha momentCapture when the customer meets their time to first value.
Inform Sales teamOnce you know they understand the value, hand off to sales for conversion to paying customers.

New Customer Calls template in a customer success plan

This is a customer success plan template for new customers kick-off call.

Be prepared for the callCollect customer data and identify which plan you want them to get signed on. Identify the information that needs to be given to customers.
Call the customerCommunicate with the customer. Explain company details, clearly chalk out the onboarding process, help them understand timelines, milestones, expected goals and more.
Brief it upSummarize the call in a document for future reference.
Get feedback from the callIncorporate the customer recommendations to improve the product as much as possible.

Customer Onboarding Success Plan Template

So once a customer is ready to be onboard as a paying one, they can use this checklist/template to make sure they are on the right track.

Verify customer and product informationVerify customer information from your CRM. Update if necessary, check customer details, product information, deliverables, timelines etc.
Welcome EmailImmediately follow up with a welcome email; offer help to the customer with respect to helpful links, resources, solutions, tutorials.
Set up a planHave a communication plan within your customer success plan. Ask customers for their product feedback and collect customer insights to see what interests them.
Have a support strategyAnalyse customer data to get an idea of customer issues and create a support strategy.
Focus on customer educationYou then need to set up customer education channels. You need to let them know more about the product and improve the product experience.
Check-in with customers regularlyAsk customers regularly what they feel about your product.
Get feedbackAsk customers for feedback and take it seriously if you can improve any of their suggestions.

Template for ongoing engagement in customer success plan

The template for customer success plan for ongoing engagement is useful in keeping customers retained and preventing churn. Since retention is the major factor which companies look to improve, this template will help.

Provide Customer EducationIn-app or voice chat help will ensure customers have an idea of the products to the full extent. A high-touch approach will help customers learn new features and stay connected with their complex learning curve.
Monitor metricsTrack key metrics and KPIs that affect customer health.
Set up annual reviews or QBRsConduct quarterly business reviews often and communicate the results. Make a note of customer improvements in that aspect and update it on their profile.
Create feature onboardingFor every new feature, what if the customer is stuck? Ensure that there is a small onboarding session for such events.
Keep in touch with customersHave a plan to check in with customers regularly- get feedback, have key information assembled, and identify red flags.
Coordinate with other teamsIdentify chances for upselling, communicate and monitor your customers for long term basis.

Wrapping up

The purpose of any customer success plan is to make your job easier in achieving your goals. It is quite probable that you may get lost in different goals of your company like customer retention, business expansion or brand advocacy. Before you think of meeting these goals, remember that your customer’s goals are precursors to them.

There should be a right blend of expectations from both the parties. And only then you must set out to create a plan that would help you achieve those goals. Improvisation and further enhancement of plan are a part of the learning curve. Sticking to the plan is important but allowing some amount of space for further corrections is also vital for keeping it always fresh and breathing.

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Originally Published September 25th, 2020, Updated April 8th, 2021

Shoeb Ahmed

Shoeb Ahmed

Shoeb lives and breathes Customer Success and SaaS. He has a passion to research on the latest innovations happening in SaaS and Customer Success. Shoeb hails from a Software Architecture background where he worked for many years with Indian Tech Giants like Wipro and ITC building software solutions for their MNC clients in the UK and Denmark.

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