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How to design your customer success playbook

“Playbook” has become a significant buzzword in the customer success management circles in the last couple of years. But what do they really mean and how do we go about defining playbooks that make sense for our businesses. Let’s look at how to design your Customer Success playbook.

There is no dearth of information available on playbooks. And the more advanced CSM tools provide playbooks as a part of their templates for CSMs.  But, how do we decide that these will indeed be useful for CSMs to perform their day-to-day operations more effectively? And not become yet another checklist that will in fact, impede the speed of execution?

Let’s start by understanding what a playbook is.

What is a playbook?

The dictionary defines the term “Playbook” as a “book containing a sports team’s strategies and maneuvers”. 

This definition is quite accurate in the case of Customer Success Management space as well. Simply put, Playbooks provide a guided path towards handling repeated/recurring business interaction situations in the customer success management world.

Why is a playbook necessary?

The purpose of a playbook is to build scalable processes for your customer success team. A playbook helps you quality assure the basics of your customer success methodology. Playbooks help you align your teams, and help make on-boarding of new CSMs easy.

Few of the things might be same as other company’s playbooks but the details are unique for your company. So it becomes easier to adapt to your working style through this playbook for a new CSM.

The playbook consists of the proactive play that you would use to move your customer along the path of success. And it will also contain reactive approaches that tells your actions while intervening when a customer went off the path.

Why is there so much confusion about Playbooks?

Playbooks are extremely contextual. 

It helps enable your customer success managers enable your customers to best utilize your product for their business objectives. The business objectives can be varied for every end customer depending on their business niche. The number of variables here are varied. Hence it is unlikely that a templatized approach to playbooks would be very effective.

Therefore, you must consider the following aspects as you embark on your journey of defining appropriate playbooks:

  • Address Business case
    • Problems that your customers are trying to solve when they procure your product/services
  • Nature of the customer success relationships 
    • High-touch relationships (Dedicated CSMs/ Frequent In-person connects)
    • Low-touch relationships (In-frequent in-person connects during steady state)
    • Tech-touch relationships (little manual interference, lots of automation)
  • Nature of the product (and the features it contains)
    • Large User base (Operational tools deployed company wide)
    • Small User base (Only power users or small user base)
Customer-Success-Playbook-Industry-Need
Figure 1: Determining where playbooks are needed the most

Even if there was congruity in the all the above-mentioned variables, there is the size of the customer opportunity to contend with. 

Ultimately, the CSM approach also must make viable economic sense – and hence the depth of the customer success engagement must be corelated with the size of the business opportunity with a customer. This would mean you may want to have a stratified approach for “Super-star” customers versus “Point-solution” customers. 

This eventually means that you should deploy different playbooks. Even though the customers might have procured your product to achieve the same business objective.

How to tame a dragon (or design a playbook)?

Having touched upon the factors that influence playbook design, let’s look at an example of how we can use this information to create playbooks that are tuned to our requirements.

Scenario: Suppose we are designing the playbooks for a SaaS company Akme Inc that has customer churn in excess of 10% which they want to bring down to a industry norm of 8-10% by addressing the problem of low product adoption.

Step 1: Understanding core problem areas 

The first step is to understand scenarios that we might need playbooks for. In our example, customer churn could be caused by several contributory factors – some of which are:

  • Low Product Adoption
  • Change in key personnel/departure of champion
  • Change in corporate strategy
  • Budgetary changes
  • Competition releasing a disruptive/new feature 

In this scenario, we have information that the customers often are unable to adopt the full feature set of the product thereby resulting in low perceived value and consequently less than optimal renewals and higher than normal churn.

Step 2: Breaking the problem area into underlying factors

It’s important to break down the various underlying factors that manifest themselves as problems (in this case, Low Adoption). A critical analysis might show some of the following factors as being responsible for the low adoption:

  • Usability/relevance of the product for the customer’s business objectives
  • Inadequate/Insufficient user onboarding support
  • Inadequate user enablement (or training)
  • Poor customer experience/support

Once we have identified the underlying factors, it is imperative to do a systemic analysis towards assessing how each of these factors the Customer Success Management team handles. While assessing these factors, a very high premium should be placed on the ability to have mechanisms which are consistent (repeatable), efficient (no wasted interactions) and scalable (can be adopted across the board for a large number of customers without additional overheads).  

In our example, we found that inadequate user onboarding was the underlying factor that needed the most work – and therefore needed to have a playbook defined to drive consistent and predictable results. The overall map of the analysis looked something like this.

Step 3: Elaborating playbook scenarios

Once you identify the scenarios, then starts the important job of constructing the playbooks themselves. There are a few things that need to be kept in mind while constructing a playbook. These are:

  1. Tasks & Milestones – Playbooks should prescribe tasks that need to be carried out in order to fulfill an objective and hence should lend themselves to be measured for completeness and timeliness. These in-turn can then be used to determine the efficacy of the playbook being put in place.
  2. Cross-functional inputs – Playbooks (especially those that have dependencies on other departments) should be reviewed for cross-functional dependencies and simplified to ensure that they don’t become bottlenecks during the execution phase.
  3. Co-relation with Operational metrics – While just deploying the playbook as part of your CSM strategy may not have an immediate impact on the operational metrics that you are trying to improve, but in the medium-to-long term, there should be a way to co-relate the two and deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between them. 
  4. Emphasis on automation – The playbooks should lend themselves to being automated to the extent that is desired. Not only does this help provide a consistency of customer experience but it also allows CSM teams to scale and grow rapidly.

In our example, the exercise results in a high-level playbook like the following:

Customer-Success-Playbook-for-User-Onboarding
Figure 2: Playbook for User Onboarding Scenario

Following a step-by-step approach like this will allow you to achieve the following:

  • Make an objective assessment of what you really need by way of playbooks (and not needlessly clutter your CSM tool’s view).
  • Aligning playbooks to achieving your business objectives.
  • Allowing you to take a measurable approach on assessing the efficacy of your playbook design.

Conclusion

Playbooks are an invaluable tool towards building scale and consistency within CSM operations. However, you need to be careful while adopting out-of-the-box playbook templates by taking the time to ensure that they are oriented towards achieving the business objectives that you have set for yourself.

It always helps to take an iterative approach to deploying playbooks and testing these for efficacy and making incremental adjustments. 

The SaaS world has long moved on to a very iterative mode of developing products and services to stay current with the challenges that their customers face, so why should the approach of the customer success managers who handle such accounts as customers be any different.

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