There is no easy button in Customer Success. No matter how amazing a CS tool is, YOU have to put in the work to get it there.
Read below to learn what to do BEFORE you buy a Customer Success Tool so you do it right the first time.
It’s fast. It’s sexy. It’s got amazing capabilities. You dream of what your life would be like if you had it.
If you’re a customer success professional, you’re probably not talking about a sports car… you’re talking about a customer success tool.
It’s a common trap to fall into—and one that costs many new CS leaders their first position.
Why? Because it usually takes about six months to start getting value out of it. And it’s generally a crawl-walk-run experience rather than an instant transformation. That doesn’t look too great if you haven’t set that expectation.
Don’t misunderstand—customer success software can be an absolute game-changer. And it’s essential if you want to do anything other than reactive firefighting.
There’s no doubt about it. You WILL need customer success technology to fully realize the value of your customer success department. And you should start asking for it before you’re 100% ready. Don’t wait until you’re desperate.
Start researching which one is right for you NOW! (Check The Customer Success TechMap.) But if you’re waiting on the ok from Finance, you can use that to your advantage!
Here’s what to do before you buy a customer success tool…
What is a Customer Success Platform?
A Customer Success Platform is a software application that helps customer success organizations manage and operationalize the customer success process. It typically includes features for managing customer accounts, tracking customer engagement and activity, managing customer data, and automating workflows.
Benefits of Customer Success Software
While it depends on the platform, most customer success tools aim to solve the same problem. They are there to help you take your customer success department from reactive to proactive. In a fast-growing market, they make customer success scalable while still allowing it to feel personalized for the customer.
Here are a few ways they do that.
1. Reduce knowledge silos
One of the biggest issues in customer success is the CSMs having to chase down information from multiple locations in order to understand what is going on with the customer. Often they have to work with the CRM, the Support Ticketing System, and typically some awful folder system in Google Docs, (or a similar black hole).
This makes it almost impossible to be proactive as they have no insight into what is happening with the customer unless they seek it out.
A customer success tool can help to break down these silos within your organization by providing a single platform where all customer data and interactions are stored. This can help to ensure that all team members have access to the same information, improving communication and collaboration. Just that functionality alone is worth the price of admission for many!
2. Determine Customer Health
One of the top benefits of a customer success tool is the ability to create customer health. This is a complex formula that takes into account things like:
- Usage data
- Number of open tickets
- Customer history
- Customer Lifetime Value
- Depth and breadth of usage
- Net promoter score and CSAT scores
Using these data points, the customer success tool then tags the account as Red (poor health) Yellow (moderately healthy), or Green (Excellent health). A change in customer health score can trigger actionable insights so the CSM can intervene if a customer’s health drops or increases.
3. Bring information straight to the CSM
Rather than waiting for a customer to have a problem, a Customer Success Tool is meant to be set up to send notifications to the CSM that they need to do something for the customer—whether that’s due to a decline in customer health, an unusual number of tickets, or an increase in usage indicating an upsell opportunity.
4. Leverage data to drive actionable insights
This one is a little tricky. While customer success software absolutely does enable you to have a more data-driven approach, most new CS leaders think that the cs tool will tell them what the data means. That’s customer intelligence and is generally another tool. Ideally, someday CS tools will build customer intelligence in, but that is not the case yet. What a CS tool does is to drive automations from the customer usage data – whether that’s a call to action for the CSM, or a change in customer health.
5. Reduce Churn
With the optimization of the customer journey and automation reducing their busy work, CSMs are freed up to work more strategic communications and can focus on the tasks that increase customer satisfaction and drive customer outcomes.
So What’s the Problem???
This all sounds great—and it is! But just like customer success is not “Just add water”, neither is a CS tool. Here are all the problems you are likely to run into:
A customer success tool is only as good as the data you put into it.
If you’re not sure if you have clean data… you don’t. (Almost no one does.)
But it’s essential that you get it as clean as possible before automating it with a CS tool.
Without clean data and proper integrations, all automation does is allow you to f*ck up at scale.
You don’t have anyone to install it
Most startups assume that they can install the software themselves with the help of an implementation specialist from the CS software provider. Typically, they work with one of your internal IT people or one of the software developers.
Guess what? You don’t have control over those people’s schedules. And they are not likely to prioritize your tool over all the other things they need to do. Yes, they’ll probably do it — but don’t expect it to be their only focus.
You don’t have anyone to maintain it
Even if you are lucky enough to get someone to help you set up your tool initially, most customer success tools are far from intuitive when it comes to operating them.
If set up properly, they can be easy for the CSMs to use, but if you want to add a new program, or change anything (and you will) you’re going to need a CS Operations person on your team. No, you can’t borrow someone from sales ops. No rev ops is not the same thing. C.S. OPS.
If you don’t have the budget for CS Ops, you can often find contractors to work with to help you so don’t panic. If you aren’t a technological whiz, there are plenty of people who are. It’s not all on you to know how to do this. The cost of them usually adds up enough over time that it becomes clear that you need to hire an internal CS Ops person. Score!
You wait until it’s set up to figure out what you want to program
If you don’t know what information should make up your health score or what playbooks you want to run, you’ll be forced to go with whatever the default is that comes with the tool. The integration specialist on their side will not wait around for months while you figure it out.
So often, you get only a partially implemented version of the software.
Guess how useful that is.
Part of what makes these tools so useful is that they are customizable. Don’t waste that opportunity.
Why this could cost you your job
Customer success is a relatively new field, and with that comes a lot of misconceptions.
Most businesses assume that Customer Success is simple.
So they try out having a customer success department, thinking they will immediately reap the benefits of increased NRR, referrals, and world-class relationship management.
They are looking for an easy button.
As a CS Leader, you are trying to explain that customer success is a complex organizational function. IT WORKS…
But it’s a long game with mostly lagging indicators. No matter how realistic this is, it’s a letdown.
So what do you do? You look for a customer success tool to save the day!
It seems like it will from everything you see on the internet. It has the capability to start performing predictive customer success at scale! Tomorrow!
It’s YOUR attempt at an easy button.
But then it’s another six months and the tool hasn’t done anything – except cost a lot of money. That… doesn’t look great for you.
How to protect yourself – and love your CS tool
Sorry if that was scary, but it’s the reality of customer success in the real world.
But it’s going to be ok. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Know what are you trying to achieve
Yes, their website makes it look like the CS tool is a user-friendly all-in-one automations machine that will put your customer journey on rails. There are so many different things it can do, it’s hard to prioritize.
But you have to start somewhere.
For my two cents, just having ONE place for your customer success managers to work out of instead of chasing information from all corners of the earth can make a big difference… If that’s the case, you will need to work on your integrations first.
2. Clean up your data
This is tough because it’s essential, and you basically have no control over it. You’ll have to make your case to the executive management team to make it a company priority. Thankfully they are often able to see how this could be beneficial since it helps them get better revenue projections. Don’t present it for just your case. Think of the whole company.
3. Map the Customer Journey
Despite the fact that it’s overwhelming, mapping the customer journey should always be your first priority when setting up your customer success department. I know it can seem daunting. But you don’t have to do it alone. Gather up your CSMs and have a brainstorming session. I’m a fan of doing this with a whiteboard tool like Miro and some post-its!
Map out all the touchpoints between your company and your customer in order to get them to their goal. Then map out all the things the customer has to do on their end to become successful.
If that’s too overwhelming, you can try mapping it out by stages of the customer lifecycle (onboarding, adoption, expansion, renewal, and advocacy) and just mapping the touchpoint of each stage one at a time… but make sure it all ties together as a fluid story. The customer doesn’t know what “stage” they’re at. They just see it as their experience with your product!
4. Create playbooks
Once you have the customer journey mapped, you can start to create playbooks. You might already have some, even if they’re just listed on a Google doc or Excel sheet somewhere. Refine these to document:
- What each playbook is meant to accomplish
- What triggers it
- Each step of the playbook
- List the resources you will need including email templates and customer enablement materials you will need for each step.
- How you will know when it’s done
Hint – Trello or Notion can be great for planning this out before you have your tool!
Customer Success—Not the Technology—is the Competitive Advantage.
A CS tool is not going to create customer success for you. That’s going to be your work. If it could all be done easily through software, none of us would have jobs anymore.
All in all, a customer success tool is essential to creating a customer-centric organization at scale. Just make sure you prepare yourself for its implementation well before you think you’re ready.
Rachel Provan is a customer success leadership coach who helps new CS leaders make the transition from individual contributor to world-class leader. Rachel started her coaching business, Provan Success, LLC, to help new CS leaders master strategy, team leadership, and mindset so they can get amazing results while keeping a strong work-life balance. Prior to coaching, Rachel spent 15+ years scaling CS departments for companies of all sizes, from early-stage startups to Fortune 500 companies. Today she offers a wide range of programs and services – from her flagship 3-month leadership course to “Dream Job” and “CSM to Director” packages. When she’s not geeking out over CS, she can be found in Brooklyn eating pizza with her husband, 2 boys, and a very strange dog. You can reach her at https://provansuccess.com