How To Build Customer Success Into Your Startup’s DNA

by Kate Harvey

This is a guest post by Keri Keeling, VP of Customer Success & Operations at Bluenose. With over 12 years of experience, she has built customer success teams for SaaS vendors and companies that range in size from startup to publicly-traded.

You’ve worked hard to get your first round of customers. The question at hand…now what do you do with them? Building customer success into your company’s DNA will assuredly answer that question for you. Additionally, it will lead your organization (and your customers) down a more fruitful path to value, growth, and retention.

Start with Your Mindset

A customer success mindset considers your customer from every angle. A strong mindset should result in good answers to these questions:

  • How well does your product solve your customer’s business problem?
  • How will you support your customer?
  • How will you add value to your customer today and into the future?
  • How eager is your staff to engage your customers?

Simply put, customer success starts with your culture. The very first step of customer success requires a full commitment start at the top and trickle down to all other areas of your company.

Mind the Product

As you develop your product, keep an eye on the future. Adoption of your product will have a heavy impact on your company’s success and your ability to retain your customers. As you continue to evolve your technology and roll out new features and functions, keep sight of:

  • Is your product easy to use? Is it intuitive?
  • Do you have documentation that enables your end users to be successful?
  • Are you able to sense which of your end users are adopting?
  • Do you have a plan to get inactive users engaged?

Love Up Your First 100 Customers

Your first 100 customers are gold so love ‘em up! These are going to be the customers that are evangelizing for you. I recommend taking a high touch approach for this specific customer segment. This approach will allow you to dig in to ensure that they are getting value from your product, which I’ll discuss further in the next section.

A lot has been written on touch models for customer success. Taking a high touch approach to this customer segment doesn’t require you to launch complex customer plays. Your startup likely has finite resources. Start simple.

Listed below are a wide variety of services that you can choose to deliver to your customers. Select two or three main services to begin with.

Whichever you start with, choose services that both maximize your customer’s ability to get value from your product and maximize the relationship that you have with your customer at the same time.

customer success services
Click the image to download the spreadsheet.

Determine What “Value” Means For Your Customers

Defining value goes in hand with the “Loving Up Your Customers” step. However, it’s a crucial enough step that it deserves special attention.

Talk with each of your first 100 customers and truly understand what “value” is to them. You’ll be using this as success criteria in the months to come. You’ll also use this as input to defining more service offerings for your next 100 customers.

Once you define value with your customer, establish goals that lead to achieving that value in a SMART goal format.

SMART goals

Periodically, you’ll want to review the status of your SMART goals with your customers to ensure that you’re all moving in the right direction. A positive side effect of goal review is to ensure that you’re getting credit for the great work that you’re doing and the value they are gaining from your product.

Bonus Points: SMART goals will also establish a means of a formal Quarterly Business Review process should you choose to enact a program in the future.

Get Ready to Segment and Tier Your Customers

As you approach 100 customers, now is the time to figure how to service the next 100. Even at a small scale, you’ll need to determine how you’re going to service customers going forward so that you can scale your efforts. As you grow you won’t be able to service each customer in the same way.

Did you notice the tiers in the table above? The easiest way to scale your customer success efforts is to segment your customers and tier them. Each customer tier in each segment should have a defined service delivery model that addresses how you’re going to support each customer based upon a set of predetermined criteria.

Use Tools and Technology Wisely

It’s easy to be romanced by technology and automation (isn’t that why we’re all in technology?). Keep in mind that at this stage, you don’t need to boil the ocean of customer success strategy with full enterprise-class success platforms.

Too much technology and automation early on can unintentionally remove you a bit too far from your most important customers. I’d recommend taking full advantage of the experience of working with your early customers to understand how your processes can be repeated and scaled inside a toolset later.

Instead, start small with your customer success toolset – begin with Voice of the Customer as an early strategy and establish a NPS program. Later, move into technologies that meet your needs as you grow.

You also want early visibility into product usage. Use that data to discover what an “active” or “sticky” customer looks like and work to duplicate that customer. As you analyze their usage patterns, also review other items about your customers and their experience:

  • What went right with the customer’s onboarding?
  • What is it about the customer profile (use case, industry, user types, etc.) that matches so well with your product?
    • Was there something about the sales process that had a positive impact?
  • In what way is the customer adopting your product?
  • What are the similarities between your most successful customers?

The answer to these questions will deliver clues for areas of process duplication.

As cliche as it may sound, customer success comes from the heart. It’s not a department and it’s not one person’s job per se. It’s a mindset coupled by a series of things that your company will do well each and every day. Each thing that you do should be designed to reinforce your customer’s decision that YOU are the vendor of choice.

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