Customer Success is not a function. It’s everything your company does across Product, Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Support, Finance—literally everyone in your company—to create strong outcomes and experiences for your clients.
We’re in a state of disruption. Subscription models have become mainstream and competitors are emerging left and right. This shift in the balance of supply versus demand is changing the way vendors approach their customers. It’s no longer enough to let your product speak for itself. Instead, you must consistently deliver customer value to ensure sustainable recurring revenue.
Customer Success is an ideology that emphasizes the delivery of customer outcomes alongside an exceptional customer experience. It’s not just a department or a role—it’s a company-wide discipline that requires organizations to operate with a consistent mentality: we succeed when the customer succeeds. If your customer finds value in your product, they will renew, advocate, and expand, exponentially propelling the growth of your business.
“It is not too late for incumbents [large, successful companies] to adapt, especially as they have considerable resources to fight off the attacks of leaner challengers, including invested capital, strong brands and relationships with customers, apart from a broad range of capabilities and decades of institutional know-how.”
So whether you’re a nimble schooner or a massive battleship, operating with a customer-first mentality is necessary to stay afloat—and entirely possible. Companies that have realized this are growing, while those that have not are drowning quickly.
The Customer Success Imperative
The Business World is Changing
If you try to use the flip phone you had ten years ago to check your email, it won’t work. If you try to watch Netflix on a dial-up connection, good luck binge-watching. If you try to log into your old AIM account, you’re in for a rude awakening (RIP AIM). So in this age of constant progress, why would you use the same business strategies that you used ten years ago? The business landscape as we know it is undergoing major changes. In fact, half of the S&P companies we know today will be replaced in just 12 short years. We’ve observed three main trends that are having a major effect on the modern marketplace:
Customer have more choices
When the concept of an “intergalactic computer network” was introduced in the 1960s, it started a wave that turned into the tsunami that we now know as the cloud. Cloud technology has increased the number of competitors in virtually every market. Take marketing technology for example—in the past seven years, over 5,000 new companies have entered the space. In short, supply now far exceeds demand. Cloud technology and subscription models have also removed the big upfront costs of traditional models, giving customers the freedom to try a variety of options and switch between them with ease.
Customers have more power
When supply exceeds demand, your product and services are no longer the scarce resource. The customer is the scarcest resource—and therefore the most valuable. But not only do customers have a longer list of options to choose from, they also have more ways than ever to receive and share information. The social revolution has democratized the consumption of data. Your customers have a vast network at their fingertips that they can tap into for best practices, advice, and recommendations. As knowledge has shifted from businesses to customers, so has market power.
Businesses face more risks
Whether you’re looking to buy a CRM or a fresh razor, there’s a subscription for that. Subscription models are eating the world, and it’s changed the way consumers value a product or service. Consumers are looking for flexible options and have a seemingly endless list of options to choose from. Because of this mindset shift, vendors no longer benefit from big, up-front revenue streams. Subscription models place a burden of financial risk on vendors by causing them to have to recoup revenue over time. In order to do this, they must consistently deliver value to customers so they continue to add to their bottom line.
Happy Customers Are Not Enough
Executing an effective Customer Success strategy will require your entire company to change the way they think about customer sentiment. Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys are a common method of gathering customer feedback—and for good reason. It’s widely-known as an accurate assessor of customer sentiment and a leading indicator of future behavior. But in B2B, relying on surveys alone can leave you with insufficient or inaccurate data.
For example, unhappy customers can neglect to share their feedback. A study done by 1st Financial Training Services found that “96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back.” But when they do share their negative sentiment, it may not be a clear indicator of their intentions. Harvard Business Review concluded that “20% of the ‘satisfied’ customers in our study said they intended to leave the company in question; 28% of the ‘dissatisfied’ customers intended to stay.”
In other words, NPS is not always a clear indicator of whether or not someone will renew or churn. What will get them to renew is the value that you provide. Your product can have a great user interface and garner a high NPS, but if it’s not providing ROI, the client won’t keep you around for long. Companies that understand this will even have unhappy customers that continue to renew. However, companies that have implemented a company-wide strategy for Customer Success will have customers that are long-lasting and happy.
What is Customer Success?
Customer Success is the cross-functional strategy in which the company consistently delivers on their customers’ desired outcomes while delivering an exceptional experience. Customer Success is a growth driver, changing the way your company approaches the customer journey so you can leverage satisfied customers. The entire initiative is deeply contingent upon the organization and culture of a business. All departments must be properly enabled with the right people, technology, processes, and solid customer data to effectively execute across all functions.
The Customer Success Equation
Customer experience has been used by high-performing companies for decades to build their brand and win repeat buyers. But CX is only half of the equation.
CS = CX + CO
Customer Outcomes: The desired key performance indicators (KPI) that your product is being purchased for. It’s critical that you not only help your customers fulfill their desired outcomes, but you demonstrate what has been achieved so the customer fully realizes the value of your product.
Customer Experience: The general experience the customer receives as they work towards achieving the outcomes for which they purchased the product. This can be a culmination of interactions with support teams, CSMs, account managers, and anyone else that may be involved in their lifecycle.
Investing in just one piece of the equation isn’t enough to drive long-term growth. For example, if you focus solely on customer experience, but neglect to deliver customer outcomes, you’ll have happy customers but no ROI. This is especially bad when the inevitable budget cuts come around—if you have nothing to show, who’s head do you think will be on the chopping block?
If we think about Customer Success in terms of this equation, it would allow for customers to fall in one of four quadrants. This 2×2 adds visualization to the four states that a customer could be in if all, one, or none of the elements in the equation are fulfilled.
The x-axis represents outcomes—to the left are customers who are not receiving their desired outcomes and to the right are customers who are achieving outcomes. The y-axis represents customer experience—the closer to the top, the better the experience. How are your customers distributed across each of these four quadrants?
Top Right: The ideal place for a customer to be is up and to the right. These are customers that are having a great customer experience while also realizing outcomes from your product. They are happy, successful, advocates for your product, and powerful growth drivers. They have an extremely high lifetime value (LTV) and have a higher potential to expand your product to other business units. This should be the quadrant you strive for with every customer.
Top Left: These customers are a perfect example of what can happen when customer experience takes priority over customer outcomes. Customers may be having the time of their lives interacting with your company and product, but when it comes time to present on the ROI and they have nothing to share, they’re suddenly a high churn risk. If you’re not clearly demonstrating the positive impact you’ve made, customers will feel unsuccessful. They may be giving you 9s and 10s on NPS surveys but these can be false signals. Modern businesses need to think about NPS holistically and not assume that all Promoters are using their product regularly.
Bottom Right: When you don’t deliver a good customer experience, but consistently demonstrate outcomes, it puts customers in a position where they renew contracts but do not expand. It’s imperative that you revisit the customer journey to improve key touchpoints and increase overall engagement. Maybe your CSM isn’t giving the right level of strategic engagement, handoffs aren’t smooth, or support tickets are taking too long to be resolved.
Bottom Left: This is the quadrant you risk falling into if you don’t adopt a Customer Success strategy. Unhappy and unsuccessful customers churn and detract from growth twofold. Not only do they take away their revenue contribution when they leave, if they have had an unsatisfactory experience, they will spread the word and cost you future deals. If they move onto a competitor, they are assets to them because they can preach to the marketplace the difference in experience and success. If you have customers in this quadrant, put in some code red processes to move customers out of it.
Customer Success as a Growth Driver
The way that we think about the Pipeline of hand-offs has evolved and the fastest-growing companies know that strong revenue growth now comes from the Helix. When you’re working in a recurring revenue model, leads are at the beginning and end of the Pipe. When you’ve delivered and demonstrated successful customer outcomes and experiences, a customer represents at least three new leads:
Renewal event: The customer will renew their contract.
Expansion event: The customer will expand their contract to get more value.
New logo: The customer will be satisfied enough with their experience that they will either act as a reference to speak to prospects or spread the news within their network, bringing in net new logos.
If you make your customers successful, you can experience exponential growth, looping around and up into the shape of a widening helix. Customer Success is a vital element in this new way of thinking because the way a customer feels at the end of their contract fuels growth up the Helix. In order to truly succeed in the Helix, your entire company will need to rethink the way they work together.
Customer Success Maturity Model
How does your Customer Success strategy stack up against best-in-class companies? What are you doing right? What can you do better? These are the questions that can be answered with our Customer Success Maturity Model.
Based on hundreds of implementations and decades of experience, the Maturity Model reflects our tried and tested approaches running our own CS team and working with hundreds of other CS teams. As your organization matures, your business benefits from growth along four key drivers: improved retention, expansion, increased advocacy, and improved efficiency across your teams. Looking across different organizations, we identified four stages of Customer Success Maturity: Reactive, Insights & Actions, Outcomes, and Transformation.
This is critical. We’ve observed that as teams advance from stage to stage (based on objective criteria), it aligns with measurable increases in net retention. Between Reactive and Insights & Actions, there’s a 3% increase in net retention rate (NRR). From Insights & Actions to Outcomes we see a 4% increase. And from Outcomes to Transformation there’s a massive 11% jump.
Many companies start in the Reactive stage, tackling risks as they come. These companies lack the tools to capture the wide breadth of customer data and the processes needed to take proactive action. They’re in firefighting mode. Typically, these companies are Support-led and reacting to inbound questions instead of proactively engaging customers along their journey. Companies in this stage won’t be able to sustain growth without a scalable Customer Success process that improves retention and promotes expansion.
Insights & Actions
Almost any modern business strategy can be broken down into two processes:
Collecting as much data as possible to glean insights.
Leveraging what you’ve learned to take more effective action.
Organizations who have evolved beyond pure reactivity have taken the first step towards true Customer Success. They’re collecting data about customer behavior and sentiment. This may include usage data, surveys, support data, subjective or manual inputs, and other signals. More than likely, it’s a combination of some or all of those. The second step is critical—companies in the Insights & Actions stage of maturity don’t just gather data, they act on it.
When you’ve advanced to a high level of sophistication in the Insights & Actions phase, you become capable of true proactivity. This phase is mostly an operational evolution, in that insights are now gathered into one place and may even be automated to some extent. Those insights immediately and seamlessly trigger complex responses that have been optimized to engineer one thing: your customer’s desired outcome with your product or service. That’s the heart and soul of Customer Success. In this phase, companies have built a structured lifecycle for every customer segment, and have the right processes in place to advance customers along that lifecycle toward a renewal or expansion event—and beyond.
The Transformation stage means fully-optimized, company-wide adoption of Customer Success as a core principle for every customer-facing department. From Sales to Marketing to Support to Services to Product, every employee has personal and team goals designed to make sure customers are successful. Companies in the Transformation stage are highly automated, and can ensure customer outcomes at maximum scale. There are systemized processes for capturing outcomes during the sale, executing efficiently during implementation and onboarding, addressing risk proactively, renewing and expanding predictably, and leveraging the customer base for advocacy and product development. Closed-loop feedback is captured and acted on at every step in the lifecycle.
Organizing for Company-wide Success
“The problem is we have taken a critical company-wide strategy (Customer Success) and branded it to be the sole job of one department (CSM). And that doesn’t work for anyone.”
CEO of Gainsight, in his blog post “Using Gainsight to Drive Customer Success Across the Company
Breaking Down Silos
Siloed departments are a core problem for Customer Success. Specifically, traditionally organized teams that have functions to market, sell, onboard, and support the products. Each department works to achieve their own goals but meanwhile, customers experience poor handoffs, lack of coordination, and conflicting points of contact throughout their journey. This disconnected experience rarely leads to outcomes—let alone positive experiences.
In order to drive exceptional Customer Success, every department needs to work along the customer lifecycle. For example, Sales teams can drive deals at every point along the customer journey, not just at the beginning. These can be in the form of expansion or renewal deals alongside net new logos. Marketing teams can continuously drive value through customer advocacy programs that leverage happy customers.
As you start to rethink department roles, your goal should be to prioritize customer needs, not internal ones. Strategies should be customer-centric, not vendor-centric. Define where there is natural orientation around the customer and adapt your strategies to fit those who don’t. Create organizational charters that align with the customer journey and have defined missions, operating metrics, cost metrics, activities, risks, and dependencies. Whatever part they play, all departments need proper enablement to go from a world of fragmented data to coordinated action.
The Periodic Table of Elements of Customer Success
Managing your customers in a unified way is incredibly complex. No single department, function, or organization encompasses every touchpoint with the customer base from the initial sales cycle through implementation, onboarding, renewal, expansion, advocacy, and beyond. The complexity can be daunting: no other team will juggle as many disparate goals, skillsets, and processes, indefinitely over the course of the customer’s lifetime.
It’s critical to have a structured framework to make sense of that complexity, not just to simplify the tangled web of corporate responsibilities, but to ensure that you’re doing the right things in the right way at the right time. As your book of business grows, you will run into a very hard ceiling on the scalability of your existing framework.
We know this because we’ve seen it more than 500 times. Over the course of 500 implementaions and countless case studies, we’ve observed and codified an evidence-based, prescriptive model that can be mapped onto any recurring-revenue business in any industry.
We call it the Periodic Table of Elements of Customer Success, or Elements for short. There are 16 Elements necessary for a holistic, company-wide Customer Success transformation. The Elements can not only simplify and focus your customer-facing strategy, but empower you with the scientific tools to enact that strategy to achieve proven results.
The rest of this guide will outline the Elements and get you started toward baking them into your organization.
Generating Insights and Taking Action
The first stage of Customer Success maturity, the Insights & Actions stage, can be broken down into four Elements—the first four of the Periodic Table. These are:
360° Customer View: You have a single source of truth for all relevant customer data that is easily accessible and actionable for our customer facing teams.
Lifecycle Management: You deliver a seamless experience for each customer segment across in person and digital touchpoints throughout the customer journey.
Experience Health: You execute closed-loop voice of the customer programs, take proactive action on customer signals (both positive and negative), and deliver insights to prioritize improvements on interactions across the customer journey.
Outcomes Health: You monitor health score measures that capture the current state of the customer towards reaching their desired outcomes for key customer-facing teams and executives.
These are the essential Elements of Customer Success. A helpful way to look at these Elements is to think about their negatives—what does your Customer Success framework look without them?
It’s easy to understand what it’s like to lack a “single source of truth” for customer data. You have information living in CRM, in-app feedback (likely owned by the Product team), survey and sentiment data (often in Marketing), and other inputs. This information is fragmented and will often send conflicting signals. (Maybe you have exceptional CSAT scores and NPS but a huge amount of unresolved support tickets.)
Furthermore, in the absence of a well-mapped customer lifecycle, you will never be proactive or systematic. You’ll have zero forecasting abilities and you wouldn’t be able to impact the customer even if you could!
Without an intelligently aggregated view of all data sources at every stage of the customer journey, the insights you gather are worse than useless—they’re misleading. That’s because Customer Success isn’t only about achieving the desired outcome—it’s also about delivering a great experience (remember, CS = CX +CO).
All together, these four Elements represent the best-practices framework to capturing and delivering Customer Success at its most basic level. On a purely tactical level, that means you have:
A single view of customer data
A basic customer journey
A way to listen to, analyze, and act upon customer feedback
A health scoring framework
Driving Outcomes Proactively
The second stage of maturity is called Outcomes, and it consists of eight Elements:
Adoption Management: You monitor your customers’ engagement with your products and services and take proactive action to drive adoption that leads to value delivery and long-term success.
Renewal Management: You track upcoming renewals, assess the level of risk, and make informed decisions on how to prioritize the teams efforts to maximize retention.
Expansion Management: You monitor customer signals to trigger upsell and cross-sell playbooks and take a programmatic, account-based approach to expanding strategic accounts.
Advocate Engagement: You identify successful customers at scale, encourage them to conduct advocacy activities on our behalf, and track the impact of your program towards driving growth.
Stakeholder Alignment: You schedule and execute personalized executive interactions at key moments along the customer journey to ensure business alignment, tailoring check-in cadences based on customer needs.
Risk Escalation: You proactively monitor signals of customer risk and take proactive action to mitigate and get customers back on course.
Success Planning: You systematically capture customers’ desired outcomes in sales cycles and execute mutually agreed upon success plans to ensure objectives are achieved.
Tech Touch: You leverage automation to send personalized message to customers at scale to increase engagement, drive adoption, and deliver outcomes.
The broad goal of these eight Elements is twofold: firstly to become more proactive in driving outcomes for your customer base and secondly to scale processes to all customers and segments as that base continues to grow.
The Outcomes stage drills down on key processes within the lifecycle of the customer: driving adoption, ensuring renewal and operationalizing upsell, creating and leveraging advocacy, sponsor change, managing risk, and capturing outcomes.
Let’s break this down tactically as well. To achieve the Outcomes stage of maturity, you’ll need:
A way to measure and increase product adoption (both in depth and breadth)
A process to forecast and ensure renewal
A process to identify and target customers to expand
An advocacy program
A process to engage with key stakeholders within your customers
A risk-response process
A system to capture customer outcomes before contract
Achieving Company-wide Transformation
In the Transformation stage, companies finally start to achieve company-wide buy-in to Customer Success beyond lip-service. The Transformation stage requires operational processes to expand the scope of people involved in ensuring outcomes and experiences across the lifecycle. Here are the four Elements of the Transformation stage:
Support Experience: You enable support to go beyond closing tickets by providing context and customer health and enabling cross-functional coordination to execute escalations effectively.
Services Experience: You align your professional services team to delivering customer success, not just project execution, by tracking project health scores that measure outcomes delivery.
Product Success: You drive continuous product improvement and prioritize enhancement requests through measuring customer engagement and direct customer feedback.
Company Success: You share customer data and execute on cross-functional processes to align every function to delivering Customer Success.
Most companies these days have internalized some sort of “customer focus.” The idea that the traditional power relationship between vendor and client has been disrupted is not novel for most business leaders. However, as far as what that means for the three pillars of a business system (people, process, and technology) is far from being defined.
In Customer Success, the key challenge of Transformation is access to data. Does your Support team surface insights from your customer data to improve ticket resolution? Does your CSM team collaborate with Support to gain better insights into risk? Are Professional Services projects aligned to Customer Success outcomes? And how does Product leverage customer feedback to prioritize improvements and releases?
That’s just scratching the surface. We’ve talked earlier about breaking down siloes—the Transformation Elements provide a process framework to help you actually accomplish that task. Keep in mind, companies that reach this stage of sophistication achieved the highest increase in NRR according to our data—an 11% jump! So what does this translate to on a tactical level? If you want that increase, you should aim to align:
Support cases to customer health
Services projects to customer outcomes
Product development to customer feedback
Each process and department to CS goals
We are convinced that Elements are the key the company-wide Customer Success, which is foundational to long-term and short-term success for any recurring-revenue company. Each Element is a framework encompassing people, process, and technology. We’ve talked about people and process, but what about technology?
It is not possible to advance in maturity and sophistication without the use of advanced software. Orchestrating multiple data sources, automating responses, scaling actions across segments and relationships—it’s all simply too much to manage without purpose-built software. But is it possible to implement the Periodic Table of Customer Success Elements without Gainsight technology specifically?
When you think about an element like Tech Touch—leveraging automation to send personalized messages to customers at scale—that sounds like something you can accomplish with marketing tools such as Marketo or Hubspot. And what about Experience Health? There are a bevy of CX tools available. Obviously Gainsight has direct competition as well, and then there are custom tools that larger companies have the resources to build in-house. It’s normative behavior in business today to cobble together “solutions” of disparate platforms, apps, and hacks.
That’s why our answer may seem counter-intuitive at first: It is impossible to implement Elements without Gainsight.
Gainsight is the only platform in existence both purpose-built for and powerful enough to deliver all 16 Elements to elevate your company in CS maturity to the Transformation stage. There is no precedent for piecemeal solutions or home-built software that can implement them from end-to-end.
That’s because Gainsight isn’t really a “tool” or even a toolset. If you’re trying to build a house, you’ll need the raw materials, yes, but you’ll also need a wide array of tools. Saws, hammers, drills, etc. But you’ll also need the skills and knowledge to lay the foundation, to frame the house, to plumb and wire it. If your core competency doesn’t encompass all of that—if you don’t own all the tools, you’re inherently at a disadvantage.
But you don’t need knowledge or tools to build a house to your exact specifications. You need a contractor.
Gainsight has the people, process, and technology to deliver company-wide Customer Success without gaps or stopgaps. If you want to evolve your company to the next level of sophistication, demo Gainsight today.