8 Steps to Building a Strong Customer Success Team

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Blake Toder
Blake Toder



You build a marketing team to attract new leads. You build a sales team to close new customers. And you build a customer success team to retain those customers and keep them happy.

customer success team

And when it comes to solving a customer retention problem, there are so many places to start that it's near-impossible to know what to tackle first.

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Over the course of the last year, I helped our customer success team here at HubSpot improve revenue retention from 80% retention to 100%. Through careful trial and error, I determined the first five actionable steps I would carry out if I were to redo my experience building my team — and I'm confident your team will see similar success in half the amount of time if you follow them from the get-go.

8 Actionable Steps to Build a Customer Success Team

If your business is just beginning its customer success program, take a look at the steps I would recommend taking for your team. 

1. Start with Talking to Customers

It might sound crazy, but the number one action item for a new customer success team to figure out is your target market.

Make a list of the customers that have reported success with your product, and another list of customers who have canceled or given negative feedback. Once you have these lists, start reaching out to the customers to learn more about the why behind their sentiments. Once you've written down all of your notes, highlight the trends of your happy and unhappy customers.

This is the first step in your persona development. If you're not bringing in the customers you're building your product for, you're going to be constantly fighting an uphill battle. 

2. Create an Onboarding Process

You may think that it's simple to learn how to use your product or service. While that may be so, it's easy to forget that you work with your products every single day and what's fundamental for you may not be as straightforward for others. Remember, you're an expert, but someone who's new to your company may not pick things up as quickly.

This is where an effective onboarding process can pay off for your customer success team. Rather than expecting customers to adapt to your products and services on their own, your team proactively intervenes and teaches them the best way to use your products. This saves customers valuable time during the early stages of the customer journey as it prevents them from experiencing common roadblocks that most new users encounter.

3. Deploy a Survey at Each Stage of the Customer Lifecycle

As your customer base grows, you'll need a more sustainable feedback mechanism for determining customer satisfaction. Prioritize getting feedback in all areas of the customer experience by creating and deploying a regular survey system.

A Net Promoter Score® (NPS) is one common way to survey your customers, but you can also add in surveys to other parts of the customer lifecycle — without overdoing the communication, of course. I suggest sending out a survey are after initially onboarding a new customer and at the point of cancellation. The more you can do to gather information if and when a customer cancels, the better you will be able to understand and help those customers — and retain more in the future.

4. Be the Voice of the Customer

I received this suggestion when I first started our customer success team at HubSpot.

One of the most important reasons to have a customer success team is that, by working with customers directly every day, you are the best people to represent their feelings about your product and company. You should compile this feedback by writing a paragraph weekly titled, “What it's like to be a customer at [Your Company].” Describe the highlights and lowlights of feedback from the customers' points of view, and make sure this is visible to the whole company either via email or any other internal communication system you use.

If needed, plan a weekly meeting where your customer success team meets with representatives from your product development and engineering teams to communicate customer feedback and pain points.

5. Develop Scalable Customer Success Features

It's easy to get excited about your new customer success program. After all, you're creating a win-win relationship with your customers that will lead to a cycle of success for both of you. However, you want to make sure this relationship can be maintained as both your company and customers develop and grow. Your customer success efforts may be effective right now, but if they aren't scalable, then you risk disappointing your current customers down the road.

One way to ensure scalability is to adopt customer service tools that your team can use to automate their daily tasks and functions. For example, a ticketing system can manage incoming service requests and distribute them to different members on your customer success team. You can also set up pre-written email templates that employees can use to standardize communication with new customers. Rather than taking the time to perform these types of menial tasks, customer service tools can save your success team valuable time and expand their bandwidth.

6. Provide Self-Service Resources

It's critical for your customers to get quick, simple answers to their questions when they use your product. And sometimes, their preferred method of getting help isn't jumping onto a phone call — it's conducting an online search to get their questions answered. That's where a knowledge base comes in — like ours here at HubSpot.

A simple way to get started with creating resources for your knowledge base is to write down any questions your customers ask more than once or twice. Once the question hits this threshold, you need a help resource to provide customers with the information and to solve for a common customer roadblock.

Knowledge base help resources might typically take the form of how-to articles, but today's modern buyer may benefit more from a quick answer, a how-to guide, a video explainer, or a webinar. Consider your persona and what they would be most likely to leverage if they ran into this problem when deciding which type of knowledge base content to create. Not sure? Just survey a few customers!

My final tip for creating self-service resources is that they don't have to be perfect.

Let me repeat, they do not have to be perfect.

In fact, the more you agonize about the quality of your resources, the less efficient you'll be. The frequency with which you will most likely need to update these articles as your product changes won't be sustainable if you're worried about them being perfect.

4X as many customers would prefer to watch a video about a product than read about it, so don't be afraid of taking the plunge into the world of video content — here's how to get started if you haven't made one before.

7. Send a Customer Success Report Card

Sending a weekly report card tracking KPIs is critical for keeping all teams on the same page.

The weekly report card should include things like the customer narrative, team process updates, relevant product changes, and relevant KPIs — like NPS or other survey results. This helps everyone committed to customer success keep a pulse on what's happening with your team on the front lines.

While these report cards should communicate metrics, they should communicate qualitative feedback, too. This information is just as valuable as it empowers your team to learn from past errors and help customers use time-tested best practices.

8. Collaborate With Other Departments

Your customer success team needs to develop a complete picture of the customer's journey, but often these employees only see a portion of your customers' experience. Customer success teams meet with people who have already purchased your product or service and don't get to see the decisions the customer makes up until the point of purchase. Instead, your marketing and sales teams handle this aspect of the customer's journey and exclude customer success from the buying process.

But how will your customer success team ever know when to cross-sell or upsell if they don't understand how customers make their buying decisions? Sure they may know the right upgrade to recommend, but that's useless if they can't present the offer in the right way and at the right time. By working with sales and marketing, your success team will have a better understanding of not only what to offer your customers, but how to offer it to them in an enticing way.

On the flip side, your sales and marketing can learn tremendously from your customer success team. Your success team can highlight the most current customer needs and advise marketing teams on how to best format their content. They can also transfer customers directly to sales reps when they're interested in upgrading or making additional purchases. That seamless transfer removes any hesitations customers may have when considering your products.

These are just some of the things I've learned from starting a customer success team.

For more ways to focus on customer success at your business, read about customer-centric culture

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

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