4 Key Metrics All CS Teams Should Measure

Between NPS, CAC, LTV, ARPU, and countless more, customer success metrics can feel like a confusing bowl of alphabet soup.

But CS metrics act as a guidepost to ensure teams are moving in the right direction and delivering results for their customers and company. Prioritizing the right metrics that tell the whole CS story can transform a company’s CS efforts. 

Measure What Matters

Unlike other departments that can track their success with hard quotas, customer success is relatively ambiguous. 

But that doesn’t mean that CS efforts aren’t crucial to a company’s success. In fact, companies that prioritize customers bring in 5.7x more revenue than their laggard competitors.  

Proving the value of CS requires tracking metrics. Measurement also pinpoints areas of improvement for CSMs, which improves customer relationships and helps customers see the full value of the product.

There are countless potential CS metrics, each with its own validity and reasoning. But let’s dive into the four top metrics for CS teams.

CSM Sentiment

As the frontline to customers, CSMs have valuable insights into a customer’s engagement and path to success. One of the most straightforward and robust metrics to track is CSM sentiment — how well do CSMs think the account is performing? Are customers engaged and responsive? These answers provide qualitative backing to CS metrics.

Tracking CSM sentiment means giving CSMs regular opportunities to measure the health of the account, such as rating its potential for renewal after every interaction or regularly scoring the account on a red to green scale. To be its most effective, CSM sentiment needs to be tracked religiously so CS teams can see patterns and changes over time. If CSM sentiment drops, CSMs can step in to strengthen and repair the relationship prior to churn.

It’s important to note that CSM sentiment is subjective. And while it’s a powerful tool that empowers CSMs and adds a human element to tracking metrics, sentiment is most effective when combined with quantitative measures.

Product Adoption Milestones

How a customer uses the product can indicate their engagement with the brand. What three to five actions do customers need to reach to be successful? These specific milestones vary by company but should be decided by the CS team to define a successful account.

To determine the more critical product usage metrics, look at what long-term customers do well or how the company wants customers to use the product. It’s important to understand the benchmarks of product adoption to allow you to truly understand what shows success in the tool and what shows intervention is needed. These metrics can include anything from tracking how many internal users a customer adds to their account or how many documents it uploads to a system.

Tracking these critical product usage components keeps customers on the path to integrating your product in an operational way. If a CSM notices a customer has stalled out on reaching one of these benchmarks, they can intervene to help the customer stay on their journey to full value and contract renewal.

Executive Business Engagement

Successful CS teams regularly meet with customers and involve executives to check status reports. These executive business reviews are a powerful gauge of a customer’s engagement and path towards full value.

The cadence of the meetings varies depending on the type of client and bandwidth of the CS team. But no matter the frequency, EBRs are an ideal time to discuss strategy with the customer, showcase the improvements the product has made to their business, and sell additional features if necessary.

Simply tracking if these meetings are happening can indicate a customer’s engagement level. Getting CSM and executive feedback after the meeting with a simple thumbs up or down can chart a customer’s strength and signal if they are headed in the right direction.

Outcomes Met Equal Value

And then there are the business outcomes. These metrics tie CS efforts to the bottom line and indisputably show their value. Although outcome metrics are lagging, they are relatively easy to track and monitor that customers and the business are moving in the right direction.

Money matters, especially when trying to prove the impact of CS. Mikael Blaisdell put it this way: “The true goal of Customer Success is getting the decision-makers at both the customers and our company to acknowledge and confirm receipt of the tangible value that we deliver. It’s about money. That’s the proof of value that counts.”

Tracking outcomes also pinpoints areas for improvement within the CS team and is a reliable quantitative measure of success.

There are a variety of outcome metrics CS teams can consider, but the most important fall into three categories:

  • Gross Renewal Rate, or the percentage of recurring revenue retained from existing customers over a set period without including upgrades or expansions.   
  • Net Revenue Retention, or Net Dollar Retention, is the percentage of recurring revenue retained from existing customers, including customers upgrading or purchasing new products.
  • Renewal, or the percentage of customers who renew their contract. The more customers renew, typically the higher the company’s revenue. Strong renewal scores also indicate that the CS team is moving customers to full value.

Adjust Metrics to Match CS Strategy 

Just like every customer is unique, so too is every company. The specific KPIs may vary depending on the size and resources of your CS team, the number of customers, type and complexity of the product, executive buy-in, strategic vision, and myriad other factors.

These four top CS metrics can be customized to meet your company’s exact needs. Don’t do something just because other companies are doing it. Find what works for your organization and tailor the approach to create a measurement strategy that proves the value of CS and improves customer relationships.

Finding Balance Between Lagging and Leading Indicators

The world of Customer Success (CS) is driven by metrics. But not all metrics are created equally. Understanding the differences between leading and lagging indicators can help paint a more accurate picture of your CS efforts.

What are Lagging Indicators?

Lagging indicators look backward and show what you’ve already achieved. Lagging indicators often fall into the financial category, including net revenue retention, churn, and renewal, and track whether you and your customers hit their financial goals.

When part of a strategic plan, these business metrics can help predict long-term success, whether the company’s initiatives impact customer success, and whether customers are willing to pay for the products and services. If lagging revenue or renewal rate is increasing, it’s a sign that your product, market fit, and strategy are aligned. However, if those lagging financial indicators are dropping, it could mean your CS strategy needs an update. 

The benefit of lagging indicators is that they can be strong measures of performance over time. Lagging indicators are also relatively easy to measure because there is a direct correlation to the predicted outcome. For example, things are going well if revenue is increasing and churn is decreasing. Tying these metrics to the activities during the measured life cycle and changes that impacted success can tell you if you are on the right track with your customers.  

Lagging indicators can also be powerful catalysts for future changes and improvements when tied to strong points of measurement in the customer lifecycle. Examining lagging financial indicators like total dollars churned can help CS teams identify patterns in when and why customers are leaving, which they can use to prevent the same things from happening to other customers.

However, the biggest drawback of lagging indicators and the reason they often get a bad rap is that they focus on the past. By the time you see a lagging indicator change, such as a drop in quarterly revenue or an increase in customer churn, it’s likely too late to do anything to solve the problem. 

What are Leading Indicators?

Conversely, leading indicators predict where things are moving in the future. Leading indicators like NPS, customer engagement metrics like adoption, usage, onboarding success, and time to total value help Customer Success Managers (CSMs) keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening with customers.

Because leading indicators are current, they can raise warning signals that help CSMs act before issues become larger problems. Leading indicators give insights into at-risk accounts so CS teams can see in real time who is struggling. Those valuable insights can help create a detailed roadmap to get that customer back on track before it’s too late. Leading indicators can also help nudge customers to renew or expand their contracts

On a positive note, these leading indicators can also show what an ideal customer looks like and help identify the ideal customer journey. Leading indicators help identify the levers to pull to increase customer satisfaction and predict long-term success for your customers. 

Match Your Metrics With Customer-Focused Objectives 

When choosing which metrics to measure, companies need to focus on two key objectives:

1. Delivering business value to customers

2. Delivering a positive customer experience

These objectives encapsulate the entire purpose of the CS team. Both of those objectives must be met for CS efforts to be impactful and for the company to grow. CS efforts are successful when customers see the value of using the product, experience an ROI from that product, and have a great experience while doing so.

Customers purchase software for a variety of reasons, but those reasons always center around a problem that needs to be solved. No matter if these problems are external or internal, the expectation is the same: the expectation is the same: the value of the software should ease or solve the pain identified in the sales cycle. Using the product should have a direct positive impact on the business, the problem, and the customer experience.

In an Ideal World, Lagging and Leading Indicators Work Together 

Lagging and leading indicators are both crucial to measuring a company’s success and the value of its CS efforts. You can’t create a path for future growth if you don’t know where you’ve been, just like it’s difficult to move forward without knowing where you’re going.

Leading and lagging indicators both have a role to play in the world of CS. Leading indicators provide a clear picture of if you’re hitting the two objectives of providing business value and a great experience to customers. Lagging indicators help you triangulate problem areas to correct. In other words, leading indicators measure progress towards a goal, and lagging indicators measure if that goal was achieved. The key is to balance them to paint the complete picture instead of relying too heavily on one or the other.

When it comes to lagging versus leading indicators, one doesn’t have to win over the other. Both types of metrics are essential to providing a CS experience that provides value and growth.  

People Leaders Win in Customer Success

Helping your customers succeed starts by helping your employees succeed.

You have to invest in the right employee, with the right role, and with the right culture to build a world-class customer success team that leads to a delightful customer experience.

You’ll never create a strong, positive customer experience without focusing on employees’ needs and skills and providing them the tools to succeed. We all know that customer experience makes all the difference in attracting and retaining customers, so it’s time to ask yourself how you can drive the right culture with your team to impact customers directly.

Great Customer Experiences Start with Great Employee Experiences

Customers can tell the difference between CSMs who are engaged and those who are burnt out. Employees who are valued and empowered at work want to provide better service and proactively build relationships to help customers see the product’s value.

BambooHR’s mantra, “If you create a great place to work, great work takes place,” has led it to regularly be named a top workplace with high engagement levels.

Being a successful CSM, especially in the software space, requires balancing technical skills with relationship-building. That skill set can be hard to find, so when you find it, you have to keep those employees because they can easily take their talents to companies that treat them better.

Engaged employees are not only 22% more productive but have a significant impact on increasing revenue.

Harvard Business Review researchers put it this way: “Any organization that has customer-facing employees should realize that they matter immensely to business success. They are not simply a cost to be minimized … but potentially very high impact investments.”

Driving customer satisfaction and success requires focusing on the CSM experience. And as the market becomes more volatile and competitive, you can’t afford not to focus on your people. CSMs and customers won’t stick around if they aren’t valued. Investing in your people and putting them first will naturally get the most out of your CSMs.

CSMs Are Your Secret Weapon

Too often, companies treat their CS teams like machines who pump out satisfied customers and renewed contracts instead of the people they are.

CS can be a challenging industry, especially for CSMs on the front lines who face the brunt of customer frustration, questions, and feedback every day. CSMs regularly work with multiple customers at once and manage delicate relationships through complex business decisions, not to mention enduring a pandemic and continual digital changes.

Instead of constantly pushing CSMs to work harder and produce more, CS leaders need to remember that they are highly skilled workers with a very specialized skill set. CSMs tend to be empathetic yet driven, technical yet operational, and critical thinkers. Encourage recognition throughout the team. One of the most effective ways to appreciate a CSM is to provide growth opportunities through new promotions or additional responsibilities.

9 in 10 employees believe organizations that recognize employees for professional and personal accomplishments are more empathetic. And more than 90% of employees say that recognition improves their productivity and the likelihood of staying with the company.

Remember, start-ups move fast, and CSMs have to be flexible. It might be tempting to ask the impossible of them in performance or time management or change their core role rapidly or often. This is how you burn out CSMs, decrease employee engagement, and cause your CSMs to decrease their engagement with customers.

Blocking time for CSMs to focus on strategy instead of spending their entire days in the tactical weeds is huge for mental health growth and job performance. And it’s a win for companies, CSMs, and customers — companies get revitalized employees, CSMs can develop fresh ideas, and customers get personalized service that meets their needs.

Empower CSMs with Tools, Training, and Time

CSMs work with customers and showcase a product’s features every day. Yet they are often the last to provide feedback or learn about product updates.

To be productive and efficient, CSMs need to understand the product and where it is going. As the product changes, CSMs should be the first to train on it, not customers. When CSMs are empowered with strong product training, they can showcase the most relevant features to each customer.

Instead of leaving CSMs on their own, successful companies have strong feedback loops between the CS team, the product team, and leadership. CSMs know the ins and outs of the product and hear valuable feedback from customers, which can lead to impactful improvements.

Empowering CSMs requires empathy and taking time to understand a day in their life. When leaders know a CSM’s workload, challenges, and roadblocks, they can support them in relevant and personalized ways. Similarly, understanding what tools CSMs need to do their jobs helps leaders provide the best resources and systems.

Many companies chase software to find suitable systems for their CS teams. But constantly switching processes takes a toll on CSMs who have to adjust their approach and change their workflows. Constant change hurts productivity and employee morale. Be strategic about system changes to keep employees engaged.

Happy customers are crucial to an organization’s success, and CSMs play a vital role in that effort. To get the most out of your people, you must put resources and effort into your people. Developing a strong CSM employee experience sets the stage for solid customer relationships, engaged employees, and continual growth.

Creating Engaged Customers and Product Champions

What’s the difference between knowing how to drive an old Ford Pinto around the block and winning a Formula One race?

Training, practice, and the right tools.

It’s the same with the engagement process of the customer journey.

If the initial adoption and training was giving customers the keys to the car and getting them set up with the system, then engagement is teaching them how to win the race. That means leveraging training and the technology to reach their desired outcome.

Engagement is the most crucial part of the customer journey and your chance to create a champion of your product or service for life.

When you win at engagement, renewal is all but guaranteed.

But too often companies and CS teams take a backseat approach to engagement and miss the chance to build powerful relationships that turn their customers into power users.

Here’s how to win at engagement:

Why Engagement Matters

The goal of engagement is to turn customers into masters of your product or service through repeated training and use. Truly engaged customers are connected with the product in a way that meets their unique (and changing) objectives.

Engagement is the most crucial part of the customer journey because it determines if your customer uses your products or services well enoug to get the full value and meet their objectives. When customers are engaged and see the product’s full value, they become loyal to your company. But when they aren’t maximizing what the product is designed to do, they are more likely to leave your company to try something new.

The clock starts moving on engagement as soon as customers reach their first value with the product or are completely set up with the software. Ideally, engagement should be complete, meaning the customer is meeting their objectives using your products or services, 30 to 60 days before renewal.

Engagement Requires a Proactive Plan

Engagement is a vital part of the customer journey because it provides CS teams with incredible opportunities to showcase their product and build lasting relationships with loyal customers. But the flip side is that when companies don’t win at engagement, they can lose potentially valuable customers.

The biggest threat to a successful engagement is having a hands-off mindset. You wouldn’t give someone the keys to a racecar and then ask them to let you know if they have any problems. You would provide the resources and training they need to understand the car. You would walk through the basic driving and safety features as well as the next-level features that will help them win the race.

Too often companies fall into the monitor mentality and give customers the keys with no other training. They invest heavily in the implementation and adoption phases and then back off at engagement. Instead of actively reaching out to the customer with training and resources, they become the support function and wait for the customer to have a problem.

Active engagement requires CS teams to have a proactive mindset and a comprehensive plan to serve customers. Engagement can’t be reactive or passive.

Successful engagement takes time and continual effort to ensure customers understand how to best use your solutions and use it to reach their goals. It requires staying in contact with customers and building solid relationships to continually learn and improve the value your customers are receiving.

Have a Scalable Plan

To win at engagement, you have to identify the features your customer must master to become a power user. Walking them through those features requires creating a strategic, scalable plan. Going into engagement without a plan is like taking a drive without a map or GPS. You’re much more likely to get lost and miss out on great views and opportunities because you’re too busy figuring out where to go.

A strategic plan requires proactive outreach, training, and awareness. CSMs need to religiously track metrics and analytics of a customer’s progress towards their goals and review the progress in monthly or quarterly meetings and trainings. Engagement isn’t a one-sided event from either the customer or the CSM — it requires communication, effort, and evaluation from both sides to make sure the customer is progressing towards the full value of your solution.

Researchers at McKinsey put it this way: “To unlock maximum value, companies need to address every opportunity to improve productivity while delivering a better service experience.”

A large part of staying in contact with customers, and scaling this effort, is through automated communication. Automated messages that share a new feature of the service or touch base with a customer help CS teams stay on top of their relationships and foster a proactive mindset.

Today, in many companies, these engagement messages are typically driven by the customer marketing group and are not strategically placed within the customer’s journey. They are often sent as a single “blast” and don’t take into consideration the context of where the customer is in the journey. CSMs are often running blind because they don’t know the marketing messages customers receive. To leverage the power of automated communication, CS teams need to have visibility and control into the messages customers are receiving. Combining customer marketing communications with the CSMs efforts creates a personalized engagement map that shows where the customer has been and the path they should take.

Create a Champion

The ultimate goal of engagement is to create a power user of your product. That naturally happens as you move through the first-year customer journey with a proactive plan. As customers transition seamlessly from implementation to adoption and engagement into renewal, they can build a relationship and see the product’s total value.

A customer accomplishes engagement when they relize your soluitons full value and are engaged and meeting the objectives they set when they first signed with your company.

When you win at engagement, the next step of renewal is the natural outcome. When you develop customers who leverage your product, they’ll never leave you. That’s why engagement is so critical. When you create champions, you create long-term customers who are equipped to win with ease.

What Metrics Matter Most for CS Teams?

In the world of client success, metrics are king. But it seems like every interaction or strategy has numerous metrics attached. How can client success teams find the metrics that matter instead of getting lost in a sea of KPIs?

It requires a strategic approach to focus on the most impactful metrics.

Most large companies have more than 50 CX metrics — some up to 200. It’s easy to get distracted by metrics that tell the side story instead of focusing on the essential part of the business: customers.

“Don’t collect metrics for metric’s sake,” says Greg Lloyd, co-founder and CEO of Affinity Canvas. “Metrics should always be something that, when achieved, provide value to customers.”

There’s no single set of metrics that applies to all companies. The metrics that matter change depending on the product or service a company offers, the customers it reaches, and how it interacts with customers.

Define Your Objectives

With a wide variety of metrics to track, CS teams first need to decide the objective of their metrics. What are you trying to achieve by tracking metrics?

At a high level, the purpose of all metrics is to grow the business. But too often, brands get caught up in tracking trailing revenue-related numbers like churn or retention and fail to see the bigger picture. Those metrics are helpful for the executive team and shareholders, but customer success teams have objectives beyond just moving the bottom line and need to choose their metrics accordingly.

According to Forrester, metrics need to show the quality of the customer experience, how the company can improve that quality, and how the business will benefit from improving the customer experience.

Deciding the objective helps you narrow down the many possible metrics. Hone in on the metrics that will help your CS team succeed. These are often leading metrics that move the business and customer relationships forward by encouraging customers to fully engage with the brand. The metrics that will make customers successful will make the CS team successful, making the business successful.

Two Categories of Customer-Focused Metrics

The most important metrics to consider fall into two categories: engagement and perception.

Engagement metrics look at how well customers engage with a product or service. Key engagement factors differ depending on the type of product or service a brand offers. For some brands, customer engagement occurs when a customer has logged on to an app or website a certain number of times or spent a certain amount of time talking with an advisor or interacting with the product. What shows that the customer is getting the full benefit of the services? How does the CS team know that the customer is fully engaged? Those metrics define the experience. Focusing on leading metrics for engagement moves the customer relationship forward and leads to faster results than waiting to find out the causation of lagging indicators.

Perception metrics look at how customers view the product. They offer an inside look at what customers think about the product or service. Widely used metrics like CSAT or NPS track how customers feel about the brand and how satisfied they are with the product and service. In general, when customers are satisfied and likely to recommend the brand to family and friends, they are engaged with the product and more likely to be loyal customers.

Both engagement and perception metrics are vital to providing a complete view of the customer experience.

Designing Processes Around Metrics

Identifying the metrics is only half the battle. The real impact comes from creating a tactical process to track metrics and tie them into continually improving customer success efforts. It’s one thing to measure if a customer makes a purchase, but it’s another to track how well the brand delivers value and gets the customer to engage. The process is where CS teams have the chance to shine.

Build a process to work towards engagement. If you decide the customer needs to have so many interactions with the product to be engaged or complete a certain amount of training, design a process for the CS team that directs the customer towards that engagement.

The true mark of metrics that matter is if they can be used to design a process to get the customer to the objectives and continually enhance the numbers. Thoughtfully and strategically tracking meaningful metrics can transform the customer experience to create more impactful and valuable interactions with customers.

2x Your CSM Team Productivity


In today’s competitive market, customer success is often viewed as a cost center. Instead of securing contracts and directly generating revenue like the sales team, customer success teams are often forced to do more with less.

But even without the direct line to the bottom line, CS teams play a critical role in a company’s success. CSMs are the bridge between the product and the outcome a customer receives and can make or break a customer’s experience with the company.

Between 2022 and 2027, the global CS management market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 24%. But just because the industry grows and more companies realize the impact and potential of a strong CS program doesn’t mean companies will necessarily see larger CS budgets. 

So, how can companies continue to reap the benefits of CS efforts without expanding their budgets or increasing headcount? How do you do more with less? Read on to find out.

Prioritize Strategy Over Tactics

A major culprit of a lack of CS productivity is getting stuck in the tactical. Instead of onboarding more customers and nurturing relationships, CSMs often get bogged down in a tactical quagmire, spending their days putting out fires. Creating a more productive CS team starts by freeing time in their day to focus on more strategic tasks.

A CSM’s typical day is broken into three main areas:

  • Tactical. Sending emails, chasing customers, updating CRM systems. In most companies, this takes up 50% of their time.
  • Operational. Setting up and working with the product. Time spent on these activities usually can’t be changed and is typically around 30%.
  • Strategic. Analyzing customers’ needs, getting customers to value, acting as a consultant and strategic partner. In most companies, these tasks only take up 20% of a CSM’s time.

However, when a company does more with less, a CSM’s responsibilities in strategic and tactical are flipped, meaning they only spend 20% of their time performing tactical tasks and 50% of their time with a strategic focus.

A strategic focus is a competitive advantage and can become a hallmark of your company. Instead of responding to angry customers or tracking down disengaged customers, a company that allows CSMs more time to think strategically can create processes to prevent these issues before they occur and ensure all customers are moving down the path to full value.

To move to a more productive strategic focus, start by identifying how CSMs spend their time. Look for roadblocks, bottlenecks, and tasks that pull CSMs away from their primary responsibilities. Automating or streamlining these tasks and creating an organization-wide strategic mindset helps CSMs prioritize their proactive, strategic activities instead of becoming tactical account managers. 

Automate Non-Mission Critical Tasks 

Emails need to get sent, and systems need to be updated. How can companies ensure those tactical and organizational tasks are still done without compromising a CSM’s strategic focus? The answer is in software and automation.

With the right software in place, CS teams can automate communication and onboarding, freeing time to focus on strategic tasks and building customer relationships. Automating the non-mission critical back and forth with customers means CSMs don’t have to spend their day putting out fires. By utilizing automation tools to streamline processes and tactical communication, CS teams can significantly increase their capacity for managing more business and connecting with more customers. Automation is easily scalable, meaning creating the system or investing in the software once allows CSMs to significantly expand their reach without increasing their workload.

Automation also ensures customers don’t fall through the cracks and get lost on their journey. When CSMs only respond to the neediest customers, it becomes a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. But there could be other customers with similar issues that don’t get the attention they need because they aren’t speaking up.

Instead of chasing health scores and going after customers at risk for churning, automation and the right software helps ensure that all customers are contacted regularly so that a relationship can be built.

But automation doesn’t mean rote repetition. CS teams shouldn’t sacrifice personalization in the name of productivity. Just because CSMs automate their check-in emails doesn’t mean every customer needs to receive the same message. Instead, communicate based on where customers are in the lifecycle creating automated check-in messages that are still relevant to the customer. For example, automate messages once they hit a certain goal using your tool or congratulate them as they move to a new step in the customer journey.

Level Up CSMs

In the competitive market for skilled CSMs, doing more with less often means training up-and-coming CSMs and developing them within the company instead of spending more on in-demand experienced CSMs. Research from Bain found that what differentiates great CSMs isn’t their experience or skills but their personality and mindset. That’s excellent news for CS teams looking to do more with less because they can develop the skills and expertise to create incredibly productive and effective CS teams. 

A CS team of relatively inexperienced CSMs isn’t a liability — it’s an opportunity to develop the next generation of CS professionals with the right tools and strategic mindset to make a difference in your company. As a bonus, hiring entry-level CSMs can often lead to significant cost savings. And with the right training and mentoring investments, you can level up those novice CSMs to become customer success experts with the right strategic mindsets. 

Empowering CSMs to be more productive requires creating a proactive customer journey to match the customer lifecycle. When CSMs have to figure out the next step for each individual customer, it takes up valuable time, especially as newer CSMs tackle the learning curve. But a set proactive path that applies to every customer quickly shows CSMs the next steps to take to help each customer reach full value. 

Effective CS software analyzes the data for each customer and provides a strategic path. Then, CSMs follow that path, keep the customer engaged, and move them towards full value with the product and renewal. The tactical work is done, which allows CSMs to hone in on the relationships that take CS to the next level. It’s the best of both worlds: increasing the impact of CS efforts while also expanding capacity and developing strong CSMs.

Customer success is a foundational component of every successful company. But seeing a solid impact doesn’t require hiring an endless amount of CSMs. With the right tools and mindset, you can do more with less and showcase the power of CS. 

Do You Have a Proactive CS Culture?

A company’s culture is how business gets done. It’s foundational to setting the tone for customer interactions and building a powerful brand with loyal customers. But too often, customer success (CS) teams fall into the trap of a reactive culture instead of a proactive culture.

The downside is that this mindset can spread throughout the company to dilute the impact of customer success efforts. But your organization doesn’t have to feel stuck in reactive ways. Here’s how to build a proactive CS culture and why it matters for the entire organization.

Why a Proactive CS Culture Matters

Customer success has the potential to create a powerful competitive advantage and develop long-term, loyal customers. But to do that, CS teams and leaders must embrace a proactive culture that empowers them to serve customers and help them reach for value.

A proactive organizational mindset matters for two key reasons.

First, it establishes the company as a strategic leader and helps customers get their desired outcomes with the product.

Second, a proactive culture leads to exponential scale, compared to linear growth with a reactive culture. Companies can’t expect to grow when they only put out customers’ fires. But with a proactive and intentional plan to move customers to full value, the company can scale much more quickly and serve more customers better.

Proactive Vs. Reactive Culture

The company culture impacts every interaction and process of the CS team. A major difference between reactive and proactive customer success is who makes the first move. With a reactive model, it’s up to customers to identify a problem and reach out. But companies with a proactive culture make the first move to support customers.

The ultimate goal of the CS team is to help customers reach full value. But that doesn’t mean leaving customers to their own devices to figure it out. Customers don’t know what they don’t know and shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight of asking for help.

Without a proactive culture, the CS team is a glorified (and expensive) version of customer support, simply answering questions as they arise instead of helping customers become power users of the product.

A reactive culture is like giving someone the tools to build a house without a blueprint of what they’re creating. Without a master plan, they won’t know the complete vision of what’s possible. They may get good at plumbing or electrical from trial and error, but without a guide to show them the whole picture, they’ll never be able to build a beautiful house.

A proactive CS culture gives the customer the tools and then continually guides them through the process to show what’s possible with those tools.

The benefits of a proactive culture extend beyond just the customers. Proactive CS teams establish their credibility as strategic thought leaders because they know what their customers need and the steps to get there. Proactive outreach can endear a company to customers and instill confidence by preventing issues before they occur. Because proactive service often reduces the number of support calls, a proactive culture can save money and headcount and allow you to apply your budget to scalable systems and tools.

Build a Scalable, Intentional Customer Plan

A proactive culture requires a scalable, intentional plan that moves customers towards recognizing full value. The plan ensures customers are never stagnant but always moving forward and increasing their competency with the product. This plan should lead customers through adoption and into the engagement stage while your customers realize true business outcomes.

Think of your customer success efforts as a manufacturing line that is constantly moving and creating finished products. What 5 or 10 things does a customer need to do to become a champion of the product? Identify those common steps among all customers and repeat that process for the entire customer journey.

Moments on the customer success manufacturing line could include successfully onboarding a customer, training their users to follow a data-driven usage path, and reviewing their first business outcomes. When you know when those strategic steps are supposed to occur and the stage they are aligned with, you can proactively reach out to customers and keep them moving instead of falling dormant or not reaching the product’s full value.

But that’s not to say that a proactive culture takes a copy-paste approach for every customer. Although there are common steps among all customers, you should also garnish the plan with unique steps for each customer. These steps can include helping customers implement your service into their existing processes, hitting specific benchmarks, and expanding their product use into new areas.

The shift towards a proactive CS culture requires finding the core vein of progression. You must continually follow a plan instead of being defensive or waiting for customers to come to you with questions or issues.

First Steps to Establishing a Proactive Culture

Knowing the importance of a proactive mindset is one thing. Putting it into action is something else entirely.

Shifting to a proactive culture can’t be accomplished overnight. But the shift is possible and entirely worth it for gaining long-term loyal customers instead of always playing catchup.

To be effective and lasting, the culture shift must be company-wide. Branding expert Denise Lee Yohn put it this way: “Culture has become a strategic priority with impact on the bottom line. It can’t just be delegated and compartmentalized anymore.”

The effort should be led by the CS team but closely guided by Product. Traditionally, the Product team has focused solely on the software’s function. But with a proactive culture, Product and CS work together to design and tweak software that helps customers reach full value.

When Product understands the importance of a proactive culture and is on board with the new mindset, the team creates features that the CS team then proactively showcases to move each customer down the manufacturing line.

But even beyond CS and Product, every team plays a role in the proactive culture. Customer success is more than just technology. Every interaction a customer has with the company contributes to the experience.

With all this in mind, what’s the first step to creating a proactive CS culture in your organization? Journey mapping. The CS team should work with the Product team to journey map the lifecycle of a customer’s first year, including the customer’s goals and objectives. Start with implementation, adoption, and engagement, and then add smaller steps and personalized nuance.

Once you’ve established the journey map, proactively guide new customers through each step to reach full value. Then, slowly migrate existing customers where it’s appropriate. Existing customers may be in different lifecycle stages, so slowly transition them onto the line.

Over time, the proactive culture will spread and become part of your company’s brand promise.

Creating a proactive CS shift is a serious mental shift. There are countless excuses to stay with a reactive strategy, but you can’t wait any longer to make the shift.

Today’s customers require proactive service. With a strategic and intentional plan, you can create an organization-wide proactive culture that builds loyal customers and celebrates their success.

Why CS is Critical in the Startup Phase

Early in the startup phase of a new business, you’re likely in the weeds of developing a great product, researching the market, securing investors, and hustling to make a sale. But during this critical phase, don’t forget about one of the most important strategic areas: customer success.

CS is critical to your success as a startup and sets the tone for scalable growth. Don’t wait until you have a large staff and more resources. Add CS structure early in the startup phase to boost your competitive advantage and growth potential.

Do More With Less With Strong Startup CS

The startup phase is between an idea and an actual product. In this phase, it’s critical to use all of your resources to build an effective product and viable business. You may not have a full customer experience program or Voice of the Customer (VOC) system in the early stages. But you can have customer success, which is a powerful tool for gaining customers and getting helpful insights.

By building relationships through CS efforts, you’ll be able to see your product in action and get insights from customers into what works well and what can be improved. Be loud in pushing what customers are saying to the Product team. That feedback is invaluable to building a lasting product and company.

CS also helps earn business. Customers know that purchasing from a startup comes with risks as the company finetunes its product and adjusts to the market. But delivering high-quality service that adds value helps startups overcome much of that risk to create a competitive advantage and secure new customers. Companies like Podium, AtlasRTX, and Qualtrics leveraged their CS focus to grow into industry powerhouses.

Starting your company with a CS focus sets the tone for putting customers first. Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than the competition. A dedicated CS strategy from the start creates a proactive culture and can build your company’s reputation and brand promise.

Building Your Initial CS Strategy

There isn’t one correct CS structure for startups because there are many variations of startup operations. But no matter how your CS efforts are organized, hiring the right people who can grow with you, be flexible with a fast-paced startup culture, and are willing to wear several hats during the early days is an absolute must.

Too often, startups hire for CS and tuck the team away in a corner. They see them as support and not as a strategic hive. Founders need to stay close to CS and understand the strategy of what a best-of-class CS organization can and should deliver. After all, churn is a company-wide metric, not just a CS metric, so it’s critical that leadership understands each stage of the customer journey and each business unit that impacts customer success. Every department and employee, especially in the startup stage, has a role to play in serving customers and helping them reach full value. That mindset starts with leaders and needs to permeate the entire company.

To structure your CS team, you need to understand how long it takes customers to reach first value. For a company with a short onboarding or implementation period that gets customers to first value within a few days, the CS team will likely need to be larger to move customers quickly through the condensed implementation process. But for a company with a longer time to first value, the CS team can likely be smaller because more steps are involved in the initial processes that may not require as much intensive hands-on work.

Flexibility in CS employee roles can also be beneficial as the company grows. In startup culture, employees expect to wear many hats and change responsibilities. This is especially true with CS efforts. As with everything in a startup, flexibility and agility are essential. But never forget that you hired people with specific skill sets; the changes you make should align with those skill sets and the product as it is today.

Scaling your CS Strategy

Prioritizing CS in the startup phase allows you to build best practices into the foundation of your company. Instead of piece-mailing customer service to your first customers, a strategic CS focus allows you to create solutions that can scale with the company so you don’t have to rebuild processes later on.

The most crucial aspect of customer success is implementation. If you don’t win at implementation, you don’t keep customers. There’s no point in creating a strong adoption or renewal effort if the implementation isn’t effective. But when you nail implementation, you can easily scale the process. Start your efforts in the first stage with simple but effective action steps. Focus on what brings value to the customer and the essentials they must know from the beginning. A simple but potent implementation puts customers on the path to adoption, engagement, and first-year renewal and becoming loyal, long-term customers. Remember, time isn’t everything, and quality is always the most important aspect of delivery. You have to find a way to move fast but keep quality top of mind.

Just like a startup, CS is constantly changing and evolving. Your first version of onboarding or customer journey mapping may require multiple iterations before you land on something that connects with employees and customers. Who you are as a company and what your product is in those early days may change often, in fact it should. But always remember it should change in a strategic, methodical way. Too many changes too quickly will cause chaos in your organization and your customer relationships.

What matters most is a customer-focused mindset that prioritizes CS and makes it a hallmark of your company as a startup and as you grow. Bring your customers to the conversation, get their feedback, and always share not just where you are but where you are going.

Stop Chasing Health Scores

Medical experts agree that establishing a healthy lifestyle and preventing disease is more effective than treating patients once they’ve gotten sick. Proactively developing healthy habits often prevents patients from getting seriously ill and makes it easier for them to recover when they do get sick.

So why do so many companies take the opposite approach when it comes to their customers?

Customer health scores play an essential role in CS efforts but shouldn’t be the driving force behind them. To succeed, stop chasing health scores and instead develop a thoughtful and proactive customer success strategy.

Health Scores Are a Checkup of Customer Progress

As the name implies, a customer health score is a metric used by CS teams to determine if a customer is healthy (engaged and actively using the product) or at risk (not engaged and struggling with the product). Each company tracks the health score in its own way, but common factors include adoption, product engagement, customer satisfaction scores, and account growth. If a customer is hitting all the right metrics, their account is in a good place. But if they are falling behind the target metrics, their account is unhealthy and requires quick intervention to get them back on track.

Customer health scores are a valuable metric to track customer engagement and the overall health of the account and relationships. Customer relationships can get complicated, especially with CSMs managing multiple customers simultaneously, all with different needs and at various points of the customer journey. The customer health score is a relatively simple indicator to help CSMs prioritize their outreach and quickly know which customers are struggling and need extra help and which customers are engaged and using the product well. At a glance, CSMs can distill multiple factors into a single metric that is personalized to each customer’s goals and progress.

The customer health score should be an early warning sign for strategic intervention. Customers don’t fall from being engaged to ending the contract overnight. There are warning signs and steps along the way. The health score acts as a checkup to track those indicators so CSMs can see the customer’s progress and intervene if necessary before they lose the account and the relationship.

…But They Shouldn’t Drive CS Teams

If customer health scores help CSMs prioritize and deliver great service and reduce churn, shouldn’t they be a significant metric for CS teams? Not necessarily. Too often, companies rely solely on health scores and miss opportunities to build relationships.

Health scores are important, but they aren’t the end all be all. Chasing customer health scores puts CS teams in an unhealthy reactive mindset. Instead of continually serving customers and proving the value of the product, teams focused on health scores wait for the score to drop before they intervene or improve the relationship. A real danger if your health score isn’t modeled correctly is that you’ll find yourself chasing lagging indicators instead of leading ones.

Health scores can be a good initial indicator of the customer’s engagement — the triage if you will — but the meat of the CS efforts comes from proactively serving customers and moving them forward with an intentional and well-thought plan.

Proactively Winning at Every Stage

The best CS efforts are proactive and don’t wait for the health score to drop. Just like a doctor wouldn’t wait for a patient’s blood pressure to get dangerously low before providing treatment, a CSM also shouldn’t let the health score drop before stepping in.

It’s more than just checking in with the customer 30 days before the account is up for renewal. A proactive approach to customer success starts by understanding the function and value of the CS team and seeing it as the strategic bridge between the technology and the outcome for the customer.

Proactive CSMs have a strategic process and know the exact steps to lead the customer down the path to reach the ultimate destination: achieving their maximum value of the product. But without data, without a plan, CSMs can’t know the steps to take.

A proactive plan goes through all stages of the customer journey, from implementation to adoption, engagement, and renewal. Successful implementation sets the customer up with the product and gives them access to the tools. Adoption provides the initial training and showcases the product’s value, which leads to engagement or becoming expert users. From a successful engagement, renewal is nearly automatic because customers have seen the product’s full value to achieve their goals.

Succeeding at each stage keeps the customer moving forward on the path to a long-term and renewed relationship with the company. Instead of customers wandering aimlessly as their health scores drop, CSMs can keep them on the path and succeed through each stage forward to reach their desired outcomes. The plan needs to be thoughtful, personalized, and consistent.

Health scores have a role to play, but they shouldn’t be the sole focus of CS teams. Instead of waiting for a patient’s vitals to drop dangerously low and move into crisis mode to save them, CS teams can take a proactive approach to develop a consistently healthy lifestyle. Creating a proactive plan and moving customers forward through each stage leads to long-term success. 

How To Win at Implementation

Every stage of the customer journey is critical to reaching the ultimate goal of renewal and customers enjoying the product’s full value. And that journey starts with customer implementation.

If your product is the racecar and the renewal is the finish line, implementation is when customers get the keys. This is the stage when CSMs give customers access to the product, create accounts, and organize the system to meet their needs.

Winning at implementation is crucial to a customer’s overall success and the start of winning at every stage. Giving the driver the keys doesn’t guarantee success on its own but is the crucial first stage in getting across the finish line.

Let’s dive into the three critical elements to win at implementation.

Follow a Strategic Plan

Winning at every stage of the customer journey requires creating an intentional and thoughtful plan.

In many cases, implementation is a customer’s first impression of the product in action. Successful implementation starts by realizing its importance in setting the customer up for success from the very beginning. This means knowing their desired outcomes, having a plan to get there, and what success looks like in the end. Implementation isn’t just a one-time box to check but part of a larger strategy that sets the groundwork for success. Winning at implementation means introducing the product and establishing a relationship for future growth.

Implementation also requires its own strategy to move from day one to first value. The most critical metric for implementation is time to first value, or how long it takes a customer to get stood up.

As soon as a customer signs a contract or finishes the sale, the clock starts ticking to deliver value. The definition of value varies for each company and often for each customer, depending on their goals. Value can be getting five users on the system, uploading 10 files, managing the client dashboard for 30 minutes, or any other benchmark that shows customers are connected to the product and on the path to full engagement. Working towards first value provides CSMs with a concrete goal and timeline and sets the stage for future engagement.

The shorter the time to customers experiencing quality-based value, the more successful the implementation and the sooner customers can start using and engaging with the product.

Communicate Transparently and Show Value

Reducing time to value requires overcoming the biggest threat to winning at onboarding: the trough of disillusionment. When customers sign a contract and have a strong kickoff call, they are excited to jump into the product. But when they can’t connect their needed outcomes with the plan established or, worse, get no communication from the implementation team, that excitement plummets as they have to wait to see value. Customers start to assume the worst and may get buyer’s remorse. The trough of disillusionment can halt progress and be challenging to recover emotionally.

To avoid buyer’s remorse and keep the momentum moving forward, communicate as much as possible. CSMs need to offer regular updates to customers about what is happening internally, the status of their account, and when they can expect the next steps. Taking credit for your work behind the scenes adds value because customers can see all of the time and effort that goes into setting up the product. Don’t wait to reach out until the customer needs to take action — over-communicate and keep the customer in the loop.

Over-communicating means providing customers with all the information and updates they need in one place. Some companies send automatic alerts when the account reaches specific milestones or the back-end team does certain tasks. Other companies build dashboards for customers to easily see the status of their account and any action items they may need to complete in one location.

Providing clear communication throughout implementation shows that CSMs care about and are working for the customers and establishes trust between both parties. Remember, this is just one stage of a customer’s success plan, but it is critical.

Show Value and Celebrate Every Stage

One of the biggest mistakes CS teams make is viewing implementation as a purely logistical step. In actuality, it is prime time to showcase the value of your product. Celebrate wins to share your excitement with the customer and continually highlight the product’s value. Implementation sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. When CSMs are excited and continually showcase and re-sell the value of the product, that excitement will spread to customers and make them more excited to jump in and use the product fully to meet their goals.

Celebrations can happen at many milestones — the moment the company receives access, the first time the customer logs in, the first time they take the reins on their own, and more. Each celebration is a chance to show the value the product brings to the table and strengthen the relationship with the customer. An excited note or phone call celebrates the occasion and moves the customer forward.

If implementation is giving your customer the keys to the car, celebrating is like congratulating them on getting their driver’s license. It gives them confidence and excitement to continue moving forward on their own.

Viewing implementation as a crucial part of the customer journey increases its magnitude. When CS teams understand the role implementation plays in establishing the relationship, they can deliver value quickly and showcase all the product offers. Winning at onboarding puts customers in the driver’s seat as they move towards the next step of adoption.