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How to create an effective customer success plan (+ a template)

Deliver successful customer experiences with data-driven strategies and operational processes with a customer success plan.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated October 20, 2023

Your business is only as successful as your customers are. Yes, you read that right. When you make sure customers have what they need to succeed, you also win as a business.

Customer success is comprised of four main pillars: building strong customer relationships, putting the customer first, providing value at every opportunity, and acting as the voice of the customer. In order for businesses to efficiently and systematically achieve the criteria above they should create customer success plans.

Customer success plans can boost customer satisfaction, improve customer retention, lead to future sales, create brand advocates, and increase customer lifetime value (CLV) for your business. Read on for more details about best practices, essential components, and a free, downloadable template.

What is a customer success plan?

A customer success plan is a strategic framework (document or visualization) that ensures a customer’s long-term success and satisfaction. It explains what customer success looks like at your organization and empowers your customer success teams by outlining goals and objectives, strategies, key activities, and resource allocation.

What is the purpose of a customer success plan?

The purpose of a customer success plan is to identify and align key activities required to support customer goals and objectives. To help meet these goals the plan would:

  • Consider in-depth data about the target customer(s) including their goals, objectives, existing knowledge, knowledge gaps, and where they are in their journey.
  • Use the in-depth customer knowledge to prescribe a series of prioritized opportunities that align with your products and services, and specific recommendations that will help them to meet their goals

In practice, this might look like an overview of service engagements, offers, targeted engagements, and more that align with customer goals and needs.

What is the difference between customer success and customer service?

Put simply, customer success is proactive support while customer service takes a reactive approach.

Graphic describing the difference between customer success and customer service

Customer success is a proactive and strategic approach that ensures customers achieve their goals and find value in the product or service they purchase.

Key characteristics of customer success:

  • Proactive: Customer success teams actively engage with customers, anticipating their needs and providing assistance before issues arise.
  • Relationship-driven: The focus is on building strong, long-term relationships with customers to foster loyalty and retention.
  • Outcome-oriented: Customer success aims to understand the customer’s desired outcomes and helps them achieve these objectives with the product or service.
  • Value-focused: The emphasis is on demonstrating the value of the product or service and how it can address the customer’s pain points effectively.

Customer service, on the other hand, is a reactive function that responds to customer inquiries, issues, and complaints. The primary goal of customer service is to address customer problems and provide solutions when customers encounter difficulties with the product or service.

Key characteristics of customer service:

  • Reactive: Customer service teams respond to customer inquiries and issues as they arise.
  • Issue resolution: The focus is on troubleshooting and resolving specific problems faced by customers.
  • Transactional: Customer service interactions are often transactional and may not involve long-term relationship building.
  • Support-focused: Customer service aims to assist customers in using the product or service effectively and solving immediate concerns.

Why is a customer success plan important?

A customer success plan ensures that there are data-driven strategies—and a plan for how to effectively use them—in place. If done correctly, a customer success plan can help:

Elements of a customer success strategy plan

Businesses can customize customer success plans to suit their unique needs and goals. However, you will find a few key elements in any plan.

A customer success plan typically contains:

  • Customer profiles

  • Specific goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

  • Important milestones and touchpoints

  • Key tasks for each stage of the customer journey

  • Strategies based on how soon a customer is likely to make a purchase and how much effort it will take for a sales representative to close the deal

  • Notes on high-impact processes that can be replicated

  • Guidelines for seamless internal handoffs

How to create a customer success plan

Now that you understand the importance of a customer success plan and know the key elements, let’s dive into our nine-step guide to creating an advantageous customer success plan.

Graphic describing the 9 steps to creating a customer success plan

1. Determine customer success team roles and responsibilities

Before you can carry out your customer success plan, you must hire a team of people with a customer-first mindset. These individuals will work together to enhance the customer experience and help customers attain their goals.

A few key positions you may consider hiring when building a customer success team include:

  • Chief customer officer: Recruit customer success leaders, oversee customer service teams, advocate for cross-functional collaboration, orchestrate strategies to increase revenue and advocate for impactful product updates.
  • Vice president of customer success: Lead the customer success team, launch customer goal achievement programs, provide strategy and technology recommendations, and balance customer needs with business goals.
  • Director of customer success: Interact with customers to understand their needs, identify sales and success opportunities, monitor customer success performance, and create strategies for return on investment (ROI) and churn reduction.
  • Customer success manager: Manage a team of customer success associates, educate the team about important goals and milestones, review customer data and feedback to identify sales and success opportunities, and promote product adoption and training.
  • Customer success associate: Advise and train customers, build relationships with customers, offer resources, and pass along important feedback to the customer success manager.

If your budget can’t accommodate all these roles, determine what your business needs most—like strategists or customer-facing agents—and make hiring decisions accordingly.

2. Create a customer journey map

Customer journey maps help customer success teams identify critical touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. Using insights from the map, businesses can identify areas of sales and CX opportunities, outline strategies to increase sales and customer retention, identify the most important tasks at each stage, and plan timelines. Typically, a customer journey map will include these stages:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Conversion

  • Adoption

  • Advocacy

With a clear understanding of the customer journey, let’s explore what success looks like at different stages.

3. Understand what success looks like at each stage of the customer journey

While customer success teams traditionally step in after the sales process, customer success is truly a cross-functional effort. Customer success teams should be well-acquainted with the customer journey and be aligned on what success looks like in the different stages of the journey.

Here are some examples of what success could look like at different stages of the customer journey:

  • Conversion: Customers move seamlessly from sales to customer success after a sale is made to begin the onboarding process
  • Retention: The customer renews their contract.
  • Advocacy: Churn rates and referral metrics indicate improvements in CX since initial benchmarks were set.

After you’ve determined what success looks like at every stage you can leverage data to identify and implement impactful opportunities.

4. Use data to identify high-impact opportunities

Customer success plans require accurate data from all departments. When done correctly, businesses can identify high-impact customer strategies and processes, increase overall engagement, and set up A/B testing (or split testing) to determine which strategy updates are most effective

Here are examples of data you can leverage to get key insights and find high-impact opportunities:

  • Interaction history and Customer Effort Scores to identify how much personal contact a specific customer needs to feel supported
  • Customer service and agent performance data to help determine if there are any repetitive tasks or processes that businesses can automate
  • Customer feedback and past support requests to help businesses understand which trainings and offerings will be most beneficial to customers

While keeping opportunities like these in mind, begin thinking about which interactions are vital to customer success and how you can streamline, automate, or improve those processes.

5. Outline processes for key moments in the sales journey

Here are some ways marketing, sales, and support teams can enhance CX and set customers up for success at each stage of the buyer journey.

  • Awareness: The marketing team creates a positive first impression, educates customers about how your product can help them, and sets the foundation for future interactions.
  • Consideration: Sales teams customize offers, product recommendations, and touchpoints.
  • Conversion: The success team onboards new customers and demonstrates how to use products.

  • Adoption: The customer success team provides additional training, sets up or configures the product, provides tools and guidance to help them get started, offers support, and upsells or cross-sells as needed.
  • Advocacy: The customer success team requests customer feedback and reviews about the sales and adoption process, implements findings, and proactively checks in with the customer.

6. Track customer success metrics and set benchmarks

Decide how you will measure the performance of your customer success efforts by selecting metrics and setting benchmarks so you can regularly analyze data. Some top metrics customer success teams should keep tabs on include:

Check customer success plan performance at regular intervals to ensure that:

  • Strategies are working tracking positively toward organizational goals

  • Teams and individuals understand their responsibilities and are collaborating efficiently

  • Frameworks for handoffs and data sharing are clear and still working as intended

7. Encourage collaboration between teams to achieve success at every stage

A good customer success strategy is created with the help of various departments to help customers achieve their desired outcomes. Here are a few examples of what this can look like:

  • Sales and marketing can work together to understand customer needs and develop content that appeals to their target market.

  • The success team can use information from the sales team to personalize customer experiences and proactively solve customer needs.

  • Customer service can use the customer success team’s interaction history notes to determine which resources the customer already has access to and identify the best way to resolve issues.

Graphic of cross-functional customer success plan collaboration

As essential as cross-functional collaboration is for achieving customer success, it’s equally important for agents to have access to high-quality software that enables them to do their jobs with ease.

8. Equip your team with the right tools

It’s ideal to invest in customer service software and customer feedback software before you form a customer success team. Access to these tools can give your team a better picture of your customers and their experiences with your organization, which can influence your plan over time.

Some key functionalities of CSM software include keeping track of customer feedback, issues, requests, expectations, and data. Customer service software features make this possible with:

9. Collect customer feedback

Regularly assess customer feedback and incorporate key findings into the customer success plan. Feedback is beneficial because it often provides contextual details that data doesn’t, so there’s a lot less guesswork, ensuring you experience less guesswork when determining the most impactful updates.

Businesses can leverage customer feedback to improve their customer success plan in the following ways:

  • Identifying pain points

  • Determining when customers need more support

  • Refreshing online resources

  • Providing better training

  • Improving the customer onboarding experience

  • Personalizing messaging

Ultimately, customer feedback can help your business effectively gauge the performance of your customer success plan, the impact new software has on business, and overall sentiment.

Free customer success plan template

Create a customer success plan that will positively impact your business goals with our free, downloadable template. Download the PDF and click to begin your customer success planning.

3 must-see customer success plan examples

There are different ways to structure your customer success plan, but remember to include the key components we discussed earlier.

Here are a few sample customer success plans for inspiration.

Customer success plan best practices

Now that you know the basics of developing a customer success plan, here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you create and implement it.

  1. Ensure goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.).

  2. Use data to create strategies for specific customer segments, sales journey stages, and customer needs.
  3. Clearly define who is responsible for which task and the desired outcome.

  4. Determine which repeatable tasks are essential and automate them.

  5. Increase sales by building trust and customer relationships rather than jumping to a hard sell.
  6. Share data and collaborate with other teams.

  7. Outline a clear customer experience design to guide future interactions.

Customer success starts with a plan

At the end of the day, customer success starts with a plan. Not only should approaches to different scenarios and customer segments be tailored, but your whole team should be aligned on the plan to deliver consistent excellence.

If you’d like more guidance while creating your customer success plan, download our free customer success plan template below to develop your robust plan. Also, see how Zendesk can help your team cultivate positive customer experiences at every touchpoint.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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