Contents of an Awesome Customer Success Playbook

Customer Success has been clearly defined and what goes into Customer Success Management has been fully documented.

But when it comes to certain aspects of Customer Success Management, there are still a few things that remain a bit mysterious to some.

A great example of that is the concept of the Customer Success Playbook, the sports analogy-based workflows, processes, interventions, etc. – called “plays” – to run with the customers when something happens.

I haven’t talked about Customer Success Playbooks much, and here’s why.

While there are high-level Customer Success frameworks like those I use with my clients, the way we orchestrate and operationalize a Customer Success-driven Growth strategy is different enough across companies, products, and customer segments, that trying to create a one-size-fits-all Customer Success Playbook that works for all companies is never going to – or should never – happen.

But my lack of coverage of this subject doesn’t mean Customer Success playbooks aren’t important; they absolutely are super-important. They’re so important in fact, that trying to come up with generic ones that would work for any company isn’t something I think can be or should be done! So I’ve avoided talking about it publicly.

A friend of mine asked me for some advice the other day. She knows that I’ve helped hundreds of companies around the world with their Customer Success-driven Growth strategies, but she decided to start by Googling around.

After finding unhelpful posts or forum answers on how to create generic Customer Success playbooks, she came to me.

So I typed up the following for her and since she liked it, I thought I’d share my take on how she should go about creating Customer Success playbooks for her unique situation with you, too.

Caution: No Sample Playbooks Included

I’m not going to give you a sample playbook here. If you’re looking for that, stop reading.

What you’ll find below is what should go into a Customer Success Playbook, why that is, and links to articles I’ve written that will help you develop the right plays for your business.

I’m a big believer in knowing “why” you’re doing something first, so that the “how” will actually work.

For example, three clients I’m working with right now are:

  1. A Point of Sale software & hardware vendor for a very specific regulated retail niche in the United States
  2. A content generation service that powers the inbound marketing of a handful of business types in South America
  3. An email marketing SaaS in Australia focused on Large Enterprise customers

It should be very clear that a playbook for one of those would not be appropriate for the other two (if that’s not clear, please keep reading, follow ALL of the links, and read those, too).

I don’t want to share a sample playbook here… if you need one, go find someone else that doesn’t care if you learn how this stuff actually works and get a playbook from them.

I’m not here to make less work for you… I’m here to make you successful!

In fact, you should be careful about people that are…

Sharing Their Limited Experience

In public forums, individual Customer Success leaders looking to be helpful will often say “this is how we do it at XYZ corp.” And while that’s potentially interesting, unless what they’re doing fits your unique situation (same product, same customer segments, etc.), what they’re doing, their plays aren’t really that helpful.

What would be more helpful is if those people talked less about what their plays are and more about how they came up with the playbook; the thinking that went into it. This never really seems to happen if for no other reason than they probably haven’t had the luxury of taking a step back to think about what went into the thinking in the first place!

But even then, their experience is likely limited to the company they currently work for and maybe the one before it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is a limited perspective.

So that limited perspective, coupled with a lack of time, means most of the time, what’s shared is simply what they think should go into a playbook from a functional standpoint: roles, events, high-level plays, etc.

At a high-level and with some basic understanding of Customer Success, those inputs into the creation of a Playbook are somewhat obvious, so I won’t cover those here.

Instead, I’ll talk about…

The Non-Obvious Aspects of a Customer Success Playbook

While the roles, events, and plays themselves might be obvious, what you should include for YOUR Customer Success playbook and why may not be so obvious.

Like everything in Customer Success, it all starts with understanding your customers:

  1. Your Customer Success Playbook will be 100% unique to your company
  2. Customer Success Playbooks are meant to help your customer achieve their Desired Outcome; help them get the outcome they require in an appropriate way
  3. A playbook may contain some of the same things found in the playbooks of other companies, but the details will be 100% unique to your company
  4. You’ll need a separate playbook for each of the discrete, logical customer segments for each of your unique products and services
  5. You’ll need a separate playbook for new customer segments that are formed when one segment of one product expands their use into another product
  6. You’ll need a separate playbook for the different cohorts (within the discrete logical segments) based on Success Potential and Success Vector
  7. Each playbook may share 90% (just an example) of the same things, but it’s that 10% difference for each customer segment that will make or break the effectiveness of the playbook
  8. You’ll need Proactive plays that you use to move the customer along the path to success
  9. You’ll need Reactive plays that allow you to intervene when the cusotmer goes off the path to success
  10. Map out everything listed below for your unique business and the unique customer segments within, and then build your playbooks around that

A Playbook for Life(cycle)

Your Customer Success Playbook should be structured around the customer lifecycle and what must happen for customers to be successful – on your side and on their side, inside the product and beyond – for them to:

  1. Achieve first value through effective and efficient customer onboarding
  2. Reach their initial adoption goals
  3. Achieve long-term adoption goals (rarely will this be 100% where expansion opportunities exist; you’ll want to upsell them around 90% utilization or earlier so they never stagnate at capacity)
  4. Continually realize evolving value; considering this is the majority of the 3, 5, 7, or 10+ years their with you, obviously one line in a list doesn’t do this part justice

A Playbook for Customer Success-driven Growth

Remember, Customer Success-driven Growth is growth – upsells, cross-sells, customer advocacy, viral expansion, etc. – that occurs as part of the customer’s evolution and success. As customers succeed and evolve, their relationship with you should evolve and grow as well.

For customers to achieve their ever-evolving Desired Outcome, they’ll need to stay past a renewal, and they’ll very likely need to consume more of our core product, adjacent products, services, etc., so we say Expansion and Renewal are part of the customer’s success.

Your Customer Success Playbook should include:

  1. What to do when they reach a Success Milestone where there’s an upsell opportunity
  2. How to orchestrate the upsell internally and with the customer
  3. When they reach a success milestone where they’d want to advocate for you publicly or internally
  4. How to orchestrate the advocacy opportunity internally and with the customer
  5. What to do when an external trigger exposes an upsell or advocacy opportunity (and how to orchestrate those; see above)
  6. What to do when the internal champion moves to another company (should be two plays here: one on how to handle the change at the customer and one on how to leverage the connection at a new company)

When Bad Things Happen

As much as we try to keep anything negative from happening, you need to create your Customer Success Playbook to include how to handle negative situations, too, like when the customer:

  1. Veers off the path toward success (and we need to intervene)
  2. Goes dark
  3. Doesn’t pay their bill
  4. Unexpectedly churn
  5. Expectedly churn
  6. Graduates or outgrows your product or service

Systematic Enrichment

Your Customer Success Playbook should include how to apply insights:

  1. To proactively feedback the insights gained from the customer lifecycle to marketing
    1. In most cases, especially in the early days of Customer Success in your company, no one is going to ask you for this stuff… you have to be proactive
  2. For enriching Sales so it helps them acquire good fit customers and avoid bad fit customers
  3. For enriching Marketing so they can target higher-value customers and avoid customers that are a bad fit
  4. For enriching Product so it helps them understand how the product is actually being used
  5. To enrich your Executive team to show how much value the Customer Success Management organization is bringing to the company

Operationalizing Customer Success Playbooks

Other considerations for your Customer Success Playbook are:

  1. The playbook needs to be centralized so everyone is working from the same version of the truth
    1. This is one of the key elements of purpose-built Customer Success Management software, with some products incorporating a Playbook sharing platform into the product (though remember what I said earlier… it has to apply to your situation!)
  2. The playbook will constantly be updated as you learn; there is no set it and forget it in Customer Success
  3. Make sure everyone is aware of the changes as you make them so they know to work off the new or updated plays
  4. Your playbook will never be “done” … so temper your – and management’s – expectations around that
  5. Customer Success Bots – powered by underlying Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – will eventually be able to serve totally custom “plays” to each customer either directly through a conversational user experience (UX) or by involving a human CSP to give the right message at the right time.

I hope this helps you on your journey toward making your customers successful.

About Lincoln Murphy

I invented Customer Success. I focus primarily on Customer Engagement. Learn more about me here.