If two-thirds of sales come from repeat business, then any small business owner should be willing to move heaven and earth to keep existing customers happy.

But most companies aren’t in the business of selling happiness. They sell results.

Therefore, the key to your customer relationships will be how well you deliver on your promise to help your customer get results. That’s why many companies today find it more precise to speak of customer success rather than customer satisfaction. The distinction sounds subtle, but “customer success” reflects a pretty big change in the way you build relationships with customers.

Here is how to infuse that mindset across your own company and make it work for you as you grow your business.


It starts with attentive customer relationships


A customer-success mindset comes from your company’s ability to embrace the word “relationship.” Seriously, get a tiny bit mushy here. Joseph Pigato at Sparked, a customer success analytics platform, says he’s sent cheesy pickup lines (“Wanna get some coffee? Because we like you a latte.”) in customer welcome emails.

It’s goofy, but it sets a warm tone and communicates to customers that you care. Customer relationships are still like any other relationships: The more work you put into them, the more you will get out of them.

The way you express that thoughtfulness will come through in your interactions with your customers: In your initial outreach, in your follow up emails, in your product demonstrations, and in how you handle support requests. Those interactions cumulatively define the customer experience you offer, and ultimately the promise you make to help your customers do whatever it is they’re trying to do.

“When designing and delivering on customer experience initiatives, we can get carried away with grand gestures of gifts, discounts or other special things, which don’t really matter if we don’t handle the small details that happen when we’re delivering our product or service,” business strategist Maggie Pattersonwrites. “Mapping out those touch points and ensuring we deliver on our brand promise is always going to be more effective than the most amazing thank-you gift.”

Any company can proactively strengthen customer relationships simply by reaching out. Even fast food chain Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgersmakes this mindset work for its company. Megan Wenzl at ReviewTrackersreports how the company regularly monitors social media mentions, engages with customers, and incorporates customer input whenever there is a request for, say, a gluten-free bun option.


Folding a success mindset into your customer relationships


The Freddy’s example is illustrative because it shows how any business in any market can prove it is invested in helping its customers get what they want. For companies with more complicated products and services, helping customers succeed becomes more complicated. The basic premise, though, remains the same.

“One of the most important things to understand about customer success is what it is not,” writes Kate Harvey at Chargify, which helps companies that rely on subscription models manage recurring billing.

“It is not taking your sales or tech support team and renaming it ‘customer success.’ It starts by recognizing that your customers need more than documentation, automated onboarding flows, and drip email campaigns for you to live up to the promises made on your website and landing pages.”

Customer success enables customer retention


For companies such as software-as-a-service providers that do rely on subscription models, customer success teams are great at reducing churn, or the proportion of customers who cancel each month. Someone dedicated solely to customer success can help a customer get through the initial setup process and can help guide customers over the duration of the relationship.

In any industry, customers will look to take their business elsewhere for a variety of reasons. Whether you have a dedicated customer success team or a small group of team members wearing many hats, a customer-success approach to your customer relationships provides a useful line of defense against such departures.

Alex McClafferty at Glide Consulting has four questions you can ask these customers to steer that relationship back on the right course. He lists these questions at the Totango blog:

  1. “What has changed in the last few months?”
  2. “What impact is this having on you and your business?”
  3. “What would an ideal solution look like to you?”
  4. “If we can resolve this, how would that affect your view of our product and service?”

Notice how these sound like questions your sales team would ask. The difference this time is you aren’t seeking an opportunity to become your customer’s new provider but figuring out how you can remain your customer’s trusted provider — whether that’s as a provider of accounting software, electron microscopes, or burgers with gluten-free buns.


Championing customer success creates new sales opportunities


When you champion your customers’ own causes, you build a tighter bond that helps you understand their needs, their worries, and their ongoing pain points. Knowing this, and having a smart CRM to store that knowledge, puts you in a position to sell more of what you do well to those customers.

“Part of the beauty of having a dedicated customer success team is that you establish an open line of communication with your customers and have someone who is directly responsible for the health of an account,” Benjamin Brandall writes at the Process Street blog.

“While sales teams would traditionally be checking in with customers to offer them upgrades, using a dedicated team leaves sales to focus on closing deals with new customers. By analyzing the client’s workflow, customer success managers can get an idea of the account usage and offer a higher package at the right time, or access to an add-on that will make the customer’s life easier.”

Customer success can take over when customer support isn’t enough


Also as in any other relationship, you may one day have a misunderstanding or make a misstep with a customer. Here is where having forged bonds with customers, collecting data, and knowing their pain points can smoothe things over if a breakup appears imminent, especially when your customer is another company with many influencers and decision-makers.

As Ken Dunn, founder and CEO of ReadersLegacy.com points out, your focus on building relationships means you will likely have a supporter in your customer’s organization. This person might not be the ultimate decision-maker, but it’s someone whose advocacy on your behalf will carry weight.

“Stay in contact with your champions and continue to add value by briefing them on industry goings on,” Dunn writes at Entrepreneur. “When your team comes up with an idea to restore the account, confidentially share it with your champion for feedback. You’ll usually find he or she has a lot to offer and misses working with you.”


How to build processes around championing customer success


“Relevant and comprehensive customer data is the foundation upon which your customer success program will operate,” writes Pam McBride, product marketing director at customer success software company Amity. “... Once you’ve found the data, the next step is to put it into the context of what is required for customer success.”

The team at Appcues has an excellent guide for identifying that context, and it comes from the user onboarding process. No matter what you’re selling, there is always what Appcues calls a “WOW moment” in which the customer recognizes the true value of your product. This WOW moment typically comes after the sale.

Appcues analyzes this process from the perspective of SaaS providers, which can see in real time when users stop using their services. During the onboarding phase, a good majority of users might depart for a variety of reasons — maybe a difficult interface, maybe it’s simply a bad match with customer needs.

Eventually, though, a core group of users will emerge as long-term customers, and the user retention graph will ultimately flatline into a long tail of customers who’ve found success with the software.

Those are the customers who had a WOW moment during onboarding. When you identify the moment your customers succeed, your job then is to re-create that moment for as many future customers as possible. It’s up to whoever is in charge of customer success to find out when that moment arrived.


So, who is in charge of customer success?


That last line was a misleading statement. Customer success should be a concern for everyone in your company, and it should be woven into the fabric of everything you do. To do this, two things are necessary.

First, you need to align your marketing and sales teams. Marketing helps identify the needs that salespeople try to solve, and a customer success mindset will ensure someone is there to help customers make sure the solution is actually working for them. That ensures a smooth end-to-end customer journey.

Second, customer success requires top-down buy-in. “For a company to adopt a customer success mindset, which includes delivering an amazing customer experience, the buck stops at the top,” Catherine Blackmore writes at the Bluenose Pulse blog. “Your CEO must be the one to align the company and hold everyone accountable to the cause.”