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How to create a customer success program from scratch

Building a customer success program for the first time? Learn from Hotjar’s experiences to make your customer success program a winner.

Behind the scenes

Last updated

31 Aug 2022

What do customers demand from brands today? Better buying experiences. And if you're a software-as-a-service company like Hotjar, then the customer experience extends beyond the initial purchase. 

By having a customer success program, businesses can proactively connect with customers to learn their problems and how to best resolve them. In turn, this maintains customer satisfaction and retention rates. 

So how do you build a customer success (CS) program that will yield positive results? 

At Hotjar, we're obsessed with helping customers improve their businesses using our platform. Here's how we’ve been doing it and what we learned along the way. 

How Hotjar's customer success program works

Around 2020, we began expanding our customer success program, which at the time primarily consisted of onboarding customers. 

People would sign up, work with our sales team, and start paying their subscription fees. Then we'd walk them through how to use our tools based on their business goals. We have many company types, roles, and teams signing up to use our platform daily, and each one might use the product a little differently. Our objective is to take the guesswork out of using Hotjar and let them know exactly what it can do, so they can achieve their goals fast. 

So we spent a lot of time conducting meaningful calls while also using that time to learn about the customers' needs. This gave us insights into possible future products or features we could offer down the road that they would find valuable. 

During that first year, there were two to three of us taking hundreds of calls. For many customers, an onboarding call was a great start. However, we were starting to see opportunities to invest more time to help existing customers discover new use cases to help their business.

So we developed a nurturing program where we’d look after customers for the first 30-45 days to review their usage habits. Then we'd place them into one of two buckets:

  1. Bucket one: customers who aren't using the product very much

  2. Bucket two: customers who are using the product but could be getting more value out of it

The two playbooks you need for creating a winning customer success program

For customers in the first bucket, we assign a customer success manager (CSM) with the task of figuring out why the customer isn't using the product. This is what we call our Dormant Customer playbook. The CSM meets with the customer and finds ways to get them back on track. 

Then for customers in the second bucket, the CSM has a different goal: to build upon the value users are already getting. They're already using Hotjar regularly but may not know how a certain feature can help their business in another way. So we show them new features or products and set goals to enhance their experience and outcomes. The mission isn't to sell people things they don’t want or need but to help them get the most value out of using Hotjar based on their goals.

In several cases, our playbook enables customers in bucket one to move to bucket two. But it doesn't end there—we also have a renewal phase. When a customer's subscription is about to end, we remind them about how well things are going, show them the progress they’ve made using the tool, and have conversations about what's next.

Our sales team is skilled at getting customers on the right plan from the start. So this phase is more about finding out why a customer may not want to renew and how we can help them continue getting value out of our platform. 

Since we introduced this first version of our Renewal playbook, our retention rate improved by more than 10%.

CSM account phases

Help your customers see results fast

With thousands of customers at drastically different pricing plans, we needed to prioritize our Customer Success Managers’ time towards customers that would benefit most from our program.

On top of the varying pricing plans of our customers, each has unique needs based on their company goals and their stage in the customer journey. That's why Hotjar has different playbooks and customer segmentation designed to funnel customers toward success as efficiently as possible. 

We have a trial program for new accounts engaging with our sales team so they can see the value of Hotjar quickly. From there, we offer an Onboarding playbook to help new customers hit the ground running with an action plan catered to their goals while educating customers on how to use the product and address any challenges that might come up. After they’ve reached value with Hotjar and started using it as we planned, we place them into a nurturing program and then continue to evaluate their progress.

When our success program took off in 2020, we prioritized adding new customers into our program so we could understand the impact of each stage. Once we understood our impact during those stages, we began inviting existing customers into the fold with our Introduction to Success playbook. Some customers have been using Hotjar for a while but still weren’t getting the value they should, while other customers were getting their desired outcomes and were ripe for helping us seek referrals and case studies. 

Three steps to build an effective customer success program 

I could spend hours talking about how we approached building our program—and the hundreds of lessons learned! But I'll keep it simple. Here's how we started:

  1. In the earliest stage, we isolated our target and most valuable customers. From that group, we selected 25 to interview (we offered Amazon gift cards in exchange for their feedback), asking questions about how they work in and out of Hotjar, what they find most valuable from our product, and the other tools they currently find valuable in their stack.

  2. Based on those learnings, we built a spreadsheet of valuable customer response data. We did this to identify trends, segments, and common ground between group members and what they perceived to be most valuable/important about using Hotjar, not just what we thought they would say.

  3. From there, we were able to identify the most common goals of our customers, the key use cases we should drive new customers to adopt, and how those motivated them to choose Hotar over other options. We used these learnings to create our first draft of a customer onboarding call.

The first version is not even close to the final version it is today. We needed our team to practice this call with new customers repeatedly. From there, we began to recognize what lands really well and what's overwhelming to discuss early in the customer journey that may be better further down the road. 

When thinking about how to ensure our onboarding call remains productive, a key question I like to ask myself is, “If I only had 30 minutes with a brand-new customer, what would I show them that would put them on the path of the super successful companies that have been using Hotjar for years and are happy customers?”

All this is just phase one of helping a customer reach value within the first 30 days, but this is the foundation of our program; everything must be built on this first phase. 

Once you've onboarded these new customers, the next step is monitoring the effectiveness of your onboarding program and product overall. Are your customers using it? In what ways? Why are they adopting some features, but not others?

After your first call with customers, identify meaningful touchpoints to address pitfalls you didn’t address initially. Some customers won't need a second or third call, while others will need more follow-up, depending on their goals and internal timelines.

Continue the conversation by identifying customers who fell through the cracks or churned. Figure out how interventions could have changed that outcome. 

Things I would do differently if I could go back in time

I mentioned I started our program by interviewing 25 customers so I could better understand their needs, but this was nine months into my role as a Customer Success Lead. That was the first thing I should have done.

In fact, I recommend that anyone taking on a new role in customer success—especially if you are one of the first hires—start interviewing customers as soon as possible. It’s the fastest way to figure out how to design a program to help more customers replicate their success. It will also show you how your product is perceived by the customer—in their own words!

But I wouldn't stop there. I'd also commit to trying things that may fail. Many people think that when they create a program, they have to see results right away. Instead, assume the first things you do won't be successful. Plan to pause and reflect on what initiatives are working and which ones aren’t—it may surprise you that the ‘sure things’ don’t always translate to outcomes. Be sure to identify what success looks like before any new initiative, and make sure you’re tracking those metrics along the way!

Tips for building your first CS team at a product-led company

Having a dedicated team managing customer success eases the growing pains of companies—especially fast-growing startups—by providing humans on the ground with customer insights. But how do you put a team together to ensure efficiency and efficacy?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Become an expert on your customers, using whatever means work for your learning style—customer interviews, recordings, transcripts, or surveys 

  • Look at the customers who are already successful with your product and learn from them to see how to help others achieve the same outcomes 

  • Start from the beginning and design a journey that helps customers understand the value of your product from day one

  • Collaborate with marketing, product, and sales

  • Accept that you may have to do things the hard way from the start, even if that means using a time-consuming manual process—sometimes you can’t automate 

  • Get hands-on with managing customers to understand what you and your customers need 

How Hotjar continues to make its customer success program better

Learning is a process. Along the way, we’ve found there were things that we could have done better, faster, or more easily. But these experiences are how we built our customer success program into the success it is today. 

For example, in the beginning, we only worked with new customers. It was like building a trail for newcomers and leaving the others, who were already on the trail, without a guide.

This wasn't intentional—our calendars became filled with new signups, and we became so focused on keeping up with new calls and not about how these calls were impacting our customers or our business. Not to mention, we were ignoring a huge cohort of customers that would benefit from this program but signed up too early. Instead, we should have been reflecting weekly on how to improve our program so we could include existing customers.

We spent a whole year onboarding customers only; no formal renewal process or post-onboarding phases. Now, we know, a year was way too long to wait. We should've started growing our CS program sooner; once we did, we saw a marked improvement in 12-month retention.

The other mistake was not creating an environment of data collection from the outset. We had always gathered information—for instance, tracking revenue, churn, and customer segment information—but not in one location. We’d put this aside with the hopes of one day bringing on someone or a special resource to do this more efficiently.

Instead, waiting dug us in a hole where it was tougher to track KPIs and other information. Now we're going back to 2021 to review all the data and ensure core metrics like churn and revenue stats are correct. 

It's best to capture all this information early and consistently—even if it requires extra heavy lifting or using something as simple (but tedious) as a spreadsheet.

Building a customer success program is a must for customer-centric businesses. It's key to understanding the needs of your audience and how to best address them. 

When done right, a customer success program can increase satisfaction and reduce churn, which is vital to sustainable growth. So learn from our experience and start building your customer success program today.

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