How to build your customer success journey

When we say customer journey in the context of customer success teams, we rarely mean mapping the UX experience or defining the steps that the customer takes from the moment they reach your website till the moment they buy (or on-board). That would be the UX/CX Experience and we should ideally be helping the product team create an optimized one. As a customer success team, we’re charged with the Customer Success (CS) journey (otherwise known as the Customer Lifecycle). As oppose to the customer’s product journey, the customer success journey is all about defining the various touch points that would help the customer perceive and realize the most value from our solution.

An ideal customer success journey would be addressing all 5 pillars of customer success:

A strong customer success framework, would have three types of customer playbooks:

Customer lifecycle playbooks

This would include defining proactive touch points through out the different milestones in the customer’s lifecycle with our solution. To start, I recommend defining a small number of customer stages (three is a good number). Popular stages include: Onboarding, Adoption and Expansion. If your customers typically go through a trial period, it would behoove you to include the trial as a fourth stage. Once you have your stages, define a few key milestones related to each. Reflecting on past experience, consider adding a CSM touch points for each milestone. If the milestone was successful — celebrate it with your customer and leverage the moment to ask for a referral (internal or external) or to join your advocacy program.

The goal in defining these type of playbooks is to drive a consistent and effective customer journey that allow you to proactively add value to the customer and build strong relationships, regardless of the customer health or usage data. Meaning, you’ll be creating a certain cadence of touch points with the customer that are completely independent of any triggers besides time or milestones.

  • Go-Live milestone celebrations
  • Success plans (aka: account plan, value plan)
  • Health Checks
  • On Site visits
  • Executive Business Reviews (Aka QBRs)
  • Monthly Check-ins

At-Risk playbooks

Instead of waiting for those dreadful inbound calls, be proactive and reach out to the customer when it seems they might be struggling. The key to incorporating risk related playbooks is to help the CSM identify signs of customer risk early (at least 2–3 quarters before their renewal date) and collaborate cross-functionally to address issues.

Types of customer data that should be evaluated in assessing whether a customer is at risk include: your sales data, usage logs, support tickets, survey responses, financial systems and sponsor movements to customer health. We then define the risk criteria, trigger right-in-time alerts on risks and define the recommended best practice playbooks for attending to those risks. By sharing best practices and defining the right time to take proactive action the customer success team ensures that risks are dealt efficiently, effectively and consistently for all customers.


  • Changes in the customer health score
  • Low / Poor survey responses
  • Executive Sponsor changes
  • “Code red”

Expansion Playbooks

These playbooks make it easy to identify and take action on opportunities for growth and expansion. In this bucket, we will also identify opportunities to recruit advocates who would do media interviews, participate in press releases, advocate for us on social media, take part in advisory boards to fortify an executive alignment with industry leaders or simply refer us to other clients.

  • Customer has submitted a promoter NPS score
  • User had been identified as a power user with high NPS score
  • Account is over 90% utilization capacity

Once the triggers for each scenario are identified, it’s important to come up with the right step by step action plan (aka Playbook) for each based on the account segmentation (or the touch plan). For high touch plans, the playbook would involve the CSM proactively reaching out to the customer after doing some initial research (aka a “Customer 360”). For smaller accounts, we would typically apply a low or no touch plan which will typically involve a more scalable approach such as automated email outreach.

Source: Gainsight’s customer success touch plan pyramid

An overly simplified touch plan and account segmentation table, might look like this:

Note: The criteria shown above is not to be used as a guideline.

To validate your account segmentation, you may want to check the overall account to CSM ratio, the book of business ratio to CSM salary, assess the overall number of hours required per account in each segment vs resources available, etc. I typically go through this topic in more detail during strategy coaching sessions.

Once you validated your account segments and have them defined, a great way to map the playbooks is using a word table where you could identify each playbook by customer stage. I usually take the time to discuss how other teams (marketing, support, product, finance, etc) take part and then review those with them to uncover opportunities to optimize the cross-functional collaboration and enhance the customer experience per each milestone.

This Playbooks table is a simple version of a grid which I typically use as a baseline for driving customer journey conversations with my clients.

Finally, consider creating a summary overview. This would most likely require a summary table or a visual timeline to demonstrate the various touch points across the customer life-cycle. In this final step you should illustrate the workflows and highlight which systems will be leveraged throughout the Customer Success Journey in order to empower the Customer Success team and allow management to uncover opportunities for optimization.

The Playbooks table above is a simple version of a grid I typically use as a baseline for driving playbook and customer journey conversations with customers. Another way to learn more about this process is through the hands on group activities with other customer success managers during our CSM Bootcamp certification workshops.

Written by Irit Eizips

Irit is a Customer Success Evangelist and Practice Director at CSM Practice, a boutique consulting firm specializing in customer success strategy, workshops and technology. Previous to that, Irit was part of Gainsight’s early executive team where she took part in shaping customer success thought leadership.

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