What’s one of the most painful scenarios for Customer Success teams?
How about this one: Sales hands off an exciting new customer and then 90 days later they’re ready to churn.
A solid customer success plan is the best tactic for revenue teams that want to prevent this from happening. It moves your team from being reactive to proactive, and it sets new customers on a path towards success from the moment the contract is signed.
But creating an effective customer success plan is tough because it requires an approach that’s both consistent and flexible.
You need to achieve certain outcomes with every customer, but you also need to tailor your plan to each customer’s unique needs.
You also need your customers to actually engage with your plan—there’s nothing worse than creating a plan that sits there and never gets acted on.
Creating a flexible customer success plan template and sharing it in a format that your customers actually enjoy solves those challenges.
Here’s how you do it.
What is a customer success plan?
A customer success plan is a roadmap that helps your customer success team deliver value to your customers throughout the entire customer lifecycle. It’s the map for your customer journey.
An effective customer success plan is a mix of actionable tasks, defined responsibilities, and clear goals:
- Actionable tasks: Your customer success plan lays out the core tasks that stakeholders (from all parties involved) need to complete to ensure your customer will be successful. Examples could include everything from Set up your account to Add additional users to Watch these training videos.
- Defined responsibilities: Along with tasks, your plan should designate the responsible person (or team). Continuing with the example above: Who is supposed to set up the new account? You? Your customer? Clearly defined responsibilities are a huge part of long-term success.
- Clear goals: What’s your customer hoping to achieve with your product or service? Your sales team should have captured this during the sales process, but whether they have or not, customer onboarding is the perfect time to ensure everyone is clear.
Here’s a quick gut check:
Say every single item on your customer success plan was completed in a timely fashion (assuming you’ve got some version of a plan today, whether it’s living in Google Sheets, Trello, or some other tool. If not, just keep reading!).
If that happened, what would the result be? Would you be able to guarantee your customer’s experience with your product was successful?
Guarantee is a strong word (and one you may not want to use with a customer), but your customer success plan should get you as close to guaranteed success as possible. The whole reason it exists is to distill your customer success strategy into a step-by-step process for achieving results.
Best practices for creating a customer success plan
Creating a customer success plan can feel like a daunting task—especially if your current version isn’t delivering results—but we’ve got you covered. We have pre-built templates in Dock, like this customer success plan template.
Whether you use a pre-built template or create your own custom plan from scratch, there are a few best practices you should keep in mind:
- Use real-world examples to inform your plan
- Make your customer success plan client-facing
- Think about the customer experience you’re creating
- Use a template as a starting point, then personalize as needed
Use real-world examples from current customers
When creating a new customer success plan, it’s easy to hunker down and try to come up with the best possible plan by yourself.
This is a natural place to start, but it can result in an idealized customer success plan that doesn’t work in the real world.
Instead, consider building your plan with input from the very people who will be using it to find success with your product.
Use feedback from both current customers and your customer success managers to create a clear roadmap for both sides. You can:
- Ask your customer success team to list out the steps they already take during customer onboarding
- Get input from your current customers on what parts of your product have been difficult to learn or find value in
- Analyze notes from when you’ve onboarded customers in the past, reminding yourself of what worked well—and what didn’t.
It’s also a good idea to partner up with your sales and customer support teams to understand their processes and challenges. The clearer you can get on your current customer journey, the more likely your customer success plan will solve real-world problems.
Make the success plan client-facing
A joint plan enables increased collaboration and gives a better sense of what the entire journey to success looks like. As you build out your customer success plan, you’ll see the best results if you make it client-facing.
Customer success is a joint effort—it’s a team game. Even if you’re an agency delivering a very specific service, you’ll still need customer involvement at various points.
That’s why your plan should be housed on a page or portal that everyone has access to—from sales to customer success to the customer themselves.
Even if their direct involvement in specific tasks is limited, your customers will appreciate being able to see and understand what their journey to success looks like.
Avoid spreadsheets and project management tools
Let’s call it like it is: project management tools aren’t very client friendly (unless you’re selling to project managers). They’ve got a steep learning curve and aren’t very intuitive.
And while everyone’s familiar with spreadsheets, sharing a link to a Google Sheet certainly doesn’t give a very premium feel.
Spreadsheets and project management tools are built for internal collaboration. When it comes to making customer success plans, it’s better to use a dedicated onboarding platform or client portal tool like Dock.
A dedicated portal feels specially made for the client. It’s the perfect tool for your customer success team to manage the client relationship. A customer portal—accessible by both parties—enables easier alignment between CSMs and customers on business goals and strategy, because everyone is looking at the same thing.
It’s the easiest—and most effective—way to track milestones, achieve goals, and encourage product adoption.
Start from a template, then personalize as needed
Your clients have needs that are unique to their businesses. And, if you’re selling to humans, it’s vital to remember that 80% of them are more likely to do business with a company that gives them a personalized experience.
That’s why you need a customer success plan template.
Use a template to create your core success plan. As you discover what works for your customers, you want to take those tactics and replicate them across your entire team and customer base.
You want every CSM working towards the same end goal and using the same playbook. A template establishes a baseline—it includes the core steps needed for any customer to find value in your product or service.
Once you’ve got that foundation in place, you can personalize each plan to meet your customers’ individual needs—like their business goals, contacts, meeting recordings, and project scope.
This approach positions you to scale customer success across your customer base with a repeatable, templatized process that still feels highly personalized to each new customer.
8 things to include in a customer success plan
There are a bunch of things you’ll want to include in your customer success plan, and you can start with this template to hit the ground running.
The parts you’ll want to include in your customer success plan are:
- An overview/introduction
- Objectives and key challenges
- Specific measures of success
- Strategies for success
- Clear action items
- Onboarding checklists
- Supporting customer success content
- Customer journey-specific next steps
Let’s look at each one in depth.
1. Overview and contact details
The overview and introduction portion of your customer success plan should be the first thing your customer sees.
This section has two goals:
- It introduces your client to their customer success manager. The CSM is their main point of contact, and whenever they have a question, it should be easy for them to reach out. We’d recommend including the CSM’s picture (smile!), contact information (email and/or phone number), and a quick hello or bio. It’s also a nice touch to include a link to book a meeting.
- The overview and introduction section gives a quick summary (think 2-4 sentences) of what the workspace is for and what your client can expect. Use this space as a way to remove ambiguity from the process you’ll be walking your customers through.
This is also a good place to store any customer contact information your customer success manager may want quick access to, especially if your sales team has been working with a team of stakeholders on the customer’s end.
2. Objectives and key challenges
The objectives and key challenges section of your plan lays out the desired outcomes of using your product or service.
It explains why the customer engaged with your business. What are your customer’s goals? What’s the job they’re trying to complete?
This section will look very different based on your offering:
- Web design agency: “Design and launch a new custom website by June 30.”
- Email newsletter software: “Grow your email list to 20,000 users by the end of the year.”
- Sales enablement software: “Reduce sales admin time by 10% this quarter to increase the selling capacity of each AE.”
Just keep in mind that this should reflect the real pain points and felt needs of your customer—not your opinion of what they need. If there’s any ambiguity, spelling these objectives out in a shared success plan is the perfect way to surface and work through those issues.
This section is also where personalization enters the stage.
Your customers may be looking to solve similar problems—if you’re a web design agency all of your customers probably want new or revamped websites—but their key challenges will be unique.
If your sales team hasn’t already clearly identified the obstacles to success, meet with your customer to determine both the outcomes and the challenges they’re currently facing.
From budget to limited engineering resources to poor engagement or something else, the clearer you can drill down into challenges, the more robust a customer success plan you can create.
This collaborative process ensures both your customer and your CSM have the same key objectives front and center during the entire customer lifecycle.
3. Measures of success
Aligning on customer goals is critical, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. Your customer success plan should also include agreed-upon measures of success.
In other words, you should answer the question: “How will we know that we’ve achieved this goal?”
Work with all the necessary stakeholders to identify specific measures of success that will keep everyone on track.
These may be improvements to success metrics or KPIs, or they might be specific outcomes (e.g. launch a new add-on product by Q3).
Remember: different stakeholders may have different perspectives on the “right” measures of success, so creating a joint customer success plan will often involve zeroing in on a few prioritized measures.
Setting clear measurements of success isn’t a new concept.
What’s new—the missing piece for many customer success teams—is that it’s now easier than ever to take the guesswork out of whether you’re hitting those metrics. With a dedicated client portal for each customer, everyone involved now has one go-to place to find the latest information.
4. Strategies for success
This section of your plan is where you move from what the desired outcomes are to how you’re going to achieve those outcomes.
It’s where you begin to set expectations and lay out commitments from and responsibilities of both your company and the customer.
During customer onboarding, this often includes discrete tasks: setting up integrations, attending kickoff meetings, and so on.
Once you’ve shifted into more of an adoption stage, those commitments might shift from tasks into ongoing responsibilities: design a newsletter each week, engage with training resources, and so on.
These strategies can be created together with your client, but odds are you have at least an idea of the things you and your customer will need to do to be successful. When in doubt, a sound approach is to:
- Give your customer a few things you’re committing to do for them
- Present a few commitments they’ll need to make in order to achieve success
- Brainstorm additional actions together based on the client’s specific needs
Here’s an example of a Strategies for Success section found in our Customer Success Plan template, including some example commitments.
5. Clear action items
A plan is useless without action. In the next section of your customer success plan, list out the actions needed to achieve success.
Since this is a joint venture between the client and your customer success manager, it’s best to list out both parties’ action items.
To create clarity and accountability for these actions, don’t just put the name of the action item next to a checkbox and call it a day.
Assign a due date to the action item, list the people working on it, and label whether it’s on track or not.
If you’re using Dock, you can make this section interactive, making it easy for both your team and your customers to add new items and update everyone on progress.
6. Onboarding checklists
The onboarding process is where you begin to build customer loyalty, starting with the all-important handoff from sales to customer success.
A smooth handoff and a great onboarding experience with a quick time to value are the foundations of long-term customer success.
While you can create a separate customer onboarding plan (like this example onboarding template), it’s a better idea to include onboarding as a section in your customer success plan.
Your onboarding checklist should prioritize tasks that are essential to enabling customers to receive fast value from your product:
For a web design agency, that might be the key things needed to deliver initial mockups to your client—audit the existing website, complete a branding questionnaire, and schedule a call to share and collect feedback on your initial mockups.
For sales enablement software, it might be the tasks required to enable sending out the first proposal—integrate with the CRM, upload a logo, and train the sales team.
If you’re using a tool like Dock, creating an onboarding checklist is easy. Add the required items to your template. You can even add items that are only visible to internal users, such as Make introduction to CSM or Schedule kickoff call.
Dock also enables you to embed key documentation and how-to videos directly into your plan, making it far more likely that your customers will engage with those vital resources.
7. Supporting customer success content
Every customer you onboard will go through similar stages and obstacles. Supplying the right resources at the right time can dramatically boost the odds they’ll achieve success with your product or service.
While your success plan shouldn’t replace your customer help center, providing direct access to resources that have proven their value is a no-brainer. It enables your customer to self-serve and find answers fast.
Some examples might include:
- Links to help center articles
- Relevant case studies
- Product overviews
You can also include links to previous meetings and training as easy references when they’re needed in the future.
When a customer reaches out to their CSM with a question, all you have to do is quickly add resources to the shared success plan and let them know to check their Dock workspace.
Great customer success teams get strategic about using their customer success plan to overcome success gaps. These are the gaps—the obstacles—that prevent customers from achieving success, even if they’ve used your product correctly.
If you’re an email newsletter platform, the customer may be creating and sending emails every week—but if they’re things their audience doesn’t find valuable, then your customer probably won’t see the engagement or results they’re hoping for. Your customer success plan is a great way to proactively address these potential challenges—such as adding resources on how to write effective marketing emails.
8. Next steps
Last, but certainly not least, include a flexible “next steps” or “current priorities” section based on what part of the customer journey your client is on.
Depending on your customer’s needs, this section can contain:
- Post-onboarding steps. You can use this section to highlight key opportunities for customers to explore once onboarding is complete. Examples include enabling additional features, taking advantage of training resources, or contributing to your customer community.
- Specific implementation steps. As your customer’s product suite grows, you can use this section to go through specific implementation steps necessary to successfully add new products.
- Quarterly progress. To help with quarterly business reviews, you can provide key milestones you’ve hit for your client, list things that are going well, and areas of opportunity.
- Project management information. Here you can house timelines, where you’re at in those timelines, current deliverables, and past deliverables all in one spot for your client to review.
Here’s an example of items that can be used for a quarterly business review.
6 customer success plan templates you can use today
The more you can reduce the effort for your customers, the higher the likelihood they’ll collaborate well and achieve the success they’re looking for—and the less likely they are to churn.
That’s why we’re big believers in putting onboarding and customer success materials in one jointly accessible space.
Your customers shouldn’t have to hunt down important pieces of information from across twenty emails, four spreadsheets, and a bunch of tasks in your project management tool.
Whether you build one master customer success plan or use specific templates at different stages of the customer journey, both you and your customers benefit when you can make success easier for them.
Don’t make your customers jump over unnecessary hurdles on the road to success—pave the way for them with these templated success plans.
1. The Joint Customer Success Plan Template
The joint customer success plan template is our main, most versatile template. It’s the one we use to teach Customer Success leaders how to build their own customer success plan (and the one highlighted the most in this guide).
It’s flexible enough to work for early-stage startups and enterprise companies looking to boost product adoption and drive better customer outcomes. We’ve also seen it work well for agencies of all types and sizes.
Our joint customer success plan template helps you to get buy-in from customers, encouraging collaboration with you throughout the customer journey. When executed smoothly, it reduces the likelihood of customer churn and—because of the positive outcomes your customers will see—increases your opportunities to upsell and cross-sell.
2. The Customer Onboarding Plan Template
The customer onboarding plan template puts the focus on—you guessed it—the initial onboarding phase of the customer journey. It equips you to build a seamless, repeatable process that enables your customers to make the most of your product or service.
We built this for customer success managers and onboarding specialists who want efficient and effective onboarding processes.
Our customer onboarding template delivers the right first impression. It offers a simple yet comprehensive way for customers to get the guidance and resources they need when getting started. It’s a perfect place to share kickoff call notes, educate customers on important workflows, and highlight key metrics to help your customers find success.
3. The Implementation Plan Template
The implementation plan template was made for account managers, project managers, and CSMs who want to provide implementation guidance to customers quickly and easily.
This template helps you create consistent software implementation processes to get customers set up quickly. It’s perfect for software implementations and project implementation plans, especially when you need to go beyond the out-of-the-box setup and provide custom guidance to customers.
In short, it’s an all-in-one resource that gives new customers all the information they need for the entire implementation project timeline.
4. The Client Portal Template
The client portal template is designed to foster a closer, more productive relationship with clients through the sharing of information and resources.
We created this template for CSMs and project managers who work and communicate with clients on an ongoing basis.
One of the best things about this template is the ability to customize the layout and content as needed. When your client relationship shifts, it’s easy to add and remove resources or sections from the template.
5. The Quarterly Business Review (QBR) Template
Clients want to know when they’re getting value. That’s why so many businesses rely on quarterly business reviews (QBRs).
But let’s be real: QBRs can be cumbersome without a template.
That’s what this QBR template is for. This template streamlines the entire business review process, helping you:
- Keep users engaged with your product
- Provide a simple, yet comprehensive, overview of how things are going
- Show how you plan to increase their value and grow your relationship over time
Dock also allows you to embed live reports from platforms like Google Data Studio or Looker, enabling you to show the full scope of the value you’re bringing your customers.
6. The Client Project Management Template
The client project management template is designed to bring together all the moving parts of a project together in one central location. It’s the perfect tool for keeping project managers, development teams, CSMs, and customer stakeholders on the same page.
With this template, you can provide your clients with an overview of the project’s purpose, a main point of contact, a project summary, and timeline, and all necessary deliverables. You can also easily update the template as milestones are reached to demonstrate progress.
Dock’s customer success plans make it easy to collaborate
Everyone wins when you create a customer success plan.
You’ll see higher rates of product adoption and retention. Your CSMs will be less frustrated because they’ll be spending less time on admin work and more time helping customers achieve results.
And of course, your customers will be thrilled when they reliably achieve the outcomes they were hoping for when they signed up for your product or service.
Use one of these customer success plan templates to help deliver a better experience and improve the likelihood of your customers’ success.
- The Joint Customer Success Plan Template
- The Customer Onboarding Plan Template
- The Implementation Plan Template
- The Client Portal Template
- The Quarterly Business Review Template
- The Client Project Management Template
Get started with Dock by using one of the free templates above, or create your first 5 Dock workspaces for free.