A company’s culture is how business gets done. It’s foundational to setting the tone for customer interactions and building a powerful brand with loyal customers. But too often, customer success (CS) teams fall into the trap of a reactive culture instead of a proactive culture.
The downside is that this mindset can spread throughout the company to dilute the impact of customer success efforts. But your organization doesn’t have to feel stuck in reactive ways. Here’s how to build a proactive CS culture and why it matters for the entire organization.
Why a Proactive CS Culture Matters
Customer success has the potential to create a powerful competitive advantage and develop long-term, loyal customers. But to do that, CS teams and leaders must embrace a proactive culture that empowers them to serve customers and help them reach for value.
A proactive organizational mindset matters for two key reasons.
First, it establishes the company as a strategic leader and helps customers get their desired outcomes with the product.
Second, a proactive culture leads to exponential scale, compared to linear growth with a reactive culture. Companies can’t expect to grow when they only put out customers’ fires. But with a proactive and intentional plan to move customers to full value, the company can scale much more quickly and serve more customers better.
Proactive Vs. Reactive Culture
The company culture impacts every interaction and process of the CS team. A major difference between reactive and proactive customer success is who makes the first move. With a reactive model, it’s up to customers to identify a problem and reach out. But companies with a proactive culture make the first move to support customers.
The ultimate goal of the CS team is to help customers reach full value. But that doesn’t mean leaving customers to their own devices to figure it out. Customers don’t know what they don’t know and shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight of asking for help.
Without a proactive culture, the CS team is a glorified (and expensive) version of customer support, simply answering questions as they arise instead of helping customers become power users of the product.
A reactive culture is like giving someone the tools to build a house without a blueprint of what they’re creating. Without a master plan, they won’t know the complete vision of what’s possible. They may get good at plumbing or electrical from trial and error, but without a guide to show them the whole picture, they’ll never be able to build a beautiful house.
A proactive CS culture gives the customer the tools and then continually guides them through the process to show what’s possible with those tools.
The benefits of a proactive culture extend beyond just the customers. Proactive CS teams establish their credibility as strategic thought leaders because they know what their customers need and the steps to get there. Proactive outreach can endear a company to customers and instill confidence by preventing issues before they occur. Because proactive service often reduces the number of support calls, a proactive culture can save money and headcount and allow you to apply your budget to scalable systems and tools.
Build a Scalable, Intentional Customer Plan
A proactive culture requires a scalable, intentional plan that moves customers towards recognizing full value. The plan ensures customers are never stagnant but always moving forward and increasing their competency with the product. This plan should lead customers through adoption and into the engagement stage while your customers realize true business outcomes.
Think of your customer success efforts as a manufacturing line that is constantly moving and creating finished products. What 5 or 10 things does a customer need to do to become a champion of the product? Identify those common steps among all customers and repeat that process for the entire customer journey.
Moments on the customer success manufacturing line could include successfully onboarding a customer, training their users to follow a data-driven usage path, and reviewing their first business outcomes. When you know when those strategic steps are supposed to occur and the stage they are aligned with, you can proactively reach out to customers and keep them moving instead of falling dormant or not reaching the product’s full value.
But that’s not to say that a proactive culture takes a copy-paste approach for every customer. Although there are common steps among all customers, you should also garnish the plan with unique steps for each customer. These steps can include helping customers implement your service into their existing processes, hitting specific benchmarks, and expanding their product use into new areas.
The shift towards a proactive CS culture requires finding the core vein of progression. You must continually follow a plan instead of being defensive or waiting for customers to come to you with questions or issues.
First Steps to Establishing a Proactive Culture
Knowing the importance of a proactive mindset is one thing. Putting it into action is something else entirely.
Shifting to a proactive culture can’t be accomplished overnight. But the shift is possible and entirely worth it for gaining long-term loyal customers instead of always playing catchup.
To be effective and lasting, the culture shift must be company-wide. Branding expert Denise Lee Yohn put it this way: “Culture has become a strategic priority with impact on the bottom line. It can’t just be delegated and compartmentalized anymore.”
The effort should be led by the CS team but closely guided by Product. Traditionally, the Product team has focused solely on the software’s function. But with a proactive culture, Product and CS work together to design and tweak software that helps customers reach full value.
When Product understands the importance of a proactive culture and is on board with the new mindset, the team creates features that the CS team then proactively showcases to move each customer down the manufacturing line.
But even beyond CS and Product, every team plays a role in the proactive culture. Customer success is more than just technology. Every interaction a customer has with the company contributes to the experience.
With all this in mind, what’s the first step to creating a proactive CS culture in your organization? Journey mapping. The CS team should work with the Product team to journey map the lifecycle of a customer’s first year, including the customer’s goals and objectives. Start with implementation, adoption, and engagement, and then add smaller steps and personalized nuance.
Once you’ve established the journey map, proactively guide new customers through each step to reach full value. Then, slowly migrate existing customers where it’s appropriate. Existing customers may be in different lifecycle stages, so slowly transition them onto the line.
Over time, the proactive culture will spread and become part of your company’s brand promise.
Creating a proactive CS shift is a serious mental shift. There are countless excuses to stay with a reactive strategy, but you can’t wait any longer to make the shift.
Today’s customers require proactive service. With a strategic and intentional plan, you can create an organization-wide proactive culture that builds loyal customers and celebrates their success.