Customer Relationships

Leverage Your Champions

Pulley Branded.png

By Andreas Knoefel

Books describing business champions routinely top the New York Times Best Sellers list because we are curious to learn how some executives excel. I use the same competitive spirit within my customer portfolio to increase adoption, business value achievement and net revenue by identifying champions and pointing other customers to their achievements.

Success Story: One of my customers was “cruising along.” Good adoption, good executive sponsorship and a solid relationship. They had the potential to go from good to great, but they were hesitant to embark on an effort with (in their minds) questionable ROI.

I put them in touch with one of our champions and they witnessed first-hand what was achievable. They added premium capabilities and made our solution a reference architecture for the entire enterprise. The account value for us more than tripled over 2 years, all because of one introduction.

Here is my process for establishing a baseline, defining playbooks and identifying champions.

Step 1: Set the Baseline

When I define a customer journey, I generally have a good idea what the typical customer should achieve, when, and how. It contains key milestones and dates like:

  • Day 5: First login

  • Day 10: Configuration complete

  • Day 90: Executive Business Review (EBR) 1 – 75% of target business value achieved

  • Day 270: EBR 2 – 100% of business value achieved

As you think about your own customer journey and timing, these tips can help you avoid common pitfalls:

a) Confirm the dates and goals with your high-touch and low-touch customers directly. You don’t need a fantasy league version of the best possible circumstances, but a realistic set of expectations. For tech-touch customers, provide a recommendation that sets some expectations, and encourage your customers to reach out to you if they are falling behind.

b) Over time you may find that you need to set different goals and timelines for various segments, customer sizes, and product configurations.

c) Run your program in “silent mode” for a period of time and validate your assumptions against your actual customer base. If customers aren’t following the timeline closely, it is an indication that you may need to adjust.

d) Don’t assume your customers are on track. Ideally, implement in-app telemetry that is linked to these milestones. Nothing is worse for a struggling new customer than an “Congratulations e-mail” from your marketing automation system when they are frustrated with getting even simple steps completed.

Step 2: Define the Playbooks

Once the baseline is established, three types of customer typically surface. I call them Champions, Cruisers, and Laggards.


Champions: At the top are my dream customers: they exceed all expectations, accelerate their onboarding, use all the bells and whistles AND surpass their business value targets. These are my champions and deserve dedicated attention:

a) Celebrate their achievements as publicly as possible: press releases, keynote speaker engagements, webinars, reference calls, innovation awards. For those who cannot be named publicly, have an internal celebration to acknowledge the sponsor and other core members.

b) Synthesize their unique “essence”: Did they have a higher-level executive sponsor, are they integrated with a specific software package, or did they have a dedicated project manager? This knowledge is priceless for developing lead qualification criteria, sales plays, best practices, and success playbooks.

c) Define a reference model for other customers and users to follow. Whoever is not in your top layer may want to get there, and now your team can guide them together to win the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

d) Invite them to your customer council. They already pushed the boundaries of your solution and were ready for more. Their proposals drive innovation, and they are motivated to adopt the new capabilities. They support the marketing of these enhancements as vocal advocates.

Cruisers: Hopefully the majority of your customers achieve the business value they expected within a typical timeframe. Cruisers are customers on a stable course, and they are perfect targets to connect with a Champion to drive even stronger performance.

a) Assess if the customer is able to achieve more. Maybe they have done all they can with their resources.

b) Focus primarily on maximizing the customer’s value, and explore subscription increases or new products as a secondary objective. Maximizing customer value fends off churn better than anything else.

Laggards: The third band of customers lags behind general expectations and holds the highest churn risk. How to rescue customers in distress is a separate discussion and worth its own future blog post.


Step 3: Segmentation

With these playbooks in hand, I stack-rank customers along the baseline. This enables you to consider the customer’s actual status. Combined with the other segmentation of your customers, along with their business value definitions, you have the tools in place to pair like-minded customers along the same reference model.

. . . . .

Once I adopted this three-step process with my customers and had it up and running for a few quarters, I was able to embellish the customer journey and playbooks with the knowledge I gained.

Looking for more tips on how to identify and leverage your champion? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Certification Training Program which includes classes such as Business Strategy for CSMs and Executive Business Reviews. For more information on these and our other classes and consulting services please visit our website at

Andreas bio pic.png

Andreas Knoefel - Andreas is the inventor of the Customer Success Performance Index™ and a passionate customer success leader. He applies his practical and holistic approach to startups and giants alike, combining his Ph.D. from KIT and MBA from Santa Clara with his international experience leading customers to success. Andreas finds work-life balance through modernist cooking, outdoors photography and teaching high-octane cycling classes.

10 Proven Emails To Increase Customer Lifetime Value

Mailbox Row Branded.png

By Jeremy Gillespie

Many companies are afraid to contact their customers because they think it’s going to awaken “hidden” churn. The reality is, communicating with your customers is a high-value activity that will prevent churn and increase your customer lifetime value. Below we’ve outlined 8 different emails you should be sending to build lasting customer relationships. In addition they are broken down by how they are sent:

  • Automated emails

  • Customer Marketing emails

  • Personal emails

Automated Emails

These are your high-leverage emails meant to get customers up to speed, make sure they’re on track and put a smile on their face.

Thank you emails

This email is often overlooked, but a nice email from the founder or CEO when someone starts using the product is a great way to start off the relationship. In this email, you’ll want to touch on the following topics:

  • Thank them for trying your product

  • Introduce them to your brand and core value of the product

  • Let them know you’re there to support them (and where they can get support)

Don’t overthink this email. Just make sure it’s sincere and has a nice friendly tone.

Onboarding Emails

This is an email that’s commonplace now. Onboarding emails come at the beginning of the lifecycle and their primary purpose is to educate the user. Use these emails to ensure they feel successful with your product. Typically, you’ll have a series of emails in your onboarding sequence, the goal of each one is to get the user to successfully complete the next logical step in the product. These emails are often the first introduction to your product and the foundation on which you build the relationship. The user should feel like they “know” how to use your product by the end of them. This is the “aha” moment for the user and can also be part of the onboarding sequence, but we separated it because it’s special.

Activation Emails

Once someone has taken the baby steps (onboarding) to get up and running in your product, you want the lightbulb to go off in their head as they understand why your product is an indispensable part of their workflow now. After someone has been “activated” they should be shown high-value features to deepen the relationship and become further integrated into their day-to-day.

Collection Emails

When a customer has a billing issue and goes into collections, you must communicate with them and the initial emails should be automated. For emails asking for money, make sure they are sent from your domain, have clear branding, and that customers have a way to respond. In addition, it’s recommended to have these transactional emails come from a different email service provider than your marketing emails to ensure high deliverability. You’ll want to keep a close eye on opens and click-through rates for these emails.

Cancellation Emails

Cancellation emails that improve retention and customer lifetime value?! Yes. There’s even a silver lining when someone has decided to cancel your product. Take this opportunity to learn from your customers. Give them an easy way to provide feedback on your product. If they are a high-value customer use this email to schedule an off-boarding call to gather verbal feedback and make sure they leave on good terms.

Product Progress Updates

Value, value, value….

Whether you like it or not, if you’re not showing customers the value you’re providing them, they can quickly forget. Use product progress updates to show them how they’re progressing with the product. One important point to remember is you should not only show them usage stats (i.e. number of emails sent, calls made, etc.), you must tie the activity to the benefit. For example, you may want to tell them how much time or money they saved by using a specific feature set. Generally, the progress updates will center around the core features customers have experienced during “activation.”

Customer Marketing Emails

These emails are sent as needed to further educate and inform customers about the product or company.

Educational Emails

Education is the name of the game. Customers are investing time and money to use your product and they want to know about every bell and whistle you have. Try to send monthly, or at least quarterly, emails to highlight valuable products or features of the product. Pair these emails with a webinar or live training, so all users to see best practices first hand and give them the opportunity to ask questions. One way to go deeper on specific features is to theme the quarters of the year, and hold an educational event each month to help them become power users on specific parts of the product.

Product Updates

The last thing a customer wants is to be surprised when they log into the product, only to find big changes. When you make updates to the product make sure you’re communicating them to the customers. For these emails, tell them what has changed, why you changed it, and how it’s going to make their experience better. These emails are a great compliment to the educational emails and show customers that you’re actively improving the product and using their feedback to make it better.

Personal Emails

Personal emails are typically sent by Account Managers to keep a pulse on the customer, make sure they’re reaching their milestones, and uncover up-sell/cross-sell opportunities.

Proactive Emails

It’s always nice for a customer to receive a friendly email asking them how everything is going and providing something of value. Better yet, point them in the direction of their next milestone in the product. These emails should solve problems before they happen and show customers you’re there to support them.

Business Reviews

Depending on the size of the businesses you work with, these may be more or less frequent, but sending an email to schedule a business review is a great way to partner with them on their growth with the product. Use these emails to find a time for review, provide them with highlights on the return on investment they have received, and areas you think they can focus on in the coming months.

All of these emails are the building blocks to effectively communicate with customers regularly and build a relationship. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but this is a great starting point. Each of these emails should be regularly measured and optimized to improve the customer experience. Remember, these emails are high-value and provide an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with your customers.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a comprehensive CSM Certification Program which includes such classes as Managing Your Portfolio and Customer Advocacy. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit

Jeremy Bio.png

Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. He is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a consulting firm focused developing customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

Murphy's Law in Customer Success

Bashful Puppy Small Branded.png

By Amin Akbarpour

We all know Murphy’s Law, right? It’s something along the lines of “if anything bad can happen, it will happen.” In customer success, a lot can go wrong very quickly even if you prepare to the utmost degree. I want to share a few of my more embarrassing misses as a customer success agent and – in hindsight – how I’d handle them if they happened again.

Technical Issues

This has to be at the top of the list for all of us, no? Whether it’s an in-person meeting where you can’t connect to a projector, or a phone call where no one can use the dial-in number, these are disasters that can derail any meeting. Some of the most common instances that have happened to me are:

  • Client is unable to join the screen-share solution

  • No means to properly project during an in-person client presentation

  • Internet lag times during a walkthrough of the product offering

  • R.I.P. PowerPoint

That last one is actually a fairly new one to me. So new, that the first and only times (three, to be precise!) it’s happened to me were all in one week. If you were to run into any one of these issues, it can completely derail your meeting and kill momentum. I’ve started to prepare for these mishaps in a few ways:

  • Ask the client ahead of time what web conferencing tool they use internally and adapt to them. This sometimes means having to download their software ahead of time and asking them to tack on credentials to the invite. Sounds like a tall ask but it also guarantees their ability to join seamlessly and the meeting to start without a hiccup.

  • Send a .pptx or .pdf version of the deck or material you were planning to cover ahead of time. That way if this comes up, you can quickly adjust. I tend to stick with sending it to just our main point of contact so that not everyone gets a look before the meeting. Definitely part of my inner thespian, but I enjoy the showmanship of presenting fresh material.

  • At some point, you start to pick up the parts of your app or product that take a while to load. I preload these pages in multiple tabs or windows just in case there’s a delay so I can still show them efficiently throughout the presentation.

  • Always. Always. Always. Make a .pdf version of your deck and have it open and in the ready in case PowerPoint crashes. Also, if PowerPoint crashed once, assume that it will crash again.

Human Error

Have you ever accidentally called a client by the wrong name? Or written it incorrectly in an email? Or even worse – referred to them as one of their direct competitors? If you have, then you’ve felt that catastrophic level of shame. There’s no cheat sheet for this one. If it happens, your best bet is to just own it in the moment and apologize. You can try to avoid this in the first place by double-checking everything written that goes out, and practicing before walking into any call or meeting. I personally have a habit of writing everyone’s name and the company name into my notebook a couple times before the meeting. It could just be a placebo, but muttering it, writing it, and then being able to look down and read it throughout the meeting might help to ensure that you don’t say anything contrary.

Ultimately, you will most likely run into one or more of the aforementioned scenarios throughout your tenure as a CS representative. Don’t beat yourself up if Murphy’s Law happens - it happens to everyone. You can’t prevent every bad outcome, but at the very least preparation can minimize the impact.

Want more practical tips on how to succeed as a CSM? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our popular CSM Training Program. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit

Amin Bio Pic.png

Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

Integrating Customer Experience Into Your Customer Journey

Basket Weave Branded.png

By Jeremy Gillespie

There’s been a hot debate between Customer Success and Customer Experience. Customer Success professionals believe customer experience is a subset of customer success. Customer Experience professionals believe customer success is a subset of customer experience.

We’re not going to solve this debate today. Instead, I’m going to lay out 3 simple steps to ensure that the customer experience is an integral part of your customer journey. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the difference between customer success and customer experience.

Customer Success vs. Customer Experience

The difference is can be a little confusing, so rather than trying to explain it in my own words, I’ll let industry leaders articulate the difference.

The Customer Success Association says Customer Success is about customer relationship, retention, and optimization, and the most effective way to keep your customers is to make them as successful as possible in using your products. Essentially, in their words, customer success is based around the value customers get from using your product.

On the other hand, Forrester defines Customer Experience as “every interaction, or touch point, your customer has with your brand. It not only includes the whats (the interactions), but also the hows (perceptions, feelings) of the customer experiences.” Rather than the value customers receive from your product, customer experience is about how customers interact with your brand, and ultimately how your brand makes them feel.

The interesting part here is both impact one another and are often intertwined.

So how do you make sure Customer Experience is at the core of Customer Success? Well… it starts with your customer journey.

Step 1 - Map your ideal customer journey

Mapping your customer journey is the first step to defining outcomes and experiences at each stage of their journey. Typically, the focus is to define the measurable outcome at each stage, which makes sense, but I’m going to go a step further.

I think it makes sense to use the think-feel-do framework here. This is a framework often used in marketing to develop persuasive messaging, but it translates well to customer success. As CS professionals, we are often concerned with “Do.” This is the change or action that you want a customer to take at a specific stage in their journey.

To incorporate the experience more, we need to also define what the customer should “Think” and “Feel” as well.

Step 2 - Define the experience at each stage

Just as you define plays and processes to work toward a desired outcome for the customer, you need to do the same for “Think” and “Feel.”

Think refers to how the customer perceives your product and how it will make them better at their job. Your goal is to have your customers think about your product in a specific way at each stage of their journey. Think of it as a new “lightbulb” that goes off about how your product supports their goals.

Feel is all about the emotions they feel at each stage. While this is tough to define, when you knock this out of the park, it’s virtually impossible for them not to take the desired action. At each stage you need to define how they should feel and what emotions they should have.

So just as you map your desired outcome for each stage of your customer journey, go back and also define what your customer should Think and Feel. I know it sounds a little fluffy, but having these defined will make sure everyone is on the same page about not only what success looks like, but also what experience they should have.

Step 3 - Gather feedback on the experience

So how do you know if you’re meeting the customer experiences you’ve laid out in step 2? The beauty here is you do not need to implement any new platforms or measurements; you can use the existing measurement techniques you’re already (or should be) using. Here are three ways to measure your Customer Experience across your customer journey:

  1. Net Promoter Score - the percentage of your customers who would—or wouldn’t—recommend your company to their friends, family, or colleagues.

  2. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) - the average satisfaction score that customers rate a specific experience they had with your organization—such as getting an answer from customer support or returning a product.

  3. Churn - the percentage of customers who either don’t make a repeat purchase (for transaction-based businesses) or cancel their recurring service (for subscription-based businesses).

When you integrate Customer Experience as part of your customer success journey you should see all of these metrics improve. Most notably, you’ll see success at each stage improve, which will reduce churn and increase your customer lifetime value.

Need help weaving Customer Success with Customer Experience in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers both customer journey mapping and process design engagements. Please visit for more information.

Jeremy Bio.png

Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging data and technology, he excels at creating innovative retention and expansion marketing programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Jeremy is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a Bay Area consulting firm focused on helping businesses build scalable customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

Customer Fit (or Know When to Fold 'Em)

Poker Cards Chips Branded.png

By Steve Schwartz

I spent a few days last week at a conference in the desert oasis known as Las Vegas, but all too often referred to as Lost Wages. When I had a break, I found myself down in the poker room facing off against casino regulars, tourists, and other conference-goers. I’m a very patient player and have lots of time to think while folding awful hands. One thing I realized is that poker hands can be a lot like the three types of customers that I’m sure you all have experienced: perfect fit, good fit, and bad fit. You may not know what type of customer you have when they first sign up, but as more information is revealed about them, you need to act accordingly.

The shortest primer on Texas Hold’em I can offer is this: each player is dealt two cards that only they can see and a round of betting commences. Each player will use those cards and five community cards to attempt to make the best hand possible. There’s a round of betting and then three community cards (the flop) are revealed. There is another round of betting, then one more community card (the turn). Then another round of betting, and a final community card (the river). Finally, there is one more betting round before either one player remains or multiple players show down their cards to see who has the best hand.


You look down at two tens and raise the pot only to be re-raised by another player. You call and the flop brings two more tens and an ace. It doesn’t get much better than quads (four of a kind)! While you’ll have to invest some money for them to pay off, you’re confident you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Perfect fit customers don’t come along as often as you’d like, but when you find one, you want to maximize their value. That means that you’ll certainly want to invest heavily in their success in order to reap the profits of case studies, white papers, speaking engagements, and references.


This time you look down at an ace of spades and a king of hearts. It’s one of the better starting hands so you raise your opponents. You get a few callers and the flop comes king of spades, with the ten and 9 of diamonds. You’ve got a good hand, but there are still two cards to come and anything can happen. Someone could already have a straight or have a high likelihood of beating you with a flush. You’ll have to pay attention to the signals from the other players as the rest of the cards come to decide whether to keep going with your hand or to fold and give up.

Similarly, the most common customer you’ll find is a good fit. Their goals align well with your product offering, but things can change as their needs change or as they learn more about what your product can and can’t do for them. As you gain more information about your good fit customers, they may need significant investment in product enhancements to stay a good fit. At this point, you need to decide whether you’re willing to make those investments for the greater customer base, or let this particular good fit customer slip into the realm of a bad fit.


In our final hand of the night, you look down at two sixes (clubs and hearts) and call another player’s raise. The flop brings a jack, nine, and eight, all spades and there is a bet and raise before it gets to you. If another player has two spades, you’ve got a less than 3% chance of winning the hand. You could certainly invest more money and try to get lucky or bluff the other players, but most of the time you’ll cut your losses and fold the sixes.

We’ve all had bad fit customers, but sometimes we don’t realize it until we’ve invested far too much and can’t let them go. They ask for enhancements that aren’t worth investing in, their product usage doesn’t look healthy, and their expectations don’t align with what can be delivered. Just like our sixes, sometimes the best decision is a quick fold so you can focus on the next customer.

Whether with customer success or poker, it’s always difficult to make a decision when you’re heavily invested in a customer or a potentially good hand. My advice is to always use as much data as you can, whether it be product investment costs versus potential lifetime value or odds of catching the cards you need to win versus cost to see those cards. And remember, don’t believe the phrase “it’s better to be lucky than good.”

I’ll bet you didn’t think you’d learn all about poker reading a customer success blog! The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers training and coaching for customer success leaders (and those who want to be). Check out our Leadership page for more information on our programs, and learn when to hold ‘em and fold ‘em!


Steve Schwartz - Steve is a customer success leader who enjoys starting and building high-performance teams at early-stage startups. He has worked in startups for the past 14+ years in a variety of customer-facing roles. By engaging with customers during the sales cycle, he ensures customer expectations are fully understood and can be exceeded. When not writing for The Success League, Steve is co-leading Customer Success at Carrot Fertility. He holds a BS from Tufts University and an MS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spends his free time with his wife and two kids exploring the Bay Area.