The Best Defense is Great Offense

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The Best Defense is Great Offense

By | 2019-05-09T21:41:30-04:00 April 24th, 2019|Customer Retention, Customer Success|1 Comment

How Customer Success Uses Playbooks to Mitigate Churn

In the recurring revenue economy, negative churn is the name of the game. This is more than retaining customers. It’s about creating consistently excellent customer experiences that lead to a strong sense of loyalty and the willingness to advocate on your behalf. Customer advocates are the key to negative churn.

Customer Success Managers lead the team in making sure all those responsible for the overall experience of the customer are on the same page in creating true advocates from your customer base.

If Customer Support is the defense, then Customer Success is both the offense and the head coach.

CSMs have ultimate responsibility for your customers’ success with your solution and can only do their jobs if they have full visibility into the entire customer experience.

The Defense 

If customer retention is the game, then customer support is the defense.  Ideally, your defense is lined up and ready for your customers to initiate a play with a problem or need. If you have a mature team, you have likely assembled a collection of players with different skills so you are ready to stop any problem from becoming the seed of an attrition event. Having highly skilled, responsive customer support to manage tickets and field the phone calls and emails that come in is critical to the success of organizations that rely on subscription renewals.

While we all agree that a great defense is important to giving customers a sense of security, we also know that head coaches don’t want their defense on the field long. They need their offense on the field to win the game.

The Offense

In a winning SaaS company, Customer Success is the offensive team, and the CSM is the captain. Responsible for ensuring that customers achieve their desired outcomes and become strong loyalists, Customer Success Managers lead the proactive offensive to deliver value at every turn. To do this well requires that they have well-defined plays that they know work and will ensure their success every time. Directors or VPs of Customer Success take the lead with the internal teams and the customer in achieving victory (success) by delivering on what they know works and, specifically, what works with a particular (segment of) customer.


Playbooks are how the team delivers all that it takes to retain customers. Designed and delivered properly, playbooks provide the roadmap and the best practices for making customers successful—and thus loyal. They can be both proactive and reactive. Offensive and defensive.

Playbooks are the uniquely defined engagements that the Customer Success team creates to address the specific needs and desires of customers in various stages of their lifecycle.

For instance, there may be a playbook for doing a Handoff, and it would include all the activities and materials needed to ensure that there are no fumbles when sales transfers the account to Customer Success. Similarly, a playbook for End User Training would incorporate all the steps and materials needed to conduct training with users so that they are able to begin moving toward independence. These playbooks are definitely for the “offense” (the CS team).

However, there are also playbooks that are strategically defined to respond to customer needs when they are not fully engaged, or potentially at risk. You may design a playbook for Conflict Mediation or Business Reviews which include measures and methods for mitigating churn risk when customers are not seemingly loyal.

The Team

Fighting churn is a team effort. Just as it’s unlikely that your customers will spend all their time working with your support team, it’s also unlikely that they will never need them. Customer loyalty takes team collaboration. Leadership should come from Customer Success. CSMs and their leaders are the ones who should have ultimate responsibility for the customer’s successful adoption and retention. So, they should be the ones to design playbooks that deliver experiences designed to meet those goals.

Often it’s the case that playbooks involve work and resources from across various business units. For instance, it’s not unrealistic that marketing may be strongly involved in providing ongoing content to existing customers through a low-touch or tech-touch, automated campaign. A CSM may have ultimate responsibility for this customer, but may not take the lead in this automated “playbook”.

Also, Customer Success may not be involved in handling a support ticket, but there should be playbooks that are designed to provide automatic alerts to the CSM when a user reaches out to Support. Depending upon the severity of the support ticket, the interaction may automatically impact the customer’s health score, and this may trigger another playbook or set of activities for the CSM.

Whether Customer Success is directly, indirectly, or partially involved in a defined interaction with a customer, they should be the ones ultimately responsible for the customer experience. This often involves a great deal of tactical, cross-functional collaboration. Therefore, the leaders of Customer Success need to have strong internal relationships and diplomatic skills to be able to manage across business units.


In the recurring revenue economy, victory is negative churn. When customers are intensely loyal and become your advocates to help you bring on new customers, you’ve won the game. To think that this kind of victory can happen with a single Customer Success Manager devoted to doing whatever it takes to keep a customer is short-sighted and will only result in burnout and frustration. Garnering true loyalty involves a strategic game plan and Customer Success leadership who can work with all their resources (both offensive and defensive) to anticipate customer needs and deliver excellent experiences consistently.

About the Author:

Haresh is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Bolstra. Haresh is a veteran B2B SaaS industry executive having served in key roles with emphasis in product strategy, sales and marketing.

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