A Complete Guide to Customer Success in SaaS: 7 Ways to Provide Proactive Customer Service

In this complete guide to customer success we’ll walk you through the various aspects of this emerging business strategy, including:

A Complete Guide to Customer Success

Is resolving customers’ questions fast your definition of great customer service? Well and good, but if your company depends on repeat business, as do SaaS vendors and B2B companies, awesome customer service alone won’t cut it.

You need to feed customers with value service from the time they become a lead to the day they turn into customers. Then, they will likely give you more business in the long haul. Loyal customers, after all, are bound to purchase your products and avail of your services again, raking in more profit for your business. Put it from another perspective, by increasing customer retention, you can increase your profits by up to 95%. This goes to show that you need customer success, not just customer service, to drive repeat business.

What is Customer Success?

What is customer success in SaaS or any other business? The broad outlook is it is a strategy of providing value, not just product, to satisfy customers by actively analyzing their behavior and anticipating their needs across the entire customer journey. Were the vendor is a waiter, for instance, because you ordered mushroom ragu for primo, he would suggest a good red wine that goes with it nicely for a fully satisfying first course.  

The definition of customer success, however, is still fluid and open to being construed as a mindset, an aspiration by vendors to deliver a positive experience at every stage of sales and post sales. Not a few instances businesses that regard customer success as a mindset is yet to define concrete steps on how to execute it. But it’s the starting point, where marketing, sales and customer service start to see their units as correlated, if not a single frontend as customers see them.

Your goal is to establish customer success as a process driven by a clear strategy and with defined priorities by the customer-facing units. We will discuss the ways on how to achieve customer success in detail below and one of these is the requirement for help desk software that’s attuned to proactive support. If you’re unsure how this solution operates like, you can use Freshdesk as a good starting point and at no cost to you. You can easily sign up for a Freshdesk free trial here.

Do You Need Customer Success Department?

You probably have encountered customer success as a function in the SaaS space. In fact, you may be referring to it as CS to slap mark this unit as opposed to sales or marketing and even support teams. Driven by the need to keep subscribers, cloud vendors take the lead in defining CS as a department. But is this a good direction? And what does a customer success specialist do?

A nascent field, customer success specialist often assumes the roles of sales and service for lack of a precedent. The problem with looking at CS as another unit, you’re reinforcing walls between departments where you should be dismantling them and disabusing the idea of me versus them. That’s why instead of asking if you need a CS department, you should approach customer success as  mindset first, then a strategy. Then it’s a matter of integrating what you already have — sales, marketing and service. You can say customer service today starts with leads and contacts, just as sales and marketing don’t end with after-sales support.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

Let’s lay down the differences of customer success vs customer support the better you can plot the steps towards the former. 

Customer success is proactive; customer support is reactive

Irony isn’t lost to a keen observer when proactive customer service turns a negative experience into customer success. A vendor, for example, discovers a bug in its system. By bringing the issue to the fore before its clients get wind of it — and providing the steps to thwart the bug — that action exhibits care in the eyes of clients, a positive step to ensuring customer experience is unperturbed. This is customer success in action, being proactive for customer’s sake.

Suppose the same scenario happens, but the vendor sits on the issue and waits for a customer to raise a ticket. The air shifts to providing support, possibly an irate client breathing down your neck for service disruption. You may provide the best customer service, you’ll still deliver the same steps on how to thwart the bug, and succeed, but the whole thing becomes damage control, not the effervescent ending had proactive customer service been exercised.

Customer success involves teams; customer support is just a team

As we’ve illustrated above, customer success is best approached as integrated sales, marketing and service units (with senior management backing). Where customer service is a function, customer success is a shared strategy with the goal to extract coherence among the objectives, actions, activities and outlooks of the entire organization (often the customer-facing units), not just a team.

Customer success is transformative; customer support is traditional

In customer success customers are being transformed. In customer service customers are being served. What does transformation look like? If we frame customer success as the process from marketing to post sales, prospects turn to leads, leads to deals, deals to customers and customers to loyal customers.

The transformative power of customer success requires that you put in value at every stage of the customer’s journey. The values depend on your business, but the underlying factor is anticipating and addressing the customer’s needs.

7 Ways To Provide Proactive Customer Service

Do your support reps sit passively for incoming complaints or are they evangelists in a mission to spread your proactive customer care? You want to transform customers to loyal customers, but first, there’s a lot of internal reshuffling to be done and it starts at the very top.

1. Senior management must take lead

Customer success means business success. That makes proactive customer service, not a siloed daily operation, but a business strategy. There is this grand design to overhaul support and the task rests squarely on the shoulders of senior leaders, the C-level executives if not the owner. Where does executive responsibility matter most here? The short answer–budget allocation and policy adoption.

There will be reckoning on cross-functional budget since proactive customer support involves three main protagonists: support, sales and marketing. There’ll be tools to invest in, time to allocate for training and protocols to set in stone. The executive board guided by the CFO is needed to approve and move budget across three or more departments.

But the more critical role lies in providing the direction and executing the strategy in actionable tactics guided by a policy set in stone by the board. Department heads swear by the same policy under pain of scrutiny by the big bosses, and you have the making of a behavioral shift, a cultural change even, in the way marketers, salespeople and support reps embrace customer success as a step towards their respective goals. Sales meets its quota. Marketing achieves its target. Support reduces churn. Different goals under one strategy: customer success.

On the flip-side, without executive backing, even (and especially) if the department heads are eager about customer success, the game boils down to one-upmanship, as is the norm when vice-presidents or department heads are left to work together. Each team tries to claim ownership of the strategy and shape it along their goal. What you get is a hodgepodge of tactics with little coherence.

2. Invest in time and technology

The transformative nature of customer success, both in corporate culture and individual behavior, means you’re in it for the long haul. You’re disrupting comfort zones and deep-seated mindsets here, and to do that you need two things on your side: time and technology.

You will need to put employees and their leaders through training. Introduce them to customer success. Redefine long-held meanings. Reshape attitudes. Convince stakeholders, big and small, on the merits of the paradigm shift. And you have to do all these things to a motley audience with dissimilar job roles, departmental teams, age brackets, professional training, work-life priorities, career stages and all other thinkable differences that shun outright bonding.

Take heart. You or HR has a slew of proven corporate training techniques available. In general, we can boil training down to the main prerequisites:

  1. Align the benefits of training with the learner’s job role and expectations.
  2. Include team-building activities to nurture collaboration and break down departmental barriers.
  3. Create a policy that underscores that entire spectrum of customer success to dispense with second guesses and assumptions: clear definition of terms, measurable metrics, tasks with assigned owners and defined workflows.
  4. Assemble an oversight committee that consists of departmental heads and team leaders and led by a senior executive.
  5. Don’t just allot but dedicate time for training.
  6. Arm stakeholders with the right tools.

Let’s focus on the last item: how can a proactive helpdesk help in customer success? Much of the ways on how to provide proactive customer support hinge on having the right tools, in most cases, powerful help desk tools. At the heart of customer success is a personalized touch, the attention to a specific customer need. There is simply no way manual hands can manage dozens, if not hundreds, of tickets daily and expect solid customer service outcomes.

Our next tips on how to deliver proactive customer support rest on technology, so we recommend you use robust help desk programs. To help you visualize today’s advanced help desk features, we’ll use a top solution that has consistently merited excellent reviews from our review experts and the vendor’s user base: Freshdesk. You can, in fact, use it now for free and follow the techniques below with firsthand clarity. Simply sign up for a Freshdesk free trial here to get you up to speed.

Omnichannel is just one of the many sophisticated features help desk solutions like Freshdesk provide.

3. Cover all customer touch-points

When you provide multichannel support not only do you avoid tickets slipping into cracks, as vendors are wont to highlight. You are, in essence, practicing proactive customer support by anticipating customers’ situation. You are giving them options to contact you in a channel of their preference or out of necessity. Jane wants to email you because she can articulate her problem more in writing, while John prefers chat because it’s convenient in a mobile phone. And Peter wants to call you expecting an immediate resolution. You’ve got them covered long before they realize how they want to engage you.

When choosing software, be wary of software that calls itself multichannel (or omnichannel) yet only connects to third-party apps like email clients, VoIPs and social media networks. In such case, you still interact with customers in multiple places.

True multichannel capability is providing a single interface to view all the actions from different touch-points. Freshdesk, for instance, allows you to reply to chats (via Freshchat), web forms, social mentions (Facebook and Twitter), emails and even answer calls (via Freshcaller) inside a single infrastructure. Chats, calls or emails can be converted into tickets right on the same spot and categorized based on Service Level Agreement, deadline or priority.

Also, having multiple touch-points condensed in a single view of customer interactions brings with it more benefits:

  • You avoid agent collision because everyone is on the same page.
  • Endorsing or escalating tickets is smooth, the endorsee sees the whole context of an issue in one place.
  • Agents collaborate easily, referencing conversations and interactions from the same place.

All customer’s queries come into a single dashboard in Freshdesk.

4. Nurture seamless self-service

According to an infographic by Zendesk, 67% of consumers prefer self-service customer support options over speaking to a company representative. This is because they find it faster and more convenient to be search for answers to their inquiries on their own.  

Anticipating questions to create a seamless self-service experience is very much part of the proactive customer service spectrum. Customers love it when they find answers quickly — however which way, by call, email or knowledge base. Speed is the operating word here, the thing that bridges the apparent gap between the two Forrester surveys’ insights. And nothing beats a rich, contextualized knowledge base in delivering fast answers, where they are served within seconds, an entry of few keyword phrases  and the links to the right resources pop up.

The question is, how to create a knowledge base that is contextualized and able to surface the right answers? Again, we turn to technology.

The next-generation helpdesk like Freshdesk uses predictive Q&A algorithm or similar machine learning technology that can sort the most-visited answers, popular question types, recurring questions and unique issues. It can also associate related customer information including feedback, if any, with the one posting the query. These insights are culled to give the most accurate resource in your knowledge bank.

There are three ways to build your knowledge base. In Freshdesk, this is how it goes:

  1. Build content from scratch.You use its rich text editor and place meta information for automatic indexing. You can also apply permission to control access to customer-facing and agent-only knowledge base.
  2. Use what you already have. Convert tickets to knowledge articles. You may be sitting on a gold mine of knowledge articles even as you read this. This is where Freshdesk or any help desk software with this feature is truly cost-efficient: repurposing customer agents’ emails and, in the process, cutting the need for more support agents. A substantial amount of repetitive tickets can now be deflected to the knowledge base built on previous tickets.
  3. Create a community. Building a community satisfies both branding and support goals. Customers can ask and get answers among themselves, offloading what could have been dozens, if not hundreds, of tickets on your agents’ shoulder. Meantime, customers can suggest ideas that’ll help your product address your customers’ actual pain points and hook their business for the long haul. You directly engage your market, the community a wellspring of customer feedback and market insights that will help shape your campaigns and strategic decisions.

Freshdesk Forums helps you categorize topics by a variety of types.

How to build an online community

Community building used to require coding or WordPress skills, but these days you only need a capable help desk. Using Freshdesk Forums, in fact, you can build online communities from the get-go with ease and lots of options.

  1. Create new topics
  2. Customize discussions by type, such as, questions, problems, ideas and announcements
  3. Make forums public for a wider audience or private as a customer privilege
  4. A popular topic can also be locked on top of other discussions by a Sticky tool
  5. Old topics can be closed and comments disabled
  6. Convert topics to tickets
  7. Agents can follow important customer conversations with a follow tool

Start easy, start simple with existing data

You may already have existing tickets and customer emails you want converted into online communities. When you sign up for a Freshesk free trial here you can follow these quick steps and see how simple it is to start forums with your existing support data.

5. Tie up your help desk with CRM

Freshdesk lets you collect detailed information about a customer’s question using a customized feedback form. This is one way to know your customer, but there’s a more comprehensive way: integrating your help desk with your CRM software.

Going back to the marketing and sales prerequisites to customer success, choosing help desk software means tight integration with CRM. You could have separate help desk and CRM apps. But having both systems under one architecture ensures smoother data sync and compatibility either way. The depth of interoperability in native integration is simply unmatched by two distinctly developed systems, whose project teams have varying goals and may have had used different base platforms.

Take a look at the possibilities in Freshdesk, features that you want to benchmark against should you prefer another CRM-helpdesk bundle:

  1. Custom field mapping of fields — data you want displayed — on both Freshdesk and Freshsales dashboards, such as: Full Name, Address, Email, Job Title, Mobile and Twitter ID.
  2. Bi-directional sync, Freshsales to Freshdesk and vice-versa. Leads and contacts can be synced to Freshdesk as Customers.
  3. Track customers, not just tickets by following a contact across the whole gamut of marketing and sales stages.
  4. Provide personalized support using as context lead and contact details, where available.
  5. Have a suite of closely related tools, such as live chat (Freshchat) and call center (Freshcaller)

The interface for integrating Freshdesk with Freshsales CRM.

6. Focus on priorities, ignore the mundane

Automation has this kinetic effect on your entire operation, not just customer service. When mundane tasks are accomplished by technology, more tickets are resolved, customer satisfaction shoots up and sales keeps a steady upward march.

Within the support department, leaders get free time to focus on customer feedback and outcomes and develop new ways for better customer experience. Instead of pushing tasks manually up a hill, they let tasks flow downhill with automation, while they stand atop the hill with a wider view of the business.

So, what tasks can be automated by help desk? Here are the mundane and the cumbersome you can leave with Freshdesk:

  • Prioritize tickets including setting alerts on critical or urgent issues
  • Route tickets based on skills
  • Follow-up reminders on pending tickets
  • Assign equal ticket loads among agents including adjusting to current engaged agents
  • Answer recurring issues by forwarding them to a knowledge base or using canned responses

7. Spot and engage brand mentions

We know by now that customers turn to social media, not only to engage family and friends, but brands as well. Engage is a sort of euphemism though when we take as cue the findings of a survey on the use of social media by customers, showing:

  • 61% use social media to complain about a product
  • 27% use social media to gather product information
  • 23% use social media for deals and discounts

The study may reference B2C consumers, but B2B customers are social media users, too, and subject to rant about life’s frustrations, including and potentially about your product. Still part of your customer success strategy, spotting and engaging brand mentions in social media is being proactive in many fronts.

  1. Resolve a simple complaint quickly and prevent escalation
  2. Address a public post and showcase your awesome customer service
  3. Answer a product query and spin it into a potential upsell
  4. Rectify a misinformed comment and manage expectation
  5. Acknowledge a positive comment and amplify your brand goodness


Customer success, the amalgamation of sales, marketing and support processes, is now the norm to steadier revenue base given the costly option and difficulty of gaining new customers consistently.

Customer service may still be the territory of the support team, but not its only nor even main proponent. Senior management and department heads must take the lead to make customer success a reality, starting with proactive customer service backed by training and technology.

This is where robust help desk software like Freshdesk fits in: an enabler of customer success. If you want to start your journey to customer success, we highly recommend you sign up for a Freshdesk free trial here. Its features and tools will allow your teams to get up to speed on a new and better way of making customers happy.

Christopher Robinson

By Christopher Robinson

Christopher Robinson is a senior productivity research analyst who specializes in optimizing online collaboration and project management using Scrum and agile approaches. In his work, he always emphasizes the need for distributed work training and the formation of efficient work habits. His work was mentioned in various business publications, including Entrepreneur and InfoQ. He’s a strong proponent of the GTD model. He has been cooperating with the FinancesOnline team for 5 years now, and his publications always focus on practical aspects of productivity tools that can have an actual, transformative impact on a company.

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