Building a Customer Success program from the ground up is tough. Very rarely are you given a blank check and the mandate to spend whatever it takes to improve the customer experience, improve adoption and reduce churn.

In most cases, you’re asked to do all of the above, but instead of a blank check, you’re handed the equivalent of whatever is under the cushions on the couch to build your team and secure the tool stack that you need to deliver Customer Success.

The normal process for building Customer Success at a startup doesn’t go from idea to plan to access to unlimited funds to implement. It does happen (think unicorn <sigh>), but it’s the exception, not the rule. Most startups Customer Success efforts are bootstrapped. That means you start your Customer Success program with the resources you have, not necessarily the ones you want.

Bootstrapping Customer Success And The Customer Success Stack

The great, and often underappreciated, thing about bootstrapping your Customer Success efforts is that you learn to be creative and work problems as a team. You seek out opportunities to accomplish your goals in manners that are expedient and cost effective. While they might not be long-term, they get the job done and enable you to learn what works and what doesn’t. Experimentation and creative solutions are the hallmarks of a bootstrapping Success team.

Talk to a Customer Success leader and they’ll describe what a challenge it is, in a bootstrapping organization, to keep things focused and bring order from the chaos that is the day-to-day operation of a growing Success team on a shoestring budget. There’s always more to do than hours in the day and each dollar that they have to spend has to have a measurable and quantifiable impact. Budgets are tight and expectations are high. Often, it’s at this point that being “busy” overtakes carefully executed activities; the day-to-day activities have you running and you start to focus on the tasks that are in front of you rather than the objectives that you so carefully planned to achieve.

Ask any CSM and they’ll tell you that the daily struggle to deliver great outcomes in the face of all the things that they have to do is a struggle and that they would kill for just a bit more free time that could spend with their customers. Wouldn’t it be great to find a few solutions that can reduce the “busy” tasks and help you focus on achieving the objectives that you set out?

When you first set out to work with your customers and start making Success happen you don’t really think about tools (and if you do, you’re probably worrying about the wrong thing). Instead, you pick-up the phone, you email, you make the magic happen however you can. But, at a certain point you start looking for ways to streamline things and reduce the number tasks it takes to accomplish something and that is where this set of tools comes in.

The Customer Success Stack we describe in this article is a great place to start. Eventually, when you get all of the elements that these tools help you with in place, you’ll likely be ready to step-up to one of the Customer Success Management Platforms on the market. Until then, this stack will enable you to hone your processes and enable you to engage your customers like a pro!

Don’t Be A Tool

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” ― Marshall McLuhan

Before we dig into some great tools that can really help you, reduce the busy work and save your sanity, a word about the thought behind this selection of tools.

Invariably, any discussion around improving the delivery of Customer Success touches on tools at some point and this isn’t a bad thing. The challenge is that all too often the discussion is focused on trying to solve the wrong thing, at the wrong time.

Tools are rarely a panacea. But applied at the right time, to the right set of problems, they can provide small but impactful changes. With this set of tools, we’re focusing on what you need to get started. In short, this selection of tools is not intended to be a replacement for a Customer Success Management platform (that comes later, when you’re ready), they are instead, intended to help you with:

  • Managing your service delivery which is the key to providing more repeatable results
  • Improving communication with your team, the broader organization and your customers
  • Providing you with a great way to interact directly with your premium customers so that you can give them more of a “white-glove” experience
  • A means for managing and addressing customer issues without a pricey support system
  • Documenting your processes and procedures
  • Getting answers to your “how-to” questions related to Customer Success
  • Creating great guides to help with onboarding, training and day-to-day use
  • Visualizing your key metrics and progress towards goals
  • Mapping your customer lifecycle and customer journeys
  • Capturing your next great idea
  • A way to deploy a basic VoC program on the cheap

Click here to grab the full list of 12 tools in a handy PDF Quick Reference guide!

The Customer Success Stack

So, you’ve discovered that you’re ready to move beyond delivering Customer Success with a lot of “Excel and elbow grease”, but you’re not quite ready for a full-blown Customer Success Management Platform (CSMP) and you want to know what options lie somewhere in between.

While delivering Customer Success without some form of tooling is possible in the early stages of your growth, as you’ve no doubt discovered, it’s time (and resource) intensive, and the result is often inconsistent. These lackluster outcomes often drive companies to consider purchasing a Customer Success Management Platform. While the have the right idea, they’re trying to run before they can even walk. They’re not ready and buying an expensive tool isn’t going to work as a “forcing function” like they think it will. What if, instead of bringing out the big guns, and experiencing a whole swath of unmet expectations, there was another option?

 

12 Tools To Help You Bootstrap Your Customer Success Program

While some of these tools may only save you a minute here or a minute there, the time and frustration saved will add up over time and help you to be doing the right thing, at the right time. Let’s take a look at 12 tools that can give you a helping hand as you seek to operationalize your Success efforts, deliver value and aid your customers on their journey towards Success.

Ready to talk tools? We’ve got some great ones to share with you!

1. Process.st

This tool is a recent discovery and is amazing for getting organized. For Customer Success, it’s a great way to drive a lean, repeatable onboarding/implementation experience. You can create checklist templates and apply them so that each project/customer is being delivered using the same set of tasks. They also allow you to capture structured data. They leverage Zapier for integrating so you can really drive your full process and workflow if you want to get super fancy.

Cost: Free to start. The Business level subscription starts at $12.50 per user per month

Why you need it: Taking the management of your processes to the next level can be a real challenge. Making things repeatable is a bear, checklists in a spreadsheet only get you so far. If you want to deliver a consistent experience, you need to systematize your processes and Process.st is a great way to do it.

How to use it: After you have your methodology down on “paper”, the natural next step is to convert them into plays and playbooks so you can deliver a consistent experience for your customers and predictable results from your efforts. Process.st enables you to take those processes and checklists and convert them into a workflow that can be managed and replicated. Think playbooks on steroids.

2. Nickelled

We’ve been big fans of the guided tour concept for driving better onboarding , enablement and adoption outcomes but finding a solution that’s easy to use, code-free (we’ve got control issues what can I say) and that won’t break the bank has been a challenge. Nickelled delivers. This tool is another recent discovery and we’re super excited to start using it. If you want to be sure that your new users get the guided tour and can refer back to it Nickelled is a tool to check out.

Cost: 14-day Free Trial then $79 per month. They offer additional packages that enable to create more guides (the Starter level caps you at 10) and give you more control over the branding.

Why you need it: Being able to walk your customers through the key features and functionality of your offering is a great way to drive rapid time to value and accelerate adoption. Nickelled nails it and they do it in a manner that is dead simple. You can literally get your first guide done and available in minutes.

How to use it: Start by creating a “walk-through” guide that aids your onboarding efforts. A great way to use Nickelled is to create a piece of content, a guide, that describes the key activities that your customers need to complete to get started with your offering and augment it with a set of guides that are designed to walk your customer through the steps. This way they can proceed forward at their own pace while having a safety net to catch them when they get stuck on what to do next.

3. LucidChart

LucidChart is a great tool for documenting things like your customer journeys, the customer lifecycle, your engagement models, organizational structures and day-to-day processes visually. It’s super easy to use and you can upload your own icon sets to customize your graphics and keep the look-and-feel of your documentation consistent with your brand (everybody loves pretty processes).

Cost: Starts at $4.95 per user per month for the Basic subscription. The Pro subscription gets you more shapes and lets you import Visio diagrams.

Why you need it: Making flowcharts and process diagrams kinda sucks. LucidChart really does make it just a little bit better. That means you might actually do it.

How to use it: If you haven’t mapped out your customer journey, this is a great tool to help you visualize it. Start with your customer journeys and then move on to documenting your current processes as a series of flowcharts. Don’t kid yourself, hiring “process-minded” people is not going to take the place of actually documenting your processes. Having them down on “paper” is the first step to making them repeatable. Not only will it help with customer outcomes but it will also make ramping up new hires much quicker as they can see what they are supposed to do and have a map to follow as they do it.

4. Xmind

Mind Maps are a great way to visualize just about anything. They can help you document your brilliant ideas when brainstorming or just enable you to quickly map out what your engagement plan really looks like (wow, that’s a lot of people touching one customer). Xmind is a great tool for clarifying your thinking. While there are a ton of choices on the market we recommend Xmind because it works and it’s free. Now that’s a beautiful thing.

Cost: Free. They also offer a Pro version that you can upgrade to if you find yourself needing some of the more advanced features like exporting, etc.

Why you need it: Putting your thoughts down on paper is one thing, getting them mapped out, now that’s useful. MindMapping is not new, but if you have a need to visualize relationships and tie together a lot of concepts into a cohesive picture, you should consider giving it a go.

How to use it: Bootstrapping and brainstorming go hand-in-hand. A bunch of scribbled notes and pictures of the whiteboard will never be as effective as a document that maps out what you’re thinking and enables others to review and contribute to it. Get started on mapping out your overall approach to delivering awesome Customer Success. With Xmind, you’ll have the grand plan in a form that will allow you to connect all the disparate pieces so you can see the big picture.

5. OUTCOMES: The SuccessHacker Customer Success Community

What can I say, delivering Customer Success takes a village and while this may seem like a shameless plug it comes from a good place. We built OUTCOMES to be a great reference as well as your go-to place to find new ideas and get your questions answered by other Customer Success professionals who have been where you’re at and know what worked for them. You’ve got questions and concerns, your peers have answers and advice. It’s the best free tool for delivering Customer Success, period.

Cost: Free.

Why you need it: Whether you want to connect with peers, read great original material from some of the brightest minds in Customer Success or just like the bounce ideas off of a group of fellow professionals, OUTCOMES has you covered.

How to use it: Creating a Customer Success strategy or program in a vacuum is silly. Use OUTCOMES to ask others how they solved a particular problem, collaborate in one our working groups and leverage the expertise and experience of others to accelerate your efforts. OUTCOMES was created as a resource for the Customer Success community. Have questions, ask them. Created something that is kinda awesome, share it to help others.

6. Boomerang for Gmail

Want to schedule an email to go out later so you can game the open cycle? Need to know when your hard to reach client hasn’t responded to you in 2 days? Boomerang is the tool for you. The install is a breeze. Just add an extension or plugin to your browsers and your Gmail powers get a level-up.

Cost: Free (for a limited number of messages). The Pro subscription level is $14.99/month and gives you the ability to send an unlimited number of messages plus mobile and recurring messages.

Why you need it: Email may well be the worst mode of communication, Boomerang makes it work a bit better.

How to use it: Plug this into your Gmail to gain superpowers. Start by setting reminders and regain control of your inbox so that you spend less time being “busy” and more time getting shit done.

7. Rapportive

This is the ultimate email one-two punch when combined with Boomerang for Gmail. Rapportive shows you your contacts LinkedIn information and contact details right inside your inbox. It’s a great way to know more about who you’re communicating with and how to reach them if email isn’t doing the trick.

Cost: Free.

Why you need it: Emailing someone cold is tough and having to add someone to your LinkedIn by going outside of email is a waste of time. Save some time and know more with Rapportive.

How to use it: Knowledge is power, use Rapportive to know more about who you’re interacting with. Add them into your network on LinkedIn, directly from email, to keep in touch.

8. Streak

Want to manage your support, onboarding, upsells and/or hiring process (or any other stage-based operation) from one place without breaking the bank on a CRM solution? Streak gives you the ability to do all of this right inside of Gmail. It’s CRM in your inbox. Streak enables you to turn your email into a tool to manage your entire pipeline. Simply setup your stages in Streak, and you can track messages and progression through them all from within Gmail. You get some great features like automated responses through snippets, a shared library of your best answers, history and great visualizations as well as a host of other useful tools. It’s a solution that we just started to work with but we’re excited about how it’s working out for us.

Cost: Free. Streak offers additional subscription levels to support more advanced needs.

Why you need it: You’re bootstrapping and CRM is expensive. You need the ability to manage interactions with your customer as they move through your process but don’t want to drop the big $$$ on a solution that you will only be able to partially utilize.

How to use it: Start by building out your customer lifecycle as a series of stages. Streak enables you to easily see who is where and track their progression through your process. It’s a great way to manage your pipeline of projects and portfolio of customers as they progress through your process.

9. SurveyMonkey

Surveys are the lifeblood of a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program. They’re one of the best ways to find out what your customers think about your service and offering. Want to do them on the cheap? SurveyMonkey is your best bet. This super simple, but powerful solution will have you looking like a survey genius in no time. With the ability to send via email, as a web link or even be embedded on your website, SurveyMonkey is a low-cost, no-brainer and great entry-level solution for bootstrapping organizations.

Cost: Free. The Basic subscription limits you to 10 questions and 100 responses which is not an issue if you have a smaller customer base and your initial efforts are focused on NPS surveys. They offer additional subscription levels that increase the number of questions, respondents and themes as well as a host of other additional functionality.

Why you need it: The answer is in the name. Surveys. If you want a simple tool that gets the job done. SurveyMonkey enables you rapidly roll-out branded surveys that don’t make you look like a monkey’s uncle.

How to use it: A great way to start is create a transactional NPS survey that you send to customers when they finish onboarding. It’s one of the easiest ways to start a Voice of the Customer program with minimal effort. Create workflows in Process.st to formalize your response process and turn your Promoters into references and address your Detractors issues.

10. Cyfe

Cyfe is an all-in-one business dashboard app that helps you easily monitor all your business data in one place. Social media, analytics, marketing, sales, support, infrastructure… monitor and visualize everything! Cafe makes it easy to develop your very own dashboards rapidly with a wide array of pre-built widgets. Going premium removes limits and enables to customize the look and feel further with a custom domain and logo.

Cost: Free. There is a Premium option for $19 per month that enables you to have branding, a custom domain and TV mode (plus a host of other things).

Why you need it: Transparency should be a core principle of your Customer Success organization. To promote this, you need to be able to visualize and share your metrics, Cyfe makes this a cinch with pre-built widgets and the ability to monitor just about anything in one place make this a great solution.

How to use it: Turning all of your Google spreadsheets that track your KPIs into dashboards that visualize your progress towards goals is a great place to start.

11. Slack

There’s a ton of team communication and collaboration offerings in the market and many of them are pretty awesome (you’re probably using at least a couple of them already as they tend creep into your environment and grow virally). And then there’s Slack. It’s a game changer. It’s basically communication and collaboration on steroids. You can setup private and public channels to wrangle the often overwhelming volume of chatter. You can share documents and code snippets. And it’s all searchable from one spot. It also has the added bonus of offering the ability to escalate your communications to the phone when you get tired of typing. But wait, there’s more…integrations, Slack offers a ton of integrations and even enables you to create your own handy Slackbots.

Cost: Free. There are several other subscription levels that enable you to add-on additional functionality as you grow and your needs get more complicated.

Why you need it: Emails, Yammer, Chatter, HipChat, Gchat, carrier pigeons; There’s no lack of choices for how you communicate and collaborate with your team. Want one ring to rule them all? Slack delivers.

How to use it: Slack is like a swiss army knife for collaboration. Besides the obvious move of setting up channels for your various teams, consider starting out by:

  • Integrating your website monitoring solution so you get notified about website outages
  • Adding the Twitter integration so that you automagically notified whenever there are tweets that mention your company. It’s a great way to engage with customers and address issues that they are tweeting about.
  • Create channels for your VIP Customers and provide a more high-touch experience and increase collaboration.

For more great ideas on how you can revolutionize your team communication using Slack, check out this article where Kyle Gray describes how WP Curve uses Slack improve communication and collaboration between their distributed team. For more on ways to leverage integrations in Slack check out another great article by WP Curve that introduces you to 17 Slack integrations that will spice up your team communication.

12. UberConference

Conferencing is a pain. Frankly, most of the free offerings kinda suck. In a sea of otherwise poor options, UberConference stands out. They offer a free conferencing offering that works. If you’re like us, you’ve tried a host of conferencing offerings and have been disappointed time and time again. Give UberConference a shot and we think that you won’t be disappointed. They offer a slick app that enables you to either connect via phone or your device. Sharing a document or your screen is easy and intuitive. When you’re looking to have the ability to conferencing on a budget, UberConference is a great way to go.

Cost: Free. The Business level subscription costs $10 per user per month and gives you some nice add-ons like dial-out to add guests and bridges with up to 100 participants.

Why you need it: Sure you can bootstrap with nothing but a mobile phone unfortunately, conference calls are inevitable and necessary. When you need to do a conference call and you want to have it be good experience for everyone involved, give UberConference a shot.

How to use it: Conference calls are the obvious answer, but also consider how you can use it to conduct training webinars at scale to accelerate your training and onboarding efforts by moving past purely 1:1 training sessions.

What Tools Do You Use To Deliver Customer Success?

While this set of tools is great place to start, there are many, many other great tools out there. Tell us if we missed a great go-to tool for delivering Customer Success on a shoestring. Use the comments below to let us know, we’re always on the look-out for next great app!

Click here to grab the full list of 12 tools in a handy PDF Quick Reference guide!