The Anatomy of a Remarkable Customer Success Playbook

April 21, 2017 Jim Jones

The Anatomy of a Remarkable Customer Success PlaybookWhen it comes to managing relationships with your customers, the old axiom holds true: “Change is the only constant.” Because you know things will change - both positively and negatively - in your relationships with your customers, your customer success teams need to be proactive in managing the relationship. Being proactive means having a good plan on how to capitalize on regular events in the relationship lifecycle like business reviews, subscription renewals. It also means being able to quickly and efficiently respond to critical issues like technical escalations, changes in company goals or executive sponsorship.

The best way to help your CSMs respond effectively to these scheduled and unscheduled events is by the use of playbooks. This article will explain what playbooks are, then provide some guidelines on building and using them.

What is a playbook?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “playbook” as “...a set of rules or suggestions that are considered to be suitable for a particular activity, industry, or job…” Playbooks are essential guides for CSMs in responding to key events in the customer lifecycle. A good playbook for customer success provides your team with the following:

  • Action plan and desired outcomes for responding to key lifecycle events,

  • Definition of responsibilities for the action plan, and

  • Templates of assets or collateral needed for responding to the event

It doesn’t tell your CSMs how to do their job, but it does provide critical coaching and guidance to get the best possible results from each customer interaction. Let’s look at each of these in more detail and discuss a playbook for quarterly business reviews (QBRs) as an example.

Action Plan & Desired Outcomes

QBRs typically take a lot of preparation before the event. CSMs typically have to gather things like customer usage data, roadmap/product updates, subscription-related information, etc. A playbook can provide reminders or steps to take to collect this information so that the CSM is fully prepared for a customer conversation.

Because QBRs are time consuming for you and for your customer, you want to make sure you’re delivering the maximum value. Focusing on desired outcomes for the meeting will help you do that. You may want to focus your efforts on the following outcomes:

  • Review the customer’s overall usage of your application, as well as their use of the important features of your product;
  • Learn about the customer’s strategic initiatives for their business and how your products fit into those;
  • Discuss future plans for your product and receive customer feedback
  • Ensure a successful renewal of the customer’s subscription

Your list may vary, but having a list of desired outcomes ensures that your company is preparing properly for a QBR.

Definition of Responsibilities

Most interactions between your company and your customer will require multiple players. This is especially true of a QBR - both in the pre-meeting preparation and during the meeting. Leading up to the QBR, a CSM may require the help of your operations team, facilities, executives, and product development/product management. Most of this audience may be required for the actual QBR itself as well.

With this many players involved, it’s important to define what each one is expected to do. This ensures that no steps in the process are missed. It also ensures that various members of the team are not duplicating one another’s efforts.


Having templates in your playbook helps in two ways. First, it ensures that your CSMs are consistently representing your company’s brand and messaging. Second, it saves time because CSMs and others involved aren’t reinventing the wheel every time.

For our QBR example, your playbook may include the following:

  • Sample agenda to review with your customer before the meeting
  • A branded slide deck
  • Canned queries or instructions on retrieving customer usage data from your back-end systems

Your list of templates will vary for each playbook - some require more than others. But where consistency of messaging and efficiency of work are concerned, these templates can be extremely helpful.

Final thoughts…

You don’t have to create playbooks for every possible event in the customer lifecycle. Your CSMs will likely know which events occur most regularly in a customer’s lifecycle. They’ll also know areas in which the efficiency of a playbook would be helpful. Start with building just one or two playbooks, and revise those until the process of playbook use is institutionalized in your team.

Consider reviewing and updating your playbooks on a regular basis. Your CSMs will have lots of input on what does and doesn’t work in a given playbook. They will also provide invaluable ideas on what to add for the future. Reviewing your playbooks not only ensures they improve over time, but getting the team’s input will help drive adoption and use.

Finally, make sure your playbooks are easy to access. Many companies set up an internal Wiki or use Google Sites to store and manage their playbooks. Keeping the playbooks online also allows you to link to the various required assets (presentations, spreadsheets, etc.) and revise all the various components as required.

Setting up and driving adoption of playbooks across your team takes a fair amount of work, but the benefits in the end can be tremendous.

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About the Author

Jim Jones

<a href="">Jim Jones</a> is the founder and CEO of <a href="">Voyant Consulting</a>, a Chicago-based firm that helps clients improve customer loyalty by improving their Customer Success organizations. In his previous roles with multiple international technology companies, Jim has a history of increasing customer loyalty, and improving customer retention by building world-class customer success and customer support groups. He has also been a featured speaker and blogger on the topics of customer success, voice of the customer programs and customer experience.

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