The Why, What, and How of Customer Success Documentation

The Why, What, and How of Customer Success Documentation

As customer success professionals, we spend most of our time guiding our customers through complex changes.

If we're lucky enough, we do so successfully.

If we're extra lucky, we have our processes and key steps documented for future reference.

Yet not all of us have the luxury of clean and robust documentation. Over the last five years, I have worked closely with customers, and have seen the night and day difference documentation can make.

Here is my process for documenting, deconstructed into what, why, and how.

The Why - Making a case for documentation.

Documentation can undoubtedly be intimidating. I spend half of my time writing and updating documentation. Even though it is not always a fun task, I have seen its value in the long run.

Documentation can help you in three ways:

  • It eliminates hours of rewriting content you have already written—for example, communication templates for customers.
  • It helps your team stay consistent. Whether you're a team of one looking to grow, or you're already a more mature team, you'll need documentation to stay on the same page and make sure you're providing a similar experience to your customers. Solid documentation also reduces your organization's training time for new employees.
  • It will boost your confidence. You won't have to second-guess yourself when you read good documentation to prepare for your customer calls.

The What – What should I document?

It can be hard to know what to write about and what to leave out when documenting. If you're not sure if something needs to be documented, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How important is this to my business and my role?
  2. How often do I need to do this in a given month?
  3. Who else would benefit from having this documented?

As customer success professionals, we will likely face similar situations repeatedly, like customer requests.

I categorize documentation into three main buckets:

  • People
  • Process
  • Product

These are not in order of priority but they are interrelated.

People - Documentation related to your customer and key stakeholders.

When I started working at Diligent, I had no idea who I would train and coach on how to use our meeting management tool. I listened to implementations and sales calls in order to better understand our customers. Gradually, my knowledge grew, and I started to empathize with the folks I was training. This allowed me to fine tune my approach and eventually become more effective during my meetings.

People-related documentation helps you answer:

  1. Who is your customer?
  2. Who are the key decision-makers?

Here are some examples of documents that can help answer the above questions:

  • Understand your customer base and consider your product from their perspective by creating customer personas.
  • Empathize with your customers and understand their needs by creating a customer empathy map.
  • Identify customer touchpoints and opportunities for improvement by creating a customer journey map.

Pro tip: Consider getting your CS team together to map out the Value Proposition Canvas. This canvas can help you “visualize the value that you create” and act as a strong reminder as to why your customers purchase your product in the first place.

Process – Capturing the critical steps to success.

Documenting your processes is key to optimizing your team's work and maintaining consistency. This includes documentation about your projects with different customer segments, in addition to your procedures for handling common scenarios.

Here are a few favorites among the CS community:

  • Sales to CS handoff process: What are the key steps that need to occur? For example, you may want to work together on a success plan for your customer and set clear expectations. Make sure you capture important details in the success plan such as expectations, responsibilities and key product features. Donna Weber, a customer onboarding expert, has an excellent success plan template you can start with.
  • Onboarding templates: First impressions matter, and poor onboarding is at the top of various lists of common reasons for customer churn. As Lincoln Murphy states, customer onboarding is essential for customers to achieve their required outcome.
  • Team playbooks: These will help your team become more strategic and help scale your activities. You don’t need to have a running list of 100 different playbooks. You can start simple by documenting the top 3 activities you would like to do well and stay consistent with - e.g. onboarding, health checks, business reviews.

Pro tip: Note down what went well from a recent successful customer interaction and write down what went well and when things were not exactly smooth sailing.

Product – Focus on robust use cases.

Unless you have a solid team of product writers and documentation specialists, you may find yourself writing one-off articles on how to use certain parts of your product.

It is your duty as a customer success professional to maximize your customer’s use of the product to achieve their goals. Think beyond how-to guides and instead compile use cases and examples of your product in action.

Customers love hearing what others in their shoes are doing, and you can learn a lot from them as well. Therefore, having a collection of sample use cases is beneficial to your team and your customers.

Pro tip: If a customer is particularly impressed by a feature on a call, document that moment.

The How – Getting started with your documentation.

Don't overcomplicate this process. You can get started with the following steps.

1. Assess your current state and identify the gaps.

Take a look at the resources that are currently available. Do you see anything missing or that needs updating? What can be done differently or better? Keep a running list of items that need more documentation, share it with your team, and allow time for everyone's input.

2. Define a goal for your documentation piece.

What's it going to help you achieve?

For example, a customer empathy map will help you better understand and respond to your customers. A project plan will keep your team on track and ensure consistency.

3. Burrow from other teams.

Does your product or marketing team have a great user persona document that you can use? You don't need to always start from zero to produce helpful documentation.

4. Make a plan.

Perhaps you realize that you have only a few areas underdocumented, or maybe you are overwhelmed because there is no documentation at all. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, you'll need a list of documentation projects and a system to prioritize them. Customer success teams, as well as other groups and leaders of your organization, need to work together to achieve this.

5. Start writing.

Writing is the most challenging part. Plan to dedicate a few hours every week to complete your documentation. Just as you would for a customer meeting, block time off on your calendar.

Pro Tip: Make sure your team has the opportunity to provide feedback on your documents. Newer team members are often great candidates to read your work with fresh eyes.

A final thought about documentation in Customer Success.

The world of customer success is constantly evolving, and there are a myriad of ways to become more efficient and successful in your role.

Good documentation can strengthen your customer success team and program at large. However, it doesn't need to be stressful or tedious.

  • Start small.
  • Work on areas you enjoy.
  • Make it a collaborative effort.
  • Leverage others on your team as editors.

This list is not exhaustive, and you may choose to document entirely different areas. That's OK. What's important is that you're keeping track of what makes you, your customer, and your organization successful.

Good luck to you!

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