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Top Customer Success OKRs to Use + OKR Spreadsheet Template

Updated on December 12, 2023 9 minutes read

Summary points:

Let’s talk customer success objectives. Specifically, customer success OKRs.

Be honest: how many times have you been uncertain about your CS team’s actual objective?

Do you need to reduce churn, increase logins, or actually drive value realization for customers?
In the past year, I’ve seen many CSMs conflating objectives with key results, KPIs, metrics, all together into a nebulous definition that nobody can pin down with precision. And it’s not surprising – most online research sources also conflate the definitions – so it’s a chain reaction.

That’s why I put the following piece together. In it, you’ll find:

  • The simple and clear-cut definition of customer success OKRs, complete with a table comparison with KPIs.
  • A rundown of how to use OKRs in your CS team and organization, featuring a template spreadsheet I compiled which you can copy in your Drive folder and get to work 😉
  • A list of the top OKRs we’ve seen across the CS space – from increasing NPS, to driving ARR, to leading case study efforts, and more!
  • A short guide towards the end on how to actually select the best, most-relevant OKRs for your use case – trust me, it’s not as easy.

Let’s begin.

What Are Customer Success OKRs?

Customer Success OKRs, aka Objectives and Key Results, represent the main goals of the CS team. They often marry business objectives with stated customer objectives to create a simple, clear cut, and value-driven set of objectives that tracks CS performance based on predetermined, measurable results, while promoting cross-departmental collaboration and goal-alignment around customer and business outcomes.

Sounds like a handful? It’s because it is. OKRs are serious business. For CS specifically, they bring together what the customer wants with what the business wants, allowing everyone to be on the same page while increasing their productivity since they all have the golden goals pinned to the top of their to-dos.

So wait, what’s the difference between OKRs and KPIs again?

Now that we’ve defined OKRs, we should dispel any confusion by looking at the differences between OKRs and KPIs side by side:

OKRs vs KPIs

OKRs KPIs
Full Terminology Objectives and Key Results Key Performance Indicators
Approach Business outcome perspective Person, team, or project perspective
Description Goals with corresponding outcomes, metrics, and efforts Performance metrics, usually assigned per role / project / team / account
Type  Strategic planning framework Basic performance tracking framework
Structure Overall list business objectives, each with 3-5 corresponding key results Simple list of KPIs (can, on occasion, be just one)
Used for Organizational goal-alignment and outcome measurement Measuring employee performance and progress towards outcomes
Tracking Frequency Monthly / Quarterly / Yearly Continuous

How to Use OKRs:

For each objective you set, you should also have 3-5 key results by which to measure your performance towards that objective. Key results typically fit into two categories:

Effort-based Results

The simpler of the two types, effort-based results are just that -simple tasks that you’ve completed or are in the process of doing so. There are no metrics typically tied to effort-based results.

↪ Examples:

  • Create and implement a new onboarding flow this year
  • Create 1 high-value downloadable PDF as a first-value for clients
  • Train new CSM
  • Create an upsell / cross-sell automation playbook / flow

Outcome-based Results

Outcome-based results are easy to quantify and measure by simply looking at the hard data you have for your accounts.

↪ Examples:

  • Increase average NPS by 2 points
  • Generate 5 case studies
  • Lower customer churn rate by 2%
  • Conduct QBRs for your top 5 customers by ARR

Outcome-based results also typically come with a score associated with them, which you calculate by dividing your goal by the number you’re currently at (if you’re looking to increase it) or the other way around (if you’re looking to decrease that number). Your results can be interpreted according to the following rules:

  • Above 1 means you’re overperforming.
  • Between 0.7 and 0.99 means you’re on track and your goal will be completed soon.
  • Between 0.3 and 0.7 means you’re underperforming and there’s a risk you won’t reach the goal.
  • Under 0.3 means you’ve got serious issues to fix before you can get anywhere near your goal. If this happens, always check if your math is correct first.

To keep it simple, I put together this spreadsheet which you can use by simply making a copy in your Google Drive folder:

Examples of objectives and key results. Use this OKR template spreadsheet by editing a copy of the document here. Note that the farther you are from your key results goals, the more likely it is that you won’t complete the main objectives.

8 Common Customer Success OKRs with Examples from Top CS Professionals

We’ve asked around the CS space and came up with 8 clear contenders for the most important OKRs in customer success. Then we left it to the public and CSMs at large to pick their favorite. The results were not too unexpected, but it was surprising to see some frequently mentioned OKRs score so low:

 

okr-customer-success
Results based on 395 votes across 3 polls conducted in Novr-Dec 2023 in the Customer Success LinkedIn Group.

Now – exactly how you phrase, measure, and validate these OKRs will always come down to the specifics of your business. But overall, here are the most popular customer success objectives, from the least popular (but still enough to make it on the list), to the most popular:

8. Increase ARR

Focus: revenue

Possible Key Results:

  • Increase average contract value by x%
  • Help facilitate x account upgrades during the current fiscal year
  • Implement automatic account updaters and dunning emails
  • Bring in x CSQLs this year

Annual recurring revenue can be a tricky metric to assign to customer success as it’s not always under their control, but it’s nonetheless commonplace among the SaaS space. So how can CSMs deliver and help boost ARR?

Most of the natural efforts of CS contribute to ARR increases, whether it’s by through upsells, improving the processes in place to reduce involuntary churn, or by helping bring in CS-qualified leads. All these tactics and more directly contribute to increases in ARR.

7. Increase NPS

Focus: referral

Possible Key Results:

  • create and distribute NPS survey
  • obtain X survey respondents
  • increase NPS average by 2 points
  • decrease NPS detractors by x%
  • increase NPS promoters by x%

Plenty of people mentioned NPS, but when it came down to NPS vs other objectives, NPS lost every poll. What does that say about the CS space? Hard to draw a conclusion – but it shows the usefulness of NPS can be limited.

Here’s what Jamie Martin, Senior Customer Success Manager, had to say about their OKRs at Acoustic. Interestingly enough, CSQLs are mentioned – which would be an interesting objective, if measured. Still worthwhile to see it up there:

GRR, NPS, adoption of tools. These have been our historical, measured OKRs for variable compensation. We are also SPIFFed on things like CSQLs and particular contractual improvements. But those don’t have specific goals.

6. Conduct QBRs

Focus: retention, expansion, feature activation

Possible Key Results:

  • Conduct x QBRs during this fiscal quarter
  • Conduct QBRs for your x top clients
  • Obtain x upsells as a direct result of QBRs
  • Increase feature activation by x% as a direct result of QBRs

Quarterly business reviews might seem like a boring task, but simply sitting down with all the data you have for an account, analyzing it, compiling reports, and then presenting your conclusions to clients can be seen as an immense value addition.

And you know what customers do once they go through the value realization process? They choose to stay with you for longer while actually achieving success in their objectives.

Need help conducting your next QBR or EBR? We got you covered:

5. Produce Case Studies

Focus: acquisition

Possible Key Results:

  • Set x meetings with top clients to discuss possible case studies
  • Discover x unique use cases during customer interviews
  • Product x case studies during this fiscal year
  • Obtain hard data for case studies from x customers
  • Increase CSQLs by x%

One of the hidden ways in which customer success can make a big impact on the business is through case studies. Of course, CSMs don’t have to write the case studies (unless that’s something they want). Instead, they should act as project coordinators and help facilitate alignment between the clients best suited for case studies and the marketing team (or whoever has the task of writing the final case study).

This process includes the valuable-but-often ignored task of identifying the top accounts that would qualify for a case study and then having that conversation during their next client meeting. It’s something that comes easier with time, as experienced CSMs gain a sixth sense for interesting client stories that should be highlighted.

It’s also the CSM’s role to obtain the metrics required to make the case study data-driven and actionable. The data can come from their hyper-optimized customer success dashboards, or from the client themselves.

4. Increase Renewals / Renewal Rate

Focus: retention

Possible Key Results:

  • Increase retention rate by x%
  • Implement automatic account updaters and dunning emails
  • Identify and create a script for handling top x churn precursors
  • Create automation to assist customers showing signs of churn
  • Proactively reach out and assist x customers who’ve shown signs of churn

Renewals make the SaaS world go round, quite literally.

Without a proper retention plan in place, most SaaS would crumble. And even if your monthly churn rate is around 6%, you’ve got to remember that means yearly you’re losing over half of your customer base each year, according to our churn calculator:

So you need a retention strategy – yesterday, if you don’t have one. Fortunately for you, you can take some inspiration from our list of efficient retention tactics, including the practice of proactive listening, a vital approach that’s often forgotten.

3. Lower Customer Churn

Focus: retention

Possible Key Results:

  • Implement automatic account updaters and dunning emails
  • Identify and create a script for handling top x churn precursors
  • Create automation to assist customers showing signs of churn
  • Proactively reach out and assist x customers who’ve shown signs of churn

Customer churn – the original objective of customer success when the first large CS department started at Salesforce way back in 2005. Is it still relevant today? Judging by the overwhelming votes in favor of churn as an OKR, I’d say yes.

However, it’s also very much a matter of perspective – do you, as a CSM, want to reduce the number of customers leaving, or do you want to increase your effectiveness in retaining customers overall?

Regardless, both lowering customer churn and increasing customer retention can be tracked as separate OKRs – the difference is more semantic and psychological than anything else and might not matter that much in the long rong.

What does matter, however, are the tactics you use to lower churn – for which we’ve got our Big Book of Churn, the definitive guide to reducing churn.

2. Increase Product / Feature Adoption

Focus: activation

Possible Key Results:

  • Increase new feature adoption rate to / by x%
  • Increase product adoption rate post-onboarding to / by x%
  • Create training materials for every new feature launched this year
  • Implement product tours to help increase activation

Assuring customers make use of their subscription is one of the cornerstones of good customer success. Think about it like this: if a customer’s not using the product or some key features to the fullest extent, they’re more than likely not achieving their goals.

At that stage, you have a value realization issue, and it should raise all sorts of alarm bells for your entire CS team.

To counteract that, come up with a repeatable and easy-to-follow plan to train customers on using the product and its features (whether it’s via 1-on-1 calls, product documentation, or product tours). Holding your customers’ hands on the road to their success will also always improve their opinion of you, increasing their loyalty and ensuring renewals.

1. Increase GRR / NRR

NRR is the ultimate measure of whether or not a CS team is successful. The other things are good and can lead to that.

Ariel Benzakein, VP of Customer Success Leader @ Donnelley Financial Solutions

 

 

Focus: revenue retention

Possible Key Results:

  • Increase gross / net revenue retention by x%
  • Help facilitate x account upgrades during the current fiscal year
  • Reduce customer churn rate by x%
  • Create and send x product roadmaps / value realization plans to customers

Speaking of retention, we couldn’t finish this list without considering revenue retention – our overall champion in the polls. By far one of the most mentioned OKRs for CS, revenue retention seems to be where “corporate” entities look first in terms of objectives for their customer success teams.

Kevin Reinhardt, Global Head of Customer Success at Loftware, went in-depth on measuring GRR and how such a “corporate” goal can be translated into measurable and actionable retention objectives and targets for the CS team:

The way I have seen them work well is to make your OKRs leading indicators for what it is you are driving the CSMs to do with their targets and comp plans.

For instance, the Corporate goal is to take GRR to 95%.
CSMs will have retention targets and quotas.
So a CS OKR might look like the following;

– Ensure that all Q+1 renewals have joint plans with the AE and actions.

The logic being you hit 100% of that target, you are on top of your renewals, churn is minimised so your leading indicator is ‘How many completed plans with actions have you done?’

Some common OKRs I have seen are:

– Number of product roadmaps a Customer has seen (Those who see 1 roadmap a year churn less than those who don’t)
– Number of confirmed Value realisation plans (correlation between measuring outcomes and lowering churn)

How to Pick the Right OKRs for Your Team

Knowing about all these objectives is just half the job however. Next you’ve got to pick and choose what makes the most sense for your business. To do that, consider:

  • Always track customer churn, retention, or both. Every CSM should keep an eye on this metric regardless of whether it’s set as an objective or not. It’s just good business.
  • Track some form of revenue retention metric. The main difference between gross and net retention is the second one factors in add-ons, upsells, cross-sells, and other sources of revenue.
  • Understand what your customers want. Next, you should ensure you’re promoting active listening as a practice throughout your team and that everyone knows how to listen to customers’ desired outcomes and ensure their delivery at the expected quality level. Once this is set, you should have no issues setting OKRs that align with your customers’ desires.
  • Make sure OKRs are aligned with business goals. If you’re the Head of Customer Success, your responsibilities fall not just in the realm of CS, but also business development. You should be trained to pass every CS effort through a filter of “what can this do for the business as a whole?” That simple thought process can bring some much-needed clarity to what OKRs you should set.

And if all else fails and you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and look at the big picture.

Anna Millhiser, VP of Client Success at Doximity, believes in client-action based OKRs and in allowing the CS team to be creative and set their own methods and key results for achieving the objectives:

Possibly unpopular opinion but I think OKRs should be client action based, so ‘increase logins to the dashboard by 10x” or ‘increase renewal rate by 5%” and then set your teams up to get creative about how to achieve those goals and let them test and play. You may be very surprised by what they come up with that drives results. I think this approach is incredibly more dynamic than having a static goal of “give QBR to 100% of clients.”

How are your OKRs looking?

Now that you’ve selected your OKRs, it’s time to monitor and track those key results, and work your way towards those objectives, step by step.
For more guides on complex CS topics, check back in with the Custify blog. And if you’d like to get some personal insights from Philipp Wolf, Founder and CEO of Custify, you can always just book a jam session with him.

Irina Vatafu

Written by Irina Vatafu

Irina Vatafu is the Lead Customer Success Manager at Custify. As an ANC Certified Trainer and a Customer Success Manager, Irina uses her technical background to better understand SaaS businesses and drive them to success.

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