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How To Be Proactive in Customer Success

If you ask anyone what "Customer Success" is, they'll likely include the term "proactive" in their description.

It's an awesome buzzword in the CS space but what does it really mean?

Kristi Faltorusso –– who is no stranger here at Keep The Customer –– is once again gracing us with another hit! She sat down with Anika Zubair, the host of The Customer Success Channel podcast to dig into this topic at length.

Here are the top three takeaways:

  1. 3 steps to get you from reactive to proactive

  2. It's a marathon, not a sprint

  3. How do you measure "proactiveness?"

3 steps to get you from reactive to proactive

Moving from a reactive state to a proactive state takes time and planning. It's not a switch that's flipped and boom 💥 it's done. Kristi breaks it down as follows:

Where in your companies maturation are you deploying CS?

If you're trying to go from reactive to proactive with 10 customers and you're an early-stage company, it's super easy to do that. However, at larger organizations, things get a little more complicated.

At Intellishift, where Kristi serves as the VP of Customer Success, they're working with 3,500 companies –– that's a lot of customers! Many of these customers are at different stages with Intellishift so coming in and just flipping that switch wasn't an option for Kristi. She had to do a few things differently as she built out the entire motion. While pivoting, they had to keep some reactive things in place so what she tried to do was figure out "what are the things I can do today to just keep the lights on?" For them, it was changing their engagement model. There were some customers that hadn't been proactively interacted with in years. The first step was reaching out to those customers!

The design of the program

The #1 rule Kristi wants us to keep in mind is to always craft and design from the outside in.

She's witnessed organizations fail because they design it inside out. What drives their customer's journey is based on what the company needs, not what the customer needs –– this is a mistake!

So while you're making that switch, put yourself in your customer's shoes and think about what they need to be successful, and design a program with no barriers. Another common mistake she sees is when organization start their design process by saying"I can only do A B C." The approach should have no limits or restrictions and that includes budget, people, creative ops, etc., Your job should be to design the best program ever!

What can you actually do today?

While you've created a program with no boundaries, you'll likely get overwhelmed because there's so much to do. Kristi recommends taking a step back, assessing what can you actually deploy today, figure out the level of effort and start to chip away at it. Your first instinct is going to want to tackle it all but if you're designing this at an organization with a lot of customers, you'll need to create a path for the best way you can do things v. the realistic things that can be done.

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Change is a constant for Kristi and she admits that it may drive her team a little crazy but she wants to continue improving. That could look like refining playbooks or changing up talk tracks or even changing an image on a deck. It's an iterative improvement!

When you design a program that has no limitation, you're constantly improving and every step you take is going to help you move from reactive to proactive. This will hopefully get you to a place where your job isn't to just reduce churn but where you're actually working towards helping customers reach their outcomes.

Thinking BIG is a mindset and Kristi compares it to running a marathon. If you wanna run a marathon, you need to run a bunch of 5ks and 10ks before you get there. When you set that goal for yourself, you have something to strive towards.

Getting out of the firefighting mindset

For Kristi, time is the greatest resource –– not money, not people, it's time because you can't get time back. You have to get intentional around where you spend time in your day. The idea of blocking off time in your calendar only to use the time to do busy work or go through emails is still being reactive.

You have to be intentional. Every minute and every day needs to be driven by your focus to do the things you need to get done. Kristi used to be an inbox 0 person, but today she has over 1,200 emails in her inbox but she doesn't let her email drive her. Now she focuses on the things that will drive her and the business forward. She can't let other people dictate what her priorities are.

This isn't easy, especially for people that are new in a given role. You need to set clear expectations with your customers, managers, and yourself. It's hard because you have to manage up.

How do you measure "proactiveness?"

Setting the right expectations

This is where being a Customer Success leader requires you to constantly educate people around you like your cross-functional peers, leaders, and boards.

What happens is that everyone is hung up on lagging indicators: retention, growth, logo churn. But when you're deploying a program from scratch you're transforming one, you're going to have to do a bunch of work first before you move any needle of those numbers.

Before diving into metrics, you need to level-set those expectations. Just like you do with your customers, expectation setting is key. Kristi finds that a common source of failure is usually the expectations that were set around the program.

When she came into Intellishift, she made things really clear:

"Don't expect to see huge growth in year one, you will see minimal growth in year two and it won't be until year three where you'll see transformation in the numbers."

What about the metrics?

The metrics will come down to the program you've created.

In Kristi's case, since she focused on their engagement model, the first thing she did was to create a baseline. She looked at how many customers were spoken to in the last 60 days regardless of the segment they were in. This gave her a baseline of how often they should speak to customers of certain segments.

Then she looked at advocacy and did some benchmarking there. Yes, you could look at NPS and CSAT but Kristi really wanted to hone in on their advocacy program. This meant looking past referrals to look at customers who were sharing their content or writing reviews about them.

When it came to product usage, Kristi was looking for more than just "clicks on a specific button", she wanted to dig into their happy customers to understand what they were doing, the value they were getting out of the product, and the use cases that correlated back to them. For example, if a customer bought them for their safety features, if they created a scorecard, measured employees, and operationalized business around their product, they knew they'd be more successful.

Lastly, Kristi focused on engagement and the metrics she can get here. They looked at executive level penetration, regular recurring meeting and their cadences, and the pulse check they were getting from these meetings. Was the customer highly engaged? Did they have their video on?

Engagement has several metrics that can be analyzed but what they wanted to focus on was "what does good look like?" and then started to figure out what data did they have to help them measure to those points. If they can get all of their customers to green for engagement, sentiment, and product, that will ultimately lead to growth.


  • Design the CS program of your dreams and then figure out what you can do today.

  • If you're not intentional with your time, you'll always be in a reactive state.

  • Set the right expectations with your peers, leaders, customers and boards so that your metrics don't backfire.

Shout outs

Thanks to The Customer Success Channel for hosting Kristi on their podcasts! You can go follow the host, Anika on LinkedIn. And if you want to hear more from Kristi, you can also follow her on LinkedIn.


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