Customer Support | 8 min read

Day Zero: A new way to define customer success

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We’re strong proponents of the idea that successful onboarding is about finding the common ground where both you and your customer get value.

Every new customer has the potential to be successful with your product. But no matter how well-designed your product and how smooth your onboarding, new customers still have to do some groundwork before they can start to unlock full value from it.

We call it “Day Zero” – when our customers complete that initial work and are able to start getting the full benefit of Intercom. Your product has a Day Zero too. Maybe it’s reached when customers have invited five teammates to collaborate. Or integrated your product with one of their core systems.

There could be multiple tasks your customer must complete to be fully set up for success, but the concept applies across the board:

Day Zero is the moment when a customer has completed the necessary tasks so they can start to realize the full value of your product for the job they are hiring it to do.

Achieving Day Zero doesn’t mean customers are realizing value, it means they’re able to begin realizing the full value. A customer could achieve Day Zero without going on to successfully use your product, but if they don’t reach Day Zero real success will be difficult, if not impossible.

Takeaway:

Day Zero is the minimum set of tasks a user must complete before they realize the full value of your product. Customers that don’t reach Day Zero are more likely to churn because it is harder for them to see success.

Defining your Day Zero

Let’s start with what Day Zero is not. It’s not signup. It isn’t the first day of a trial. It’s not when the sales team closes a deal.

To find your Day Zero start by defining your ideal end state: a successful customer. What does a successful customer look like? What are they doing in your product? These proximate, or immediate, causes of success define a customer who is using the product well for the job to be done.

Next, work backward from that ideal customer, asking “How were they able to do that?”. And then keep following the steps back by asking how were they able to achieve the prior step. You want to identify the ultimate causes of success. That moment is your Day Zero.

Takeaway:

While not everyone hires a product to do exactly the same job, most do. Defining your product’s Day Zero is a great starting point to help you get the maximum number of customers set up for success.

Defining Intercom’s Day Zero

Our own Day Zero came out of a larger re-examination of how our Customer Success team was onboarding new customers.

Customers that don’t reach Day Zero are more likely to churn because it’s harder for them to see success.

We began by drawing on our collective experience to consider what our most successful customers look like. That got us to the obvious feature metrics, like live auto messages for Engage customers and regular support conversations for our Resolve product.

We already knew that successful users had to install our code and track live users, but our step-by-step progression through the layers of success helped us surface something we had previously ignored – custom data tracking.

Custom data lets Intercom customers understand their users’ behavior and send messages in a more personal, targeted way. For example, if our customer has a music sharing app, they can track the number of songs their users have played, and send targeted messages based on user behaviour. Tracking live custom data is key for our customers to realize our core value proposition.

To get more customers to be successful, getting them to track custom data was critical. But many customers had trouble identifying what custom data to track. Others didn’t recognize the value of adding custom data at all. Tracking custom data also requires coding work. For many non-technical users it is a real hurdle to achieving the full value of Intercom.

So, the definition of Day Zero we began to settle in on for Intercom was:

  • Javascript code installed and activated
  • tracking live users
  • custom data attributes set up

The next step was to validate it with data.

Takeaway:

Avoid the “frecency” pitfall of defining Day Zero based on your top of mind list. It will prevent you from overlooking a crucial, but less obvious, key to success.

Validating Day Zero with data

Measure the right data and you’ll have a true north to help guide your entire process. What gets measured gets done.

Using Intercom, we looked at the retention rates for customers reaching Day Zero and compared them to customers that didn’t. We found a strong correlation between retention and custom data tracking.

Moreover, the Analytics team found that, after installing our code, the single most impactful thing a customer can do to increase their retention rate after four months is to track custom data attributes. It increased retention rates by nearly twice as much than the next most impactful feature-use metric. There was also a big drop off in retention for users not achieving Day Zero, confirming our instinct that failing to reach this benchmark limits customer value.

For example, look at the retention for one our products, Resolve, below. It helps illustrate what to look for when identifying Day Zero in your onboarding process. If a step significantly impacts retention you can assume it’s required for success with your product. If the retention improvements are more marginal, you’re seeing additional degrees of success from customers who are already realizing value from the product. This is illustrated by the large increases in retention on the left of the chart.

The more Day Zero tasks that were completed, activating the tracking code and adding custom data, the less customers churned.

This next graph illustrates what Day Zero looks like from the customer’s point of view. After Day Zero, the additional effort they must expend to use the product levels out while the value delivered continues to grow.

Takeaway:

Use retention data to validate your Day Zero definition. Large gains in retention strongly indicate an onboarding step is required for customers to see the value they expect from your product.

Putting Day Zero to work

Once you have identified and validated your Day Zero, you want to get as many customers as you can to complete your Day Zero onboarding steps. But start by testing your hypothesis first.

We began by choosing just 12 new customers and focused on getting them to Day Zero. In parallel with those experiments we also began to informally educate our Account Executives about Day Zero, encouraging them to introduce the importance of custom data early on in their conversations with potential customers.

To help them do that we built a very basic custom data planning tool to share with customers. It was invaluable in helping non-technical customers identify the custom attributes they needed and helping them share these with their engineering team.

Finally, we deliberately made Day Zero the handoff between the Sales Engineer (who owns technical configuration support) and the Customer Success Manager (who owns customer education and implementation support).

With the parameters of our experiment set, we spent an entire quarter focusing on it. What we found confirmed customers who got to Day Zero saw more success, and they saw it sooner. For customers who had reached Day Zero, onboarding didn’t involve theoretical discussions about potential value they could achieve if they added custom data. Instead the Success Manager could train them in the practical implementation of their use case. This was the result we had hoped for. It allowed us to move forward with formalizing our new processes and launching systems to manage and track the way we onboarded customers.

Takeaway:

Start small as you test your ability to get customers to Day Zero. Set benchmarks, then track your efforts and progress against them. Be on the lookout for positive side effects.

Broadening the impact of Day Zero

To ensure Day Zero has the most impact, expand the scope of its implementation where you have the most control. Sales, Customer Success and Support have different resources than Product or Growth teams. If it’s easiest to make product changes, do that. If more customer education and proactive outreach can accomplish your goals for Day Zero, do that. At the same time, educate other teams about Day Zero and encourage them to think about how it might impact their work.

At Intercom, we now track the progress of every customer toward Day Zero. Sales, Customer Support and Success work together following a formal process that begins at the earliest stages of the sales process and is designed to get every new customer to Day Zero. Our formal curriculum for new sales hires now includes custom data training.

Growth noticed the positive impact too. The simple Excel planning tool we built is now a fully-fledged Intercom feature. It helps users plan their data, generate the tracking code, and share it with a technical colleague. It makes understanding and adding custom data easier for every Intercom customer. That means more shared value for customers and Intercom across the board.

Our custom attribute tool, which began as a simple Excel doc.

Takeaway:

The efforts by our Success team to expand the understanding and impact of Day Zero across product, analytics and engineering has the potential to be the thing that has the biggest impact for Intercom as a business. By the way, custom data tracking is part of our free platform.


The onboarding steps that define your Day Zero are the foundation of success for your customers. The specific steps that define your product’s Day Zero may change over time, but the concept will remain the same. Find your own Day Zero, and you’ll lower the barriers to success, shorten the time to value for your customers and increase retention.