As the last week of August creeps upon us, the end-of-summer angst begins to take hold – a perennial flashback from our once dreaded back-to-school summoning.
To better capture this sentiment as an adult, some say that August is like the Sunday of summer.
With the “scaries” ominously lurking around the corner of September, we come to the slow yet sudden realization that another season has come and gone – and still, there remains so much to be done.
Given the world’s current state of affairs, I think we feel this on a much deeper level than before both professionally and personally.
As we look ahead and try our best to prepare, it’s become clear that we’ll be living in a continued state of flux (and sometimes scaries).
Consequently, this feeling of foreboding has us internally screaming: “WTF?!?”
Yes, as in: what’s the future?!? (And if we’re being honest, the more explicit meaning too.)
So, to reprieve our collective cry for clarity, we asked industry experts to give their best predictions on the future of Customer Success.
The good news is that change is the only constant in life.
Unfavorable as the circumstances are now, they will improve.
COVID coerced many of us into a myopic mindset – focusing on and reasoning in the moment.
But short-term thinking will have long-term consequences.
Customer Success teams that have the foresight to see the forest for the trees (and not only the setbacks but also the opportunities that our present situation yields) will lead the way.
So, without further ado, here’s what our Customer Success experts had to say:
You Mon Tsang, CEO, ChurnZero
“2020 has and will continue to bring extraordinary challenges to Customer Success teams. Not only with their customers feeling pressure to show ROI and deal with a struggling economy, but also their leaders will depend on them to shore up the health of the company’s financials. In a major economic downturn, hard light is shined on Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success. In a year’s time, this trial by fire, the first downturn that this new department called Customer Success has seen, will harden this function and force it to assume uncomfortable responsibility. Those who take it on will find their role in the C-suite set in stone.”
“Blurring the lines between Product Management and Customer Success. It’s been a trend for a while, but I predict it will only accelerate in the next year. Equipping your CSM team with things like configurable in-product guidance can often solve customer requests while freeing your product and development teams to introduce more innovative new products. As new business slows for some lines of business, many SaaS companies will allocate more time to revenue protection, i.e. delivering features that help retain existing customers. Having a clear process for prioritizing those features will also gain importance in the coming year.
“Not sure if it ever worked but having a CS team push adoption without focusing on real business value won’t work. In the best examples, we are teaming with our customers to understand what’s important in their business each quarter and making strong recommendations based on those changing needs and priorities. Lately, we’ve been ensuring our Customer Business Reviews contain a clear top priority and we co-develop Objectives and Key Results to work on between now and our next meeting. If your Customer Business Reviews are still a quarterly ‘death by PowerPoint’ of adoption stats, stop and ask how they can be more valuable for your customers.”
“There will be a renewed focus on new customer onboarding. The first half of 2020 threw us all for a loop and many SaaS companies found themselves with paused or stalled implementations of their newest customers. Companies now need to revisit the entire (re)onboarding process – with leaner Customer Success teams to support these newer customers, major process changes, and sometimes significantly different pricing models. The first 90 days of a customer’s lifecycle are critical to establishing value. With Customer Success teams slimmer than before, they must rethink onboarding automation and efficiency to set their customers up for a strong initial footing and long-term success.”
Mayank Batavia, Head of Marketing and Partnerships, QuickEmailVerification
“Customer Success has come a long way, from product features to benefits to satisfaction to sales and success. Based on that, we foresee the following four Customer Success strategies in the coming year:
- Sales teams will get credit for the outcomes, not just for sale: It’s important to reward teams for selling, but we’ll see an increasing number of sales teams receiving rewards when customers achieve success with what they bought, and not when they signed the check for your product.
- Customer Success must be integrated: Broken actions carried out in silos are resource hogs. You will see more weaving of an integrated Customer Success approach in your organizational goals.
- Top brass gets more involved: The C-suite will look more closely at Customer Success as a critical function and will begin emphasizing building strategies and teams targeting better Customer Success outcomes
- Help customers be agile: Customer Success will be increasingly defined by how much your product could adapt to customer’s changing requirements. The more your product adjusted to unforeseen scenarios (now that we have the Covid-19 template), the better.”
“I predict that in the next year Customer Success and Product will escalate their battle over customer engagement within their application. Product believes their ownership is necessary to ensure high quality user experiences. Customer Success believes their ownership is the key to impacting adoption by reaching customers in the ideal medium. And both teams are realizing that introductory in-app tours are only the starting potential for in-app guidance with the right data and the right tool, making each team all the more intent on ownership. So who will win? I’d like to believe that the teams will realize cooperation yields the best results, both for customers and internal teams – but I fear the struggle will continue unless leaders make purposeful attitude changes. So, this is my call to leaders of Customer Success and Product to start finding productive ways to work together for the benefit of their customers. In challenging times, it feels more important than ever that Customer Success and Product are not just aligned, but allied.”
Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-Founder, Airfocus
“AI will become irreplaceable assistance to the Customer Success team. AI is already being used to help analyze and better understand customers. It is a powerful tool since it can process much more data than an average human and provide an objective overview of the customer profile. One of the best examples is IoT that can help Customer Success teams learn about customers’ needs, habits, and behavior. In the next year, I expect to see an even wider usage of AI in the analysis process, especially since the software is becoming much more precise and accurate in processing data. I do not see technology as a human replacement, but I do believe it will become an irreplaceable part of the process.”
“Adaptation and innovation will be the key factors for successful Customer Success teams over the next year. It is time for Customer Success to shine – companies have been and will be forced to give Customer Success teams the stage at an accelerated rate as they rely on them to retain and expand the current customer base to ensure stability. Driven by leaner teams and the need for more efficiency, the technology stack for Customer Success will expand to include AI and machine learning empowering Customer Success teams to strengthen relationships by proactively engaging customers in a timely and relevant manner.”
“The biggest Customer Success trend in B2B in the upcoming year will be personalization. Whether it’s email, chat, sales calls, demos, or something else, today’s consumers want personalization. We are growing tired of templates, canned emails, and tactics that treat every customer the same. There are lots of tools nowadays for outreach, email marketing, and sales presentations that help with personalization, but in the end, it all boils down to hard work and adjusting everything to the individual customer. This is definitely the future of customer success – personalization through a combination of new tools and hard work for each customer.”
“The name of the game for Customer Success in 2021 will be flexibility. Customers are realizing that the vendors who worked with them, made exceptions for them, and adapted to their changing needs, are their true partners. The Customer Success teams and companies who showed the most flexibility in 2020 are the ones who will reap the rewards of retention in 2021. In times of crisis (or the regular tightening of budgets) people find it difficult to be proactive and are worse at making decisions. Customer Success teams who think of out-of-the-box ways to make their customers’ lives easier will benefit from strengthened and lengthened customer relationships. On the flip side of flexibility, the Customer Success organizations that chose to make it even easier for their customers to end/pause their contracts will also see those benefits. After all, if you end a relationship on the right foot, your customer will actually be even less likely to leave you – and they are more likely to come back, refer you to others, or bring your tool to their next company.”
“Every year brings with it a new set of Customer Success trends. But the coming year is going to be extra-crucial as companies would commit themselves to perform exceptionally well post COVID-19. I believe significant mileage can be achieved by building customer advocates. Measure and map your customer’s journey across every touchpoint to uncover their goals and pain points, and align your organization’s purpose with their needs to build emotional engagement. Capitalize on the latest technologies to identify educators, collaborators, validators, and status seekers, and entice them to become your brand advocates by offering and articulating the value. With the recent Gallup survey stating companies building trusted advisors see 50% higher revenue than others, the winners will clearly be those who stay authentic and resonate the same brand messaging across all channels, without functioning in silos.”
The Future Is Customer Success’ for the Taking
Even though our outlook remains murky, all we can do is make decisions based on the information we have at hand. Of course, the more market and customer insights you have at your fingertips, the clearer and less crippling these choices become.
Despite feeling like you might not be able to predict much at the moment, one thing’s for certain: your decisiveness will determine your success. These ambiguous times can erode our confidence, making us second guess ourselves and stall needed actions and progress. Make sure the decisions you make today are grounded in data and not doubt. Customer Success leaders’ passiveness will prove pivotal to how they fare in a post-pandemic world.
Customer Success Around the Web
- Why Your CS Team Needs To Be More Data Driven – Find out how data can help assist clients on their unique challenges and offer tailored solutions.
- How to Ask Strategic Open-Ended Questions– Find out how to gather insights from open-ended customer questions that can help you score a seat at the table.
- How CSMs Can Help Customer With Change Management Process– For your customers to make the changes required to fully incorporate your product, that first requires their buy-in.
Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero.