A CS Heading

The Customer Success (CS) function has come into its own. Customers have realized that long term business success depends on taking a holistic approach to customer engagement over a longer horizon. They now know that investing in CS has a direct, and highly beneficial, impact on the top and bottom lines. That being established, what’s coming down the pipe in 2016? What does the future hold for the Customer Success Manager?

Here are six predictions for this exciting, new function for the year.

1.) Mainstream in the Membrane

CS got on industry radars in 2015, including a mention in the fabled annual report on internet trends by KPCB’s Mary Meeker. This trajectory will continue in 2016, and soon the CS function will become as commonplace as Sales and Marketing. Businesses will start using CS in the same context and frequency as they use Sales, Marketing, or Customer Support – making CS a mainstream function. CS has the potential to push SaaS companies to exceed their current bottom lines, as well as thrill customers with exceptional levels of proactive service, making it essential to all businesses that need to retain their customers over multiple terms. CS will also expand from its traditional niche in SaaS business applications, into every business that has repeated transactions with customers and realizes full customer lifetime value across multiple terms.

2.) It’s Going to be a Food Fight

As companies understand the importance of CS, every department that touches the customer, whether it’s Sales, Marketing, Support or Professional Services, will want to “own” the customer as part of their domain. Today, CS professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, but they mostly have experience in Sales, followed by Marketing and Support. In the short term, the loudest voice in the room, or the most organized team, will own this function, but the winners will vary by company.

Eventually, companies will begin to realize that the customer journey spans multiple functions, and must therefore be treated as a separate organization. They will see that Customer Support is a subset of this function – as evidenced by the fact that many companies are renaming their Customer Support teams/roles to Customer Success teams/roles – but not necessarily the core of CS. This is because CS is more proactive in nature, and spans every stage of the customer journey. The CS team will then emerge as a distinct organization, albeit one that functions very closely with Sales and Marketing.

3.) Enter the Chief Customer Officer

As CSMs come into their own, the C-suite executive to represent the customers’ voice will not be far behind. There is a need for a representative of the “people”, not only for the customers themselves, but also for the CSMs that are operating on the frontlines. The CCO will be able to bring the feedback from the customers to the board, as well as make sure that the customers’ needs are factored into the plans for the product. If the customers get what they need, the happy result is that the bottom line will improve all on its own.

4.) Breaking Down Silos

When customer data is strewn across many silos, it’s very difficult to get a unified view of your customers and know when it’s optimal to contact them about renewals and upgrades. The addition of CSA platforms will break down these data silos and bring in all the customer data under one roof. CS professionals will be able to conduct cohesive and in depth analyses on the data that they were never able to do before 2016. With more integrations, there will be far less guesswork surrounding what the customer is thinking, or what they need to improve their performance. CSMs will have a view composed of all the minute details, equipping them with the roadmap to Customer Success.

5.) Learn to Scale

The challenge for CS organizations is finding a way to scale operations when the number of customers reaches a tipping point. When there are too many customers, manual account management is no longer feasible, necessitating a new way to personalize service without making it too time consuming. CSMs will have to segment clients so that they are able to focus on their most valuable customers, while still delivering an outstanding experience across the entire customer base.

The key to doing so is to leverage a CSA solution that helps effectively segment their customers and allows CSMs to create triggers, reminders, and automated workflows to streamline their everyday activities. The CSA platform sends individual emails and sets meeting, allowing CSMs to spend more time proactively working on their accounts.

6.) Death of the QBR

Quarterly Business Reviews, as the name indicates, don’t happen very often. They allow the Account Manager to touch base with the customer, and make sure progress is on track, but only four times a year! With CSMs in charge, QBRs will fade out, and be replaced with more frequent and informal meetings. Ensuring Customer Success requires constant check-in meetings with the customer to collaborate on next steps for their account, and inform them about new features to optimize their operations. These customer review sessions could happen as often as monthly and will become multi-media heavy, with video conferencing, interactive product demos, and hands-on collaboration that blow traditional QBRs out of the water.

It’s Going to be an Exciting Ride!

There is a parallel between where CS is today, and where Marketing Automation (MA) was back in 2009-10.

Early vendors took an email and campaign-centric approach to MA, whereas the new breed of vendors took a data-centric approach that drove emails and campaign activity, and introduced the notion of process into the marketing function. Eventually, Marketing shifted from an abstract, seat-of-the-pants, function that was measured on the amount of noise generated, to a data-centric, process driven function that emphasizes measurability and predictability.

CS will follow a similar arc, and shift from being primarily a relationship-based art, to an exact science of process and execution based on key customer-data driven insights. Since CS stands at the crossroads of CRM and Account Management, Customer Success managers will incorporate relationship maintenance skills with an analytical repertoire, provided by a CSA platform like Strikedeck that gives them a foolproof way to know their customers, inside and out.

In 2016, Customer Success will become a permanent part of every company’s arsenal, ensuring customer retention and long-term satisfaction. In the past five years, CS has grown by leaps and bounds, surpassing every estimate of its growth potential. CS has a long and rewarding future in store, with incredible developments for the businesses that integrate it into their operations, and the customers that become its pioneers.

What advances do you see coming in 2016? Share your thoughts with us below.