Ready for 2021? 8 Customer Success Leaders Tell Us What to Expect

Chelsea Castle

While we learned many lessons in 2020, one of the biggest was seeing just how much customers need us. And how much we need them. 

The turbulence of this year highlighted the demand for all businesses to heavily invest in helping customers achieve their desired outcomes, or else lose their business. With these learnings in mind, we spoke with customer success leaders about their recommendations for the new year.

1. Online meetings are here to stay. 

The forced change to virtual-only meetings will stick around, even when it’s completely safe to travel again, says Gemma Cipriani-Espineira, VP of Customer Success at Chili Piper

Customer success (CS) teams will look to invest the money saved on travel into ways to make online meetings more exciting and rewarding — with tools like Sendoso and Reachdesk — and more engaging, with QR codes and tools like Kahoot! 

Amazon, for example, saved $1 billion in travel expenses this year. And while we’re not all Amazon, the average business trip cost is $1,293. Multiply that by the number of trips your team (or entire business) typically took to get a sense of your savings. The enhancements made possible by travel savings will be powerful for hosting more efficient and effective virtual meetings.

2. Heightened investment in operationalizing.

As the CS space continues to scale and evolve, integrating operations within your CS team will be paramount, says Jessica Harris, Customer Success Operations Manager at GoCardless

While CSMs are focused on retaining and growing customers, CS ops supports by focusing on data, processes, systems, and people. This increases efficiency and productivity for the entire team, therefore having an undeniable impact on retention and churn. 

This idea isn’t novel, but its presence in organizations is still very fresh to nonexistent. Operationalizing CS isn’t just about administration work.

“It’s about having a dedicated resource within your team to drive improvements to the processes and tools that your CSMs need to do their roles effectively. And to set the standards for customer engagement and best practice across your team,” Harris says. 

CS was originally believed to be a fix for a technology problem. But we’ll see a critical shift in viewing it as a people problem, says Aaron Thompson, General Partner at SuccessHACKER

“Company after company realizes it’s the CS practice that needs operationalizing, and that simple implementation of CS tools will not fix the underlying problem,” Thompson explains.

“What companies will do better at is workflow management and business process implementation. Once fully streamlined, the processes can then have technology applied to help expedite but not before.”

Kellie Capote, VP of Customer Success at Gainsight, also emphasized that we’ll see an elevated investment in CS operations. This will happen along with increased operational rigor, which will eventually become synonymous with SalesOps. This is a substantial consideration CS leaders should make when planning the budget, headcount, and strategy for the new year. 

3. Focused efforts to humanize your brand. 

2020 shone a light on our basic human need for empathy — in both our personal and professional worlds. We’ll see this further materialize in how brands humanize through various methods and outlets, both internally and externally. 

Executing this well is going to make a massive difference for businesses in the new year, and CS will play a big part, says Barry Cochrane, VP of Customer Success and Operations at ResponseTap

One’s brand was once considered to be the main factor in decision making over customer experience. However, 61% of people surveyed by Qualtrics said that “brand relationships” are no longer a critical factor in purchase decisions. A customer’s overall experience has risen as a key value. 

Because customers are demanding and valuing human interaction more than ever, it’s important that CS teams take the lead in executing this. And they’ll need the appropriate support and resources to do it well.

By operationalizing, setting expectations, communicating authentically, and focusing on experience > cycle, CSMs can lead and own the human aspect of any company. Brands that do this effectively will see a very bright 2021. 

4. Scalable onboarding as a requirement.

This topic is not novel. But it’s also not something organizations always implement well, if at all. As many companies likely experienced increased churn due to COVID-19, scalable onboarding will be hyper-critical going forward. 

As we all adjust to what business looks like in the new year, implementing scalable onboarding will become a big requirement for many, Cochrane hypothesizes. 

This may mean implementing: 

  • Video training – Creating an online customer course is easier than you think. Alternatively, you could create quick, raw videos for particular moments of the onboarding process. This enables you to be more personal while also spending less time on specific steps.
  • Automation – Automating your emails will save you a lot of time. And don’t worry, it’s easy to send custom emails that are still personable.
  • Segmentation – You may do this already. But we bet there’s an opportunity to get more strategic and specific with how you segment your customer list. Consider how granular you can segment to achieve a particular goal. 

UserIQ also has a handy quiz to help assess the current scalability of your process and identify how to improve.  

Segmentation and automation will manifest in other ways, too. As in, in all the ways we communicate, and not only when onboarding, says Vincent Manlapaz, podcast host and author of several customer success books

“Smart segmentation and thoughtful representation with the increased utilization of automation plus personalization plus non-automated communication will be the preferred avenue of ongoing dialogue and communication,” Manlapaz says. 

5. CS and product teams will align and converge.

In the new year, we will continue to see a strong convergence of CS and product teams. They’ll collaborate more closely as product-led growth strategies continue to emerge, Capote speculates. 

CSMs are the internal voice of the customer to all internal teams, but primarily to product. 

“We can expect CS and product teams to become increasingly aligned as the competitive playing field becomes more niche and granular. With there being infinite solutions for any tech-based problem nowadays, brand loyalty comes down to two essential priorities: user experience and relationship,” says Liz Pouya, Customer Success Manager at Chili Piper

A 2019 benchmarking report from UserIQ found that only 57% of CS teams shared customer data between teams. If you’re not sharing data, what are you sharing? Building tighter rapport and communication between CS and product will be critical to 2021 success.

The more these two teams are closely aligned and collaborative, the more they’ll be able to jointly create a best-in-class product while nurturing customer relationships and scaling effectively.

6. Omni-channel journey orchestration will be the norm. 

Digital-led CS will become mainstream with more sophisticated leverage of omnichannel journey orchestration, says Capote, of Gainsight. 

“Customer journey orchestration is a unifying technology that learns, understands, and orchestrates customer conversations and journeys across all interactions and organizational silos,” according to Thunderhead.

While most of us spent more time in the digital world due to the pandemic, this behavior is unlikely to let up in the future. Thus it’s critical to spend more time effectively engaging with customers everywhere they are. 

Customers aren’t the only signal to this trend. In PWC’s 2020 report, they found that companies investing in omnichannel jumped from 20% to 80%. Your competitors are gearing up for this, so it’s time to take the dive and invest in customer journey orchestration. 

Executing this effectively will help create a unique and powerful experience for customers. And eventually, this trend will simply become the norm.   


7. Elevate the role of customer voice. 

The pandemic created an opportunity for CS teams to learn more about their customers. Permission was granted to ask more questions and listen more intently. We’ll continue down this path into the new year, says Elisabeth Courland, Digital Customer Success Manager at Talentsoft

“I strongly believe that now that we created real relationships with our customers and understood how much value we can get from VoC [voice of customer] (surveys, NPS, CSAT, CES, etc.), we will pay more attention to the qualitative feedback,” Courland says.

CSMs can elevate customer voice by creating detailed, segmented journey maps that provide a phenomenal experience for both customers and employees. This may look like:

  • Voice of customer programs
  • Virtual rewards
  • Referral programs
  • Beta groups
  • Power-user groups
  • Advisory boards
  • Customer speakers/advocates
  • Feedback mapping
  • Exit interviews 

This is where some of our previous predictions merge. Elevating customer voice aids their experience as well as your brand’s advocacy. It also creates a huge funnel of learnings for your product teams. CSMs should be sure to partner with product on customer voice efforts. This alignment will positively impact both team’s goals and initiatives.  

8. Transcend the bottom of the funnel.

CS will no longer simply be a “post-sale” job function within a corporate culture that aligns our goals to the customer’s desired outcomes. 

“More positions in the CS world will operate in presale stages of the customer lifecycle,” Thompson hypothesizes. 

Customers typically meet their CSM after their sale officially closes. We’ll see this way of working change drastically and for the better, as CS teams will begin to meet customers much earlier in the sales cycle.

“It’s not enough for [CSMs] to be brought in after the contract has been signed — customers want reassurance before they commit to your organization and your CSM needs to be able to start demonstrating value as early in the relationship as possible,” Harris explains. 

As part of this transition, CSMs will need to be adept at identifying, resolving, and responding to changing customer behavior, according to Manlapaz. 

“With the transition to recovery and restoration, CS teams are becoming more diverse and helping organizations thrive if improvement does not start at the top (of the funnel),” Manlapaz says. 

This change is advantageous to your closed-won (CW) rate as customers are more likely to convert with high-touch efforts and highly-attentive reps. But it’s also going to lay a strong foundation for your customer relationships at the onset. This will create a huge impact on future retention and additional opportunities to sell. 

The bottom line 

Customer success is the backbone of any organization’s revenue. As we gather up our 2020 learnings and new-year-energy, remember that customers simply want to feel seen and heard. Implementing or trying out these recommendations are just a few of the ways you can achieve this well. 

We’re looking forward to seeing how customer success evolves this year. And we’re even more excited to continue helping customers and future customers like you grow, too. 

Cheers to a big year for customer success!

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About the author
Chelsea Castle

Chelsea Castle is the Director of Content Marketing at Chili Piper. A journalist turned empathy-driven marketer, she's also a concert junkie who can often be found #doingthings outside and crafting creative ways to be sustainable.

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