Share with Your Network
In a recent interview with McKinsey, Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta observes how organizations once wondered what Customer Success (CS) even was, let alone how to create a CS organization. Not surprisingly, that conversation has evolved. Unless they’re hopelessly behind the curve, says Mehta, enterprises today have shifted from fumbling with the bare basics of CS to mastering best practices: “‘How do I scale customer success? How do I operationalize customer success? How do I measure customer success? How do I optimize my expansion?’ It’s all about the practice now. It’s not about the theory.”
Several of Mehta’s predictions for the next five years of CS are worth noting, including the need to reconcile the high-touch, people-driven CS experience enterprise-class customers expect with the largely digital, self-serve experience smaller customers tend to know. (His thinking: most customers want some of both.) He also anticipates CS will go through the same kind of renaissance sales organizations did once new cloud-based automation solutions enabled sales ops organizations to apply new metrics, analytics-based insights, and efficiencies to revenue operations. That operationalized approach to CS, Mehta argues, will change the nature of how CS organizations measure their success, among other things.
As I think about what I’ve been seeing over the years as I’ve headed CS organizations in the software and security space, a few other trends come to mind. I’ll summarize them here.
- Customer Success is now a priority across the board. Mehta’s observation that organizations have moved beyond their cursory understanding of CS is accurate. Particularly in the B2B (business-to-business) segment, CS is prioritized in all organizations, big or small. These businesses recognize an established CS operation is no longer optional or incremental, but an essential part of business planning from startups to large enterprises. In fact, Customer Experience (of which CS is a crucial part) is seen as a top growth driver for enterprises sized at $1 billion and above.
- Customer Service Managers (CSMs) are less involved in sales. Not long ago, CSMs were often called in to upsell or cross-sell existing customers. Now fewer companies are looking to CSMs as “closers” to secure incremental sales, instead of entrusting that role to sales reps and account managers although in some cases, a CSM may be called in to provide crucial information or insight before the customer signs. The bottom line: CSMs can be helpful to sales, but they’re not salespeople.
- Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are becoming less of a focus. No one should ever lose sight of the importance of continuous improvement and the need to persistently satisfy, even delight, customers. To track this, CS organizations have long used NPS. Those ubiquitous satisfaction surveys (“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very satisfied…”) really got their start nearly two decades ago with the birth of NPS. We’ve used NPS to track customer sentiment as well as to gauge internal feedback and incentivize CSMs. But NPS isn’t perfect, and this subjective metric can be influenced–even broken–by forces well outside your control (I’m lookin’ at you, global pandemic). But as CS has matured, with other tools and processes increasingly used to monitor and improve customer satisfaction, the influence of NPS has begun to wane.
- CS isn’t just about GRR anymore. For subscription-based (usually SaaS) providers, retaining customers is the lifeblood of the business. Traditionally, Gross Retention Rate (GRR) has been a foundational metric for CS. But Net Retention Rate (NRR) drills down a little lower by factoring in the impact of cross-sells and upsells on retention and revenues, which arguably wouldn’t even be on the table were it not for a positive experience with CS or the Customer Experience (CX) team. So as CR evolves, its impact on the business is viewed with greater nuance, and GRR alone may be too blunt of an instrument to measure it.
- CS Ops is having its day. This one dovetails with Nick Mehta’s own observation about how CS is now becoming operationalized, much in the same way sales have been. I’m very bullish about using every tool at our disposal to drive optimal business outcomes for customers, and I’m pleased to see that investing in CS Operations efforts is growing more common for mature CS organizations.
- EBRs remain king. Speaking of driving optimal business outcomes for customers, few tools are more effective than the Executive Business Review (EBR). Those meetings, held physically or virtually, generally are formal sit-downs CS professionals have with their customers to review successes, address issues, and set goals for the future. EBRs provide an opportunity for CSMs to reconnect with their key contacts in the customer organization, answer concerns and detect potential upsell or cross-sell opportunities. Crucially, however, EBRs also help identify any issues that could lead to churn, with the top two often involving production utilization (basically ensuring the customer is getting used and value from your solution) and turnover among executive sponsors. Both are potential NRR killers.
- CS is anchoring cross-function customer teams. CSMs may be less engaged in hard cross-sell and upsell initiatives than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a core part of efforts to meet customers where they are. Increasingly, CS teams are working directly with sales and product management to help with a range of mission-critical efforts, including identifying the ideal customer profile; defining product features that meet customer needs and improve retention rates; and reducing overall friction for the entire customer experience.
From my perspective, these trends show CS is maturing from a service and support function to a strategic revenue driver–one with enormous influence on whether a customer happily stays with your offering or fails to renew. Now companies have fully awakened to the need for CS, and now they see how CS can shape the future of the business, it’s time they made the necessary investments to ensure their CS operation is delivering all it can.