Evolution of Customer Success: Past, Present, and Future - SmartKarrot

Evolution of Customer Success: Past, Present, and Future

Step back into memory lane: Look at the evolution of customer success, evaluate where it is right now, and what’s to come here.

Evolution of Customer Success
Evolution of Customer Success

Today, customer success has become an inevitable part of the corporate culture. But, back in 1996, when the CRM company Vantive founded the idea, things weren’t quite the same. So, in this blog, we’ll cover how CS started, its evolution to what it is today, and the great future that lies ahead.

Table of Contents

  • Past (Before 1995-2005) – Adapted from Mikael Blaisdell’s original research.
  • Present (2006-2022)
  • Future (Beyond 2022)


Before 1995

A dearth of consideration of the customers’ perceptions of value-received

History of Customer Success
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During the SaaS industry’s initial years, all enterprise software companies followed a similar organizational structure for post-sale customer relationship maintenance. Each had different roles and missions. Unfortunately, there was a lack of consideration of the value customers actually received.


The real reason behind the first customer success group

In 1996, the senior management at Vantive realized that retaining customers was vital to sustaining business, and the only problem was that it was challenging to do so. Vantive concluded that the industry-wide enterprise CRM systems had a remarkably high failure rate. Most of the vendors’ profits from the perpetual licenses’ sales were during the contract signing.

Failed implementations were a considerable risk for future sales, and it could also potentially lead to irrecoverable losses in expected support and maintenance fees. This situation posed a problem for them since their goal was to have all of their customers as brand ambassadors, so they couldn’t afford anything short of satisfied customers. But the real motivator was to grow the relationship with the customers and generate revenue post-sales.

And to get the results they wanted; the traditional organizational structure wouldn’t be enough—they needed to take a different approach.


The induction of the first customer success department in an organization

John Luongo, the CEO of Vantive, found out a very ingenious use of his company’s application by the customer and wanted to use it for its growth. He hired Marie Alexander, who was the one who created the new department known as Customer Success. She then began introducing the team to prospects before they signed a contract.

Not every Vantive customer was assigned a Customer Success Manager, but the customers were asked: What’s success for you? What do you expect from us? Once their responses were documented, customers were introduced to a Customer Success Manager (CSM), who would help them reach their goal. Every six months, CSMs would send a list of expectations to the customer and schedule a review meeting. During this meeting, the Customer Success team would ask the customer if they’ve been successful and reset expectations for the next six months based on their response.


The emergence of the CSM team in an organization

In 2004, Bruce Cleveland became the General Manager of the on-demand subsidiary of another CRM company – Siebel.

After investigating, he concluded that although the sales team could bring in business, there was no specific role designated for retaining and expanding the customer relationship post-sales. Bruce understood that the customers who got the most value from the company’s application would remain their loyal ambassadors. So, he created a designation specifically responsible for enhancing feature adoption and providing maximum value to the customers.

He named it the Customer Success Management team.


Creation of customers for life group to address customer retention through enhanced user adoption

2005 was an eventful year for Salesforce. They acquired significant customers at an astronomical rate, but customers were churning dramatically. The executive team realized that bringing in new customers was not enough, so they needed to make the existing ones stay.   

Although Salesforce was not the one to invent customer success, they were the ones to build the most extensive CS department in the industry—Customers For Life. Its objective was not to look after renewals, up-sells, or cross-sells; but to improve customer retention through enhanced user adoption.

Present: (From 2006-2022)

Over the years, the Customer Success industry has flourished. With a shift towards a digital landscape, companies have leveraged mobile apps and intelligent automation for SaaS platforms. This shift has allowed CS practitioners to get more customer data that they can use to help improve their experience and reach their desired outcome.

The emergence of customer success platforms

In 2009, the first customer success platform came into the market, with more following in the years to come. These platforms enable teams to sync up with all business tools seamlessly by providing insightful dashboards for customer success teams to take desired actions and drive successful outcomes. They also give you adequate time to concentrate on more critical tasks.

With the introduction of SaaS, there was a lot more flexibility in the market, resulting in a need to retain customers to gain an advantage. This is where the customer-centric culture in the organization came into play. 

The next step was to define a proper hierarchy of customer success roles. Some of these roles include:

  • Chief Customer Officer (CCO)
  • Customer Success Manager
  • Customer Success Vice President/Director
  • Customer Success Operations Manager
  • Renewal Manager
  • Onboarding Manager, and many more…

The Customer Success Funnel

With time, B2B SaaS companies understood that they needed to ensure that the CS team achieved the right results. This assurance was what led to the customer success funnel.

The Customer Success Funnel

The customer success funnel can be divided into five distinct stages: Purchase, Adoption, Retention, Expansion, and Advocacy.

The Purchasing stage is the most crucial since customers decide if a product is right for them or if they need to find a different solution. Next comes the Adoption stage, wherein after a successful customer onboarding experience, CSMs help customers set their accounts and guide them with the necessary instructions and tutorials. Also, during this stage, customers are getting familiar with understanding and using your product. 

Next is the Retention stage, where you continuously show customers value, so they’ll want to stick around. This stage is where customer engagement is critical, and loyalty programs can prove beneficial.

Expansion is the stage where you’re making the customers move from freemium to a paid subscription or upgrading their existing plans. The final stage is Advocacy, where the customers advocate your product to others who can benefit from it.


The future of customer success is exceptionally bright. With the advancement in technology and the emergence of AI and machine learning, we can expect exciting things in the coming years. The market is expected to hit $1.25b by 2025, although it could grow to $3b with more established vendors. Here are some predictions we’ve made on customer success: 

Customer Success will start concentrating on shareholder value

One way to look at the future of CS is to figure out how to impact shareholder value measurably. This is where there’s a good chance that customer success will become a strategic function.

There is comprehensive information available on customer usage that can have leveraged impact on growth in three measurable ways:

  • Revenue Retention (Customer Retention)
  • Revenue Generation (Account Expansion)
  • Building Loyal Customers Relationships (Referrals, reduce cost of acquisition) 

The leverage that we see comes from two angles.

The first one enables the data to target any program connected with the aforementioned three ways. There will no longer be a need to recruit people to ascertain what is happening with the customer.

The second one is, with the help of the huge data at our disposal, we can become advisors of our customers to outline what they require and the benefits they can derive from it. This angle would help create and close opportunities in days and weeks, instead of months, without costly marketing and sales investment.

Intelligence, Automation, and Smart Approaches 

Soon, customer success platforms will be leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximize the potential of CSMs. With the lethal combination of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning),  you’ll always have access to accurate customer data right from customer’s lead generation to the final purchase or even post-sales loyalty programs.

The data derived from AI and ML will help customer success teams proactively interact with and help customers. This insight will go a long way in taking your customer experiences to the next level.

Fact check: 57% feel AI adoption in CS will go mainstream.

With the help of artificial intelligence, it is possible to back exceptional computational abilities or advanced algorithms to unlock the limitless opportunities for customer success to dwell in and revamp.

The use of chatbots and intelligent tools has also benefited the CS industry. It answers repetitive customer queries while the customer success representatives can devote their time to important things. And with the advancement of these tools, CSMs can focus more on strategic work and less on mundane tasks. 

Final Words

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are still in infancy, though their potential in the Customer Success industry is mostly untapped. We’re excited to see where they’ll go! What predictions do you have for the future of CS?

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