Customer Success | 13 MIN READ

Evolution of Customer Success: Past, Present, and Future

The evolution of customer success has walked the pages of the past, lived the present, and foresees the future. Learn more about the transition in this blog

Simran Mohanty
Jan 22, 2021


Evolution of Customer Success

Is it really 2021? Did we successfully make it through 2020 and the years ahead of that? Most importantly, have things changed over the realm of time, or are they extant? It is a given that the oddities of complex changes have surfaced on the face of Planet Earth but one that stays rooted are the customers and the value that we strive to woo them with, has not seen a massive change. As we are constantly grappling with the new-generation subscription-based economy, we have learned that a low barrier entry also signals a low barrier to exit. The concept of Customer Success has indeed become a critical success factor. The evolution of customer success has walked from time immemorial to the face of the future today. The Customer Success – Past, Customer Success – Present, and the Customer Success – Future are all subsets of this historic evolution. Remember history not only tells us about the past, but it can be a vital compass for the future as well.

This blog today will take you on a mystical ride from how it all started, to what defines the tonality of customer success today to what the future anticipates. Fasten your seat belts as we begin the journey of customer success right away. Here is what we will be delving into today:

Customer Success: Past

  • 1995 – 2000: The Rise of Customer-Centric Business Outlook
  • 2000 – 2005: Customer Relationship Management and Marketing Automation Platforms
  • 2005 – 2010: Automation and Marketing plugs in Engagement and Sales

Customer Success: Present

  • The Customer Success Funnel
  • SaaS and Mobile Apps
  • Cloud and its Phenomenal Impacts  

Customer Success: Future

  • Role of Technology 
  • Intelligence, Automation, and Smart Approaches 
  • Imbibing CS and CX tools 

Customer Success – Past

1995 – 2000: The Rise of Customer-Centric Business Outlook

The beginning of the year 1995 saw the real need for a customer-centric business and realized no later that retaining customers was extremely crucial to the future of a company. Also, the burden of being successful was in sharing the benefits with both the customer and the vendor. Further, the times then saw a huge failure rate in implementations which later resulted in endangered future sales.

This also gave rise to critical losses in maintenance fees and support areas too. A company named Vantive took emergence during this period and came up with a new department, called Customer Success. The next step was to assign a then-said representative or the today-said Customer Success Manager who will work with a customer and strive to achieve their goals.

Consecutively, many other roles emerged post this, namely, Executive Sponsor, Support Representative, and an Engineering Manager as well. The primary goal was to complete the list of expectations that a customer has with the company in a 6-months span. At the end of which, the customer would be asked how satisfied they were with the team. And just in case, there were any concerns, the matter would be explored and appropriately reset for the next six months.

2000 – 2005: Customer Relationship Management and Marketing Automation Platforms

By the year 2000, companies started realizing that although acquiring a new prospect was not that big of a deal but retaining them was. That is when the concept of Customer Relationship Management kicked in. It does not look good to see a customer churn away almost as instantly as they onboard.

And the biggest reason for them to churn away was that they failed to see a nurturing relationship with the company. That is when many software providers brought to the market a specific set of capabilities to aid in engaging prospects and flourish them into a qualified and loyal customer, coupled with various sales opportunities.

This was succeeded by various Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPS), which were mainly designed to gel up well with the CRM systems. This acted as a powerful tool in assisting the process of converting leads into qualifies customers for sales to follow up and eventually close. And thus, the vision of a revenue-oriented marketing policy came into existence.

This not only brought out a huge change in generating upselling and cross-selling opportunities but also led more marketers to empower better and contribute more to the bulging revenue. With this, the horrific churn rates began taking a backseat.

2005 – 2010: Automation and Marketing plugs in Engagement and Sales

But the formula of coupling CRM with the MAP investment will not foresee massive revenue and profit unless a dollop of automation has been added to the formula. Automation can take place in various forms, be it lead generation or paid searches, or social and content syndication; this period realized the need for automatic tools to generate a huge bonus.

Further, this looked like a stellar solution to eradicate the manual and disconnected efforts that acted as a hindrance and prevented effective up-scales.

With the newly injected automation in place, programs could be validated, enhanced, and generated faster to proceed into better outcomes. Now the customer acquisition process saw some more sensibility and streamlined with the revving up sales bar.

Also, this saw lesser efforts being waste, fewer churn rates, and more on the marketing side getting bigger wins. To grab the best of accurate and actionable data was now possible which once looked like a dream. Delivering perfection and delighting customers became a reality and slowly the marketers started making bumper profits over the previously held losses.

Customer Success – Present

The Customer Success Funnel

Customer Success Funnel

The present-day Customer Success Funnel focuses on the five stages of a customer starting with the phases Purchase, Adoption, Retention, Expansion, and Advocacy.  The Purchasing part being the first stage is the most crucial. This is where the customer decides whether they will go ahead to make a purchase from you or churn right away if met with incoherencies. This should also be accompanied by a spot-on onboarding experience. To get started with successful onboarding, begin lending a helping hand to your customers to set their accounts and guide them with the necessary instructions and tutorials.

Now, the customer is beginning to embrace your product from their perspective and will try to have a basic understanding of how the product runs. Nevertheless, they would be aware of some of the facets and features of your product, which would have compelled them to make a purchase from you in the first place. In this phase, they will begin to see how to best utilize these aspects for themselves.

Next comes the Retention stage. Note that even though your customer has converted does not mean that they will stick around. To pull them to the end of the funnel, it is vital that you keep them engaged. Loyalty programs have a great say in here. Your customer would love to see that they are being recognized.

This brings us to the fourth stage which is Expansion. An account can expand in a multitude of ways, either it can be from a SaaS free trial to a freemium account or could be upgrading to a premium plan too. Did you know that only 25% of the SaaS trial users convert to subscribers? Statistically proven, selling to an existing customer is as much as 50% more likely than selling to a newer prospect. This is where the key role is played by the stage of expanding.

In the final stage of Advocacy, you should now see a customer who is ready to advocate about the virtues and goodness of your company. Not only that, but they might also not take a backseat from taking to social media to applaud and refer you to their acquaintances and relatives.  

SaaS and Mobile Apps

Companies have begun leveraging mobile apps for SaaS platforms. The virtues of working remotely have now made it easier to get information on the move. You can instantly plan out the day with calendar integration and dial into meetings with a simple click-to-call.

Additionally, you can access centralized dashboards and retrieve your answers in no time, that too in whichever device you use. Further, you can enjoy the benefit of instantly accessing analytics and any customer-facing material at your fingertips, thereby, freeing up the need to spend more time on a device. Also, the shift has seen a radical change in the way mobile CRM works.

A customer uses several applications, email, and location-based services too. With this system, you can seamlessly integrate social media with smart devices to deliver super-personalized customer experiences.

Cloud and its Phenomenal Impacts 

A cloud-based product or service is anything and everything that runs in the Cloud. This includes SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS-based applications. With the emergence of the Cloud, it has now become easier to share real-time data in a more effective and convenient way. The advancements in technology have led servers and storage to be hosted completely in the Cloud. Real-time Intelligence which was once reckoned as a thing of the future is now in your hands.  Interestingly, you no longer have to worry about installing and updating the system, Cloud needs no driver and does this automatically.

Furthermore, security is taken care of, making it difficult and more challenging for outages to happen. This also prevents data from getting lost entirely. For the aforementioned reasons, the Cloud has seemingly taken a safe place in our everyday lives and will most likely continue to stay.

Customer Success – Future

Role of Technology

It goes without saying that technology plays a central role in the Customer Success niche. Moreover, it should be front and centered when you are envisaging the approach business to ensure success at its best. In fact, the quality of your success is directly proportional to how well you imbue technological platforms that optimize the customer experience quotient, in lieu of responding to the commonly trickled issues.

Also, technology best proves its mettle when combined with an analytics engine that helps in reducing the overall manual workload and streamlining operations in a rather defined manner. Further, it serves as the pivotal driver of customer success in plenty of ways. Now the CS teams can use the platform to derive revamped customer experience seamlessly in the longer run.

Additionally, they can augment the companies to optimize and fraction their time in an even way. And in no time, you are assured to see uplifted engagements and productive team members. This, in turn, will eventually improve their CS activities, pull in more sales, enhance the revenue bar, and simmer down on the bulging churn rates.

Intelligence, Automation, and Smart Approaches 

Enterprises are leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for adding effectiveness in multiple business functions to harness benefits. Utilizing the virtues of AI and ML ensures that each of the data, right from a customer’s lead generation to the final purchase or abandonment is captured. 

This can be later used to analyze and suggest options as per their shopping patterns, inclinations and understand the behavior of the customer better. On similar tracks, as you identify the areas that receive the highest and lowest interactions, you can veer your efforts by providing personalized experiences to the lower ones and still nurture the prolific ones. 

And statistics back that up. About 60% of the higher profits are generated by the companies that give priority to the customer experience quotient. Aside from this, the greater level of competence portrayed by artificial intelligence, be it on the basis of its exceptional computing abilities or advanced algorithms can unlock a world of limitless opportunities for customer success to dwell in and revamp. 

Further, the addition of chatbots and smart tools have made lives even easier. With this, the cost of hiring a support executive has also been seen to be cut out as now the same task can be done by a smart bot itself. And so is represented by the Internet of Things, which highlights the vitality of technology getting more immersive and integrated into our daily, everyday lives. 

Imbibing CS and CX tools 

The Future of Customer Success is here. With the right and skillful usage of CS and CX tools, you can open up to diverse opportunities and attain greater heights, which once looked surreal to imagine. These tools are equipped with a multitude of capabilities like customer analytics, content management, lead generation, and contextual help which can be of immense help.

In simpler words, they can play a central role in receiving customer communications, customer feedback, and generating actionable insights. Some of the notable CX tools of now include ZendeskQualtrics XMMedallia, and Delighted to name a few.

All you need to do is install one of these and bid goodbye to the hassles. They will seamlessly cater to overseeing support to a client with its support feature. They can also guide the newer prospects with a smart self-service knowledge base that answers all the expected questions.

Further, it also comes with a live chat where you can instantly get your queries resolved on the page itself without needing the assistance of a real representative. Not only that, these tools take complete control over the analytics and reporting part as well, giving you all the more reason to get them right away.

That’s a Wrap

Although it is hard to say what will come next. However, one similarity that has already kicked in and will continue to persist is the prime focus on customer experience. At the end of the year 2020, the SaaS industry is still grappling with one issue: Customer Retention.

No matter how well you understand your customers, some percent of attrition is almost inevitable. The focus is to keep the percent as low as possible. It’s no wonder that the subscription economy has changed the game altogether. Gone are the days when a customer was required to sink a large amount of money and time to deploy a solution to support his needs.

The evolution of customer success has seen a dramatic change from seeing a partnership having a ‘nice-to-have’ customer on to a ‘must-have’ customer. In short, it has become a necessity. This defines the success or failure rate of your business. Though, there are no shortcuts to reach the pinnacle of success, one that can take you to the top is practicing perseverance.

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Originally Published January 22nd, 2021, Updated February 4th, 2021

Simran Mohanty

Simran hails from the content marketing backdrop with extensive knowledge in blogs, articles, and technical whitepapers in the non-fictional domain. She uses her 'gift of the gab' to explore new possibilities on her way and to make an exquisite impact on her readers. In her spare time, she likes to read journals on artificial intelligence or play with her cute kittens.

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