Rethinking Customer Success in the Era of Efficiency

By Glenn Borok, Sach Chitnis
6/3/2024

In the last decade, the zero-interest-rate environment defined the start-up landscape, which encouraged a culture of free spending and operational inefficiencies. Companies responded by bulking up their sales development teams, pouring money into increasingly larger tech stacks, and growing customer success (CS) functions to a point where many became bloated and inefficient. The mantra was growth at any cost – scaling fast to grab market share, often at the expense of efficiency.

But the economic tide for venture-backed startups has turned. Easy access to growth funding has tightened significantly. In this new reality, enterprise customers are also under intensified pressure from CFOs to enhance their efficiencies. This shift has led to longer decision-making cycles for new technology purchases, potential reductions in renewal pricing, and consolidation of solutions, which could further increase churn. Moreover, the revenue technology (RevTech) sector is particularly crowded, brimming with personalization tools and SDR functions that often reward mere activity, cluttering the pathway to clear, effective customer relationships.

These trends are guiding us to focus on two areas: first, reimagining strategies to forge stronger connections with existing customers (aka customer success)- the primary focus of this article; and second, enhancing sales efficiency and finding ways to cut through the clutter to cultivate and convert new relationships (aka demand generation), a topic we’ll explore in a future article.

Historically, Customer Success (CS) has often been seen more as a necessity than the strategic asset powerhouse it could be for deepening and securing customer relationships. Driven by objectives like Net Revenue Retention and revenue expansion, too many CS operations have echoed traditional account management roles, complete with a strong sales orientation. Said a different way, this role was made to support company goals of more revenue versus for the customer.

This approach meant that customer retention efforts became reactive, typically kicking into gear only after issues with churn popped up. It missed the crucial opportunity to proactively ensure customers felt valued and saw tangible benefits from the very beginning, keeping them actively engaged with the product or service throughout their journey.

Today, there’s a growing recognition that roles like implementation, support, and account management need to be clearly separated & defined to ensure they achieve their distinct objectives. Additionally, as the cost of acquiring new customers continues to rise, the focus has shifted towards retaining existing ones, highlighting the critical need to invest in a CS framework that not only boosts customer loyalty but maximizes the lifetime value of each customer. This strategic pivot underscores that genuine customer success is built on continuous engagement and growth, not merely retention.

In response to the evolving landscape, progressive CS organizations are adopting new structures inspired by models like Snowflake. In these organizations, teams are strategically aligned, with some focusing explicitly on driving business outcomes—akin to sales roles—while others, such as Sales Engineers, take ownership of implementation, offering high-value strategic insights to customers. At the same time, as more low-level support tasks are automated through AI, the need for human intervention in routine inquiries and troubleshooting will be reduced. This shift allows CS professionals to focus on more complex and impactful activities, enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction.

The technology supporting this shift in customer success is also advancing. The move to integrate CS tools with other areas, such as sales and product development, using platforms like Slack, reflects a growing need for streamlined workflows spanning different functions. These integrations are essential for enhancing the entire customer journey—from onboarding through support to renewal.

However, in many areas overwhelmed by technological solutions, there's a tendency to prioritize features over customers' actual needs. Often, these tools are implemented in isolation rather than being used to foster insights and learning throughout the customer's experience.

In this evolving landscape, focusing on four key areas can significantly elevate the strategic impact of customer success teams:

Connected Systems for Comprehensive Customer Lifecycle Support: Taking a holistic approach involves seamlessly integrated systems that manage the entire customer lifecycle, from onboarding through ongoing support to renewal. These integrated systems ensure no customer touchpoint occurs in isolation; each interaction is informed by a comprehensive view of the customer's history, preferences, and feedback.

For instance, when CS tools are integrated across all systems, they create a unified customer profile accessible to all teams. This boosts collaboration and ensures each customer interaction is consistent and informed by context, making every touchpoint more effective. Companies like Planhat, ChurnZero, and Totango are at the forefront of this, helping to pull together data from across the organization to turn those varied insights into actionable intelligence.

Leveraging AI to Streamline Low-Level Support and Empower Strategic Human Engagement

AI is changing the game for businesses' support functions. Chatbots and automated response systems are increasingly adept at managing everyday customer questions and problems quickly and accurately. This shift is a big deal for CS teams because it lets them delegate routine tasks to AI systems.

This frees up human agents to tackle more complex and important tasks, like welcoming new clients, building customer relationships, coming up with personalized upselling tactics, and collecting detailed customer feedback that can help shape business strategies.

Companies like Bento, Appcues, and Stonly are revolutionizing how CS Managers automate much of the onboarding process, enabling them to focus on higher-level engagement activities.

Connecting Product Teams to CS Teams: The collaboration between product and customer success teams is crucial for continuously improving products based on user feedback. When these teams communicate directly, they create a fast-moving feedback loop that speeds up product enhancements and innovation.

This way, product teams get a live feed of insights on how customers actually use their product, what issues they run into, and what new features they might want. For example, customer success teams can quickly pass on customers' feature requests or usability feedback straight to the product developers.

The developers can then adjust their plans to fit these needs. This improves the product and demonstrates to customers that their feedback really matters, enhancing - and potentially increasing - their satisfaction and loyalty. Companies like Cycle and Uservoice help collect customer feedback seamlessly and route it to the appropriate teams for immediate action.

Utilizing Significant Data for Granular Insights and AI Intelligence: Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence are boosting today’s customer success platforms, enabling teams to sift through huge amounts of data to spot trends and predict how customers might behave.

This tech can be a game-changer for CS teams, giving them the power to identify problems before they escalate, uncover upselling opportunities, and tailor interactions to meet individual customer needs. For instance, AI can alert CS teams about which customers are likely considering leaving—and why—allowing them to intervene sooner.

These insights also help craft personalized customer journeys and strategies, ensuring every interaction is tailored and valuable. Companies like Falkon and Reef.AI integrate into CS systems and highlight advanced customer segmentation, scoring, and predictive analytics.

Closing Thoughts

As we navigate a transformative period in customer success (CS), the changing economic landscape is prompting startups and established businesses alike to rethink their CS strategies. With AI and advanced analytics leading the charge, CS teams are now liberated from mundane tasks, enabling them to focus more on strategic initiatives like deepening customer engagement and proactive problem-solving.

This transformation goes beyond boosting efficiency—it's also about enriching every customer interaction, making them more personalized, and fostering loyalty and long-term engagement. Plus, integrating CS tools with systems like CRM and product development helps break down organizational silos, ensuring CS teams can deliver tailored support informed by real-time data from across the company. With this evolution, Customer Success will truly be focused on their engagement, utilization, and value attainment vs “Did we sell them more features & modules?”.

If you're an entrepreneur crafting solutions to improve the customer success landscape, we want to hear from you. Reach out to [email protected] to explore how we can work together.

By Glenn Borok, Sach Chitnis
6/3/2024

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