This article originates from Edward's presentation at the virtual Customer Success Festival in 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

Before we get into what the future of customer success looks like, let me ask you a few questions:

🤑 Does your company, and its executives, still treat customer success as a cost center?

🤐 Do you feel like you're at the head of the table, or still in the corner of the room somewhere?

🧐 Is your team being asked to bridge the gap and do a lot more since your sales team's been struggling to close new logos?

I speak with customer success professionals all the time, and the general consensus is that there are a lot of questions now being asked about the existing customer base from all leaders and departments. And in all honesty, it’s wonderful because it shows that people are starting to dial in on what actually matters.

But can you – with absolute certainty – accurately present trended data across health, adoption, and metrics for all of your customers?

Now that everyone is suddenly very interested in CS, ask yourself this: do you have a tactical workflow that makes customer success a unified mission across your entire company, which allows every function to generate revenue growth together?

Customer success only works when we have every department around us helping us achieve our goals. When that happens, it's no longer just about retention. We’ll actually drive revenue growth, which is what CS is all about. Customer retention is just the baseline of what people think we do. It's time to change that narrative, change our focus, and bring the value of customer success to the entire organization.

Why am I so passionate about all of this? Like you, I've done the job before.

I built a customer success org from the ground up in a company where most people were engineers and had no clue what I did. I've been in your shoes when the CEO was asking me a bunch of questions that I wished I had answers to. I've had to beg engineering teams to get me the data that I need, and then, after waiting months to get it, I had no clue what to do with it or how to piece it together!

I've been in situations where the customer success team was generally only considered as an afterthought when it came to major launches and initiatives. I've been in a world where sales would sell something, but there was no consistent flow into what CS and implementation were supposed to deliver, so the story that was sold didn't add up and ultimately ruined the customer experience.

But now that customer success is this stunning butterfly that nobody can take their eyes off, we are soaring. 🦋

Let's talk about how we capitalize on that...

Customer success is your business’ lifeline

The world around us is chaotic right now. I don't want to spend much time on this because you see the headlines every day, but the reality is the market is not great. Stocks are down. Crypto is no longer the way to overnight wealth. There's a lot of chaos.

Amidst all that chaos, customer success is the lifeline for every business. It took almost two decades, but there is zero question that CS and post-sales teams are the only reason this market is not doing worse.

I'm going to repeat that:

CS and post-sales teams are the only reason this market is not doing worse. We’re the only reason lights are staying on, the only reason bills are still getting paid.

Remember that and own it. If your company culture doesn’t acknowledge that, let me tell you, there are a thousand other companies that do and you should absolutely go there and be the center of what they do. This is the movement. If your company's not on board, it’s already behind.

There's a reason why all the investors are talking about CS and everyone is looking to us to drive revenue: while growth rate and new customer acquisition are slowing across the board, we own retention and expansion – the most consistent and cost-efficient ways to grow.

Your guide to driving revenue growth with customer success
In this article, I’m going to be talking about customer success as a growth driver. I hope that what I share is going to be relevant to your daily lives and that it sparks some interesting discussions.

The future of customer success

So if we're the lifeline, what should we do about it? Well, we need to move quickly, be decisive, and take advantage of all this momentum. This is the one time in history when your company is completely anchored around customer success’ work and mission. You have to jump all over it – not just for you, not just for CS, but so that your entire company can rally around driving revenue growth through the customer success team's efforts.

You came to this article wondering what the future of CS is. Well, the future of CS is growth.

People are no longer looking to CS solely for retention purposes. CSMs shouldn't be excited about waking up and going to work only to maintain the status quo. We, like salespeople, should be driving revenue. The only difference is that instead of having to convince strangers to try something new, we’re convincing customers who trust us to find more value.

5 things you should start doing today to lead your organization into the future

Let's move to the fun stuff. I’m going to share five things that you and your CS team can do today to help your company drive revenue growth and lead through customer success.

1. Dig into your customer data

First things first, you have to get to grips with your customer data. Crucially, you have to make sure you understand where that data lives. This is not some complicated project that needs a data scientist. There are two simple steps:

  • List out all the customer information that you care about and put it in a spreadsheet.
  • Identify where you currently look for this information, then fill in any gaps with the help of your cross-functional teams.

Mapping all this data out is a huge first step in tying all of your scattered customer data into a single source for the business. That’s what makes this exercise so incredibly important. There's going to be tremendous excitement when CS, sales, and renewal teams get together to look at this data for the first time.

It’s time to piece all of that customer data together and reveal it to your internal teams, tying everything back to growth and revenue. Are your customers getting value? Proactively identify which customers haven't consumed all of your features – they might be finding value, but they could certainly find more.

How to build a proactive customer success function with data
Having built customer success teams from the ground up, I can tell you that data is key when it comes to being proactive. In the ever-changing business landscape, it’s not enough to just win customers over – we need to anticipate and address their needs to deliver the maximum value possible.

2. Map out the customer journey

Next, you want to spend some time mapping out a basic customer journey for each of your core business segments. It's crazy how many CS teams I’ve talked to that haven’t done this yet.

In most businesses, you have different journeys – for instance, small-to-medium (SMB) vs. enterprise. You want to clearly define the stages within each of those journeys, how many days or weeks you want your customers to spend in those stages, and what you want them to accomplish there.

Those accomplishments can include adoption goals, spend thresholds, or even just the number of questions they ask the CSM about the product – that shows engagement. This is where you want to define your Northstar, the ultimate healthy customer, and what that looks like.

Most importantly, you want to identify the touch points in which sales and CS can partner together. At what stage of the customer journey do the two of you approach the customer to get more revenue? What is the sequence of events that has to occur? What is an adoption metric that indicates as clear as day that this account is right for growth?

A lot of CS teams think mapping the customer journey is a complicated process that needs to be perfect, but perfect is the enemy of action. get started right away. You can always modify your journeys later on if you get any new information.

Better together: sales and customer success
In this week’s episode of CS Connect, our resident host Vish is joined by the one and only – the legend that is – Michelle Wideman. As Chief Customer Officer at data integration platform Onna, Michelle is part of the burgeoning number of CS leaders currently repping customer success in the C-Suite.

3. Use positive reinforcement to drive expansion and customer advocacy

When you see your customers' adoption increasing, that's amazing. It’s also the perfect moment for some positive reinforcement. For most of your customers, that's all they're looking for. They're looking for validation from the product experts – you – that what they’re doing is working, and they need that constant reinforcement throughout the entire journey. CSMs reinforce the excitement and value that customers get from your product. Sales and renewals teams present the opportunity for more.

You’ll need to bring in automation if you want to do this at scale, but you can start small with manual emails today. Choose 10 accounts and see if sending the right emails at the right moment not only drives adoption but increases trust in the additional features you suggest investing in. Perhaps, thanks to your engagements and reminders, you’ll even see customers touting your product on social media, which in turn will also drive revenue growth for the business.

4. Standardize your customer data collection

Another very important thing a CS team can do for a business is to organize its data. If your team is capturing QBR notes or weekly customer syncs in Evernote, Apple Notes, and Google Docs, and all that information lives in different places, how on earth is anyone else going to be able to approach the customer with the key data and talking points they need?

The bigger problem is having different CSMs asking different questions on different calls so there’s no consistency in the information you're responsible for capturing. It’s impossible for leaders to derive trended data when you do this.

You can start simply by aligning in a team meeting on the fundamental outcomes you're trying to achieve with each customer call. Then you can create a Google Doc with the exact template every person must follow. CSMs need to hold each other accountable for this because it's only going to benefit them.

Gathering data consistently in this way is going to make CS look really, really good. It’s also going to enable you to build respect and visibility with the core functions and business leaders outside of CS. Without this, you won't earn the trust of those cross-functional partners who believe you are the eyes and ears of this organization.

Once you have other teams’ trust, that's when you can start building relationships. As an example, you’ll want to build an incredible relationship with your sales and renewals team – this is how you drive growth. And make sure you let your counterparts in product know whenever you hear a feature request. This is what organized information and workflow allow.

5. Bring customer success to the center

Ask yourself this question: when you get off a call with a customer that has a tremendous opportunity for growth, how long does it take for your key counterparts and stakeholders to hear about that? Do red tape, politics, and bad tooling pose such an obstacle that you’d rather move on to your next meeting or call than try and bring attention to a positive opportunity? That's where making customer success part of your company culture is so important.

Customer success teams’ biggest responsibility is to make CS the focal point of the business. I've heard a lot of CSMs say, “Well, the culture of my company has already been established.”

Well, you know what? The best companies in the world revamp and improve their culture all 👏the 👏time 👏.

They improve the way they communicate. They improve the way information is shared. People are going to appreciate the CS team when you lead this change.

There are a number of ways to do this, but one example of how we do it at Catalyst is through a Slack channel. Every employee, from team members to the director gets added so they can keep an eye on it and engage with it. This channel is titled #bringing-cs-to-the-center.

We share good customer feedback, negative customer feedback, social media shout-outs, and amazing marketing initiatives that drive customer love here. Engineers are generally not known to be the most customer-centric group, but the ones at Catalyst are the first to engage with any of these posts – positive or negative.

It doesn't have to be Slack, but there has to be a motion that unifies the entire company on the importance of customers. This is a major step in driving a partnership between your go-to-market teams from marketing, sales, and CS.

Our job over the next couple of quarters is to nurture a growth mentality – not a retention mindset – in our organizations. We have to further improve the lives of our customers, we have to help them find value, and we have to replicate those efforts at scale, so it's a well-oiled engine humming along without a hitch.

Customer experience leaders fare better during downturns

During the 2007-2009 recession and companies that were deeply focused on this clearly outclassed the rest of the market. Let's make that green bar on the right not just 6% but 12, 15, or 20% – something unheard of during a down market – by growing through our existing customers.

Customer success is the most important function right now. It should be getting way more budget than acquisition teams since sales are slowing down. CS leaders and CS teams who drive revenue – not just retention – should make more money than sales leaders and account executives because we are the heroes of this mission and we should see a big part of those rewards.

Now let's all lead our businesses out of this market downturn together.

Learn today. Lead tomorrow.

If you enjoyed reading Edward's insights, then why not browse our catalog of customer success courses? Whether you'd like to master retention, hone your leadership skills, or perhaps just brush up on your core CS skills, we have something for everyone, at any stage in their career.