Jan 15, 2021

Read Time 7 min

15 Customer Success Predictions for 2021


Looking back at our Customer Success predictions for 2020, I can’t help but wonder if our CEO, You Mon Tsang, was gazing into his own crystal ball.

Before the pandemic hit, You Mon predicted that Customer Success would undergo its first pressure test. “Be prepared,” he forewarned.

Though there were other external factors driving this prediction, You Mon was right on the money. The pressure was on for Customer Success in 2020 – and more so than we could have ever imagined.

As Customer Success hadn’t yet shown to be indefensible at every company, You Mon had cautioned that the function would need to prove itself.

And that they did.

Customer Success teams rose to the challenge of retaining customers during a global health and economic crisis. For SaaS businesses, protecting the customer base became the main, if not only, priority during this tumultuous time.

Now backed by a proven track record of keeping SaaS businesses afloat amidst change and uncertainty (situational circumstances that aren’t changing anytime soon), Customer Success is destined to be the most influential function in the organization as it progresses from retaining to growing revenue in the new year.

But what else is in store for this trendsetting team in 2021?

We asked Customer Success experts to share their industry predictions for the year ahead.

1. 2021 will be the year of the breakthrough of the one-to-many CSM

Remco de Vries, Vice President of Marketing, inSided

A customer savvy CSM, whom is part Marketer, part Digital Specialist as well, will head up your digital-led customer strategies, e.g., sophisticated training, self-service onboarding, and community and customer advocacy programs.

 2. Partner success will be a growing need in 2021

Ed Powers, Customer Success Consultant

As global, multibillion-dollar software and computing infrastructure companies transition to subscription-based models, they must work with their extensive channel partner networks to enable and deliver Customer Success to end customers. Processes, technologies, people (training and incentives) and channel management must now be aligned and integrated for Customer Success on a massive scale. Fasten your seatbelts!

3. Renewals will get a jumpstart

Bri Adams, Customer Success Team Lead, ChurnZero

 Customer Success will begin the renewal process much earlier with customers than in previous years and they will take advantage of enlisting the help of an internal Exec Sponsor (i.e., the internal CSM’s manager) more frequently. To be specific, instead of starting ~4+ months ahead, teams will begin focusing on renewing their customers 7+ months before the renewal, and they will more frequently bring their CCO/CEO to the renewal discussion for added value.

Traditional health scores factors will be reprioritized

When optimizing your ChurnScore (or customer health score), more weight will be given to product usage and industry, and less weight to the CSM/AM’s belief of the relationship strength with that customer or even the customer’s engagement level with the CSM. The time to adopt and level of adoption across your customer’s team will be the key indicator of health (as opposed to relationship with POC, engagement between POC & CSM, and expansion history).

4. Customer Success will transcend the bottom of the funnel

Aaron Thompson, General Partner, SuccessHACKER

We’ll move from simply a “post-sale” job function to a complete corporate culture that aligns our goals to the customer’s desired outcomes. More positions in the Customer Success organization will operate in the presale stages of the customer lifecycle.

Customer Success will grow businesses

As more and more enterprises become customer-centric and continue their adoption of more sophisticated Customer Success functions, business as a whole will continue to see the benefits of growing from the Customer Asset outwards.

5. Remote work will get an upgrade

Kristen Hayer, CEO, The Success League 

Companies are going to continue to have large groups of employees working from home in 2021 and will start helping these employees optimize their work-from-home setups. Expect to see companies setting standards for customer-facing teams around bandwidth and sound and lighting, but also investing in the tools that these employees need to make their setup look and sound professional. The Zoom meeting bar is rising, so Customer Success leaders should be helping their teams prepare to look and sound their best from home, even if their “office” is a utility closet!

Customer Success will shift from product- to customer-focused strategies

While Customer Success teams have been shifting their focus toward customer value for the last several years, the pandemic has accelerated the process. Customer Success teams who have been focused on demonstrating business value are retaining their customers at much higher rates than those who are only focused on their own solutions. Executives are noticing the difference and pushing Customer Success teams toward demonstrating a return on investment to customers. Customer Success leaders with product-focused teams will need to quickly transform their programs to focus on value.

6 The tech-stack lines will blur between Implementation and Customer Success teams

Brian Hoffman, Account Executive, ChurnZero

Companies will realize their CCOs and VPs of CS are at a major disadvantage without rich, early lifecycle data. This will lead to more implementation teams working out of Customer Success platforms that can support their use cases, instead of living out of disparate project management tools. The number of integrations between Customer Success platforms and project management tools will also surge.

7. A growing reliance on Customer Success metrics

Adam Binder, Founder, Creative Click Media

I predict 2021 will be the year businesses rely on interdepartmental Customer Success metrics more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses across industries to pivot in response to the evolving need of their customer base, particularly those in a primarily digital sphere. With this in mind, departments across an organization will need to combine their efforts in order to plan strategically moving forward. Treating Customer Success metrics as a collaborative effort rather than as separate entities for each department will enable businesses to make informed decisions and ensure they are meeting their customers’ objectives from every angle.

8. Increased focus and expertise in change management

Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns & Co-Founder of Success Chain

In 2021, organizations will be re-evaluating the operating models and plans for future growth as lockdowns begin to ease, and they have the option to return to in-person work. Many new hybrid work models will emerge. Customer Success teams will need to help their customers identify how their software can support evolving and emerging operating models and then support them during these transitions. This requires increased focus and expertise in change management and user adoption skills for both Customer Success teams and the customers’ internal staff.

9. Digital engagement and automation will become a centerpiece of Customer Success strategy in 2021

Marley Wagner, Sr. Director of Marketing & Services, ESG

As Customer Success transforms from a fledgling industry into a SaaS must-have, more and more companies have created a strong foundation from which to build upon. The next step is scalability, and with that comes your digital strategy. I expect to see many New Year’s resolutions and 2021 goals that include incorporating automation more comprehensively into customer engagement models and touchpoints within all segments, not just the lowest customer tiers.

10. Customer Success moves beyond simple merge-field replacements and into bespoke guidance via automation

George DeCherney, Director of InApp Engineering, ChurnZero

Having the ability to tailor an onboarding experience for each customer’s needs and context is more memorable and more helpful to the customer in enabling them to be successful using your software compared to merely inserting their name into a generic welcome guide.

11. Bigger budgets for Customer Success

Irit Eizips, Chief Customer Officer & CEO, CSM Practice

In 2021, companies are expected to double down on their customer success initiatives to ensure customer retention and expansion selling practices are much more effective, proactive, and scalable. As a result, we are likely to see a larger budget allocation to customer success strategies in 2021.

12. Remote work accelerates need for Customer Success technology

Mikael Blaisdell, Executive Director, The Customer Success Association

2021 will be an interesting year. We learned in 2020 that it was indeed possible for CSMs and team execs to work from home, and that trend will necessarily continue through 2021 and beyond.  But now we have to learn how to manage the utilization of remote CSMs effectively, and that will increase the pressure on teams to implement dedicated Customer Success Management Systems (CSMS). Currently, less than 40% of Customer Success teams are using a commercial grade CSMS to manage their CSM workflows. Excel, homebrew apps, and CRM systems can take you only so far.  

13. Customer Success will go well beyond SaaS businesses

Robbie Kellman Baxter, Consultant | Author | Speaker

All subscription businesses need to ensure that customers are getting the value and outcomes they paid for. I predict that metrics and practices of the Customer Success professional will be applied more broadly in the coming year.

14. Greater budget allocation for Customer Success technology and education

Emilia D’Anzica, Founder & CEO, GrowthMolecules

Companies have realized the investment they make in enabling their customer teams results in more product adoption and net revenue retention. This means companies are putting time and money aside in their budgets for Customer Success enablement technology and education.

15. Customer Success focus shifts from churn reduction to revenue generation

Avinash Chandra, Founder & CEO, BrandLoom

The Customer Success industry has focused on churn reduction for the better part of its life cycle. This practice will move towards a focus on revenue generation. Data-driven decision making is the future of all the trends. More emphasis should be placed on empathy mapping and customer decision journey. Being with the customer at the right time in the journey will play a crucial role in revenue generation. 2021 will be the year of proactive analysis of customer needs and working towards the same.”

Expect the Unexpected

While we’ll continue to expect the unexpected in 2021, that doesn’t have to be the case when making your pitch for Customer Success software.

So, if you predict that Customer Success software will soon be in your future (yes, we’re manifesting here), we’ve got you covered with our eBook on how to sell Customer Success software to the C-suite to avoid any unanticipated rebuttals or unwanted surprises when presenting your argument.

Download this eBook to arm yourself with:

  • Ways to overcome the 13 most common leadership objections
  • How-tos on building a convincing argument for Customer Success software
  • Tactics to connect the dots and create a sense of urgency for this must-have purchase

Customer Success Around the Web

Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero



Subscribe to the newsletter   

Empowering your customer success team through community

Has your customer community lost its spark? Teams are often eager to launch this new initiative, however, sustaining that same enthusiasm in the months ahead can be a challenge. “It's one thing to create excitement and another to keep people’s attention,” says Shauna...