Dec 20, 2019

Read Time 10 min

20 Customer Success Predictions for 2020


The year was 1909. Nikola Tesla predicts the development of Wi-Fi in a New York Times article. Fast forward to 2020 and Wi-Fi has become the lifeline to our (digital) existence—with almost half of the 7.7 billion people in the world connected to the internet and more than 3.499 billion active social media users. 

Although we may not be able to see 100 years into the future like Tesla, with strategic and thoughtful foresight, we can sharpen our judgment and make smarter decisions in the year ahead. (Instead of feeling like we’re stuck taking counsel from our old Magic 8 Ball.)  

That’s why we asked some of the top Customer Success (CS) leaders to share their industry predictions for 2020. Popular predictions include CS and Product becoming the new power couple, product features taking a back seat to tangible results, and CS facing existential questions of their larger purpose within the organization. Dig in and enjoy. 


1.) Customer results will sell, not features. Say so long to the Q in QBRs. 

Aaron Thompson, General Partner, SuccessHACKER 

The winners in CS Management will align their business objectives to the customer’s desired outcomes and experiences. They’ll market, sell, and service customer outcomes (not their product features and functions) while they iterate the overall CS processes to fit into the customer’s desired experience in a more frictionless manner. In short: we’ll sell outcomes not products and remove the Q from QBRs. 


Director-of-Customer-Success-MuckRack2.) CS gets a direct line to the C-Suite. 

Vanessa Hannay, Director of Customer Success, Muck Rack 

CS starts with investing in leadership defined as such to embed the success mentality into the cultural fabric of the company. Look for 2020 to be a year of CS increasingly reporting to the C-Suite. 


Emilia - Chief Customer Officer3.) CS enters the revenue-generation limelight. Customer happiness and product features won’t float the bill.  

Emilia D’Anzica, Partner, Winning by Design 

Companies are realizing that true growth comes after the customer commits to a partnership. No longer are the Marketing and Sales teams the main revenue generators. Rather, the CS team is equally important to the success of a company. As a result, companies are investing more time and money in training their CS teams to have more customer-centric conversations.  

Conversations are no longer driven by product features but rather about customer enablement and alignment on the expected impact from the partnership between the customer and a company. Being able to have difficult conversations with customers, being able to lead customers proactively, and being able to have metrics-driven conversations is what the new Customer Success Manager (CSM) is expected to achieve. Making customers happy is no longer good enough. 


 4.) CS will undergo its first pressure test; be prepared. 

You Mon Tsang, Founder and CEO, ChurnZero 

If 2020 sees an economic slowdown or recession, CS will face its first pressure test as a department. The growth of CS has largely occurred after the last major global recession, therefore CS may encounter its very first slowdown in 2020. I predict that there will be a large range of reactions. Some businesses will “circle the wagons” and protect their customers and continue to invest in CS. Others will treat CS as a cost center and cut. CS has not proven itself to be indefensible at every company yet; make sure your team proves itself. 


The Success League5.) CS and Sales strengthen their bond. 

Kristen Hayer, CEO, The Success League 

As we move into 2020, I envision a stronger alignment between CS and Sales. Both teams are critical to any company, but they often operate in silos. By joining forces and clarifying roles, both teams can deliver a better customer experience and drive more revenue for their organizations. 


Chief Customer Officer6.) CS Operations gets a spot on the team, but not without earning it. 

Abby Hammer, Chief Customer OfficerChurnZero 

In 2020, the need for CS Operations will crystalize across our industry and we’ll start to see the role as necessary to be a data-driven, efficient, revenue-generating team. For this to happen, CS leaders will need to illustrate what can be accomplished by a team that is empowered with CS Operations. I recommend looking to Sales/Sales Operations teams as the guide. And be prepared to offer real numbers (additional revenue, increased engagement, and satisfaction) as part of your pitch; make sure your leadership understands the real value behind the vision.  


7.) CS alignment become every department’s priority.  

Jason Whitehead, CEO, Tri Tuns 

In 2020, I think more organizations will focus on improving internal alignment of the CS department with other parts of the organization (Sales, Product, Marketing, Support). Organizations are quickly realizing that having great CS processes and teams are not fully effective if they do not work effectively with the rest of the organization. 2020 will be all about putting customers’ experience and success at the forefront of all departments across the company. 


Customer Success Consultant8.) Random acts of CS won’t suffice. CS needs to bring the value prop to life. 

Kia Puhm, Founder and CEO, DesiredPath 

As customers get bombarded by an ever-increasing number of products claiming to solve their various challenges, CS will continue to feel the pressure to operationalize and quantify the value proposition promised during the sales cycle in order to keep customers. Simply delivering “random acts of CS” will not cut it anymore. Leading CS practices are looking for ways to actualize the value proposition into their playbook and maturity model so there is an execution path and narrative for driving ROI and expansion. 


9.) Companies apply the golden rule of business to customers and employees. 

Ryan Lester, Senior Director of Customer Experience Technologies, LogMeIn 

2020 is the year companies need to start applying the golden rule of business to both the customer and employee experience. When customer-facing employees are armed with the right tools they need to succeed and do their jobs effectively, it translates into a better experience for customers on the other side. This should be the year that companies invest in the employee experience with the same fervor as the customer experience to bring employee support out of the dark ages and leverage their best assets—their people—to deliver superior customer service. 


ChurnZero, Customer Success Manager10.) CS and Product work lockstep to meet customer needs and wants. 

Bri Adams, Customer Success Manager, ChurnZero 

I predict that CS will become more heavily intertwined with Product. CS Leaders and CSMs will take part in more product-focused conversations, and they will work hand-in-hand with Product teams to lend more input on the side of what their existing customers need and want to be more successful with their tools. 


11.) Active users become the company’s crown jewel. 

Dr. Carl Gold, Chief Data Scientist, Zuora 

The “active user” will be a company’s crown jewel. The cost to acquire an active user is steep. Blue Apron has paid over $400 for every new user, and last year Netflix was buying new viewers for around $100 each. By focusing efforts on retaining active users by iterating their existing services based on rich customer data, companies will have more opportunities to engage, upsell, and ultimately scale. 


Jay Nathan- Customer Imperative12.) To maximize CLV, companies heavily invest in Revenue and CS Operations to drive alignment. 

Jay Nathan, Founder & Managing Partner, Customer Imperative 

SaaS companies at all stages will continue to increase investment in Revenue and CS Ops to drive the alignment that’s critical for maximizing customer lifetime value. They will create two roles both separate from CSMs and operational CS people leaders. The first role will be a program manager aimed at driving internal, customer-centric process improvement initiatives. The second will be responsible for administering customer data and systems on behalf of the organization. 


13.) Sales won’t pass GO and collect until a customer is successful. 

Bora Lee, Team Lead, Customer Success OperationsChurnZero 

Sales teams receive compensation at the beginning of a customer journey and tend to be less invested in the longer-term outcome. It is important to align the goal of long-term customer retention across the company as it is the crux of continuous company growth. In 2020, I believe that there will be a shift in sales compensation to include a component related to long-term customer retention.  


Gainsight Chief Customer Officer14.) Sales and CS collaborations create “pods” of sales. CS brings focus to their purpose.  

Ashvin Vaidyanathan, Chief Customer OfficerGainsight 

Companies will orient internal teams to drive increased growth. Greater collaboration between CS and Sales will result in “pods” of sales, CSMs, Consultants and Product Managers driving the expansion of target customers. Data and sentiment will help these “pods” identify advocates and quantify the benefit of greater customer advocacy. CS will also be operationalized by segment, with more technical consultants for smaller segments, etc.  

CSMs will also need to clarify their purpose. Is it retention, expansion, advocacy, product feedback, or service delivery? CSMs will need to know what value product managers and sales directors are delivering against, with a clear definition of goals and metrics in line to ensure alignment and obtain success. 


James Scott - SuccessHacker15.) Personalized engagement at scale (sans first-name mail merges) optimize business impact. 

James Scott, VP of Customer Success, ShootProof 

Companies will need to leverage high-fidelity customer data and robust automation technology to successfully execute highly-personalized customer engagement campaigns at scale. Personalized communications, delivered to the right customer at exactly the right time, ensures relevance and maximizes business impact. Mail-merging a customer first name into a generic email template or in-app message will no longer suffice! 


Naomi Aiken, Customer Success Manager16.) The best and worst customers get enough attention. Increase focus on ‘meh’ accounts. 

Naomi Aiken, Team Lead, Customer Success, ChurnZero 

Most companies, ChurnZero included, are honing their ability to pinpoint customers’ health scores. These scores, regardless of what you call them, are calculated using weighted datapoints related to a customer’s likelihood to churn or renew. They use a scale of 0 to 100 to grade health and ideally you want customers to rank with a positive score (green/low risk/healthy) and not a negative one (red/high risk/unhealthy). NPS follows a similar format by placing Promoters on the positive end of the spectrum, Detractors on the opposing, negative end, and Passives in the murky middle.  

When customers are super successful and become Promoters, we congratulate them, highlight them in case studies, and pat ourselves on the back for contributing to their achievements. When customers are unsuccessful and become Detractors, we find out what we could do better and work to improve the situation. My prediction for 2020 is an increased focus on serving the “just okay”, Passive customers (which are often the largest chunk of the customer base!) and how to take them from murky to magic. 


Customer Success Association17.) Companies place a greater onus on CS for revenue. 

Mikael BlaisdellExecutive Director, The Customer Success Association  

The accelerating trend toward the direct connection of CS teams to revenue is very likely to continue to increase in 2020, and I think this is a very good thing for the profession as a whole. We have to put the curious reluctance to talk directly about money/ROI with our customers and our companies behind us. Maximizing proven sustainable value is our reason for being; everything we do needs to point directly at it. 


Customer Success Manager, Chase18.) First-time CS Operations roles get their awaited debut. 

Chase Tinkham, Customer Success Manager, ChurnZero 

We’ll see a massive uptick in CS teams and CS-focused organizations purchasing CS solutions—with an even larger number hiring CS Operations roles for the first time. I’ve already seen this take place among my current customers.  

Although an end-user can easily run ChurnZero, every CS program still requires a strong, internal organizational focus. Like any SaaS platform, you get out of it what you put in. CS Operations can help refine customer segments and message automations, get frontline CSM feedback, prep board presentations, collaborate with Sales Operations and Marketing, and turn raw data into useful team insights. 


Customer Success as a Service19.) Automation will complement human interaction, not replace it. 

Megan Macaluso, VP of Strategic Development, ESG Success 

We expect to see many CS organizations investing heavily in digital strategies in 2020. Your CSMs have perfected the white glove one-to-one engagement model in 2019, but that’s simply not scalable on its own. So, in comes automation. Invest your time and energy here in a thoughtful manner; don’t over-rotate. Utilize automation to complement human interaction, not replace it. 


20.) High-value outcomes with real ROIs will reign supreme. 

Jackie GoldenCEO, LandNExpand  

CSM execution will be more focused on high value outcomes that produce real ROIs in the management of their customer roadmaps. This comprises all types of touch points including the content for tech touches. 


And there you have it for our top 2020 CS predictions. We hope these insightful forecasts help you pave the way for a transformative year. But before you go, we want to leave you with one final prediction from the ChurnZero team. 

A new year is upon us, ripe with resolutions, renewed promises, and plans for self-improvement and success. CS leaders are yearning to find a community of other smart, ambitious CS professionals to connect with and break bread. They’re looking for a place to compare notes, share learnings, discuss growing pains, and celebrate their wins. A place where they can discover what it takes to deliver exceptional ongoing customer value at all levels of their organization. We predict that 2020 will be the year that CS leaders reinvest in themselves to nurture their inspiration, personal achievements, and business growth. You may be wondering, is this a prediction-turned-dream or a shameless plug for ChurnZero’s first ever annual CS conference. It’s both! BIG RYG—ChurnZero’s one-day educational and networking event—is every CS leaders dream come true. To learn more and reserve your spot, visit us here.  

To close with the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” 

Embrace your mistakes, learn from the past, and show up every day to materialize your 20/20 foresight into a 2020 you’ll be proud to reflect on this time next year.  


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