Back to the Future is probably the most famous and beloved time travel movie franchise ever.
The classic adventures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and their nemesis Biff Tannen are fun, funny, and heartwarming, and they’ve kept audiences coming back for more ever since the first film was released in 1985.
But Back to the Future was always more than just a comedy adventure. Marty’s escapades in a tricked-out DeLorean opened our imaginations to how the past can affect the present, and taught us lessons about how the actions we take now can affect outcomes in the future. As customer success and product experience enthusiasts, that got us thinking about how our discipline has changed over the years, and what might be in store going forward.
Filled with inspiration, we decided to throw on our puffy vests, fire up the flux capacitor, and take a trip through the past, present, and future of customer-centric business models. Buckle up as we push the accelerator to 88 mph!
Sweatin’ to the oldies: A product-centric world
First, let’s go back to the past. It was the late twentieth century: DVDs were everywhere, globalization was underway, and businesses were perfecting their supply chains in order to bring well-priced, high-quality products to market.
Customer success as we know it didn’t exist yet. Back then, the primary driver for customer relationships was customer support, a reactive function that helped overcome problems that arose once a product had already been sold and delivered.
The products themselves were better than ever, but they had been developed with customers almost as an afterthought. The value chain looked like this:
Value was eventually delivered to the customer, but companies dictated the terms and only listened to customers after the fact.
The Times They Were a-Changin’: The rise of CRM
As time moved on, high-quality products became the standard, and companies looking to deliver value began to focus on sales and service. Cloud-based and subscription models also came on the scene and began to replace on-premise solutions.
The result was that customer support evolved into customer relationship management (CRM). Sales and marketing became integrated around that idea that customer expectations needed to be managed before, during, and after the sale. Clearly, the action was moving right, down the value chain, toward Sell and Service.
As subscription models that relied on recurring revenue began to dominate, the focus shifted even further toward customers. Reducing churn and driving expansion among existing customers became almost as important, if not more important, than the pipeline for new customers.
This is when customer success came into its own as a discipline. Everyone in the organization suddenly had a vested interest in understanding what customers thought and felt about their experience. It was about more than just making a great product, it was about planning a great customer journey.
Back to the present: A customer success world
This trip through the past explains how we ended up in the present: it’s a customer-centric paradigm. Whereas even recently companies were concerned with how to encourage customers to adopt their products and keep people using them, they’re now thinking bigger. The question isn’t, how do we get customers to like our product? Instead, they’re asking, how do we help customers realize value?
That’s because customers are looking for outcomes, not features. And they hold all the cards, with the power to suspend, continue, or expand their subscriptions depending on whether they actually achieve those outcomes.
It is no longer enough for companies to encourage adoption through successful onboarding. As they engage with the product, customers need to achieve value milestones that will lead to stickiness and expansion. These goals are best achieved through a combination of customer success and product experience. These functions need to collaborate closely using a deep pool of usage data and deploying an array of engagement tactics, both internal and external to the product itself.
Business is now about building two-way, ongoing relationships with customers where the company not only listens but really gets to know the customer so they can anticipate customer needs and provide them with unexpected value.
All this brings us to the future. At the end of Back to the Future, Marty’s actions in the past have flipped his family’s paradigm from stressed out to thriving. His father has become confident and successful, while former bully Biff is no longer a threat.
Similarly, the future of customer success will see the value chain inverted:
Now, a company’s efforts begin with the customer and end with the product. Only after the entire customer journey is understood can product development begin. It seems like a radical change, but if you understand the evolution of technology and business over the past 40 years, it all makes sense.
This future phase means that customer success and product experience will become fused into one function like never before. To meet customers’ needs, product experience will need to be directly injected into every application—no one will want to call a help desk anymore.
But the role of customer success will also change. Mining customer narratives to develop use cases that illustrate different flavors of value will become the bread and butter of customer success teams.
Both of these functions will be part of the same digitally enabled “nervous system” that feeds customer understanding to the entire organization. Companies will understand their customers like never before and use those insights to build incredible relationships.
Are you ready to jump into the future?
Every industry is at risk of being radically disrupted by the customer-centric revolution, but for SaaS companies, the moment is already here. Do you have the expertise and the capabilities to make the jump? If you would like to learn more about this trend and how you can get ahead of it, we encourage you to read this brilliant new ebook from renowned author and consultant Geoffrey Moore.