Customer Success 7 min read

This year in review: engagement, community-led growth, and the definitive move to Digital Customer Success

Jo Johansson • December 22, 2021

Phwoar.

What a year – for both community and Customer Success. 

The concept of community-led growth has exploded, Digital Customer Success is taking over, and CS teams are establishing themselves as a true growth engine. Safe to say, people are fired up! 🔥

So let’s take a look at the biggest happenings in community and Customer Success this year as we ride the wave of community into 2022. 

Engagement is everything

With customers seeking out more autonomy, patience levels at an all-time low, and peer-to-peer trust at an all-time high – it’s time to rethink engagement models. This was the year SaaS companies realized that they needed to give their customers the tools they need to succeed, 24/7 – independent of their own resources and availability. Call it the year of self-service and peer-to-peer support. The result? A better customer experience – driven by customers themselves. (Of course, with community at the core.)

Community-led growth is here to stay

As we’ve gone from broadcasting to connecting, communities are the future of engagement, interaction, and building authentic relationships, with customers, partners, and beyond. Our partner, community operating system company, Commsor, led the charge as they put forward their Community-Led Declaration earlier this year, signed by hundreds of companies including Outreach, Notion, Deel, Lattice, Atlassian, and – of course – inSided.

Psst! In case you missed it, they have an inSided integration ready to go!

Digital Customer Success is for everyone

Surely no one could have missed that Digital Customer Success is the new… err, Customer Success? From East to West, Gainsight to Glint, everyone’s onboard. The biggest learning? Nick Mehta sums it up:

One mistake we all made early in Customer Success is thinking that "tech-touch" applies only to small clients. The reality is that Digital CS is a strategy, not a segment. Digital can help all of your clients and help you scale.

And there you have it. Tech-touch is no longer reserved for specific segments (typically, long-tail customers), but instead, it’s a strategy that can deliver the right content, to the right person, at the right time – regardless of ARR.

Get up to speed with our This is Digital Customer Success blog series.

Customer Success as a true growth engine

This year, CS teams geared up to optimize for growth, with tens of thousands of CS jobs going on the market. 

And while the growing headcount is great to see, the real progress lies in Customer Success being recognized as a growth engine, something  McKinsey talked about back in 2018 already.

(But hey, we all know the tech industry is ironically slow. 😉)

Sales was the first growth engine. Marketing second. But now, as the power balance has shifted, Customer Success has established itself as the third growth engine. HubSpot’s VP of Customer Success, Eva Klein, sums it up:

When it becomes more expensive to acquire customers and easier for them to leave, something inevitable happens — businesses start paying a whole lot more attention to keeping existing customers very, very happy.

Because what happens when you leverage technology to work proactively to help your customers succeed? You see the bigger picture and you’re able to connect the dots. And when you do, that’s when you can start building sustainable relationships, and, in turn – create sustainable growth.

Customer Success is a company matter

Customer Success has to be a company-wide philosophy that’s reinforced from the top down.

In short, you don’t want your company to “just” have a Customer Success department, you want to be a customer success company.

"Customer Success is not a function. It's everything your company does across Product, Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Support, Finance—literally everyone in your company—to create strong outcomes and experiences for your clients."

- Allison Pickens, former COO at Gainsight

What’s to come in 2022?

2021 was the year when the CS tech stack became more important than ever. New roles emerged as a result, including the rise of the Digital CSM – arguably 2021’s most hyped CS role. 

So what’s in store for us in 2022? Here’s what we think is a-comin'. 

NRR – The new benchmark metric

The Pareto Principle (or 80:20 rule) officially has a metric tied to it, or well, it has for a while. SaaS, just like many other industries, relies on retaining and growing its existing customer base. And for this, MRR doesn’t quite cut it – NRR is the new standard against which growth performance will be measured.

The calculation is simple:

As tech and SaaS have long bid farewell to “growth at all costs,” sustainable growth will be calculated and measured in NRR. And while NRR was already the talk of the town in 2021, the challenge in 2022 will be how can you drive higher NRR at scale? Digital Customer Success is the answer.

Digital Customer Success goes mainstream

As many SaaS companies already started implementing digital CS programs this year, we anticipate 2022 to see a lot more sophisticated programs that drive self-service and more personalized customer experiences. 2022 is the year we go beyond email and in-app notifications and customer communities become – dare we say it – mainstream. With companies like Gainsight and Glint leading the charge in 2021, we anticipate that the goal of “delivering the right content to the right person at the right time” will be realized by 

A community is no longer a “nice-to-have”

Gartner’s 2021 Community report found that there was a “160% jump from 2019 through 2020 in inquiries on B2B customer communities from technology and service providers.” They continue to state:

Historically, B2B organizations turned to customer community platforms when they wanted to reduce customer service costs through call deflection by offering self-service resources as well as peer support via community members. Increasingly, organizations are deploying communities to scale their ability to help customers achieve value and deliver product education and adoption guidance, as well as prompt customer advocacy.

That’s right. Communities are transitioning from a traditional support channel to a more comprehensive engagement platform, or, what we like to call the customer hub. It’s the one place that caters to every step of the customer experience from onboarding and adoption, to retention and advocacy. Call it the holy grail of NRR, if you will. 

Community becomes a Customer Success matter 

The debate of ownership always runs hot when it comes to community. We debated it ourselves in this blog post. But with a strong emphasis on digital customer success strategies, where community will play an increasingly important role, we anticipate CS to own community programs going forward. Plus, with CS and CS Ops teams tying engagement data to NRR, the game is changing. Marketing, step aside. 

The Customer Success tech stack continues to evolve

Learning and educating customers at scale will become a priority as companies grow. With that new technology will enter the arena to cater to the increasing needs of Customer Success teams. If you think 2021 was the year for purpose-built CS tools, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

What do you think 2022 will look like? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Picture of Jo Johansson

By Jo Johansson

Head of Content at inSided. Passionate about content ops, words and horses. Connect on Linkedin

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