SmartKarrot Customer Success Survey 2021 – Intelligence and Automation - smart karrot 2021 report

The annual SmartKarrot Global Customer Success Survey provides a yearly view of trends shaping the Customer Success industry. The 2021 edition offers key insights on the state of Intelligence and Automation in Customer Success.

The company surveyed close to 300 global CS practitioners and stakeholders from 27 countries on 6 continents, spanning roles, team sizes, and company revenue.

Table of Contents

Participant Demographics


CS Survey - Participant Demographics Geography

Role, Revenue, Team Size

Participant Demographics Role, Revenue, Team Size

Key Findings

1. Overview

  • Scaling processes is the biggest challenge faced by CS teams.
  • There is growing adoption of technology in CS, with ~70% using, implementing, or planning to use a CS platform.
  • Customer Health Score is the most popular feature in a CS platform.
  • Intelligence and automation will be even more important in the post-COVID world.

2. Intelligence

  • Most (93%) believe actionable customer intelligence is the bedrock of CS, yet many (70%) are struggling, citing capturing all the data as their biggest challenge.
  • 78% say Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make CS management more effective.
  • Accurately predicting future events is the most useful capability of an intelligent CS solution.

3. Automation

  • Most (84%) say automation is important, yet many (70%) have no or low levels of it—signaling a significant adoption gap.
  • CSM time saved for higher-value tasks is the most important benefit. Reporting is where automation is sought the most.
  • The biggest challenges to automation are process immaturity, budget, complexity, and lack of the right tool.

4. Future of CS (Next 2 Years)

  • 70% say the CS tech stack will undergo notable consolidation.
  • 57% feel AI adoption in CS will go mainstream.
  • 86% say intelligent insights and automation will be critical for scaling CS ops.
  • 84% say CS will go from defense to offense.
  • 82% say industry-specific CS technology solutions will become increasingly available.


45% Say Scaling Processes Is the Biggest Challenge Their CS Team Is Currently Facing

CS Survey - Customer Success Challenges

The biggest CS challenges are Scaling processes (45%), Monitoring customer health (42%), and Proving impact and ROI (40%). However, there are differences in what teams of different sizes say to be their biggest challenge (see chart above).

50% Organizations Are Either Actively Using or Implementing a  Dedicated Customer Success Platform

Customer Success Survey - Customer Success Platform Usage

~70% of organizations either using (33%), setting up (17%), or considering to use (19%) a CS platform points in the direction of growing adoption of dedicated technology in Customer Success.

78% Say Customer Health Score Is the Most Important Feature in a Customer Success Platform

Customer Success Platform Features
  • Customer Health Score (78%) is the most important CS Platform feature, closely followed by 360° Customer View (76%).
  • Built-in CS Platform Features: The following features are considered to be an intrinsic part of a good CS platform (in contrast to being available via 3rd-party integrations): Product usage tracking (65%), Customer surveys (62%), Team management (57%), and Task management (50%).

87% Agree or Strongly Agree That Intelligence and Automation Can Help CS Teams Better Adapt to a Post-COVID World

Customer Success Post-COVID

Although it has been almost a year since COVID struck, the uncertain economic conditions have made it harder for many companies to acquire new customers.

Fostering closer relationships and retaining existing customers have become imperative for many companies to outlast the crisis.

This calls for a more nuanced, timely, and actionable understanding of one’s customers and their evolving needs to make them successful.

As we collectively imagine the contours of a new normal, timely intelligence and thoughtful automation can go a long way in supporting customer-centric companies in their mission to understand and help make their customers successful on an ongoing basis.


93% Say Actionable Customer Intelligence Is Important or Extremely Important for the Success of Their CS Program

CS Survey - Customer Success Intelligence Importance
  • There is almost universal consensus (93%) regarding the importance of actionable customer intelligence across all company sizes, team sizes, roles, and geographies.
  • The road to customer success starts with an accurate and actionable understanding of customers.

70% Organizations Are Struggling with Their Current Customer Intelligence Process

Customer Success Intelligence Adoption
  • 70% of companies are struggling with manual processes (32%), making sense of data (22%), and capturing data (16%).
  • Manually converting data to insights is the biggest challenge (most noticeable in small companies).
  • While difficulty in correlating data is a challenge faced by companies of all sizes in varying proportions, small and midsize businesses also find it difficult to capture all relevant data.

52% Say Capturing All Data Is the Biggest Challenge to Gaining Actionable Customer Intelligence

Customer Success Intelligence Top Challenges
  • Top 3 challenges: Capturing all the data (52%), Making sense of the data (48%), and Limitations of current tools (46%).
  • Technology can play a leading role in capturing high volume, variety, and velocity customer data and deriving timely, actionable intelligence from it at scale.

78% Say Artificial Intelligence Will Make CS Management More Effective

CS Survey - Customer Success Intelligence + AI
  • More than three-fourths of respondents think that AI will make CS management more effective.
  • Greater resonance of this with smaller companies may reflect the need for resource-constrained teams to more efficiently augment or scale effectiveness—a need AI seems to be able to address well.

71% Say Accurately Predicting Future Events Is the Most Useful Advanced Capability of an Intelligent CS Solution

Customer Success Intelligence Advance Capabilities

The market demand for these advanced capabilities validates our belief in the power of technology and innovation to make Customer Success simpler, more powerful, and intuitive. Artificial Intelligence can play a significant role in enabling some of the most sought-after capabilities such as future prediction, auto-learning, auto recommendation, etc.


84% Say Automation Is Important or Extremely Important for Their CS Operations

CS Survey - Customer Success Automation Importance
  • A large majority (84%) of CS professionals feel automation is important for successful customer success operations.
  • We believe automation is powerful, but there is a time and place where it can be most useful. Implementing thoughtful, personalized, and optimal automation is as much an art as it is science.

81% Say CSM Time Saved for Higher-Value Tasks Is the Most Important Benefit of CS Automation

Customer Success Automation Benefits
  • The top 3 CS automation benefits are CSM time saved for higher-value tasks (81%), Proactive actions (63%), and Easier scaling of CS ops (58%).
  • There are a lot of low-value, repetitive CS tasks. Automating these alone will lead to significantly more “customer time” and increased performance levels for CS practitioners.

70% Organizations Are in the Lower Half of Adoption with No or Low CS Automation

Customer Success Survey - Customer Success Automation Adoption
  • Overall, a significant portion (70%) of organizations report either zero automation (12%) or low levels of it (58%).
  • Although 84% of CS professionals believe automation is important (page 16), only 30% of companies are in the upper half of adoption. This signals a significant gap and scope for automating CS operations across the industry.

68% Say Reporting Should Be Automated the Most

Customer Success Automation Expectations

The top 3 areas where automation is sought the most are Reporting (68%), Triggers and alerts (64%), and Health and product usage monitoring (63%). These are also the Top 3 across all individual segments of the company (Enterprises, SMBs, and Startups) and CS team size (large, medium, small). Interestingly, these are also areas where automation has a powerful advantage and excels naturally.

46% Say Process Immaturity, Complexity, Tool, and Budget Are the Top Challenges to Implementing Automation

Customer Success Automation Challenges
  • The top challenges to implementing automation are Process immaturity (46%), Complexity (46%), and Availability of the right tool (46%), and Budget (46%).
  • Some of the reported challenges are perceived challenges. For example, implementing automation need not always be (at least with the right tool) complex, expensive, at the cost of human touch, or require a lot of skills and training.

4. FUTURE OF CS (Next 24 Months)

70% Say the CS Tech Stack Will Undergo Notable Consolidation in the Next 24 Months

CS Survey - CS Tech Stack
  • Close to three-fourths (70%) think that the CS tech stack will undergo substantial consolidation in the next 24 months. 25% more agree but feel the consolidation will take longer.
  • Consolidation of the CS tech stack is already underway and will gather increasing momentum in parallel with the maturing ecosystem—allowing customer-centric businesses to break internal silos and gain organization-wide unified, strategic, and actionable customer visibility.

57% Say AI adoption in CS Will Go Mainstream in the Next 24 Months

Customer Success AI Adoption
  • More than half (57%) feel that AI adoption in CS will go mainstream in the next two years. However, a reasonable portion (35%) feel it will take longer.
  • There is already a lot of demand for Customer Success capabilities that Artificial Intelligence unlocks (check out Advanced Capabilities of a CS Solution, page 15). We believe AI will be an integral part of CS daily life sooner than later.

86% Say That Intelligent Insights and Automation Will Play a Significant Role in Scaling CS Operations in the Next 24 Months

CS Survey - Customer Success Scaling
  • A large majority (86%) feel that intelligent insights and automation will play a significant role in scaling CS operations in the next 24 months.
  • Intelligence and automation will help CS teams in scaling (not merely growing) their operations fast, without a substantial increase in resources.

84% Say CS Will Evolve from a Defensive Role to an Offensive Function in the Next 24 Months

Customer Success Defensive Role to Offensive Function
  • A large majority (84%) feel—with a solid 47% strongly agreeing—that CS will evolve from a defensive role to an offensive function in the next 24 months
  • Although CS originated in defense (churn prevention), its future—unfolding right now—is more about offense (unlocking customers’ growth potential).

82% Say Industry-Specific CS Technology Solutions Will Become Increasingly Available in the Next 24 Months

CS Survey - Customer Success Vertical Solutions
  • A large majority (82%) feel that industry-specific customer success technology solutions will become increasingly available in the next 24 months.
  • With the growing penetration of CS technology across industries, the demand and supply of customizability and specialization will follow suit.


The customer success survey findings highlight growing global demand for and adoption of Customer Success technology.

The further granular analysis uncovers differences in drivers, challenges, and realized benefits for different roles, team sizes, and company sizes.

When it comes to organizations and customer success teams, there are clear front-runners who understand the evolving role of technology in enabling successful customer outcomes at scale and are reaping its rewards. At the same time, significant adoption gaps (read opportunities) exist for many other companies.

As we collectively imagine the contours of a new normal beyond COVID-19, it’s clear that timely intelligence and thoughtful automation provides a major opportunity for customer-centric organizations to understand and help make their existing customers successful on an ongoing basis.

Source: Smart Karrot

Hakan Ozturk

Hakan Ozturk
Founder,, #1 Weekly Customer Success Newsletter

Hakan Ozturk is a Paris-based Customer Success leader with over 15 years of experience in the computer software industry. Passionate about driving growth and delivering value to strategic customers, Hakan has established himself as a trusted industry expert. As the Founder of The Customer Success Café Newsletter and, Hakan provides valuable industry insights and daily-updated job opportunities worldwide in the field of Customer Success. Connect with Hakan to boost your career in CS and your company’s potential for massive growth.

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