Nov 30, 2021

Read Time 6 min

Customer Success Skills: Striking a Balance


Spun from the beloved children’s fairytale about a young girl who makes herself at home in the cottage of a family of bears, the Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, rather than leaning toward the extremes. It shouldn’t be too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, but somewhere right in the middle.

It’s used in a range of fields including psychology, biology, economics, and engineering. When applied to the field of Customer Success and Customer Success skills, it means possessing skills that aren’t too technical, but also aren’t too service-oriented. They should hit a happy medium. This can be more difficult than it sounds, especially with the recent evolution of Customer Success. With its intersection and overlap with departments and roles like Account Management and Customer Support, the ideal and desired Customer Success skills can seem murky and ambiguous. 

Unfortunately, the recipe for the perfect ratio of technical skills and relationship expertise is not as cut and dry as hiring managers might hope. According to McKinsey & Company in their report, “Introducing Customer Success 2.0: The New Growth Engine,” Customer Success skills differ drastically within different product and market contexts. They found that, for example, one vendor most valued “industry vertical knowledge and relationship-management skills,” but another prioritized “strong technical skills above all.” Further research showed that “[M]any… Customer Success Managers fell short in [technical skills], despite their technical backgrounds because they lacked the recent field experience needed to engage deeply with frontline operations teams.” This makes it seem like achieving a universal “just right” balance of Customer Success skills isn’t actually as possible as we might think.

As Customer Success hiring surges, Customer Success and hiring managers should look inward to define their ideal candidate and what “just right” Customer Success skills look like for their team. Although it’s not a one-skillset-fits-all position, there are some skills that it makes sense for every Customer Success professional to possess, and these are usually a good place to start when it comes to figuring out that “just right” balance. In Forbes, Blake Morgan, a customer experience futurist and author of The Customer of the Future, outlines some of these qualities that set a good foundation for excelling in this emerging discipline. To expand on Morgan’s post, we’ve fleshed out a few more traits that contribute to crucial Customer Success skills.

Be a Department Diplomat

Generally, a diplomat is someone who helps people with differing views find common ground. In governmental contexts, diplomats nurture lasting relationships between nations, foster complex dialogues and negotiations, and gather critical information relevant to national interests. Within the contexts of their own teams, are Customer Success Managers really any different?

Customer Success Managers are uniquely positioned to work with almost every internal department, each with its own subculture and means of doing business. Customer Success Managers must be fluent in all company functions to facilitate and fortify the customer experience. As Morgan explains, “You might not have a degree in IT or Finance, but you need to know how to speak their languages so you can work together to create a unified, customer-centric strategy.” Building mutual trust and respect between teams and departments is crucial to ensuring internal recommendations and requests are held in high regard.

Departments all share company-wide goals, but they often have differing views on how to achieve them due to their narrow focuses, competing priorities, and individual success metrics. When internal groups are at odds with one another or with a customer, a Customer Success Manager’s skills really come into play: displaying tact, and helping the competing parties find common ground. As the customer advocate and liaison, Customer Success Managers must mitigate tensions to cultivate collaboration and nurture lasting business relationships.

Build Business Acumen

Business acumen refers to knowing how companies operate, compete, and measure success. MightyRecruiter explains, “[It’s the] ability to grasp how a business functions financially and how one’s job duties and actions affect the larger success of the business.” 

This becomes an important Customer Success skill not only because it enables a fluency in assessing customer health, but also because it’s necessary to assess the health of subscription businesses. As customer strategists on the frontline, Customer Success Managers need a well-rounded understanding of their own company and market so they can make fully informed decisions. They must take into account multiple perspectives and many contexts, including those of their customers and their customers’ industries. shares, “Great quarterbacks are said to have an unusual ability to ‘see the whole picture.’ In business, individuals with acumen have this quality as well.” Business acumen is a necessary Customer Success Manager skill since it underpins driving new value creation and strategic wins, and helps Customer Success Managers ultimately prove their value as strong business partners.

Be Data-Minded

Customer Success focuses on driving positive customer outcomes and growth, which translates into retention and revenue expansion for the company. To better prioritize and target their customer outreach, Customer Success Managers must monitor their customers’ vitals and statistics as they make their way through their journey. Customer Success Managers should track touchpoints such as product usage, key milestones, survey responses, and support tickets. 

Customer Success Manager skills must include the ability to analyze and synthesize these metrics and behavioral data to uncover trends and anomalies, address rising issues, and build contextual narratives for various customers. While Customer Success software centralizes data from disparate systems like CRM, support, usage, chat, email, surveys, finance platforms, etc., it’s important that Customer Success Managers’ skills include understanding the logic behind these data integrations. That way, they can understand their customers and their customers’ behavior as well.

Be Personable

This might seem natural and almost too obvious for someone with a customer-facing role, but being personable is more than just being friendly and upbeat. We believe that Customer Success Managers shine the brightest when their personalities do. We think an important Customer Success skill is building rapport with customers in ways that are fitting for each customer — by sharing personal interests, hobbies, and experiences during customer interactions.

The B2B market had already developed a reputation for being stringent, insipid, and devoid of human connection. To become loved by customers in such a space, you cannot behave like a corporate robot that spouts off rehearsed lines and scripts. Customer Success Managers should lean into what makes them special and stand out from the rest. Unlike technical expertise, empathy and an engaging personality can’t be taught, which means this Customer Success skill is often a rarity in today’s business world. 

Speaking from a recent personal experience, those little points of unique connection — that remind you you’re both people on either end of this interaction — can make all the difference. 

After a frustrating ordeal of trying to transfer a couple of concert tickets, I surrendered and called the support number. Already agitated, I recounted my issue to Melinda, the Customer Experience Agent. She was soothing, understanding, and all of the things someone in her role should be. Slowing becoming more assured that the situation would be resolved, I began to resume my normal, more agreeable demeanor.

As Melinda combed through the details of the transaction, she gushed when she saw the artist on my forfeited tickets: “Hozier! I love Hozier! He’s amazing live. I’m so sorry you’re not able to make the concert, that’s going to be an awesome show.” I was caught off guard, but still delighted by her interjection, and I responded with an emphatic, “I KNOW!” Over the next couple minutes we continued to share our favorite songs and past concert experiences — nothing brings people together like shared music taste. When I hung up the phone, I was smiling. Just twenty minutes ago, I had cast Melinda as my ticketing adversary. Now, however, my former foe felt like a close friend. If she had stuck to her script, we never would have found that point of connection.

Focus on Your Public Speaking

From leading onboarding processes to team trainings and strategy sessions to business reviews, public speaking  pops up in a Customer Success Manager’s day-to-day a lot more often than you might think. 

Customer Success Managers spend a lot of their time speaking in front of customers. Morgan advises, “Change agents need to develop a strong voice.” Early in the customer relationship, Customer Success Managers catalyze change by driving product and process adoption. As these relationships continue to grow, and Customer Success Managers fill their roles as trusted customer advisors, it’s important that they’re clear, concise, confident, and, most importantly, convincing.

Tripping up when speaking with customers can impact your ability to command attention and respect. But, even the most fearful public speakers can develop this Customer Success skill. With preparation and practice, such as signing up for your local Toastmasters or seeking internal opportunities to present, anyone can overcome obstacles like awkward pauses, excessive fillers, trailing sentences, and nerves.

Find the Right Candidates, With the Right Customer Success Skills, For Your Team

Finding the right candidate who “checks all the boxes” in an emerging field like Customer Success is a nearly impossible challenge. Instead, focus on finding the people that have skills that are “just right” for your team, and don’t restrict yourself to looking in just one pool of people. Candidates who have an insatiable curiosity for life, a contagious excitement for meaningful work, and a strong sense of empathy are already set up well for a career in Customer Success — and they could come from any number of backgrounds. Almost any other technical skill can be taught.

If your team could use a refresher on some of those soft, customer interaction skills, check out our webinar: The Right Way to Handle Customer Objections and Negotiations.


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