Oct 30, 2023

Read Time 4 min

The EQ advantage: How emotional intelligence sets top customer success teams apart


About one-third (36%) of customer success teams have veto power over bad-fit customers, according to our recent annual Customer Success Leadership Survey. That means for better or worse, the remaining 64% have to find a way to manage those customer relationships anyway.

Customer success is already challenging because it deals with so many stakeholders—inside and outside the business. However, there’s one skill that can really help customer success professionals in this respect: emotional intelligence.

That’s according to Annie Raygoza, director of client services at Clear Digital. She explored how teams can incorporate emotional intelligence skills into their CX strategy at BIG RYG, the Customer Success Leadership Conference.

Here’s what to know about emotional intelligence and how to improve yours in the workplace.

What is emotional intelligence?

Author Daniel Goleman, PhD is credited for bringing emotional intelligence—sometimes referred to as the emotional quotient (EQ)—into the mainstream. He defines emotional intelligence as follows:

“Managing feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward common goals.”

If that sounds a bit ethereal, he makes a hard case for soft skills in his book titled, “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” In it, he describes an analysis of competency models he performed for 121 companies around the world. The analysis revealed that 67% “of the abilities deemed essential for effective performance were emotional competencies.”

Simply stated, “Compared to IQ and expertise, emotional competence mattered twice as much.”

How does EQ impact performance?

Other social scientists have also performed similar studies and have drawn a comparable conclusion. The consulting firm TalentSmart, founded by Travis Bradberry, PhD, and Jean Greaves, PhD—the co-authors of the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”—discovered some telling statistics derived from decades of study:

  • Performance. “Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.”
  • Earnings. “People with a high degree of emotional intelligence make more money—an average of $29,000.”
  • Benchmarking. “90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence,” and “just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence.”

Travis summed up the findings this way: “You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.”

For customer success, EQ can be the difference between a customer renewal or churn.

Myths and facts about emotional intelligence

During Annie’s presentation, she noted there are many misconceptions about emotional intelligence. She outlined several myths including the following:

  • Myth: Emotions don’t belong in business.
    • Fact: Emotions are a natural part of human interaction and there are all kinds of emotions in the workplace associated with winning or losing business, hiring or firing employees, and the general stress and anxiety of balancing work and life.
  • Myth: Our bodies control emotions.
    • Fact: Our bodies respond to emotions and control is an acquired skill.
  • Myth: Emotionally intelligent people don’t engage with toxic people.
    • Fact: People with a high EQ distance themselves emotionally, not physically from negative people.
  • Myth: Emotionally intelligent people don’t seek acceptance from others.
    • Fact: Emotionally intelligent people continuously work to improve their confidence.
  • Myth: Emotional people have a high EQ.
    • Fact: Emotional people struggle to manage their emotions; people with high EQ have learned to control their emotions – and their ability to sense and choose a proper response to other’s emotions.
  • Myth: People with a high EQ are charismatic.
    • Fact: Emotionally intelligent people aren’t necessarily charismatic – they are just cognizant of their feelings – and empathize with the feelings of the people around them.
  • Myth: People are born with emotional intelligence.
    • Fact: No one is born with a high EQ; emotional intelligence is a skill that must be learned.
  • Myth: People with a high IQ also have a high EQ.
    • Fact: Even smart people have to learn emotional intelligence.

The bottom line is emotional intelligence doesn’t come naturally to people. It’s a skill that’s acquired and research demonstrates it’s crucial to relationships, both personal and professional.

“When managers ignore emotional culture, they’re glossing over a vital part of what makes people and organizations tick,” said Annie.

Steps for building a higher EQ

Most organizations that become interested in EQ tend to focus internally, according to Annie. Yet customer success professionals “have to deal with all kinds of personalities” and be “super adaptable.” Building emotional intelligence skills can help, and she offered several ideas for doing just that.

1. Start with self-awareness

The first step to building emotional awareness is to recognize your emotions—and how these impact your performance and those around you. Prioritize your personal well-being. Make time every week to reflect on what skills you bring and how they complement your team. Teach yourself to take a step back from any situation where you feel your emotions are taking over.

2. Develop self-management strategies

As you build awareness of your own emotions, the next step is to learn to manage your thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Here are some examples:

  • Stress management. In high-pressure situations, you strive to remain calm and focused on problem resolution.
  • Time management. You can prioritize your tasks and finish things on time. You have ways to stay motivated and avoid procrastination.
  • Adaptability. When things suddenly change, you can control your discomfort and embrace the situation.

3. Build social awareness

Once you have built self-awareness, start looking for signals stemming from the emotions of people around you. Facial expressions, tone of voice and body language are all signals of emotions. Don’t shy from asking people how they are doing—and be ready for any response.

Building social awareness means learning to read and understand those feelings in others and empathize with them. Communicating with empathy will help you to better support your team while improving your individual performance.

Putting it all together for customers

Customer success professionals have to be ready for anything. A happy customer one week might be upset over a UX change the next. Surprises happen in this profession, and emotional intelligence can provide a tool for managing uncertainty effectively.

“A client-facing way that we can implement emotional intelligence is by asking thoughtful questions, active listening, expressing genuine interest in their concerns,” said Annie. “In doing so, we create this environment where customers feel valued, they feel respected, and you create this really robust relationship.”

CSMs must continuously balance the need to provide exceptional service, while also maintaining their own emotional well-being. This constant exposure to high-stakes, emotionally charged situations can lead to burnout if not managed properly. By developing your emotional intelligence skills, you can better navigate difficult conversations, and maintain a calm and composed demeanor.

To learn how to become a top performer without burning out, in our webinar, “From overwhelmed to over quota: How to be a more effective CSM.”


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