Mar 25, 2022

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How to transition customers to a new CSM in 4 steps

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How to transition CSMs to a new CSM

Have you ever dealt with onboarding a new CSM to your team or having a tenured CSM leave your team — or both at once? It’s in these situations, you wish you could just hit pause until you sort it all out. But alas, time — and customer accounts — waits for no one. The show must go on.

Figuring out how to shift around a CSM’s book of business is a delicate balancing act, and one of the most challenging Customer Success processes to get right. Acing this handoff requires the stealth coordination of multiple parties. You don’t want to overwhelm your new CSM too quickly, nor do you want to put your customer in an awkward position, especially if they had a difficult relationship with their prior CSM. You also need a plan to ensure the departing CSM’s customer data and notes (both written and mental) don’t get lost in the shuffle.

To minimize the disruption of a transition and ensure your relationships, both with your customer and your team, come out stronger on the other side, follow this four-step process:

  1. Perform a data dump
  2. Create a transition plan
  3. Execute the plan and schedule introductions
  4. Debrief internally and schedule a future leadership touchpoint

Before we jump into the steps, let’s talk about a few specific scenarios that might require shifting books of customers between your CSM pool, as well as some tactics to make the transition exceptional for everyone involved.

When do you need to reassign a CSM’s book of business?

A few example scenarios where shifting books of business might be necessary, include when:

  • A new CSM has joined the team and is fully ramped. Woohoo!
  • A CSM is shifting roles internally and needs to decrease their book. Exciting!
  • A tenured CSM has given their short notice. Oh no!

Remember, shifting books of business is a normal, and unavoidable, occurrence; it’s not a matter of if, but when. The best thing you can do is be prepared with a plan. And with that, let’s talk about how to create a transition process that ensures your customer experience is minimally or positively impacted.

How to reassign customers to a new CSM

1. Perform a data dump

No matter how much notice you receive that you need to shift a CSM’s book, there’s always time to plan. Start by conducting a data dump to share information between all internal parties, including the new CSM (nCSM) and the transitioning CSM (tCSM). Ideally, this data dump is conducted on an internal call so the nCSM can ask the tCSM clarifying questions or dig deeper into specifics, as needed. If the data dump can’t happen live, save all written correspondence as a transition task in your CRM or Customer Success platform for future reference and review.

At minimum, the data dump should cover:

  • Who are the key players and POCs on the account? Have the tCSM list all customer contacts and describe their personalities. The tCSM should log ALL contact notes to the customer’s contact profile in your CRM and/or Customer Success platform. Include data on the contact’s title, reference capacity, etc. And don’t forget to include personal details: Do they have the CUTEST puppy? Is their child about to graduate kindergarten? Did they recently move to a new city? Give the nCSM a head start on cultivating Strong Talk.
  • Were there any red flags or major issues? Has the customer been frustrated with service or encountered roadblocks due to product issues? As a customer, one of the worst experiences you can have is meeting your nCSM and realizing they don’t know your account’s history or past struggles. To avoid further souring the relationship, have the tCSM detail both resolved and ongoing customer grievances. This will give the nCSM the background and context needed to anticipate and handle similar issues should they arise.
  • What major successes has the client achieved? Ask the tCSM to note the customer’s past successes to set a positive tone for the transfer. For example, the nCSM should be able to pick up right where the tCSM left off and say, “You’ve seen n% ROI and were able to accomplish X in the last two quarters. What’s next for you? How can I help you achieve those goals?”
  • Are there any noteworthy nuances with contract details? If CSMs own the renewal or expansion, then the nCSM should be aware of contract oddities, discounts, and details for any active expansion opportunities owned by tCSM.
  • What other details are relevant to the relationship? Is the account’s main POC on parental leave until May? Was their company just acquired? Is there a new POC who’s had a positive experience with your competitor? The tCSM should identify any significant events, whether old or new, that aren’t covered by the above questions.

A data dump isn’t only for internal record maintenance. It’s also the building blocks the nCSM will use to build rapport with the customer. Details matter. Your customer wants to feel confident that their nCSM knows the ins and outs of their account and experience to date. Avoid making the customer repeat what they’ve previously told the tCSM to the nCSM. It’s not the customer’s job to reestablish details for the nCSM’s edification. Bypass or rush through this step at your own peril.

2. Plan the transition

The next step in the process is to determine timelines. If you have a CSM who’s internally shifting roles or a newly ramped CSM who’s eager to start taking customers, then you likely can be a little more flexible on timing. If a transition involves a customer who needs a bit of extra love, consider a “soft transition” where tCSM and nCSM are both involved in the customer’s experience for a few weeks. If the tCSM is leaving the company, then you need to operate with a “hard transition” plan that has a defined date of last contact between the tCSM and customer.

Just like other deadline-driven projects, back into your timeline by identifying your firm dates first and then associated dependencies. Regardless of the time constraints you’re up against, here are a few pieces of advice to apply to any book of business transition:

  • Require CSMs to log every customer touchpoint (from day one!) to your CRM and/or Customer Success platform. Our ability to recall information fades over time. Without a running record of engagements, CSMs are bound to miss important details and trends. Plus, remembering the small things is a sincere way to show customers you care.
  • Automate, automate, automate. There’s no better way to keep your operations running smoothly, especially during periods of upheaval such as transitions, than using automation. Here at ChurnZero, we’re fortunate enough to use our own product so I can attest to this value firsthand. Using ChurnZero, we built our own CSM transition journey that triggers email playbooks based on milestone and task completion. This allows the manager or tCSM to notify the customer at exactly the right moment of what’s to come and who will be taking over their account. The journey includes tasks for the tCSM to update data in our system (which syncs to our CRM) and to schedule a data dump with the nCSM (with a draft meeting agenda included). The journey also has steps to ensure both the nCSM and the tCSM schedule time with the customer, along with a checklist of suggested topics to discuss during the call. To give you an example of the data we collect, here’s a task from our journey:
    • Current CSM should fill out the following account fields:
      • CSM Sentiment and Notes
      • Customer Fit and Notes
      • Current/Open Issue Notes
      • Primary Goals
      • Contacts (Mark correct contacts as POC, Exec Sponsor, Champion)
      • Contacts (verify titles/notes are correct)
      • Contacts (no longer with the company)
  • Stay positive. Transitions can be extra hard on customers who were already having a less-than-positive experience with your solution. Empathize with them. This is a frustrating time. You can’t always control the circumstances, but you can control your mindset and response. As corny as it sounds, attitude is contagious. Approach the situation with warmth and enthusiasm, and there’s a good chance it will rub off on your customer.
  • Practice transparency. A CSM transfer may not be ideal for the customer, but there are reasons that make it necessary, such as your tCSM either having too many accounts or leaving the team (temporarily or permanently). People are more accepting of change when you explain the reason behind it. Be forthright with why the reassignment is happening. Customers will respect you for being honest with them.
  • Prepare for some negativity from the customer. I like to tell myself that just because a customer is expressing their irritation to me, doesn’t mean they’re upset at me. Afterall, this is likely a sign of your CSM team’s strength; a customer isn’t going to be upset about losing a CSM if they haven’t built a strong relationship with them.
  • Consider your customers’ health score. You know that getting a new customer POC heavily influences whether that customer renews with you. The same can be said for customers who get a new CSM, especially if your CSMs have strong and high-touch customer relationships. To limit churn risks, track how often you transition customers between CSMs. In terms of your customer health score grading, weigh the impact of a CSM transfer to determine if it should be a factor in your score and to what degree.

3. Execute the plan and schedule introductions

With the data dump completed, the transition plan finalized, and potential fallout scoped, it’s time to inform the customer. Follow these steps to turn this potentially problematic experience into a positive outcome for both sides.

  • Introduce the nCSM early. As candidly as possible, inform your customer that they will eventually get a new CSM. Let them know you want to introduce that person early so the customer can have overlapping coverage for as long as necessary to make the transition a success. If you have a hard deadline, be clear about that upfront. For example, if you’re introducing a nCSM because the tCSM is going on parental leave in six weeks, mention both the transfer’s reason and deadline.
  • Bring the nCSM to all future scheduled calls and have them introduce themself. If there are no future calls planned, schedule one specifically for introductions. The nCSM should be prepared to talk about the customer on the call. Let them prove to the customer that they’ve done their homework and are ready to support them now and when the tCSM officially departs the role.
  • Emphasize the nCSM’s industry or business experience, especially if they’re newer to your company. Find ways to tie the conversation back to how the nCSM can support the customer. Also, don’t hesitate to spend a few minutes reviewing your customer’s goals. This way, both parties start the relationship with aligned priorities and a clear path forward.

In situations where the tCSM is leaving your organization or the consider a little extra care with these steps:

  • Introduce the nCSM ASAP and have the nCSM’s manager make the introduction. This shows the customer that you care enough to immediately provide them with a new CSM contact, as well as an escalation contact should they need it (which they hopefully won’t!).
    • A note to managers, be extremely transparent with the customer Keep in mind, turnover is not unique to your company; it happens. Phrases that have worked well for us when relaying information related to sensitive transitions include:
      • “We know transitions can be hard, and I’m here as an extra set of eyes while you get to know your new CSM.” Reinforce the notion that their business is worthy of leadership’s attention.
      • “While this may cause some anxiety as you work through [any ongoing customer projects that you know about], your CSM is bringing the following to the table: [some of the nCSM’s great skills/expertise and maybe a fun fact about themself such as where they hail from/currently reside, or if they have an adorable puppy who may join a call in the future].” Acknowledge the challenge and put a positive spin on what you can do and why their nCSM is a great partner.
      • “In an internal debrief with your new CSM, the first thing on their list was to connect with you and see how they could help you accomplish [the customer’s goal(s)], so [nCSM’s name] is ready to connect as soon as you’re available to determine next steps and see how we can help.” Again, the speed in which you recognize and respond to news of a transfer demonstrates to the customer how much you value their business.

4. Debrief internally and schedule a future leadership touchpoint

With the transition now done, it’s time to reflect on the experience, collect feedback, and plan deliberate follow-up.

First, debrief with the nCSM. As the team member most involved in the process, they should have constructive opinions on what worked and what didn’t. Catalogue this feedback and decide whether to modify the process internally to better suit your team and your customers.

Second, as the manager of the nCSM, consider reaching out to the new customer 60 to 90 days post transition. Plan for this to be a very soft touchpoint where you genuinely ask how the process went for your customer. Were there gaps in the experience? Is there anything you can do now (or could have done before) to give them a little extra support? A thoughtful follow-up shows that you’re accountable to the customer, you’re willing to take responsibility for your service, and you’re invested in the customer’s growth for the long haul.

Transfer a CSM’s book of business with ease

Shifting customer books can create some serious stress – for both your internal teams and for your customers. With a few simple tips, an initial plan, and generous candor, it’s possible to create a truly efficient process that benefits all involved.

And finally, take this plan with a grain of salt. Use it as a jumping off point. Cross steps out. Add steps in. My only request is that you keep your customer in mind as you make this plan your own.

For more on how to overcome change resistance, check out our blog, “How to guide your team and customers through the customer change management process.


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