Oct 28, 2016

Read Time 6 min

The essential skill set for CSMs, putting the value in value pricing, improving product focus to reduce churn


Churn Fighting Focus: The essential skill set for Customer Success Managers

You have decided to bring a(nother) Customer Success Manager on board – very exciting! But now you might be wondering where to begin your search and what type of candidate you should be looking for. If this sounds like you, never fear – you are not alone. Many companies struggle to define and then actually find quality CSM candidates.

Why is that?

For starters, the definitions of Customer Success and CSMs are still growing and shifting. This means that you won’t find many experts or individuals with extensive careers in the field. And because the role and responsibilities of a CSM can vary drastically from company to company, advice from other CS professionals will only get you so far. But regardless of how your company specifically defines CS, any person you bring on board must bring value into their customer relationships. This means that on top of other challenges, you will also have to base your decision on something deeper than just a resume. It’s a tall order.

Isolating strong candidates, conducting thoughtful interviews and selecting an outstanding CSM takes more than plugging “The most common CSM interview questions” into Google. You must think outside the box and focus on finding rare qualities and skills in potential candidates that will help you find the perfect CSM for your organization.

Key Personal Qualities

  • DNA: CSMs at your company should be obsessively focused on meeting team objectives. They must have a drive to proactively deliver the company’s value and be able to relate directly to the company’s goals. Look for someone who thrives when challenged. Someone who is focused on the outcome but doesn’t get discouraged by the process. You might want to look into their behavioral background. Ask them about the projects and teams they have lead, initiatives they have taken, problems they’ve faced, etc. Besides a professional background, you should note extracurricular activities, places they have lived, languages they speak – these all point out to higher chances of a candidate with cross-cultural understanding.
  • Empathetic: CSMs must be able to relate to people in order to anticipate how their customers think. They should be able to understand what the customer is going through to find the core of the problem and to be able to find solutions. Whether it is to educate or to onboard a new user, being empathetic is a key factor to engage with customers with real care. Being empathetic is what will make a customer success manager send the extra email, do another follow-up or simply know how to motivate and empower your users.
  • Prioritization Abilities: The goal of a customer success team revolves around making the customers happy. But dealing with users and clients brings in a lot of feedback and you can’t do everything at once. As CSMs get the most user feedback, they must communicate the user’s needs to the Product team and other departments in the organization. A good CS manager needs to know how to prioritize the customer’s feedback so the Product team will be able to rank tasks according to the level of importance and deliver ultimate results with existing resources.
  • Leadership & Teamwork: Not only do CSMs support the organization by providing the best resources but most importantly, they are problem solvers. Great managers know how to delegate but they are also amazing hands-on workers. Your new CSM should be able to initiate actions, inspire the team to do their best work and also motivate developers and product to help them as well.
  • Going the extra mile: Winning CSMs will understand and anticipate a customer’s need and always be proactive. They have a clear agenda on possible upcoming inquiries and customer actions that will guide their work beforehand. Also, by  prioritizing customer accounts, they should also be able to deliver on-time support and avoid risking on a few seconds of delay that might lose the company another conversion.

Key Skills

  • Time Management: When dealing with customer health and delivering value to clients, CSMs must know how to manage and assess priorities within their accounts. In order to communicate with other teams within the company and reach out to customers on time, they must have an organized calendar and the ability to collaborate with anyone. A strong understanding of different roles within the organization and how they can complement the CS team to achieve customers’ goals is a must.
  • Multi-Disciplinary: No need to hire someone with a background as a CSM. If you find yourself unable to find someone with a long list under “Experience as a CSM”, don’t worry, it’s no game-changer. Great CSMs come from a number of different professions. Their experience in consulting, sales, R&D or marketing will bring cross-understanding skills to the CS team in your organization, later on developing into Customer Success Management skills.
  • Understanding the Industry: In order to have great communication between the customers and the company, CSMs must understand the company’s purposes as well as the client’s goals. And they need to be able to balance both of these factors, as they won’t always be in sync.
  • Analytics-Driven: CSMs should be able to recognize friction points in the funnel and any behaviors that might indicate a user is having a problem. To do this, it will sometimes be necessary to dig into multiple tools and/or reports to discover the problem. Your CSM has to be able to work with data, both qualitative and quantitative, to get a deeper understanding of the user experience.
  • Understanding of Product’s Technology: You want someone who is able to lead towards effective user adoption by not only understanding the customer but also the technology from the user’s perspective. This way, it is easier to help users along every step of the process and show the intended purpose of your product in the simplest manner.

Asking the Right Questions

The exact questions you should ask your candidates will vary depending on how your company approaches CS and what qualities your team needs/values most. But here are a few examples of questions that will get at the necessary qualities you want to be looking for in your interviewee:

  • What was a bad experience you had to go through with a client? What caused this situation? How did you handle it?
  • Give an example of a time you went an extra mile in order to make a customer happy. Was it worth it? Why?
  • How would you be able to tell if a product is not suited for the customer? How would you handle it?
  • Bring a few case studies to the table and see how they handle it.
  • Try and see their process – how they review user session recordings. How they prepare for user interviews, how would they prioritize based on feedback, etc.
  • Ask them about projects they lead in the past.
  • How will they establish trust with new users?
  • What are 5 ways they would try to increase retention in your product?
  • If you are looking for a good assignment – ask them to write a “delighting” email campaign for your users. 3-4 Emails should be enough.

Looking for more advance on questions for CSM candidates? Check out this read.

Customer Success Around the Web

Word to the Wise

This week’s wisdom comes from Keri Kelling, VP of Customer Success and Operations at Bluenose Analytics:

kerri-kellingStart small. Great Customer Success is nothing more than “small ball.” It’s a series of little things that you do each day to improve the relationship, loyalty, and adoption with your customers. Develop a plan that focuses on the things you can do today (surveys, adoption campaigns, product road map, great onboarding experiences/fast time to first value, etc.). Once you have the small things mastered, continue to add other small things that you can do today and increase your plan and bring on other things that you can that are of a bit larger scope (customer journey mapping, quarterly business reviews, customer success team development, etc.)…and keep growing your efforts in small steps with each planning exercise. Before you know it, you will have an award winning Customer Success team and a well-baked strategy!”

This may sound simple or even obvious but all-too-often it’s something CS teams have a difficult time taking to heart. In their zest to deliver great service to their customers, many teams take on too much at once, try to evolve all at once. And when such a big bite results in mixed results (or even worse, negative results), the impact on the morale of the team can be enormous. Remember, you have to crawl before you can walk or run.


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