What key skills must customer success managers possess?
Customer success managers need to possess a number of core skills if they are to prosper in their roles and truly benefit their companies and customers.
Given the rapid proliferation of the role of customer success managers (CSMs), it’s easy to forget that it is still a fairly new discipline. As we’ve outlined in previous articles in this series, the value of the role is such that there has been rapid implementation of CSM teams in some fields, with software as a service providers witnessing particularly fervent adoption.
As this has been the first wave of recruitment for what has been a new role, to some extent organisations have had to feel their way when it comes to hiring in appropriate skills and experience. But now that CSMs are becoming a more established role, and with most teams having very similar duties from one organisation to another, it is becoming clearer what core competencies a successful customer success manager should possess.
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Not all CSM roles are the same – as James Scott, general partner at Success Hacker, notes: “You could be customer success and have a portfolio of 20 customers which are each high value, or you could be customer success and have 300 customers or even 30,000, and so the way that you deliver the success will be different in those different cases and the skills you require will be different.”
However, there are a number of skills that are common amongst customer success manager roles. And awareness of these competencies obviously makes the recruitment process easier and more fruitful, as organisations can hire those applicants that are already the finished article or will require the least training and coaching.
MyCustomer spoke with a panel of experts and customer success managers to learn what these key skills are.
“It's crucial for CSM's to have in-depth knowledge about the product offering and capabilities,” explains Nick Honey, senior customer success manager at Optimizely. “With this insight, a CSM can act as a trusted advisor to their customer, providing real value and experience to achieve their goals.”
It sounds obvious, but first and foremost customer success managers have to be an expert on the solution, platform, product or service that they’re working with. It is absolutely crucial that CSMs can field any query and help them get more value out of the relationship.
A CSM must have an analytical and detail oriented mind and be quick learners. Keeping up to date with a constantly evolving product is the most powerful tool in your job.
Obviously no employee will arrive fully schooled in the intricacies of the solution, but they should be able to demonstrate the capacity to absorb detailed technical information and learn quickly. And if applicants are really keen they’ll have done their homework and will be able to demonstrate some solution knowledge during the interview process.
Kat Fisher, head of customer success at Disciple, adds: “A CSM must have an analytical and detail oriented mind and be quick learners. Keeping up to date with a constantly evolving product is the most powerful tool in your job.
“In any SaaS business, customers will come to CSMs for ultimate guidance in how the product works, so you’ve got to be the expert on the product of your company. If you need to turn around to customer to say ‘sorry I need to check with tech’ you’ll lose confidence in your customer.”
Interpersonal skills and communication
“Communication is a key attribute,” notes Steve Tan, director customer success, EMEA/APAC, at Urban Airship. “In a customer-facing role, clear and open communication is crucial to building a relationship with clients and understanding their challenges. This ability to communicate efficiently and effectively often spans both technical and non-technical roles. Related to this, presentation skills and confidence are also important as they will be expected to present strategies and new solutions to customers.”
These skills are also important for engaging with stakeholders within the CSMs own company.
Rebecca Roberts, customer success manager at MarketInvoice, explains: “As the voice of the Customer within an organisation, CSMs must manage a number of internal stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes. Strong interpersonal skills are therefore critical, as well as having the confidence to challenge decisions, the ability to back up points that you make, and communicate difficult messages clearly and fairly.”
Scott concludes: “In general, CSMs have good people and team-work skills because they are serving expectations and managing relationships, and they are working with teams within their own company to get what they need to make the customer successful but also to communicate back to those people what the customers are telling them.”
Empathy is a core skill that customer success managers should possess. It is vital that they can understand how customers are feeling about specific challenges and events, what they might be thinking about certain options, and also what might resonate with them most in the future.
A lot of empathy for the customer is required so that they can focus on their needs and requirements. CSMs need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and think what they would want.
Scott explains: “Successful CSMs typically have high emotional intelligence. A lot of empathy for the customer is required so that they can focus on their needs and requirements. CSMs need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and think what they would want.
“What is right for the customer? What would I be worried about or be thinking about or would need if I was the customer? That ability to empathise with the customer is what makes the best CSMs, because you are the internal advocate for the customer.”
Problem solving and resolution
It’s a sad inevitability that there will always be challenges and problems that arise during the customer lifecycle. It is therefore very important that customer success managers have the skills to surface what issues exist and then map out a plan to solve the problems at hand.
Tan notes: “Customer success managers are there to manage the success of the customer, so they must take ownership of customer issues.”
Rolf Siegel, senior customer success manager at Celonis, adds: “In general, the role of CSM demands a fair understanding of solution-driven behaviour. Many of our CSMs have a background with consulting companies, as it is a similar profile of listening for business challenges and offering solutions. Experience of different processes across an organisation, as well as the
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.