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Characteristics of a Successful Customer Success Manager

Customer success is an aspect of post-sales customer experience (CX) that typically involves proactive outreach, with the objective of increasing upsells and cross-sells, positive word-of-mouth, and successful outcomes for customers. The ultimate strategic goal of customer success is sustainable corporate profitability and growth.

New Career with a Rosy Future

Success is a relatively recent addition to CX, but one that’s clearly here to stay. As one success professional puts it, “Over a few short years, customer success has gone from a new and trendy title, to essential and mainstream for successful SaaS companies.” And it’s not just SaaS companies: Glassdoor provides details for success jobs within nearly 35 different industries including architecture and civil engineering, education and schools, and nonprofits.

According to Gainsight, which is largely credited with coining the term customer success, “we’re just at the tip of the iceberg for this role.” The software provider further predicts that “the need for customer success experience in the next 10 years will grow exponentially.” No wonder Silicon Republic calls success “a new tech career path with a rosy future.”

Role of the Customer Success Manager

It’s clear that success is a high-growth profession that shows no signs of slowing down. But what does a typical success role look like? The most common job title within the field is Customer Success Manager (CSM), a position whose core responsibilities include:

Relationship Building

To provide proactive communication and assistance, CSMs must develop a thorough understanding of customers’ individual needs and goals for using the product or service. The only way to develop this understanding is to build a deep and genuine relationship with the customer. “Building relationships of trust is huge in my role,” writes one CSM of his first success job. “So much so that I’ve learned that customer success starts and ends with the relationship.”

Customer Onboarding

As CustomerSuccessBox explains, “It’s well proven time and again that the seeds of churn or growth are sown early.” That’s why a key task for CSMs is to design an onboarding program to help customers with setting up their account, learning how to use the product’s main features, and any other necessary steps to get started. The sooner a customer experiences ROI, the more likely they are to stick with the company for the long run.

Account Escalations

Even though break/fix types of issues are generally handled by customer support rather than customer success, a CSM might be called in to help when tickets are urgent, critical, or long overdue for a solution. In these instances, support will likely take the lead on researching the problem and figuring out how to resolve it, letting the CSM focus on communicating updates to the customer and ensuring they feel heard and cared for throughout the process.

Renewals

To put it bluntly: “Customer renewals are what keep the recurring revenue recurring,” writes CustomerSuccessBox. “It is the lifeline of a SaaS company since the majority of the revenue comes through existing customers.” Hence, a primary responsibility of CSMs — sometimes in conjunction with the sales team — is to ensure the smooth and successful processing of renewals. In part, this involves handling the logistics (paperwork, payment, etc.) but even more important is being in close contact with the customer shortly before it’s time to renew to avoid any last-minute surprises.

Upsells

Upselling is the process of selling (or at least recommending) an upgrade to a “more premium version” of the original purchase such as a more expensive product or higher level of service. By gaining a thorough understanding of a customer’s needs in order to ensure they achieve their goals with the initial purchase, CSMs wind up being perfectly positioned for making authentic upsell pitches. When done right, upselling is a win for both customers and businesses, as well as the “best way to increase the lifetime value (LTV) of your customer,” writes CustomerSuccessBox.

Referrals

In addition to handling renewals and upsells, a key way in which customer success contributes to the bottom line is through referrals. After all, a CSM’s job is to ensure that customers are successful in using the product or service to accomplish their goals. So it naturally follows that happy customers would be more willing to spread the word to their friends or colleagues. In many cases, all it takes is a polite, well-timed ask from a CSM to turn that willingness into a warm introduction to a potential new customer.

Traits of a Successful CSM

Now that we’ve covered the core responsibilities of a CSM, let’s turn to the personality traits needed for successfully tackling this type of work:

Communicative

Every aspect of a CSM’s job — from relationship building to onboarding and training to closing renewals and upsells — involves communicating with customers. That’s why the ability to write and speak clearly and effectively across a myriad of channels is essential.

Patient

Despite a CSM’s efforts to engage in proactive outreach and provide clear communication, sometimes customers will be confused, frustrated, or disappointed. That’s where patience comes in. Even in the face of negativity, a successful CSM will take a breath and stay calm so that the focus can remain where it should be: on helping the customer.

Willing to Learn

Success is a profession that requires constant learning — not only about the products offered by the company (including updates and new features), but also about each customer and their backgrounds, pain points, goals, etc. “Every day is different, every customer is different, every situation is different,” writes Gainsight. “If you don’t want to learn every single day then do not apply.”

Collaborative

“As the person representing the customer, I get to be involved in so many different parts of our business,” explains Helen Crowley, VP of global customer success at Socialbakers. “Although I report through to the sales team, I sit firmly in the middle of sales, marketing, product and development.” Crowley’s experience is the norm, which is why a willingness to collaborate is a must for CSMs. As Gainsight sums it up, lone wolves are not likely to succeed.

Customer Success Career Path

Now that you know what a typical CSM job entails, you might be wondering about the potential for career advancement. If so, please be sure to check out our upcoming blog post on how to navigate the customer success career path.

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