If 2018 was the year of the Product Manager, then it looks like 2019 will be the year that the Customer Success Manager steals the limelight.
Customer Success has grown in stature over the past couple of years. It’s a job title that used to be met with “Huh?” but is now a mainstay in software companies, and perhaps even further afield.
As SaaS becomes the default model for services sold over the internet, companies are tasked with ensuring their customers stick around for the long-term. CS was born out of the need to reduce churn.
CS lies somewhere between Sales and Support, in that they help the customer make the most out of the product, while simultaneously identifying scope for upgrades and changing plans.
Whether or not you’re actually looking for a career in CS, there are some key qualities that a CSM possesses that will serve you well at any position in a SaaS company, from Sales to Product to Leadership.
So let’s get started…
Perhaps the biggest skill that a CSM has is their ability to listen. In fact, their job relies on it. They have to understand what their customers are trying to achieve, what does and doesn’t work for them, and then figure out how best to help them.
If they don’t listen properly, they’ll find it almost impossible to provide genuine advice. Not only that but they might miss crucial details and the more subtle problems that their customers are facing.
Listening is one of those skills that everyone thinks they have, but in reality they generally don’t. Listening properly means actually thinking about what the person is saying to you, rather than trying to figure out what you’ll say next, or look for some sort of agenda.
When you speak to a customer, you should pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t just dismiss them as they might genuinely have something useful to tell you. No matter what your role involves, listening is an extremely important skill, and one you should think about developing if you haven’t already.
Prevention is always better than the cure, as they say, and churn is no different. Preventing a customer from ever even considering churning is far more effective than combating it once the decision has been made.
If they want to prevent churn long before it’s an option, CSMs must be extremely proactive. They can’t simply sit and wait for an issue to arise because it might be far too late by then. Instead, they have to keep on top of their customers and be aware of any developments as and when they happen.
The reason a lot of people shy away from being proactive is because it means you have to put the work in. It’s far easier to sit back, do the bare minimum, and hope that nothing too important comes up.
To be proactive, you need to be alert and on the lookout for things that could potentially go wrong. Much like when you’re driving, and you constantly keep an eye out for hazards, you need to have your wits about you and make sure you can react quickly to anything that might cause a bigger issue in future.
Being proactive helps you with any role or task that you’re assigned to. Rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then having to work non-stop to fix it, you can make sure you nip any problem in the bud right away.
I’ve already explained the importance of being a good listener when you’re a CSM. In much the same vein, it’s also crucial that you can communicate clearly. A conversation is a two-way thing, and you need to master both parts to ensure your customers are successful.
Speaking to customers is an art in itself. They may be angry and so you need to placate them. You need to be professional with them, but not so formal it’s off-putting. It’s a fine balance, and to be successful you need to be able to clearly explain what you mean, and speak in a language they understand.
In order to communicate well, you need to know exactly what you’re trying to say, and explain it in the simplest way you can (without being condescending, of course). Avoid using jargon or unnecessary acronyms unless they’re words and phrases you know your customers will understand.
This is a really useful skill for all roles, but especially people in customer-facing roles like Sales and Support, as well as those tasked with writing marketing materials.
Any role that involves dealing with customers is going to require a degree of empathy. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes if you want to communicate with them and make sure they’re successful and willing to carry on using your product.
Seeing things from their point of view is essential to understanding the issues they face and knowing what they’re trying to achieve with your product.
There’s no easy way to do this, but it can help people in all roles of your company. Marketing, for example, can better explain the benefits of your product if they can empathize with your customers. Product can design new features in a way that customers can use. Everyone benefits from empathy.
The Road to Success
Running a SaaS business successfully largely depends on your ability to retain your customers and prevent churn. While this is primarily the responsibility of the CS team, it should fall upon the whole organization.
With that in mind, adopting some of the traits and characteristics that make CSMs so good at their job will help those working in other roles as well.
I predict that these elements of Customer Success will bleed into all aspects of SaaS in due time, so taking them on board now will place you ahead of the curve.