19 Qualities That Can Make Good Customer Success Managers Great
October 22, 2019
Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.
Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.
Our “Mentors” questions are geared toward CSMs receiving mentorship directly from Director-level and above customer success leaders, in order to help them grow professionally. The goal is that by sharing our experiences we’ll be able to learn and apply more practical advice / practices to our careers.
One of those questions asks, “What are two to three qualities of a great CSM? And why?“
We’ve compiled a list of answers from 7 Customer Success Mentors. Let’s get started!
19 Qualities That Can Make Good Customer Success Managers Great
- Deep, pure and natural curiosity – It’s important to be curious about a customer, their business goals, desired outcomes, etc. CSMs must also be curious about your own product, how it works, how it could be improved, and so forth. If you’re not interested in any of these things, you probably wouldn’t be that great at what CSM needs to do.
- Resilience – The top-performing CSMs I’ve known are particularly resilient. Personally, this has meant they respond well to setbacks. For example, it could be working with an upset customer, responding well when the product doesn’t work properly, or persisting through challenging situations. CSMs must be resilient and not take feedback personally, especially when challenging customers might not be the nicest individuals to work with.
- The ability to build relationships – CSMs need to be able to effortlessly speak with C-level executives and other key stakeholders. Building relationships is critical, particularly for champion engagement. A great CSM can find and develop relationships with these champions. Doing so regularly strengthens a CSMs position within that account.
- Patience – If you are in the business of customer service, having patience is key. You may be getting asked the same question 10 times a day but your willingness to provide the same level of support and thoughtfulness through each interaction is so important to making the customer feel valued.
- Empathy – Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is always a valuable quality. If you live your professional life the way you live your personal one, it should feel natural to just treat others the way you would want to be treated.
- Big-picture thinker – A great CSM isn’t just thinking about one customer service issue or one particular client, they’re thinking about the collective good of the organization and for all of their clients. They are asking themselves, “What strategies or tactics can I leverage to make the entire organization more successful?” That mindset also creates a proactive and positive culture within the organization as you’re all working towards a common goal.
- Authenticity – as one of our core values at SmashFly, we try to exemplify this in every interaction. Our customers trust us because they know we’re open, honest, transparent, and that we legitimately want to help them. This starts with our leadership and trickles down to the frontline employee.
- Action-oriented – CSMs must advocate for their customers and take the necessary actions to achieve desired outcomes. As you’re taking these actions, it’s also important to communicate what you’re doing back to the customer so both parties remain aligned with current success criteria and next steps.
- Resilience – it’s important for CSMs to understand they’re the conduit for the customer and to not take certain pieces of feedback personally. While this can be difficult at times because of how passionate one might be, you have to remember to work through it and engage with purpose. Be resilient in your desire to help customers achieve success.
*Former Director of Customer Success, AspireIQ
- Patience – CSMs have to be patient on many different levels, especially in terms of working with clients and dealing with various issues. Whether it’s during an onboarding, working through billing changes, user or champion turnover, or shifting KPIs…the ability to be okay and comfortable with change is a must.
- Passion – I believe we are most successful when we’re passionate about the industry or space we’re in. To that regard, as a Director I’ve always looked for hires who are deeply interested in the subject matter they’d be working on as a CSM. One must be able to gain the expertise needed in order to successfully manage a book of business. Spend time learning about your respective industry and strive to stay up-to-date with its changes and current developments.
- Persistence – as a CSM, you’re going to have clients that go dark which can be incredibly frustrating. If you can find new ways to be informative and provide customers with valued engagement touchpoints, you’ll be better off in your work. This approach definitely requires more work than passively reaching out to your customers. But if we’re able to provide value at every touch point we have, we’ll be well on our way to “customer success”.
And for a fourth quality:
- Perspective – consider yourself as a strategic extension of customers’ own team and put yourself in their shoes to achieve objectives with their perspective in mind.
- Relentless Ambition / Growth Mindset – I think it’s important to distinguish between someone’s mindsets and their skill sets. Mindsets are the natural attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives someone carries with them, largely independent of the environment. And skill sets are the combination of hard or soft skills that someone has developed over time. One mindset I emphasize with our team and look for when we hire is relentless ambition. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls it the growth mindset and it essentially means defaulting to learning, growing and developing, knowing you don’t always have the right answers, that there’s more you can learn, that failure and mistakes are stepping stones. I’ve found that a person who has this tendency almost always pursues excellence despite setbacks, is resilient, and regularly seeks feedback. There’s something to learn from pushing through hard times, because there is always the results and growth on the other side of the challenge. That, to me, is a fundamental characteristic of relentless ambition.
- Authentic Altruism – The other piece I think is core to any client experience client is what I call authentic altruism, which is basically legitimately and naturally caring about people. Do you have people who treat clients with the same respect like they would their mom? It’s not that we can’t be frustrated with customers or disagree with them, but it’s when it turns into disrespect, blame, or harsh criticism. Something I always look for as a leader is if a person is generally interested in helping people. What’s their attitude about people? How much do they value relationships? Do they demonstrate emotional intelligence, which includes active and empathic listening?
- Strategic Insight / Discipline – When it comes to skill sets, what are the specific tactical things that I need CSMs to be able to do? For me there’s a few I look for, but the biggest balance is between someone who can not only bring strategic insight but also execute in a disciplined way. Part of this is having the foresight to ask really good questions to know where you’re going with a given conversation, guiding the customer to where they need to go, and bringing data into that conversation. And then following through on what you say you can and will do. As a CSM, am I following up on action items? Am I being deliberate about who I involve? Every interaction we have with a client should leave them with some new insight. Our job is to create value by bringing new ideas and insights that get them excited. Over time, these disciplines create tremendous value.
- Reliable Expertise – Regarding the frequent question of, “Do you need a CSM from the industry or not?” I’ve learned that new hires don’t have to have as much expertise in the industry as your clients…but you do need to have reliable expertise. What I mean is that you can have conversations with the client that don’t slow down the process of them getting to where they need to go. Can you understand their industry, company, and role well enough to have intelligent conversations and lead them to the outcomes they expect?
- The ability to be agile – in every organization I have been a part of thus far, there has never been an entirely established, fully-baked customer success machine with no need for improvement. Additionally, my experience has been such that CSMs’ jobs descriptions can be fairly fluid. We are often tasked with being the glue between product, sales, and support, filling in for the “grey” areas, or potentially needing to “quarterback” various projects to help them get across the finish-line. You need to be comfortable with ambiguity and willing to roll with the punches. I feel like it’s really important, especially in a younger company or CS organization, for CSMs to be agile and flexible.
- Autonomy – as a leader, you want team members where you don’t have to look over their shoulder. If I have to consistently coax a team member to do their job, or reach out to clients, that’s going to be a huge drag on productivity. CSMs, in my opinion, are the CEO of their own books of business. If they can be entirely autonomous, while still being effective, that is something I find extremely valuable.
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