Critical Skills of the World’s Most Successful Customer Success Managers and Leaders

Burke Alder

Customer Success Strategist

The role of a customer success manager (CSM) in the SaaS industry has become increasingly complex. As platforms themselves become more innovative and functional, and as customers become more well-versed in how these solutions impact their business, CSMs are faced with more questions and challenges than ever before. While working with customers takes a certain type of person with a certain temperament, there are also specific skills CSMs must work on and develop in order to be successful.

In order to deliver the best customer experience possible, customer success managers and leaders should develop the following critical skills:

Problem Solving and Resolution

I think the number one and two more critical skills of successful customer success managers are problem solving and resolution skills. There are always challenges during the customer lifecycle. The ability for the customer success manager to find out the core customer issue and build out a plan or resolution aligned with a customer is not an easy task. The best customer success managers have learned these two skills and use them daily to drive success with customer accounts. The end result of this skill is trust and customer account growth.

Expectation Setting

Expectations set correctly drive customer success. Expectations set poorly create a poor brand and customer experience. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be a problem because marketing and sales have done their job to set proper expectations from the start. Having been in SaaS for 12 years, I know that many times it requires a customer success manager to set expectations properly even when it seems like the customer was oversold. This is why this skill is so critical for successful customer success managers.

Listening & Seeking to Understand

Listening is another important skill successful customer success managers use to drive success with customers. Successful customer success managers know that listening to your customers is key to establishing strong relationships. Without strong listening skills, you won’t gain the respect and trust of your most important business relationships. Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” So it not just about listening, but it’s about understanding so you can deliver a solution that meets the customer’s needs and helps them succeed.

Level Headedness

If there’s one thing customer success managers (CSMs) can count on, it’s curve balls. Whether the craziness comes from negotiations, confusion, or customer escalations, it will be there, and when it hits, CSMs can’t lose their cool. Customers are counting on their CSM to help them and be a support system through the onboarding process. No matter how bad it gets, CSMs should never be the ones exploding – even if you want to. Keeping a level head is crucial and cannot be understated.

Data Integration

While it might not seem like it off the bat, understanding how to handle customer data is a huge part of a CSMs day-to-day job. Having a good handle on how this process works, how to keep data secure, and how to coach your customers through different workflows are all skills a CSM should have. Additionally, being able to explain to customers what’s happening with their data will help make them more comfortable and trusting.

Solution Knowledge

This one should be a no-brainer, but all CSMs should be considered a subject matter expert on the platform, hardware, or solution they’re working with. This will not only make it easier for you to answer any questions that come up, but it will allow you to actually speak the ‘language’ when talking to customers. Your customers have already made the decision to purchase your product and they’ve already made a serious investment in your technology. They don’t want another sales pitch. They want someone who will be able to talk to them on a personal level and get right to the value of the partnership.

Empathy

Empathy is another skill that all CSMs should have, and it’s sometimes considered the most important skill. CSMs should have the ability to understand where customers are approaching problems from, how they are feeling about specific milestones, and what they are thinking about certain functionality. Talking about and focusing on feelings may sound sappy, but it’s a must in any customer-focused business. Empathy and understanding is what sets a great CSM apart from the rest, and it’s what customers are looking for in a vendor relationship.

Grit (Tenacity)

This skill might be more of a personality or attitude than skill, but it’s an winning attribute of successful CSMs. Being a customer success manager is not easy. It requires grit and tenacity to never give up and to find every way to make your customers successful. Grit is the mindset that you will use all the resources at your disposal to deliver success even when it seems impossible.

What other skills do you see in successful customer success managers?

Build Out Your Customer Success Team with the Right Set of Skills

Successful customer success leaders spend time identifying the skills needed on their teams to drive customer success. They learn the skills, train the skills, and try to hire for those who are already proficient in the skills. The right set of skills, grit, and attitude are the makeup of the best customer success teams in the world.

Blog Posts:

6 Listening Techniques of Great Customer Success Leaders

Top Five Personality Traits of Successful Customer Success Managers

eBooks:

Ultimate Guide to SaaS Customer Success Metrics

Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong Customer Success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

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