CSM from the Trenches: Mentors – Ashley Correll, Chief Operating Officer, Beyond Insurance
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.
Let’s get started with this week’s post!
What is one important lesson you learned in your early customer success days that has had a positive impact on your career? How has it helped you?
I learned early on how important is to make every effort to go above and beyond when a client has a question. Even when you may not have the answer or maybe you think the answer is obvious. No question is too big or small.
Our core business is focused on helping independent insurance agencies stand out in their marketplace and make sure they are delivering a memorable experience for their clients. We try to lead by example by providing outstanding customer support through quick response time, connecting clients with other members of the group who may be able to support their agency, and seeking out subject matter experts on their behalf to make sure we’re providing the best information possible.
Industry trends are constantly changing but the basics of customer service are not – do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. I’m really proud that our clients know that if we promise something, we’re going to deliver. They know that if they reach out to one of our team members, they are going to get a timely, thoughtful response. One of our guiding principles is to “be a fanatic about response time.” Getting back to people promptly is one tangible way to demonstrate your commitment to them and their success. I just got an email from a client on Friday that said, “Your quick response blows my mind!” It was a good reminder that this is so valuable and recognized by our clients.
I’m the first CSM for my company and have been asked to implement a “customer success” program. Where should I begin? What tactics have worked for you?
I would say the first place to start is truly understanding and being to articulate your whole scope of services. Map those out as a team so everyone is on the same page when it comes to delivering for your clients. This may sound too elementary if your business is well established, but I have found that as new services and capabilities are brought into your organization, your core mission may start to get diluted if you’re not all in sync.
I would do a lot of research and data analyzing on what has worked, and also what hasn’t. Have you lost clients recently? Why? What could you have done differently? Having a standard kind of “post-mortem” after you lose a client better enables you as an organization to make change. On the flip side, take a look at your relationship with your longest or “best” client. How have you delivered for them? What has made them stick with your business throughout the years? You may find it’s the quality of your products or services but more likely, it’s the customer service experience they have had. They feel valued and appreciated, which in turn, leads to a long-standing relationship.
The last piece I would focus on is defining success – for both your organization and the clients. You obviously want to make sure you are delivering for your clients but you also want to establish those metrics for yourself. Think about what the average life-cycle of a client looks like for you – is that based on tenure or revenue? If you are aware of expectations from your own organization from the beginning, you’ll have more success reaching those goals.
What are two or three ways you’ve established (or improved) “customer success as a culture” within your organization?
We’re fortunate enough to not only have clients throughout the entire country but our team works that way as well. We’re located in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey so having open communication and a central “hub” for all our client data is extremely important to our culture.
Being a small company, we share a lot of the responsibilities of client success and retention but we try to be clear on who is the “champion” for each specific area. Having weekly, virtual team meetings with Zoom is a great strategy to make sure we’re all on the same page. Being that our clients and team are located all over the US, we understand the value of bringing everyone together face-to-face. Twice a year we host our “Exchange” meeting where all our clients and team members come together to share best practices, learn from industry experts, hear updates from our team, and really have the chance to just be together and build on relationships. These meetings are so important for us to re-focus as a team and hear directly from our members on what they are happy with and what they’d like to see more of. Being face-to-face offers an environment for open communication.
Another tactic we established was forming an advisory board of our core members. The purpose is to have a representative sample to bounce ideas off of and hear directly from them on what solutions they would like us to focus on. It’s been great to have something formal established and a have a group of members that we know want to represent the collective bettering of the network.
The last one I wanted to share was the concept of yearly stewardship reviews. For each client, our team schedules a one-hour call with our client’s leadership team to just listen and learn more about their business. What’s working for them? What’s keeping them up at night? How can we be a better partner? We make it a point for them to know that we truly care about their success and want to be there for them on whatever level they need us.
What are two to three qualities of a great CSM? And why?
- 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.
Was there a time you messed up and felt like you’d failed within your role or career? How did you bounce back?
A few years back, we lost one of our oldest clients. They decided not to renew and felt they had outgrown our services. It was a big blow since they were one of the founding members of our network and we felt they had contributed so much to the group as a whole.
Looking back, I tried to pinpoint the factors that led up to their decision. Did we not innovate quickly enough? Did we not probe hard enough when we thought they may be losing buy-in? Did we miss warning signs that they may not renew? Their team’s attendance on our webinars and events had been dropping. I could have done a better job tracking their engagement and made a more concerted effort to make sure they truly understood our offerings and plans for future growth and innovation.
This was actually a big driving force for engaging with ClientSuccess. I did a ton of research on finding the right platform and wanted to make sure that we always had a “pulse” on where our members stood after that. Having a system in place to track how engaged our clients are and keeping accurate records of our communications with them has helped us bounce back and be a more proactive partner for our clients and address issues as soon as they arrive.
What are one to three books, blogs, or thought leaders that have greatly influenced your career, and why?
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. The book actually starts out with the story of my hometown. A group of Italian immigrants that came to the United States and formed a tight-knit, self-sustaining community. Research indicated that they were living longer, healthier lives because of where they came from, how they interacted with their neighbors, and how they lived their day-to-day lives. The book is an interesting perspective and great reminder that we often focus too much on trying to figure out what actions people have taken to become successful rather than attributing it to where they come from. Embracing and celebrating diverse backgrounds and everyone’s “story” can contribute so much to a great company culture.
- Adam Grant. His book, Give and Take, really ties back to the one quality I feel makes a good CSM – empathy. He teaches that “givers” truly make a difference in an organization. They are selfless contributors that expect nothing in return. I always try to make sure every interaction I have with one our clients is more about giving than taking. Being a good listener and hearing their concerns before interrupting with a solution is key.
What is one customer success principle you try to live by?
Genuinely wanting to help our clients. I’ve been fortunate enough to know some of them for my entire 10-year tenure at Beyond Insurance so I have developed very deep relationships along the way. I feel like I know so much about them, personally and professionally, that I truly want them to succeed on every level.
Having great products and services is always going to drive success but when you sincerely care about your clients and their organization, and they feel that, it creates a sustainable business.
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