Ninety Thousand Hours

The key to customer success

What skills do you need to look for when hiring a CS person?

Since COVID-19 turned all our worlds upside down, I have been talking to many SaaS companies and they have one thing in common.

They are all, now more than ever, placing emphasis on fixing the leaky bucket and reducing churn. As a result Customer Success teams are working hard to keep customer engagement metrics and NPS scores high. Whilst new business is on every CEO’s mind, in many cases it has dropped off.

One element where there isn’t such widespread agreement is on what makes a good Customer Success person. The answer was often “It depends” – however from speaking to over 100 SaaS hiring managers in UK, the following skills rated highly on their wish lists:

1. Be a people person

This was the one that came up time and time again. To be the best CS person you need to have strong people skills and a high EQ score (emotional intelligence). This is especially important at enterprise level, where the ARR is high.

A key factor in the job is relationship building, they must be able to communicate effectively to be able to clearly understand, validate and then take ownership of a customers problem. Going a step further they need to be able to articulate this to the customer so they feel they are in safe hands.

An empathetic CSM will be able to hold more effective conversations with customers and ultimately prevent the costumer from logging out of the product for good.

The level of people skills your CSM will need is also affected by the complexity of the product they are working on. The less complex the product the lower the MRR and the message becomes “one to many” using more automation and rapid follow up.

2. Have technical know-how

Generally speaking technical skills are not high up on the list of must haves for CSMs. However, it does depend on the complexity of the product. Some CSMs who have come from a technical background often fall into the camp of “helpdesk” and answering tickets for customers rather than supporting their business challengers. For this reason many Customer Success Directors prefer to hire a CSM with a good grasp of tech but without the technical skills. They can talk the language and be that internal conduit, enlisting help when needed for the tech team.

3. Be a salesperson, but don’t sell

There is plenty of debate in CS around where the revenue quota should sit – with Account Management/Sales/Business Development or should CS hold the responsibility and be rewarded.  Regardless of who holds the revenue target arguably CS people need to have a good grasp of the sales process and well developed sales skills.

CS people must be commercially astute, They need have the gravitas and confidence to challenge clients. They should not be afraid to push back and crucially they need to be both curious and highly practiced at asking the right questions in order to control the conversation and establish the customers potential problems. They use this information to identify new opportunities and increase the value for the customer but they are not hunters. Customer Success people are farmers who are proactive and use their emotional intelligence to pull together different teams internally and externally with the one goal – to deliver value to the customer so that they do not churn. 

Customer Success Managers sell without selling. They should care about the customer above all and be motivated by the success and not their commission cheque.

4. Have an analytical brain

Customer Success Managers need to be data analysts. The best CSMs have the ability to use data to evaluate both the customer and the customer’s experience with the product.

The best Customer Success Managers will have a good eye for surveys and customer research, they’ll be able to interpret the information to build up a really accurate profile of their customers.  

Measurement is another contentious subject in Customer Success (but that’s for another blog) CSM’s should be measuring engagement, usage, triggers and adoption rates, these not only help to track success but help create a more pro-active plan for customers.

5. Have domain knowledge

There was a clear split here and the answer to whether or not sector knowledge was needed. The more complex the product the more highly domain knowledge is rated. At Enterprise level some knowledge of the sector is rated highly. If a CS is to become a trusted advisor they should have a thorough understanding of their customer’s business and the industry or niche they operate in. Because of their domain expertise, their customers see them as a trusted source of industry information, business insight, and best practice. They understand the business context of what customers are trying to do with their product and are able to give them invaluable insight on how to achieve their goals.

6. Have a thirst for knowledge

Successful CS people know to continue to be successful they need to be open and innovative. They should be constantly looking for new ideas and way to improve processes to get the best results. They should be able to work closely with internal and external stakeholders and be willing to listen and adapt their approaches depending on the needs of the customer.

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