The customer success manager role is changing.
Customer expectations have never been higher, and their willingness to pay has never been lower.
It’s no longer enough to be “productive” (whatever that means) and stay in your comfort zone.
After spending 1k+ hours of research and deep thinking I’ve isolated the 5 most important skills to build in 2023 and beyond:
1. Active listening
There’s no one-size-fits-all in customer success as your customers have different needs.
They may have the same size, are from the same industry, and share the same goals.
But that does not mean they share the same problems and start from the same level in terms of skills and knowledge.
Your customers need are determined by the gap between their desired outcomes and their status quo.
Ask your customers open questions to understand their business and let them walk you through their processes.
Use the hand-off you got from sales as a “blueprint” to go deeper from there.
Your goal is to understand their problems and why they exist on a granular level.
If I’d have to give any number I would say that it makes up for 50% of your success.
Practice makes perfect so use every conversation with your customer effectively.
2. Design thinking
Understanding the customer's problem is one-half of success.
The ability to lead customers to the promised land is the other half.
Most customer success plans I’ve seen are quite useless because they don’t outline how customers master the transition.
What you need to create is a plan that includes
milestones in your customer success journey
the problems they need to solve
the tasks they need to complete
the skills and knowledge they need to acquire
and ultimately the kind of input required
While you can source the information about the former 2 points from your customers, the latter 3 are rarely things that customers are aware of.
Start by creating prototypes and refine them with growing knowledge and experience about your customer success journeys.
3. Analyzing data
You can’t afford to guess and assume any longer.
Because customer expectations have never been higher and their willingness to pay has never been lower.
You need to be on top of what’s going on in the customer success journey.
That goes far beyond monitoring health scores, NPS, and product usage.
They are not hard to interpret but they are not accurate enough and provide no context.
You need to understand what works, what does not, and why.
Define specific goals for the services and inputs to measure their effectiveness.
Discover where customers are struggling repeatedly.
Run benchmarks across your customer portfolio to understand where you’ve got large deviations from the expected time to complete tasks or solve problems.
4. Enabling cross-functional collaboration
I’ll skip explaining in full detail that customer success is not the responsibility of a single team.
But the problem is that most SaaS companies are misaligned by design.
Everybody sits in their own silo with a fractional view of the customers and their needs chasing their team goals.
What’s more, is that CS teams depend far more on the other teams than vice versa.
Because you are sitting at the receiving end and have to work with the product and customers you get.
So in the end, it’s up to you to create alignment on customer success bottom-up.
However, there’s an effective way to get buy-in if you are able to help your colleagues to achieve (or exceed) their goals.
As you are working with dozens, maybe hundreds of customers every day, you have access to way more insights than anyone else in your company.
Support the marketing team with use cases or success stories.
Identify red flags and share them with your colleagues from sales.
Help the product team to build a roadmap based on verified customer needs.
4. Selling outcomes
Ideally, you have defined goals and how they are measured at the beginning of a new customer engagement.
But that does not mean they are aware of all the value they get from your product at any time.
Use your strategic meetings with your customers (e.g. QBRs) and outline where they’ve started and where they are now.
This becomes increasingly important if the people you are working with are not the sponsors.
If you are sending a report to your customers’ CFO make sure that it shouts “ROI” from top to bottom.
Never try to sell them on product usage and convenience.
If you are responsible for facilitating renewals, expansions, and upsells always sell on value.
Don’t let it turn into a pricing discussion.
If you want to make your customers buy more, paint an image about how they could further scale their value with additional resources and/or features.
What are the skills you are building and improving in 2023?