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Article 13 min read

What is a customer success manager, and what do they do?

Learn the key responsibilities of the customer success manager role.

By Heather Wintermantel, Senior Director, Customer Experience Strategy & Programs

Last updated April 29, 2024

What is a customer success manager?

A customer success manager (CSM) supports your customers as they transition from sales prospects to active users of your products.

CSMs focus on building customer loyalty and developing close, long-term client relationships. They often stay with the same customers as long as they continue to work with your business.

It’s easy to think the hard work ends once you’ve landed a customer. In reality, the struggle to win your clients’ hearts is only just beginning.

After you make a sale, your business must continue showing the customer your product or service is valuable. A customer success manager is critical to this process, helping promote your products or services and strengthening customer relationships.

Here are the top responsibilities of a customer success manager and key information about the role, such as primary responsibilities, necessary skills and qualities, the average salary, and why your business needs one.

More in this guide:

What does a customer success manager do? 8 common responsibilities

A bulleted list highlights customer success manager responsibilities.

A customer success manager bridges the gap between sales and customer support. They enhance product value, reduce churn, and oversee the support process from a high-level perspective.

Customer service reps react as problems arise, but the customer success strategy is proactive and aims to prevent customer issues. CSMs look out for their customers’ businesses, suggesting new and innovative ways to keep them succeeding with your products. Below, we’ll discuss the most common CSM responsibilities.

“Have you ever gone out to eat and were overwhelmed by the menu, and what you really want is someone to help you decide? That’s how I view [customer] success … [We] look at the picture in its entirety, what will provide immediate gratification as well as long-term stability. Success members accompany the customer on their journey and stick around for the entire life cycle.”

—Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk

1. Bridge the gap between sales and customer support

After someone begins their customer journey, the customer success team steps in. They help onboard customers and serve as a mentor. As the customer progresses along their journey, the CSM checks in to spot any cross- or upselling opportunities, looping in sales when the time is right.

2. Ensure customers get fast time to value

There are two key milestones in the customer journey:

  1. When buyers sign up

  2. When they achieve their first success

Each customer will define this moment of success differently. Sometimes, it’s financial, like exceeding targeted monthly revenues thanks to your product. Sometimes, it’s a smaller personal success, like realizing your product saves them time.

Either way, a big gap between these milestones can contribute to customer churn. Customers will likely get frustrated and lose interest without the right team to guide them through the process. This is when the customer success team comes in, showing customers how to use the product effectively so they can get more value out of it in less time. A CSM’s primary goal is to get customers started as fast as possible and monitor their satisfaction as they grow.

3. Keep clients engaged and regularly using products

CSMs check in with their clients to ensure they consistently use the products. This intervention is surprisingly necessary; regular product usage often doesn’t happen organically.

For example, CSMs can check how often users log into the software or use a product to monitor changes. If customers are less active, CSMs reach out to see why. If they’re having issues or finding that the tool lacks the features they need, the CSM finds ways to resolve these issues to keep the customer happy and active.

4. Build customer loyalty and reduce churn

A customer success manager overseeing the onboarding process can help your business with customer retention. But the relationship goes beyond onboarding.

CSMs serve as dedicated guides, accompanying clients at every stage of the product journey to ensure a seamless experience. Their proactive engagement not only fosters trust and satisfaction but also mitigates customer turnover by ensuring each client has a reliable, attentive ally in their corner. This personalized attention assures customers that their needs and concerns are prioritized, reinforcing the value of the partnership.

Customer success managers also focus on earning customer loyalty. They work to understand a customer’s needs and build relationships with key stakeholders to ensure they earn trusted advisor status over time.

5. Keep a high-level view of the entire support process

Customer success managers are involved in multiple customer lifecycle phases, so they have a bird’s eye perspective. Service reps may know the most common customer problems, but they only see the issue up close. CSMs see which problems affect multiple clients and forecast what those trends mean for future churn.

The high-level view enables CSMs to see potential problems and proactively mitigate them—this is valuable for your clients and business alike.

6. Advocate for customers and the company

Success managers also have a view of future product upgrades and changes. They can advocate for their customers by connecting the clients’ wishes to the business’s larger customer experience strategy.

For example, imagine if a CSM notices many clients asking for a similar product update. They can justify the strategic importance of this update to product managers. That way, your business can make the necessary improvements to keep users happy.

Likewise, customer success managers can advocate for the company by exciting customers about upcoming product launches and updates.

7. Foster a customer-centric team environment

Customer-centricity is not the job of any one team to earn on behalf of the entire company. However, customer success managers can help other teams prioritize customer care by voicing customer concerns and tracking customer pain points. They collaborate with their peers in customer service management, success, sales, support, and product teams. They ensure that these teams hear customer needs loud and clear.

8. Resolve customer issues

A customer success manager also performs issue identification, communication, and resolution for moderately complex customer issues. They offer product solutions to pain points and find opportunities to expand your business.

For example, a CSM might specialize in working with customers from a specific industry and monitor industry trends. Using this knowledge, they can offer customized tips for how customers can use the product, demonstrate value, and drive success.

Customer success manager job description

The role of the customer success or client success manager is to ensure customers achieve their desired outcomes while using a company’s product or service. Because CSMs are part of many stages of the customer relationship, they have a high-level view of the customer life cycle. They use this perspective to add value for customers and the company.

Score a home run with the customer success playbook

Learn what it takes to be a master customer success manager with expert playbook templates.

12 essential customer success manager skills and qualifications

Today’s customers expect more than high-quality products to meet their needs—they expect personalized service from professionals who care about customer goals.

Here are 12 of the most essential assets for a customer success manager:

12 icons represent customer success skills to learn.

1. Customer relationship management

Sales and service reps focus on customers’ short-term happiness—CSMs focus on adding value for years to come. Their commitment doesn’t end when a customer signs up—that’s when it begins.

Customer success managers own the relationship marketing process. They check in with customers regularly to develop an open line of communication to hear and address customer concerns promptly.

2. Brand promotion

CSMs generate excitement for new or developing products by updating clients on their progress. As new products become available, they facilitate demos and training. If customers decide to add new products to their plans, success managers help implement them.

CSMs can find upsell opportunities organically because they’ve taken the time to understand their clients and earn their trust. That personal relationship makes all the difference in finding and positioning expansion opportunities.

They can also provide the technical product support and training necessary to keep their customers happy. This is especially important during customer onboarding when CSMs work closely with customers to ensure their product adoption goes smoothly.

3. Proactive problem resolution

CSMs check in with their clients regularly and ask direct questions to gauge their satisfaction. They can compare these conversations with customer’s behavioral data—like how often clients log in to your company’s software—to assess their happiness.

If a customer success manager sees any red flags, they can act immediately to fix the problem before it becomes a complaint. The first step may be as simple as calling a client to check in or offering to do a lunch-and-learn for the client’s staff about the product. This intervention feels natural to the client since customer success managers already have a regular, open line of communication with them.

4. Leadership skills

Customer success managers often take on leadership roles for the customer success team. They act as mentors to more junior teammates and might lead training sessions or other customer success enablement initiatives.

Because CSMs take on a vital client-facing role, they need to be leaders who think on their feet and offer resolutions for customers. They should show they have customer service skills, take initiative, and be willing to tackle new challenges.

5. Empathy

Empathy is a critical skill for any customer-facing role. Customer success managers often work with customers directly to help them resolve high-stakes issues. They must be able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and manage expectations. Success managers can also provide customer empathy training for their teams.

6. Product knowledge

Customers expect success managers to know the business’s products, services, and policies well. Success managers must troubleshoot issues and offer best practices for maximizing a product or service offering.

7. Collaboration skills

Customer success managers should demonstrate a love for teamwork and the ability to work across different internal groups to improve the customers’ experience. One of their main roles is communicating customer pain points to different teams within the organization.

8. Time management

Customer success managers often have to lead several projects and customers simultaneously. They’ll need strong project management and organizational skills and an ability to optimally prioritize to get the job done.

9. Communication skills

Effective customer success management requires strong communication, social, and writing skills. Professional consulting experience helps to demonstrate these skills, ideally in a customer-facing role. Success managers often conduct virtual and onsite meetings to drive product adoption and ensure retention, which requires strong presentation skills.

10. Customer intelligence

Customer success managers must have an unrivaled ability to understand customer needs and spot larger trends. These insights enable them to provide a personalized experience for each client and make changes that improve the overall customer experience.

11. Data analysis

Company data should inform your customer success strategy. As a CSM, you should be able to look at key customer service metrics, use the data to proactively prevent customer issues, justify your strategy, and communicate your findings to the customer success team and other key stakeholders.

12. Sales experience

Knowing when to cross- or upsell customers to ensure their continued success and business is key. Sales experience is a big leg up here because you can upsell without being overly pushy and advise customers on which products will help them most. Successful customers—especially when your product plays a role in that success—are loyal customers.

What makes a good customer success manager?

Customer success managers should have strong organization and presentation skills, but those things can be taught, explains Cooper. The real power of a great CSM comes from their soft skills.

“A propensity for relationship building, and doing it quickly, is [very] valuable,” says Cooper. “The customer needs to trust your product and industry knowledge, trust that you understand their use case, and trust that your recommendations really are in their best interest. It’s not enough to just have a knack for it; it’s important to really enjoy forming and maintaining relationships. You can’t pretend, otherwise, they’ll see right through it, and you’ve done more harm than good.”

Empathy is also essential, Cooper adds. You have to be able to connect with your customer over both their successes and frustrations to develop a long-term bond.

A quote from Delores Cooper, a customer success associate at Zendesk, underscores the importance of connecting with customers.

What’s the average customer success manager salary?

According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a customer success manager is $157,000 per year in the United States, with an average base salary of roughly $93,000 per year. The salaries for CSMs vary depending on several factors, such as the region, the company’s vertical, and the candidate’s prior experience.

Customer success specialist salary

Glassdoor data shows the estimated total pay for a customer success specialist is $91,000 per year in the United States area, with an average base salary of approximately $64,500 per year.

Senior customer success manager salary

Glassdoor found that the estimated total pay for a senior customer success manager is $177,000 per year in the United States area, with an average base salary of about $105,000 per year.

Principal customer success manager salary

According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a principal customer success manager is $132,000 per year in the United States area, with an average base salary of around $97,600 per year.

Frequently asked questions

Ensure customer success with Zendesk

Your customer success team is only as strong as your customer success software. Zendesk can help your business identify at-risk customers, compile robust customer profiles to personalize interactions, and collect data for better reporting.

If you want to improve customer success, Zendesk creates more visibility between teams and supports better customer experiences at every level.

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