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Best practices 8 min read

What is a customer success manager? Responsibilities + Job description

Learn the key responsibilities of the customer success manager role.

By Molly Murphy

Last updated September 16, 2022

Photography by Olivier Charland

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

After you have made a sale, your business needs to keep showing the customer that your product is valuable. Whether you succeed or not comes down to the team, you have promoting your products and growing the customer relationship. That is where a customer success manager comes in.

Here are the key responsibilities of a customer success manager and why your business is missing out if it does not have one.

What is a customer success manager?

Customer success managers (CSMs) support your customers as they transition from sales prospects to active users of your products.

They are focused on building close, long-term client relationships and often stay with the same customers as long as they continue to work with your business.

Customer service reps react as issues arise, but CSMs work to solve problems before they happen. They are proactive in looking after their customers’ business, suggesting new and innovative ways to keep them succeeding with your products.

"Have you ever gone out for a meal and been overwhelmed by the menu? And what you really want is someone to help you decide? That's how I view [Customer] Success", explains Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk, "[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 stay around for the entire lifecycle."

Customer success manager

Differences between customer success and customer service. [Source]

Customer success departments are a pretty new trend. Their popularity has skyrocketed as companies began seeing the value of investing in customer relationships. A 2019 survey by ZS Consulting found that over 40 per cent of high-tech companies now have CSMs.

What does a customer success manager do?

Here is what customer success managers bring to the table.

Customer success manager job description

The role of the customer success or client success manager is to unify your sales and success team. Because they are part of many stages of the customer relationship, they have a high-level view of the customer lifecycle. They use this perspective to add value for your customers – and your company.

CSMs bridge the gap between sales and customer support

Customer success managers are both salespeople and support professionals. But the difference between a customer success manager and an account manager is that customer success managers are not focused on winning the next account or putting out individual fires. They are relationship managers that expand customer accounts, increase customer retention, solve customer issues and drive customer satisfaction.

There are two key milestones in the customer lifecycle:

  1. When buyers sign up

  2. When they achieve their first success

Each customer will define this moment of success differently. Sometimes it is financial, like exceeding their targeted monthly revenue thanks to your product. Sometimes it is a smaller personal success, like realising that your product saves them time.

Either way, the space between these milestones is the most common place for churn. After the initial excitement has worn off, buyers have to learn how to use the product. Without the right team to guide the process, customers are likely to become frustrated and lose interest.

Customer success management picks up where sales leaves off at this critical juncture. They become your customers' mentors. CSM's main goal is to get them started as fast as possible and monitor their satisfaction as they grow.

They focus on adding value and reducing churn

Having a customer success manager overseeing the onboarding process helps with retention. However, the relationship goes beyond onboarding.

CSMs check in with their clients to make sure that they are consistently using the products. This intervention is surprisingly necessary, as regular product usage often does not happen organically. An Invesp study found that half of all paying customers log in to their SaaS products once a month or less. It can be hard to keep clients engaged if they are not seeing the value in your products. Customer success managers work to keep those benefits top of mind.

What does a customer success manager do?

Customer success managers keep your clients engaged and using your products regularly. [Source]

They have a 'high-level view' of the entire support process

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

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

Say, for example, a CSM notices that a lot of clients are asking for a similar product update. They can justify the strategic importance of this update to product managers. That way, the improvement is made and users are kept happy.

Their high-level view enables CSMs to see potential problems and turn them into savings – both for their clients and your business.

What makes a good customer success manager?

"Customer success managers should have strong organisation 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 just to 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 you 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 their frustrations to develop a long-term bond.

What does it take to be a customer success manager?

Here are a few key customer success manager skills and qualifications.

Customer success manager skills and qualifications

  • Strong organisation and presentation skills

  • A propensity for relationship building

  • Industry knowledge

  • Empathy

  • Leadership skills − customer success managers often take on leadership roles for the customer success team

“We’ve all been customers at some point or another, but being able to draw on those experiences, both positive and negative, and use them to create your own personal CSM methodology is a remarkable skill to have.” Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk

3 key responsibilities of a customer success manager

A customer success manager is responsible for the health of your customer relationships. They offer product solutions for pain points and find opportunities to expand your business.

Long-term customer relationship management

The IDC predicts that by 2022, 53 per cent of all software revenue will come from subscriptions. As more businesses switch, the buying model is shifting from one-off purchasing to repeat/monthly sales.

This means that customer relationship goals have to shift as well. The new goal is to keep customers continuously happy, not just happy enough to make a single purchase. This focus on relationship marketing differentiates customer success managers from other customer support professionals.

Customer success manager

Customer success managers are your relationship marketing experts. [Source].

Sales and service reps focus on customers’ short-term happiness; CSMs focus on adding value for years to come. Their commitment does not end when a customer signs up – that is when it begins.

Customer success managers own the relationship marketing process. They check in with customers regularly to develop an open line of communication, so concerns can be heard and addressed promptly.

Brand and product promotion

CSMs generate excitement for new or developing products by keeping clients updated 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 to implement them.

CSMs can find upselling opportunities organically because they have taken the time to understand their clients' use-case and earn their trust. That personal relationship makes all the difference in finding and positioning expansion opportunities.

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

Proactive problem resolution

Customer success managers look after their customer’s business and work with them to find solutions to pain points. It is their job to put out the flame before it becomes a wildfire. They monitor their customers’ happiness closely, so they are able to offer solutions before issues occur.

CSMs check in with their clients monthly, if not weekly, and ask directed questions to gauge their satisfaction. They can compare these conversations with customer’s behavioural data – such as how often clients are logging in to your company’s software – to assess their overall happiness.

If a customer success manager sees any red flags, they can act immediately to solve the problem before it becomes a complaint. The first step may be as simple as calling a client for a 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 because customer success managers already have a regular, open line of communication with them.

Improve your customer relationships by hiring a customer success manager

Today’s customers expect more than products that meet their requirements. They expect personalised support from professionals who care about customers' goals.

This expectation makes customer success managers invaluable. With this role, your company has someone who has a deep understanding of clients’ requirements. The CSM internalises and shares feedback, so the organisation knows how to deliver a product or service that their audience wants.

Ready to hire a customer success manager?

Prepare for the interview by learning about the customer success questions you should ask every candidate.

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