Customer service is an important part of any business, however, customer success is becoming just as important, especially when it comes to running a B2B business model. Customer success can best be thought of as a very specific form of customer service that focuses on helping one’s customers to be as successful as possible with the services and/or products that they’ve been sold or that they are subscribing to. The reason behind this is to both encourage the customer to purchase additional products/services and to prevent them from canceling their subscription. Customer Success Managers, or CSMs, are a critical part of the customer journey who help define and deliver a great customer experience.
Customer Success Management is especially important in a B2B SaaS subscription-based business model. Customers or clients are less likely to cancel their subscriptions if they’re getting the most out of the services they’re paying for. Satisfied customers are also more likely to spend more money on additional features and products/services. Encouraging renewals, assisting in the installation, troubleshooting, upselling, and providing training are all important roles for a CSM team. The end result of all these activities is churn prevention.
Types of Customer Success Positions
In the early days of a start-up, the customer success team may consist of just one person – the manager. Typically a generalist, this person will handle all tasks related to the success of the customer with the product/service they’ve just been sold. However, as startups grow, they will begin to need specialists to perform specific tasks. When this happens, the manager will take on a supporting role that provides guidance and oversight while helping out where they’re needed most. This being the case, it is important to understand the various roles that need to be filled within a CSM team. The degree of soft skills and technical skills vary based on the role.
The Onboarder – This person is the first to contact the customer after they’ve made their purchase or signed up for a subscription. They handle training, installation, and provisioning. Their knowledge can range from deep product understanding to domain expertise.
The Support Agent – Handles problems that customers have on a case by case basis. This is very similar to traditional customer service or customer support though they tend to handle tasks of a more technical nature.
The Renewal Manager – In instances in which the product/service is subscription-based, a renewal manager will manage subscription renewals for their customer base. This is especially important in business models in which a high number of renewals are happening regularly.
The Growth Executive – The growth executive is a sales and marketing specialist responsible for upselling customers on extra services, features, and additional plans. Unlike generalist sales representatives, growth executives will have a more in-depth technical knowledge of the product/service.
The Customer Success Manager – A manager in charge of overseeing all post-sale activities related to customers. Their goal is to prevent customers from canceling their subscriptions by helping them to get the most out of the product/service they’re paying for. They tend to forge deep and meaningful relationships with customers. A good manager needs to be able to fulfill all of the other CSM roles as needed while at the same time providing guidance and leadership to teammates.
Customer Success Director – Oversees all of the other CSM roles. In a way, this position is similar to that of the manager but without a hands-on approach. Instead, the director will be more involved in planning and strategizing, as well as designing tools, programs, and processes that improve customer success.
When to Hire a CS Manager
Determining when startups should hire a CS manager depends on the nature of the business. If a business is running a subscription model and wants to avoid “churn,” then it may need to hire a CS manager from the very start. In a case such as this, the manager will likely handle all CS tasks and fulfill all CS roles.
On the other hand, if the product/service being sold is less technical, or if there isn’t a subscription involved, then having the customer service team handle CS-related issues may be a more cost-effective option early on for a startup. However, as the need for preventing subscription cancellation and promoting upsells or add-ons becomes more important during critical business development stages, hiring a CS manager will become a necessity for continued growth. In an early-stage startup developing that customer loyalty will help in future sales through reference calls and story selling. It can help with potential investor calls too.
In addition to knowing when to hire a CS manager, it is also important for startups to know when to expand their CS department. While having just one person do it all may work during the early stages of a startup, there will come a time when CS tasks need to be divided up and handled by specialists. This is when a startup should consider building a CSM team headed by a competent and qualified director.
Customer Success vs Customer Support vs Account Management
The best way to describe customer service vs success is that customer service is reactive while success is proactive. While a customer service team will work to solve problems that customers are having, a CSM team will work with clients/customers to help ensure that there are no problems. On top of this, a CSM team will also work to upsell the client/customer and proactively work towards subscription retention.
It is also important to realize that CS managers and account managers are not the same things, though there is some overlap. Managers of accounts specialize in upselling, cross-selling, and subscription renewal – tasks that a CS manager also handles in many cases. However, a CS manager also provides technical support such as training, onboarding, troubleshooting, and tasks of that nature. In a way, a CS manager serves as a hybrid between customer service and account management with a proactive .
What to Look for in a Top-Performing Customer Success Manager
Above all else, a CS manager must be a generalist that can handle the many roles that come with the job. This is especially important if they are the only person handling this role and need to be able to perform many different tasks of a technical nature. Even when a business creates a CSM team, the manager will need to be able to perform various tasks as needed.
Aside from being a generalist with a high degree of technical knowledge and expertise about the product/service that the company is offering, a top-performing CS manager needs other qualities as well. These qualities will help them to perform their job to the best of their ability and work well with both customers/clients and within the company itself.
Empathy – A good CS manager will be able to understand the feelings of both the customers/clients they work for and the CSM personnel they work with. Being able to listen to customers and understand their concerns is a key part of customer retention.
Technical Knowledge – A CS manager needs to have a very strong technical knowledge of the product/service that the business is selling. This will allow them to assist customers/clients as needed and provide them with the best service possible. Their ability to communicate back with a product team becomes essential as well.
Problem-Solving Skills – Helping a client/customer to achieve success isn’t always a straightforward endeavor. In many cases, CS managers will have to use their problem-solving skills to find long-term solutions.
Sales and Marketing – Preventing churn, retaining clients/customers, and promoting upsells are all tasks that a top-performing CS manager will excel at. In many cases, this will be critical for promoting the growth of a business.
Exceptional Communication Skills – Being able to communicate with customers/clients who aren’t technically knowledgable about the service/product is another important skill of top-tier CS managers. This includes both advising customers/clients using language they understand and being able to communicate with different teams and departments within the company itself.
Day in the Life of a CS Manager
Scheduling and Overview
The daily schedule of a CS manager depends on a variety of factors but typically starts with an overview of the tasks and accounts that will be addressed during that particular workday. This will allow the manager to prioritize certain tasks and prepare for any specific work that needs to be done.
Early Team Meeting
If the CS manager is working with a team, then there will likely be an early team meeting. This will provide both motivation and guidance for the team members so that they can perform to the best of their ability.
Emails and Support Tickets
The actual work for a CS manager tends to begin with looking over emails and support tickets. Unresolved problems from the previous day will be addressed and new issues will be reviewed. If the manager isn’t handling these problems themself, they will pass on the information to the appropriate team member.
Handling New Customers
The next thing to be done is the onboarding of new customers. This can include a variety of tasks such as setting up their account and doing technical work to get everything running for them on their end. Establishing a good relationship and building trust are also important.
Once the new customers have been taken care of, a CS manager can then focus on providing support as needed. Many tasks may be delegated to teammates.
A CS manager will typically end their day checking in with other departments such as the sales team and product development team to exchange critical information. This includes providing these departments with customer feedback.
Customer Success Manager Salary Ranges
The average salary for a CS manager in the US is $68,689. However, other factors such as where one works, their experience level, and how long they’ve been with their company can play a big role in determining their salary. Bonuses will also have an impact on total yearly earnings.
How CEOs and Founders Should View This Role
The importance of CSM depends on the nature of the business. Any business that focuses heavily on customer retention and/or subscription-based models should take CSM seriously. If the customers/clients aren’t able to use the product/service to its fullest, they will become dissatisfied and the risk of cancellation increases.
CEOs and founders of a startup should see CSM as a vehicle for growth. By minimizing cancellations while at the same time promoting upsells and additional services, a CS manager can greatly help with maximizing revenue flow and profit.
Where CSM Fits Within the Customer Journey
When it comes to the sales process and customer journey in general, CSM is typically a post-sale position. In many cases, an account manager, or even the sales representative that made the initial sale, will have a joint call with the customer/client and the CSM representative. They will then hand the customer off to the CSM rep so that they can be given the guidance/training necessary to use the product or service they’ve been sold.
On top of this, a CSM also has an impact on sales by providing customer feedback to the sales and marketing teams. In this way, they’re involved with the customers before even speaking to them. They can also be involved in the upselling process as well. While this typically isn’t done to the same degree as an account manager, they can still suggest additional features, products, and services to the customer as needed.
As most founders are the first salespeople for their product or service, it makes a lot of sense to make the next hire a customer success manager. The company has already spent the customer acquisition cost of obtaining that customer. It then becomes imperative to understand the customer goals, ask lots of questions to develop a good feedback loop, and build a base of happy customers.