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Hiring your First Customer Success Manager? Look for these traits before you decide.

Written by Vivek Jaiswal | Co-founder, Customer Guru

As SaaS products become increasingly subscription based, the barriers to exit a product has become much lower. Which is why we are seeing the role of a dedicated Customer Success Manager (CSM) or Customer Experience Manager gaining a lot of importance these days. As discussed in an earlier blog, customer profitability in a subscription based product is driven by the length of time a customer stays with you. Therefore, customer retention is supremely important for such businesses. In fact, we found this interesting infographic on how customer retention costs go up as the customer passes through different stages of its lifecycle:

the reality of customer retention

Image Courtesy: Customer Success Association

This is where a Customer Success Manager operates; essentially looking after managing churn rate, cross selling and up selling, predicting + delivering the customers’ need, and keeping them happy. You can imagine, this is an important position for a subscription business because as much as customer acquisition gets you the revenue – customer retention helps you keep that revenue stream and make it bigger. For most organisations, Customer Success Manager is a new role and most hiring managers aren’t experienced in filling this position or aren’t sure what to look for. If you get a CSM with a sales background, the person will get bored soon because he might find the role doesn’t have enough sales kick. On the other hand, if you get someone from a pure customer service background, you might be getting someone who isn’t willing to spread out into doing more than customer service/support. The CSM role requires a mix of both customer service and sales skills, but it needs a whole bunch of other skills and traits that you should be looking for, especially when this is your first person in the customer success team.

So what should you look for when hiring a Customer Success Manager?

1. Look for discipline

One of the important traits that every CSM should have is a disciplined approach, we want our CSM to begin the day by skimming through all the sales data, help desk queries, look at which customer needs their attention and creating customer touch points. This kind of process should happen every day. I recently read an article about Eastern Condiments Pvt Ltd – a well-known brand for spices in South India – which created over $1Bn worth of business by doing just one thing consistently: their sales people would visit the retailers with fresh stocks at exactly the same time every week. This created trust and reliability for the brand and proved to be the most crucial factor in making Eastern Condiments the most successful brand in South India. That’s the power of a discipline!

2. Look for empathy

The pace of today’s life is so frenetic that empathy is actually a virtue. It is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, empathy with the customers, having the ability to step into their shoes, is what separates good Amazing Customer Success Managers from the good ones. Although this is a common trait that is a must have for all customer facing roles, it is extremely important for a CSM because you’d entrust the CSM to build your customer success team and develop that culture of customer centricity within the organisation. If you are looking to build a customer centric company, you should consider your CSM as a torch bearer of that cause.

3. Look for proactiveness

As a CSM, your new hire would be regularly interacting with key clients, and he/she will also has an overall idea of their needs and wishes. Unless the CSM is proactively prioritising your clients’ wish-list and internally aligning the product team to deliver on them, your clients are going to get impatient and start looking for the next exit. As the guardian of customer churn, the CSM would have to proactively intervene before a customer churns. Being proactive can also help identify an explicit need of a specific client could be a doorway to unidentified implicit needs of another. This means the CSM can help the product team to develop features that can be cross sold to other clients, hence creating more revenue for the company.

What about past experience?

Obviously, someone with a Customer Success role in the past would be ideal, but it could be a tough nut to crack if you get fixated on hiring someone with past Customer Success experience. Even past experience in customer facing operations such as account management, customer service, or customer support is also good to have. A 2014 Totango survey reveals what other recruiters looking for in a prospective CSM:

Type of experience

Image Courtesy: Software Advice

Lastly, look for people who believe in building relationship and have a long-term view to life. Ultimately, creating a long and lasting relationship with each one of your clients is the CSM’s primary goal! We figured that a customer success role is becoming increasingly important for SaaS companies. If you have hired your CSM recently, please share what more did you look for when making your decision. It would certainly add a lot of value to other companies going out to hire their first or next CSM!

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