What Does a Customer Success Manager Do in 2020? We Asked.

Written by Madeline Hester
Published on Sep. 08, 2020
What Does a Customer Success Manager Do in 2020? We Asked.
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In 2012, very few people had the words “customer success” in their LinkedIn job titles, according to the book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business.” 

But with the rapid advancement of software as a subscription (SaaS) and cloud technology, tech companies realized they needed customer success teams to ensure customers were using their technology products, realizing ongoing value and paying their bills. By 2020, the job title “customer success specialist” was sixth among the 15 fastest-growing white-collar jobs in the U.S., according to Forbes.

So, what do people with this job title that was virtually unheard of a decade ago actually do?

We asked four local CSMs to find out. 

Elizabeth Bukys, a CSM at data import software company Flatfile, said she acts as the bridge between customers and internal teams, like product development and engineering. She relies on listening to her intuition to understand what the customer wants, as well as clear communication with internal support teams to ensure they get it. 

But soft skills aren’t all Bukys relies on. She said automation tools are her “secret weapon” that allow her to interact more meaningfully with customers and prioritize their goals internally. 

Much like Bukys, the other three CSMs also shared specific attributes — like organization and curiosity — that allow them to act as extensions of their customers’ teams. In order for them to succeed in their positions, they said they must first identify their customers’ business goals and approach every situation with a people-first mentality.

After all, that’s the only way to build relationships with customers and coworkers alike.

 

Capri Kera
Customer Success Manager • RingCentral

CSM Capri Kera said customers treat her like an extension of their teams. And part of being on a team means frequent communication, which Kera engages in through the RingCentral app, a collaborative software tool. Constant contact with customers means quicker customer adoption and increased usage, she explained. 

 

Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your role as a customer success manager. 

We have a people-first mentality and measure success by how successful we are at helping our customers. Because we're so close to our customers, we can quickly relay their pain points and goals to our internal teams, like product development and engineering. This ensures our solutions are ever-evolving to provide greater value.

We have a people-first mentality and measure success by how successful we are at helping our customers.

 

What’s something you do in your role as a CSM that would surprise most people?

I was chosen to be a member of our customer success advisory board, which is a board of select customer success managers who relay feedback from internal and external stakeholders to upper management to ensure all voices are heard and progressive solutions are implemented.

I also co-lead a committee that creates our executive business review presentation. This is a deck the customer success organization leverages to conduct strategic meetings with C-Level executive customers to funnel growth, mitigate churn and inform future product development decisions.

Lastly, I am trusted to be a part of interviewing new candidates to ensure we are selecting talent from all backgrounds.

 

What are the three most important skills needed to be a good customer success manager?

Be a creative problem-solver: We don’t live by a set of cookie-cutter guidelines. No two customers are the same. We ask the right questions, engage the right people and recommend the right solutions. 

Have a people-first mentality: I live by the mantra “people, product, processes.” Putting people first helps us develop our products in a way that makes our customers and company successful. This strengthens the processes we follow on a daily basis. With our customers in mind, we know the right people to engage internally and externally to ensure that success. 

Instill tenacious communication: When there seems to be a roadblock, we do not stop. We leave no stone unturned, put in the extra time and clearly communicate what needs to happen to reach success. 

 

Elizabeth Bukys
Head of Customer Success • Flatfile

Head of Customer Success Elizabeth Bukys said her team is the bridge between customers and internal teams at Flatfile. As such, they must engage frequently and meaningfully with customers. Automation tools help with that.

 

Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your role as a customer success manager. 

I’m frequently meeting with customers to better understand how they’re engaging with the product and then share relevant information to help them. I take that feedback back to our team so they can understand how to help customers better drive business results with our software. Everything I do is geared towards fostering a long-term relationship with clients and users focused on value realization.

I take what I learn from both sides of the relationship and apply that to creating materials and setting up communication channels that drive understanding between everyone. The findings and mental models help both clients and our internal teams. Our success team is meant to serve as the bridge between each one of our customers and Flatfile.

Higher efficiency here means we get to engage more frequently at a meaningful level. 

 

What’s something you do in your role as a CSM that would surprise most people?

Automation increases the amount of customization and personal attention we’re able to give. It’s probably contrary to what we’re used to as users, where a brand’s automation means you’re stuck navigating endless phone menus and chatbots. Success is different and I love it. Higher efficiency here means we get to engage more frequently at a meaningful level because it lets us prioritize what matters.

 

What are the three most important skills needed to be a good customer success manager?

Be insanely organized: Good organizational skills and systems are critical, and it’s the first thing I’d recommend developing. 

Have good mental models: As a customer success manager, it’s so much easier to tell when something is outside the norm for a customer if you have a mental model of how it’s “supposed” to be. Learning to create them intentionally is invaluable. When you create them around subjects that you need to understand, anything outside of it is immediately recognized and able to be explored. 

Be curious: A curious customer success manager naturally wants to know more about a company they’re working with, its goals, and the “why” behind what the people they’re talking to care about. It’s exhausting if you have to fake interest. For someone curious, it’s not tiring; it’s really exciting. 

 

Amy Boswell
Senior CSM • Envysion

CSMs at video-based analytic software company Envysion must be resilient and able to multitask, Senior CSM Amy Boswell said. For her, it’s important to build and maintain relations with customers in today’s virtual climate. Even when remote, professionalism and creativity go a long way in accomplishing this, she added.

 

Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your role as a customer success manager.

Every day, our aim is to drive user adoption of Envysion’s managed video solution through onboarding, user training and troubleshooting. A typical day unfolds pretty naturally relative to the pain points and queries that present themselves as they press on planned events. The effective Envysion CSM juggles the planned with the unexpected by employing essential support skills.

We have created a team portal that houses the myriad of standard operating procedures (SOPs), slide decks and forms needed to provide consistent and accurate support to our customers. We meet weekly to foster professional development, tackling topics such as leveraging team member strengths and change adaption. We rotate the lead on the development meeting weekly, so all team members are stakeholders in both teaching and learning. 

Every day, our aim is to drive user adoption through onboarding, user training and troubleshooting. 

 

What’s something you do in your role as a CSM that would surprise most people?

The insight we have into our customer’s operations via our managed video solution really takes people by surprise. We can view live video of sites and evaluate transactions to uncover theft, loss and operational issues in real time. The amount of time and effort that is saved via our solution is very attractive to our customers. It’s a real thrill to see them light up with enthusiasm when they realize that they can use our tool to transform their businesses.

 

What are the three most important skills needed to be a good customer success manager?

Resilience: The ability to bounce back and roll with change is absolutely necessary. The requirement of growing healthy customer relationships has not changed even though the environment that we operate in has been turned upside down. The resilient Envysion CSM finds the path to solutions within any environment.

Multitasking: A key requirement is to be able to triage effectively to use time efficiently. There will always be more tasks than there are hours in the workday. The effective multitasking CSM faces this challenge with aplomb by sorting all issues well and attacking them appropriately.

Relationship management: This is especially important now when we cannot travel to visit and train our customers or interact with them at professional events. We had to pivot to curate relationships virtually to provide training, business reviews and calls to best serve all customers on their journey with us. Effective relationship management is necessary both with customers and within our organization. We can’t grow good customer relationships if we don’t do the same with our colleagues. 

 

John Abplanalp
Senior Customer Success Manager • Greenhouse Software

Senior Customer Success Manager John Abplanalp said working cross-functionally with internal teams ensures his customers are supported at hiring software company Greenhouse. On the customer side, Abplanalp acts as a strategic partner for their talent acquisition teams and helps identify their long-term and short-term goals. High emotional intelligence is required when working cross-functionally and with the customer, he said.

 

Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your role as a customer success manager. 

Typically, a workday revolves around partnering with customers on their product usage strategy or current talent acquisition initiatives. I’m also working cross-functionally with various internal teams such as support, product, professional services and sales to help ensure our customers are supported. 

I rely heavily on our tech stack, such as Gainsight, to monitor customer health, log touchpoints and identify accounts that could use proactive outreach or nurturing. Additionally, I’m consistently preparing for a future quarterly business review and product strategy session with my contacts. 

We’re strategic partners and considered to be an extension of our customers’ talent acquisition teams.


What’s something you do in your role as a CSM that would surprise most people?

Based on my experience, most people assume we’re primarily responsible for helping out with product questions or escalations. In reality, we’re strategic partners and considered to be an extension of our customers’ talent acquisition teams; we advise them on best practices and how to effectively drive change management to meet both short-term and long-term goals. We want to ensure our customers have identified clear goals and KPIs so we know what success looks like for their team.
 

What are the three most important skills needed to be a good customer success manager?

Resilience: When working with a variety of organizations, it’s pretty common that our customers’ needs are constantly evolving throughout the year. Every week, we are prepared for the unexpected and quickly identify the resources to help meet the complex needs of their business.

Emotional intelligence: There are times in the role where we need to deliver difficult information or push back on certain customer requests. Understanding how to deliver that information in a way that does not negatively impact the customer relationship or partnership is crucial in this role. On the flip side, EQ is also an important factor when working cross-functionally with different teams. This role is collaborative so understanding how to effectively work with other teams internally will ultimately determine success as a CSM.

Adaptability: The teams we work with can fluctuate throughout the year so it’s important to adapt to the changes within the organization and the different types of customer personalities. Also, it’s important to know the audience for our meetings so we can effectively craft an agenda. 

 

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