The success or failure of the customer experience can be a make-or-break issue for an online company. As churn rate has increasingly become a critical metric for judging their success, Saas/Cloud-based organizations are opting to put in place a Customer Success Manager (CSM) to oversee the success and satisfaction of the customer/user experience. Their job is to provide customers with the best possible experience with the company’s product or service, ultimately leading to improved customer retention, loyalty, and growth. The role has become more vital than ever. One recent study, based on data from LinkedIn, found that approximately a full one third of jobs for Customer Success Manager were open, as more companies create and seek to fill the role.
A CSM’s responsibilities can be broad. It’s their job to understand the customer thoroughly, to comprehend their underlying issues, and to recognize how they dovetail with the company’s vision and mission. At the same time, the CSM needs to deeply understand the product or service being offered as well and have a firm grasp of how it operates.
But what kind of “success” is the CSM aiming for? While the goal of the CSM is to increase customer loyalty and reduce churn, an impactful CSM works to achieve several types of positive outcomes. First, and most obviously, occurs when customers are not only using the product, but they are experiencing their desired outcomes for the product. But the CSM is also concerned with presenting a company platform that is strategically designed to help customers get what they’re looking for, easily and transparently, and to see that success result in growth in acquisition, retention, and revenues.
Characteristics of a successful CSM
Let’s take a look at what characteristics a CSM needs to have to accomplish these ambitious goals. To begin with, they need to be something of a people person—having a variety of skill sets that allow them to work with a variety of people. They need to have the insight and analytical chops to understand the customer better than they know themselves. And they need to be able to aggregate the underlying issues of the product (or service), the desires of the customer, and the long-term vision of the company to serve the needs of all three. Since they are typically responsible for sharing customer feedback within several levels of the organization, they need to be able to speak the language of concerns of those in each of those levels.
In effect, Customer Success Managers are relationship-builders. They are focused on building enriching relationships between the company and its customers, to begin with. But they also build relationships internally, creating effective communication channels with each department, team or group in the company so that customer feedback can be most effectively integrated.
CSMs also need the technical chops. They need to have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the product or service. They need to be able to analyze data, pinpoint the customers who are struggling, and facilitate troubleshooting and problem-solving. They should also be able to identify customer requests that are aligned with the company vision and be able to relay those requests so that they get the attention they deserve.
Since customer satisfaction is critical to an online company’s survival, the work of CSMs reaches into multiple areas of the company:
- Support. Mastering the relationship with every user’s training phase so that their questions are answered, their pace is viable, and their unique needs are met. This is a key area to reduce customer attrition and churn.
- Data Analysis. Customer success is founded on knowing the customer and CSMs will collect and analyze customer data to optimize the customer’s experience.
- R&D/IT. Customer success leaders excel by feeding innovative ideas they’ve gleaned from the concerns of customers back into the product itself, which in turn delivers great customer experiences. So CSMs often need to collaborate with R&D or IT to suggest new ideas for product development and to initiate product improvements to better fit the wants and needs of their target customer.
- Sales & Marketing. With insights into customer profiles and their concerns, CSMs can provide Sales with advice about how to attract customers and referrals. Working with Marketing, they can help develop lead generation campaigns and monitor their success. They can work to obtain feedback from customers to help the company update, upgrade, and improve the product to increase customer satisfaction. They can also report on shifting customer needs and emerging opportunities.
- C-Suite. Customer Success Managers potentially work with decision-makers to integrate policies that increase customer satisfaction and help meet company goals.
How to measure the success of a CSM
How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your Customer Success Manager? I recommend doing so both quantitatively and qualitatively.
- Maintain Portfolios
Start by maintaining data for all the customers that your Customer Success Manager works with. Information on the key accounts handled, their sector, and point of contacts.
The portfolio should contain a growth plan for each customer, including key milestones for the customers while using your product, their earning plans, and what they’re hoping to achieve using your product, and by when.
Following the portfolio, the CSM would be able to maintain communication touchpoints and provide a personalized experience.
- Set up a CSM-tracking dashboard
Dashboards provide high-level insights and metrics at a glance and empower decision-making at virtually every level of an organization. To monitor the effectiveness of your customer success manager, set up key performance indicators (KPIs) that tell the story of their work. These can include:
– New Customers. Track quantity and MRR.
– Upsells. Track quantity and MRR.
– Downgrades. Track quantity and MRR.
– Churn. Track quantity and MRR.
– Client Success Rate. This is the calculation of the satisfaction level of the people that the CSM interacts with. It is the most important KPI for a CSM.
Managed Revenue. Total dollar amount handled by the CSM.
– Liability or Linkage metrics. This is a key metric that provides a strong correlation between the CSM and other operational units of the organization. For instance, the CSM communicates with the Sales team and relies on both the Customer Support team and Engineering/Management teams for many of his or her responsibilities. This metric will depend on the industry and organizational structure. A correlation matrix that maps a numeric number to indicate healthy relationships within the organization can be useful.
Qualitative metrics of success add the color and texture to the story of your Customer Success Manager’s work. They give you more of a feel for where the data is coming from and a deeper understanding of what makes your customers tick.
At a minimum, I recommend that organizations conduct surveys to get insight into the satisfaction levels of their customer base. Create a questionnaire that rates satisfaction level, from 1 to 10, for example. Based on those results, you can calculate and plot the average rating for your CSM. Use this periodically or yearly to give you a longer-term perspective of the impact of your Customer Service Manager’s work to improve the customer experience, increase customer retention, and ultimately, increase revenue.
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