Customer Success Managers: Here’s How to Become the Consultant Your Customers Need

June 25, 2020

“As CSMs, we don’t necessarily have one task we’re assigned,” Jackie Tuck, a lead CSM at legal document technology company Litera Microsystems, said.

On any given day, customer success managers juggle onboarding new customers, supporting at-risk accounts, preparing for upsell or renewal calls, becoming product and technology experts, and relaying client concerns with other internal stakeholders, like the product and engineering teams. 

In order to be successful, CSMs across Chicago tech said patience, empathy and resilience must be cultivated. Patience helps CS teams take the time to truly understand clients’ unique pain points, while resilience fuels them as they keep up with the breakneck pace of learning the field of technology requires. 

Other tips for excelling in the CS world and creating loyal customers? Direct and honest client conversations, in-depth company research and ongoing training are a few key ways CSMs can transform from product experts to bonafide consultants.

 

Grace Ahlgrim
Relationship Associate, Root Enterprise

Grace Ahlgrim, a relationship associate at mobile insurance company Root, said she looks to educate the customer and help break down the somewhat complicated regulations of insurance. CSMs at Root receive in-depth training on the technology used so they can predict and explain customers’ technical questions. 

 

What steps do you take to better understand the needs, goals and expectations of your customers?  

We have approached the old problem of pricing auto insurance in a new and profound way, using mobile technology to level the playing field and remove inherent bias from the accessibility and cost of auto insurance. Many of our customers have been in their respective businesses a long time, but see a lot of industry consolidation and the potential of technological changes in the competitive landscape as highly disruptive. We know they want to adopt technologies to better engage their customers and provide better services, but often they just don’t know how to do it. 

That logic informs our engagement with our customers. We try to start with a broad understanding of the customer, and then hone in on how our solution could potentially help their business. 

 

What training is in place to help CSMs in your organization become experts on your products and industry? 

We are a new company with a new solution geared toward an old problem. It is therefore important for us to become experts on the old and the new, so that we can internalize the customer issue while looking for ways we can solve it with technology.

We start with insurance training. How does an insurance company operate? What are the steps in a traditional consumer journey? What are the standard product dependencies that potential customers rely on?

In parallel, we train CSMs on our technology. We are effectively offering a SaaS solution that gives companies the ability to measure the risk of auto drivers. There is a lot of math that goes into the puzzle. Our CSMs don’t need to be experts on statistics, but the ability to understand statistical questions posed by clients, and understanding how best to engage our internal experts to effectively answer these questions is key. They need to know the basics on how to integrate our platform, any key limitations on our product capabilities, and the types of solutions we could build, or augment, are critical skills that our CSMs master.

 

What soft skills have you found to be particularly important when it comes to consulting your clients? 

Patience and empathy are the most important characteristics for our team. We know that our clients have a ton on their plates. Insurance companies, fleets and related financial services entities have needed to respond in formative ways to the macro environment. Ultimately, we believe our solution is one that is helpful. Working with our clients, understanding their priorities and ensuring that we are here as consultants on any problem they may have has been an important way for us to engage. 

 

Important questions to ask customers:

  • What is the most important measure of success for your business today? 
  • Where do you want to head as a business next?
  • What challenges are you facing and what has motivated you to try and solve them? 
  • If there was one thing that could create a better experience for your customers, what would it be? What about for your employees?
  • Have you tried adopting similar technology before? Why did it fail (or succeed)?

 

Jackie Tuck
Lead Customer Success Manager

Jackie Tuck, a lead CSM at legal document technology company Litera Microsystems, said listening deeply is the only way to understand customers. Before client-facing conversations Tuck does her research, looking for her customers in recent news stories and perusing their websites to identify potential pain points. She then brings those challenges up in meetings and asks if they want those issues to be incorporated into their partnerships.

 

What steps do you take to better understand the needs, goals and expectations of your customers? 

It sounds obvious, but the biggest step I take is to actively listen during all customer conversations and engagements. Each customer is unique in its own way and has different needs and priorities. I always try to understand all priorities and not just ones related to Litera. 

Prior to meetings, I will look at the customer’s website to see if they have been mentioned in any recent articles or have anything noteworthy to mention during discussions. Toward the end of most of my meetings, I will touch base on the partnership. I like to ask if there is something we could start doing, stop doing or continue doing. 

 

What training is in place to help CSMs in your organization become experts on your products and industry?

Litera has a lot of training available for everyone to have a better understanding of our product suite. When there are new releases, our product team will send out a high level of what is new. This is particularly helpful for us as CSMs to leverage that information and send out applicable release notes to our customers. 

We have a YouTube channel with videos that highlight key features and functions to have a high-level understanding of what each product does. In addition, CSMs sit in on a lot of external demonstrations with our sales engineering team. The customer is our main priority and focus, but we are constantly in conversations around the product suite. Knowing and understanding our products helps in external conversations. It contributes to us being viewed as a trusted advisor and partner. 

 

What soft skills have you found to be particularly important when it comes to consulting your clients? 

Empathy has helped me a ton in this role. Especially now that we are living in a pandemic, we’re all experiencing some type of emotion and feeling toward what is happening. Whether the customer is next door to me in Chicago or on the other side of the world, it makes me feel like I can relate in some way. 

Another couple of skills that are key in this role are flexibility and adaptability. As CSMs, we don’t necessarily have one task we’re assigned. We work with all departments internally and the conversations we are involved in are all different. We often have to roll with the punches, whether that is rescheduling a call, hopping on a call at the last minute, dealing with product issues, etc. 

 

Danie Feld
Manager, Consumer Experience,

Compassion is the key ingredient for a “people-first” mentality, according to Danie Ferd, a manager of consumer experience at health snack company RXBAR. Feld credits years of hands-on experience fielding phone calls and emails with learning how to understand exactly what customers need.

 

What steps do you take to better understand the needs, goals, and expectations of your customers?

Our team is situated within the e-commerce function, giving us the opportunity to be actively engaged with and in constant communication about our consumers’ experiences. We’re big on continuous improvement at RXBAR, so we make a concerted effort to give feedback to our team and across functions. We frequently report on trends within the inquiries we receive in order to improve every single touchpoint our consumers have with our products. It helps that everyone at RXBAR has a “people-first” mentality. 

 

What training is in place to help CSMs in your organization become experts on your products and industry? 

I’ve been at RXBAR for over three years, starting as a consumer experience associate and progressing to my current position as the manager of consumer experience. Everything I know I’ve learned through hands-on experience, working with our consumers. One of my best practices is being directly involved in the conversations we have with our consumers by answering emails and phone calls when I can. 

It’s my responsibility to understand what our consumers are talking about, who they are and the learnings from my team. I can’t do that without participating firsthand in conversations. I realize this is a unique practice, and I wouldn't change anything about it.

 

What soft skills have you found to be particularly important when it comes to consulting your clients? 

Empathy, empathy, empathy. I’m a firm believer that great consumer experiences can't exist without an innately empathetic team. We ensure this mentality by always keeping the consumer at the forefront of our minds and by speaking up when we feel something could be improved. We couldn’t exist without the people that purchase our products so it’s a no-brainer that our instinct is to put them first in everything we do.

 

Before CSM Jen Huffman begins working with customers, she builds out a detailed customer profile that includes priorities, goals and company earnings. To improve their team’s communication skills, cloud company Maven Wave provides training options and mentoring support.

 

What steps do you take to better understand the needs, goals and expectations of your customers?

The first step that I take to better understand our customers’ needs is to build out a strategic customer profile with detailed information around their business, quarterly earnings, priorities, goals and accomplishments. Many of our clients have this information readily available on their websites under annual reports and in their company biographies. 

 

What training is in place to help CSMs in your organization become experts on your products and industry?

As a CSM, there are several technology training options available to help elevate our skills, including technical credentials. We also have mentoring that supports the customer success team’s growth and development within our client portfolios. 

 

What soft skills have you found to be particularly important when it comes to consulting your clients? 

It is important in the CSM role to always be listening and have your problem-solving hat on. It’s key for anyone in this role to always be thinking like our clients. This role requires a strong commitment to helping our customers solve business challenges, which in return, demonstrates why they are trusting you as their partner. I am a fan of learning by staying active through CSM coaching and CSM professional groups that provide strategies and resources.

 

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