What Do You Look For When Hiring a New CSM Team Member?

We started the podcast several months ago, and have had on so many great guests so far (and looking forward to many more). Throughout the process I have been asking a couple common questions, one of them being what each of these leaders look for when hiring on a new member to their team.

I have gathered their responses for you below :).

The common threads in all of their responses are that someone working in customer success has to be good at creating and nurturing a strong relationship with the customer, be empathetic towards the customer and the customers’ goals, and have a natural desire to help.

Intercom’s Director of Customer Support & Success - Jeff Gardner

Jeff Gardner was Intercom’s 4th employee and his job was to focus entirely on support. Now he is the Director of Customer Support & Success, and working every day to ensure that Intercom’s mission of making business personal is maintained.

As Intercom grew, so did the need for support and Jeff was tasked with building the team. This was the first time he has ever built a team, but he was certainly up for the challenge. Listening to their customers and listening to his team, as well as being rigorous in their hiring process has made the Intercom support team the outstanding team that it is today.

“...Being resilient, being able to handle pressure well and thrive under pressure. Those are values of our team and I think most support teams need to be able to display those types of values. But, they were really focused around how we work at Intercom, how we think at Intercom, you know, what our mission is which is to make business personal. And then kind of using those values and that mission to frame everything…”

This is the interview that inspired me to start asking the question! So thank you, Jeff :).

Check out his full interview here.

Twilio's Lead of Customer Success EMEA & APAC, Christina Kopka

Two years ago Christina Kopka, Customer Success Lead for EMEA and APAC at Twilio, came across Twilio while seeking out new opportunities. She originally was applying for a position in the sales department, but was presented the opportunity to help build their Customer Success division.

Twilio recognized the need to support customers on their platform as a supplement to a traditional sales cycle and Christina was part of the original team that addressed this gap.She started out working in the California office, and now she is in Dublin, Ireland running the Europe and APAC Customer Success teams.

“The first thing we look for, at least at a high level, is hunger. And what I mean by that is someone who is really, really invested in learning, and someone who is never satisfied with a singular answer. Someone who’s constantly looking to grow and to learn.

And the reason I’m starting off with that is Twilio’s constantly changing and constantly growing, and to succeed in this type of a role we need people who are energized by that.

[Also] ability to understand very technical information, understand how it works, and be able to take that knowledge and translate it.

...The necessary skill set is almost one of an educator. Where you’re able to take complex information, you yourself are able to understand that information...and then in turn speak to a variety of different audiences with that information in a way that they themselves understand…”

Check out her full interview here.

Oracle’s Head of Customer Success Enablement & Quality, Keri Keeling

Keri Keeling started her career in Customer Success in the 90s at a Ford dealership. A bit funny because now the term Customer Success is so heavily associated with SaaS and the tech world that we forget that the concept of creating a lifetime, recurring customer is something that all industries have needed to focus on, long before tech was so prevalent. She is now the Head of Customer Success Enablement and Quality at Oracle.

“When I think about the Customer Success teams that I’ve designed, built and operationalized across all companies...I think that the best Customer Success Managers that have been the most successful are folks that have a nice blend of IQ and EQ….folks who are very personable, they are maybe even folksy or chatty. Somebody that the customer is going to feel very comfortable with and get to know...relationships come easy to [them].

You want to mix [that personality] with the technical side...In my mind, Customer Success Managers don’t have to understand all of the nuts and bolts of the products and services that they are supporting, but they do need to have enough knowledge that they can speak at an applied level...they can provide a customer with a demo, they can provide a customer with a walk through that’s going to help that customer understand a little bit more about how to meet their use case.”

Check out her full interview here.

ChartMogul’s Director of Customer Success, Ingmar Zahorsky

On his way to becoming the Director of Customer Success at ChartMogul, Ingmar has had many different types of jobs and roles, from working in journalism and media, to doing documentary films, traveling around the work teaching, and then eventually finding his way to Zendesk in a role that was called customer success just yet.

“Helping customers with our analytics platform can be quite technical, hence I look for people who have worked with APIs..who ideally have experience or an interest in coding.

In terms of character qualities I look for someone who is very patient, naturally loves helping people, who is optimistic, self-motivated, diligent and also kind in the way they communicate with other people.

And..the last thing is that I always try to understand whether the person I’m hiring is someone who is hungry and ready to do the best work of their career at ChartMogul...I try to understand what’s their motivation and where do they want to go with their career. Is it a good match where they can do their best work.

So there is always questions I ask in the interview: where do they want to go, what will make them happy…”

Check out his full interview here.

Unbounce’s Director of Customer Success, Jonas Stanford

Jonas is the Director of Customer Success at Unbounce and has been there for 3 years now. He started his career about 12 years ago working in software testing and that led him down the path to start working in the customer service industry, and now in customer success.

“When I hire Customer Success Managers...definitely somebody who is empathetic...No matter what the function within Customer Success you’re doing, whether it’s front-line support, or a Customer Success Manager, or something else you really have to be empathetic and you have to understand that your customer is most important and...they have a dream they want to accomplish something…

I also look for people who are really good at building relationships...Easy to get people to open up, have very effortless conversations, really easy to talk to, they make you feel at ease, they can diffuse a situation…

And then just somebody who really gets personal satisfaction out of helping others. Because the act of Customer Success is literally your work is helping others achieve their work…”

Check out his full interview here.

SavvyCard CEO, David Etheredge, & Director of User Experience, Andy Sutton

I got to sit down with the CEO and founder, David Etheredge, and the Director of User Experience, Andy Sutton, of SavvyCard to talk about their early adoption of a customer success mindset and team.

The coolest thing about their approach is that it is holistic; the customer success team is the “connective tissue” of the company helping everything to move, function, and grow in a cohesive way that is always customer centric.


“First and foremost, I always look for a good fit with the team. Personality wise, just that vibe, that feeling that you get. I can teach people our internal processes, I can teach them to use tools, I can teach them taxonomy and all of these other things. I can't teach them to be a good fit with the team. So to me, that's first and foremost. And then you want somebody that can do all those other things, that can learn internal business processes, they can learn a new tool, they have a good interaction style about them. Business like, but not brusque. We want somebody who likes to talk to people, really, when it comes down to it.”

Check out their full interview here.

Peakon’s VP of Customer Success, Patrick Cournoyer

Patrick was first a customer of Peakon’s before joining their team as VP if Customer Success in 2016. And the experience he had with the company and his customer success manager made him such a fan of the company that he wanted to work with them!

The approach he and the CEO of Peakon have taken to customer success is very people first, and they make sure that the relationship between the customer success manager and the customer never feels transactional - it feels like a partnership.

“When we look for candidates, we look for an extremely diverse team in the organization, in particular in customer success, we are a very diverse team as well. The high majority of our customer success managers have no background in customer success. You're probably hearing a repetitive pattern here, right? Like me not having customer success background, right?

The team that we have recruited is excellent at project management... We have a couple of people on our team that have been event managers. I think that is a really interesting skill to have because there are three areas I think in working in a fast growing young organization, in a technology-based SaaS organization, I think that you have to be really good at. You have to be excellent at dealing with ambiguity because fast growing companies there's usually a lot of things that are quite ambiguous, right?

Being able to manage and again thrive in an environment that is full of competing priorities. Everyday our world is full and customer success is full of competing priorities.

I think the thing that we really look for is people that are just able to have a conversation, right? That comes in a lot of different packages and a lot of different ways...If somebody can have a conversation and be disarming in a lot of ways in their conversation, that is a skill that cannot be trained...We can train how to implement the technology product. We can train how to use a technology system. What we can't train is intuition, is a personality, is how people interact.

Some do have customer success backgrounds, but it is absolutely not the first thing that we look for at all. We love the variety of people in our team.”

Check out his full interview here.

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