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Customer Success Managers: A Necessity for Customer Success

8 min read

No customer success team is complete without a Customer Success Manager. CSMs are a guiding force for customer success and improving customer relationships

What does a customer success manager do?

Customer success managers do various jobs on a customer success team including:

  • transitioning customers from sales to active users

  • adding value

  • reducing churn

  • proactively addressing customer concerns

  • improving customer relationships

What is a customer success manager?

A customer success manager (CSM) is a combination support specialist and salesperson that proactively solves problems, anticipates customer needs, and ensures the client receives the value they seek from the product.

CSMs focus on building relationships with customers that ultimately build trust, increase retention, reduce churn, and improve customer satisfaction. CSMs often work with the client during onboarding, and continue to support the customer throughout the product lifecycle. This gives CSMs a unique high-level overview of how a client uses your product to solve their specific challenges.

What Are The Responsibilities of a Customer Success Manager

Customer Success Managers can take on a range of responsibilities, especially in companies with smaller customer success teams.

Onboarding New Customers

Onboarding is one of the first big impressions a brand makes with its customers. Ensuring a smooth onboarding process requires someone who can educate customers on how the product works while simultaneously understanding their needs, goals, and desired outcomes.

By remaining attentive, CSMs can quickly teach the customer what they need to know in order to achieve their goals, and record detailed notes regarding their unique challenges and future needs.

Identifying Upsell and Cross-sell Opportunities

Good CSMs will not only improve client retention, but help increase the customer’s lifetime value. Unlike many sales teams, the CSM has a long-term relationship with the customer that started during onboarding.

Ideally, these interactions over time will position the CSM as a trusted expert and make upsell and cross-sell opportunities easier. Oftentimes CSMs can use their internal notes or customer success analytics to know when a client is a good fit for an upgrade.

Becoming A Customer Advocate

Customer success managers collect what they learn from the client and make sure their voice is truly heard. This often involves including other members of the customer success or technical support team. CSMs may also help transition customers to other departments, and ensure those teams members have everything they need to complete their tasks.

For example, if there is tension between a client and customer support, the CSM can step in to help repair the relationships and ensure any big picture problems were not missed by customer support.

Collect and evaluate customer feedback

As a CSM you establish a strong and transparent relationship with your customers, and sometimes know what they need, even before they know it themselves.

To make sure you don’t miss out on any relevant issues or growing pain points, make sure you collect and analyze customer feedback.

A CSM can do this by regularly scheduled calls with their clients, but also use surveys and analyzing product usage to verify that they are on their way to achieving their business goals, with the help of you.

Retain customers and reduce churn

It is the CSM's job to retain their customers and thereby reduce the company churn.

To be successful with this task, CSMs should keep track of renewal dates and actual product usage, activity, and survey scores.

By analyzing these different factors, a skilled CSM knows when to take action, and also what type of action needs to be taken, in order to retain a customer.

If a CSM manages a large portfolio of customers, some of these tasks can be automated so that a dip in activity or an upcoming renewal date triggers an action or sets an alert.

However, the most important part of retaining a customer and reducing the risk of churn is by doing a successful onboarding and making sure there is a mutual alignment on business goals.

What Skills Does a Customer Success Manager Need?

Typically, CSMs have a solid mix of both hard and soft skills that allow them to not only solve problems, but nurture client relationships over time.

These skills may include:

With Planhat Portals, it is possible to share success plans, playbooks, dashboards, goals, documents, and align on business goals with your clients in a branded Customer Portal.

Altogether, Planhat is a complete Customers platform that lets you track the KPIs that matter the most for the future growth of your business.

  • Industry-specific knowledge

  • Strong presentation skills

  • The ability to quickly solve unique and challenging problems

  • High emotional intelligence (empathetic)

  • The ability to analyze data

  • Previous sales and customer support experience

What’s The Difference Between a Customer Success Manager and Customer Support?

In short, the main difference between customer success managers and customer support is that CSMs proactively solve problems and provide value for their clients.

Customer support works on solving individual problems once they have already occurred. This might require solving a technical issue or educating the customer on a feature. The customer support rep only solves a single problem, and doesn’t look at the overall goal of the client.

For example, customer support may help a client use a certain feature, but fail to realize that they are using the wrong feature for the outcome they are expecting. CSMs read between the lines and help reduce customer support tickets by taking a proactive approach.

What’s the Difference between a Customer Success Manager and Customer Experience?

As the industry keeps evolving, these are two roles that tend to get entangled with each other. However, there are some important differences that are key to creating a successful customer success department and a successful customer experience:

Customer Success is about helping the customers achieve their business goals (=becoming successful) with the help of your product.

Customer Experience is about making sure that the customers stay happy and satisfied every time they interact with your company.

Another distinction between these two functions is the role they play during the customer journey.

Customer experience starts before the customer is a customer. Sometimes, even before the customer even realizes they are on a customer journey.

Customer success comes to play in the post-sales phase. Sure, sometimes they can be a part of the sales process in order to establish a relationship early on but their main focus is when a customer is actually a customer and on their way to start using the product.

Although there is a difference between these functions, and sometimes they tend to get mixed up, in a customer-centric company it’s necessary to keep the focus on what’s most important for all departments - no matter if they call themselves customer success, customer experience, or customer support: the success of your customer.

When To Hire a Customer Success Manager

The best time to hire a customer success manager is whenever you can afford to.

Even small organizations can start to see value from hiring a CSM. Most companies with one large client or a few medium-sized customers can take advantage of the benefits a CSM brings to the company. CSMs help organizations tap into unrealized upsell opportunities while simultaneously reducing churn.

How To Hire a Customer Success Manager

When building your team, look to hire someone who has had previous CSM experience. Their previous knowledge will help you design frameworks and playbooks to serve your clients. As the CSM works with new customers you can get an understanding of how many clients they can work with at once. You can then begin to hire more CSMs as needed, and even develop new roles to help provide better customer success.

CSMs will make up a majority of your customer success team. As your team grows it’s common for CSMs to naturally take on leadership roles and transition to team lead roles. Larger organizations often create specialized roles within their customer success team to allow CSMs to focus on client needs.

For example, a Customer Success Analyst is a dedicated role that converts customer data into actionable insights for the business. The Customer Success Operations Manager is another common role that works with CSMs to optimize the customer success journey.

All of these roles work together to create your client success team, with CSMs acting as a solid foundation.

How Planhat can help

Planhat connects all the customer data, gets actionable insights, and drives actions to manage renewals, reduce churn and boost expansion.

Planhat also provides a unified view of your customers all in one place, identifies risks and opportunities, creates clear, repeatable processes through the customer lifecycle, and offers multi-channel communication as well as customized inboxes for teams.

With Planhat Portals, it is possible to share success plans, playbooks, dashboards, goals, documents, and align on business goals with your clients in a branded Customer Portal.

Altogether, Planhat is a complete customer platform that lets you track the KPIs that matter the most for the future growth of your business.

You can learn more about Customer Success management strategies, Download our report to learn What's next for Customer Success? or get a Planhat demo!

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