What does a Customer Success Manager actually do?

Danni FriedlandCustomer Success0 Comments


Customer Success Management (CSM) has become a huge trend among many startup and tech companies.

Still, there is a lot of confusion about what the role actually entitles.

In its rock-solid foundations, the CSM’s job is to ensure that customers will achieve success with company’s product.

If done right, helping users succeed over time, will build a loyal user base for your product or service.

As Lincoln Murphy states in The Definite Guide:

“Customer Success is when customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company.”

He clarifies that rather than making customers successful through the use of your product, a CSM helps them achieve their goals and needs through the entire experience with your company – From the first interaction they have with your sales and marketing team, moving on towards onboarding, customer service and the rest of the Customer Life Cycle.

“The long-range vision of Customer Success Management is an integration of technology, Marketing, Sales, Professional Services, Training and Support into a relationship product for the SaaS/Cloud era.”

Customer Success Managers should be able to pinpoint the customers’ needs and create processes that reflect their goals.

Customer Success Managers should be able to pinpoint the customers' needs and create processes that… Click To Tweet

What We’ve Learned From the Career Paths of Skilled CSMs we have interviewed:

Margot Da Cunha

Customer Success Manager at Wistia

“In my mind, the main role of a Customer Success Manager is to go above and beyond to ensure your customers are actively working towards their goals and that they will be happy with the service provided.”

She explains that her day to day responsibilities include:

  • Customer onboarding
  • On-going support
  • Consultative calls
  • Strategic planning
  • Customer outreach
  • Customer marketing

Petr Pinkas

Customer Success Manager at Feedly

Petr Pinkas shares with us how making a customer successful doesn’t only depend on excellent customer service.

He clarifies that he sees his role as a CSM as a cross-functional mission to find all possible ways of making a customer happy.

Petr is responsible for informing the other teams why users are churning and what issues they’re having with the product.

He makes sure the entire process goes smoothly through:

  • Onboarding
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Company culture

Angela Chisholm

Customer Success Manager at InVision

As a CSM at the leading product design collaboration platform, Angela recognizes that her goal is to “empower designers across industries through education, events, and networking.” As a result, they have a 95% retention rate year over year with their Enterprise customers.

In addition to hosting events, training, and education, she also aims for:

  • Onboarding – understanding team’s current process, their goals and pain points
  • General account support
  • Manage subscription needs
  • Collect and manage product feedback – for research teams
  • Keep customers up to date on latest features

She clarifies that the CS team isn’t responsible solely for helping the customer understand their product. They also they need to improve their day-to-day workflow.

Whether you are a CEO, a Recruiter or a Customer Success Manager, learning from the best is a great way to make your SaaS company succeed.

It is a critical role and yet most people are not clear about what the basic responsibilities of a CSM are.

Following top leaders from this emerging profession is a great way to make sure you’re on the right track to success.

So, What does a CSM do?

The job of a CSM is to help customers achieve success and have a good experience when interacting with the company.

What does this mean, really?

Reviewing the customer accounts and customers’ health to increase user retention and decrease churn rates, along with increasing activation rates and customer satisfaction.

A CSM uses dedicated platforms and tools to track these metrics and communicate issues with the different teams.

Help desk software Zendesk

Help desk software Zendesk

CSMs have daily and ongoing communication with customers while tracking the entire Customer Life Cycle and coming up with solutions for issues.

They must be familiar with online Customer Support tools to personalize interactions.

CSMs also need to ace Customer Success Management systems to understand how customers are using the product and be able to assess their health.

CSMs have daily and ongoing communication with customers, while tracking the entire Customer Life Cycle… Click To Tweet


How Does a CSM Differ from Customer Service

Let’s get this one out of the way.

Yes, both Customer Success and Customer Service’s goal is happy, productive, product-loving users.

But (!), unlike Customer Service, the goal of Customer Success Management is 100% focused on providing customer value proactively.

Customer Service handles issues as they come up.

Customer Success is all about proactivity and planning in advance to increase the odds the user succeeds in his use of the product.

They are focused on the big picture (without leaving every-day details behind, of course).

They also rely on previous experience, and they are looking for long-term solutions and measure long-term goals.

And that’s what makes them proactive.

Regardless of the differences, CSMs need to synergize with the Customer Service team to provide the most value to their customers.

Sometimes, they even share similar tasks.

Again, Lincoln Murphy says it best:


The Customer Success mindset:

As I mentioned earlier, CSM is at it’s best when it can anticipate, foresee and even create processes around the customer journey to success.

In this section, I want to get into the mindset of how a CSM operates to be successful.

Pattern recognition

Sure, every user is an individual, but behavioral patterns are everywhere.

By recognizing the patterns, you can help customers succeed in using your product and achieving their goal.

By segmenting users and recognizing behavioral patterns, a CSM can understand what their user needs and avoid upcoming obstacles and complaints.

Which leads us to the next point.

Process building

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the CSM deals with customers who “have problems”.

Sure, it’s part of the role, but that’s more of a customer support characteristic.

A CS manager will recognize patterns of behaviors (see above) or product issues that are preventing the user’s success.

He will then put in place a process or product change that will help users achieve success at scale.

For example, it can be a:

  1. Change in the onboarding process
  2. Work with the product team to change a feature
  3. Improve copywriting to make it clearer for the user
  4. Create a piece of content to guide the user
  5. Establish a new email workflow
  6. Add an in-product notification suggesting a user asks for help

Human VS. machine – Not everything can be turned into a process or be automated. Sometimes, a human is needed in the process, or at least a human touch.

While the end goal is to create a system that can scale, sometimes it’s just about reaching out to your users and engaging in a real conversation.

Don’t be fooled. Tools are here to help CSMs perform better – they can never take over their jobs.

Happiness vs. success – Sure, we all want users to be happy, but for a CSM, successful is better than happy.

A user may love your product or company, but if they can’t hit their goal using your product – it’s a one-way ticket to churn Ville.

A user may love your product or company, but if they can’t hit their goal using your product - it’s a… Click To Tweet

Areas of responsibility

A great<a href=”http://blog.getjaco.com/hiring-a-customer-success-manager-skills/” data-cke-saved-href=”http://blog.getjaco.com/hiring-a-customer-success-manager-skills/” title=”Hiring a customer success manager””> customer success manager needs to have great communication and leadership skills.

That’s because their area of responsibility is so wide that they need to be able to both “get it” from the user’s side, but also communicate their needs to their entire product, marketing, sales, and management team.

Here’s a list of responsibilities a Customer Manager takes on on daily basis:

1. Have better understanding of who your users are & guide user acquisition efforts

Your CS manager should be the best information source for understanding who your users are and what their main goal in using your product are.

Creating the buyer’s persona and making sure it’s accurate is crucial to helping your company grow, but also for your CS manager to be able to strategize, create content and build processes around.

By taking charge of a big part of the users’ research, interviews, and getting to know who they are and what are their challenges, a CSM can improve their performance and also guide the company in the right direction.

All the research information should also be used to help improve your user acquisition strategy.

2. User Onboarding

This is a classic. A CSM makes sure users successfully onboard the product.

This doesn’t only happen through message popups etc, it happens through the entire onboarding cycle.

Writing the email funnel that accompanies the first 30 days of your product usage and guiding your new users on what features are important to them and how to use them – it’s all part of the onboarding process.

It’s about analyzing existing users and learning what features should be emphasized.

It’s about guiding new users to these features using email, or on-product suggestions, making sure they “get it”.

Another example can be going over user recording sessions and looking for technical or UX friction points that prevent users from finishing the onboarding process.

This is just a small part of what onboarding new users means.

3. Monitoring user health

Through gathering feedback, interviewing users, checking Net Promoter score.

Understanding what users feel about your product and how likely they are to churn is key.

CS manager can also keep track of referrals, social mentions and how likely are users to recommend your product to better understand the users’ health.

If a trend is spotted (a recurring complaint, a low score pattern, etc.) – the CS manager’s role would be to investigate it further and find ways to improve the user’s score.

This can be done by working with the product team, sales team or even the UX and pricing team.

4. Support your new users’ questions (proactively)

Your new (and sometimes old) users will always have some repeating questions or help topics.

After 10-30 users, a pattern will start to be noticeable. You’ll be able to recognize that all your users want to know:

  1. How to integrate your product with product X
  2. How do I do X with my account
  3. Do you support?
  4. How do I improve X using your product
  5. Etc.

It’s the CS manager’s job to answer these popular questions with content such as webinars, white papers, blog posts, a great FAQ section, tutorial videos and more. You get the idea.

Same goes for known technical issues and product pitfalls.

When the product team still hasn’t fixed an issue or a missing feature, it’s the CS manager job to try and inform users or direct them to the best existing solution within your product.

5. Improve the company’s knowledge of their users

Any company that seeks growth, will pursue knowing as much as possible about its users.

A CS manager will be the one spending time learning about potential and existing users.

He will do so through watching using session recording, running surveys, conducting user interview, analyzing usage data and more.

6. Support the sales team

Through learning what makes a successful onboarding, trial period or product demo, CS manager can reflect the user side’s of the experience and learn what’s missing from the sales process.

This will, in turn, make the sale easier and as frictionless as possible

It can be anything from understanding the information a user is looking for, to sharing who in the user’s company should experience the demo and what should be the demo’s focus to make the sale.

7. Uncovering and delivering a-ha moments faster.

The ‘A-HA’ moment is the moment a user really “gets” your product. They suddenly understand why it is life changing for them.

Your goal is to understand what that moment is, and then figure out how to drive users to it as fast as possible.

Through looking at users’ behavioral patterns, noticing what differentiates churning users and users with significant LTV, a CS manager will try to uncover those “special moments” and plan a process of getting all new users to that moment as quickly as possible.

8. Spotting opportunities and threats

In their user lifecycle, users will get to a point where their behavioral lead them to churn, or uncover a possibility of upselling a feature.

By monitoring users and holding a steady communication channel with them, the CS manager can uncover these moments and deliver the right messages, the right way.

For example: recognizing churn-threatening events ahead of time, before they become actual churn.

Or noticing that someone might achieve greater success using a premium feature and letting them know before they get frustrated.

A good CS is always communicating and tracking user behavior, either using data or direct conversation – the engagement is ongoing.

9. User retention

If a user loves your product and the experience using it is amazing – retention is the result.

If a user churns – it means that something in your process hasn’t worked well enough.

Sure, churn will always be there, and retention is not everlasting (usually).

But, if you pinpoint your target audience the right way and you acquire the right kind of users, a great CS manager should be so aware and pro-active to all churn threatening scenarios, that retention should be the result of handling the relationship to that point

In conclusion

A Customer Success Manager is the guy or girl you hire to ensure customers achieve what they want to achieve by using your product and have the best possible experience interacting with your company.

It’s not that they are responsible for churn and increasing customer retention – Churn is the symptom of how the CSM performs.

What do you think are the key roles of a customer success manager? Leave your answer in the comment.

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