5 Strategies for Developing Highly Effective Customer Success Managers

In SaaS companies, there are often several customer touchpoints occurring across an organization, from Account Management to Product to Support, and even emerging functions like Product Marketing. That said, it’s the role of a customer success manager (CSM) to own the overall customer relationships for a subset of accounts.

A CSM is ultimately responsible for 1) partnering with their subset of customers to help them achieve their business outcomes, and 2) creating raving fans within these accounts who want to expand their partnership with your company and tell others about how great your company is.

While it sounds straightforward, the role typically involves juggling multiple clients, priorities and timelines, which can greatly impact productivity and efficiency if not managed correctly. In turn, this can even impact the customer experience if CSMs are finding themselves unable to invest the time and energy required to keep accounts in good health.

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Maybe you’re noticing this with your CSMs or anticipating it as your company grows–or, maybe you’ve been a CSM and experienced this yourself. Fortunately, you effectively counteract the chaos and fatigue that sometimes occur in Customer Success by implementing these five strategies that will help your customer success managers be as effective as possible.

  1. Create Internal and External Engagement Strategies
    As we touched on at the beginning of this post, if you have multiple resources or teams that interact with a customer, it is critical that there is both an internal engagement strategy and an external engagement strategy. When everyone knows who they are working with and when, it creates clear swim lanes that everyone can follow.Keep in mind, it is common for internal teams to have an engagement strategy in place but not enforce it. For example, customers may continue to go to CSMs directly for support-related requests, where CSMs become the middlemen for customers and Support because they are too timid to enforce the direct engagement that should be occurring. Additionally, some customers want to go to their CSM for everything because that is with whom they are most comfortable.

    Tip: If customers are making requests that fall outside the purview of their CSMs–such as support requests–it’s good to instill a best practice like sending an email reply that introduces the correct person to engage with–such as a support team member–by cc’ing them. This will enforce this behavior moving forward and allow the proper person or team to take the engagement from there.

    While there may be pushback from both customers and internal teams at first, take the time to perfect the talk-track, and you will see how enforcing this behavior will free up your CSMs and prevent them from being responsible for things they aren’t held accountable for.

  2. Invest Your Time in Creating Playbooks
    When you develop a process, go beyond training and take the time to create a step-by-step playbook. Playbooks are, for the most part, unique to your company, but there are also common triggers for playbooks that most companies will encounter. Regardless, they’re a great tool to create consistency and set expectations across your team.

    Tip: Lean into your experienced CSMs to help create playbooks. Then, task your newly hired CSMs to hone playbooks after they have had a chance to thoroughly exercise them. This will ensure you’re continually updating and improving the playbooks as your company and customer experience evolve.

  3. Schedule Out the Day
    An extremely beneficial exercise for even the most productive CSMs is to walk through a time-based exercise. It is all too easy for a CSM to spend their day putting out a fire for a client or managing their ever-growing inbox. By mapping out where a CSM will spend their time on a daily basis, including responding to emails, the CSM will be able to feel a greater sense of control over their day.

    Tip: Ensure CSMs include a 20% buffer in their daily schedules. While a schedule can help anyone better manage fire drills, no one can fully eliminate them.

  4. Set Expectations
    It is all too common that CSMs create heightened expectations that can be difficult to maintain. This can include texting with clients all hours of the day, feeling under the wire to respond within hours, or stressing about a follow-up email from a client checking on the status of something. Encourage CSMs to put themselves in a customer’s shoes and think about what behavior a customer would deem reasonable. Regardless of what is decided, counsel your CSMs to communicate those expectations with customers up front, which essentially “trains” your customers to engage in the behaviors to which your CSMs commit.

    Tip: During a CSM’s scheduled “email time,” they should respond to all customer emails with a date by which they will get back to a customer, and then schedule any tasks to ensure these commitments are met.

  5. Redefine Customer Calls
    All customer calls should have an agenda and a purpose. A best practice is to share a team-wide agenda with topics that CSMs can pull from in order to focus on value-add topics. This also ensures CSMs are focused on the right topics when engaging with customers.

    Tip: Encourage CSMs to create an agenda for the next call immediately following a call, when everything is top of mind. This can save hours each week and ensure CSMs are keeping the momentum between touchpoints.

CSMs are juggling multiple clients, priorities and timelines. This can quickly become overwhelming for not just new CSMs, but also senior-level CSMs who are taking on more accounts, larger accounts, or accounts that demand higher priority. By following these five strategies, you can begin ensuring your CSMs are more productive and efficient for both your company and your customers.

For more on what you can do to help your CSMs–and your customers–contact Carema Consulting.