Like most things worth a dime of your time, customer success isn’t bridled with a black-and-white, two-dimensional definition.
While most will agree customer success is a proactive measure to ensure your customers reach their desired outcomes, there’s a whole lot more to the genetic makeup of CS than meets the eye.
But what is it like to actually work in customer success?
In our 2022 report, the State of Customer Success, we asked CS professionals from all backgrounds, industries and locations to find out the current customer success landscape in 2022.
In this article, we hold up a magnifying glass to
- Career satisfaction
- Skills that accelerate career progression
- Career aspirations
- Internal barriers
- Allocated customer success budget
As much as customer success is based on proving product value to customers, the actual process of feeling valued is integral to the ‘success’ of a team.
There’s a lot of noise on the LinkedIn grapevine warning businesses of the perils of ‘quiet quitting.’ While this new buzzword doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of enthusiasm or burnout, it’s important for employers to monitor the well-being of their staff and be sensitive to their career progression and overall job satisfaction.
After all, it'd grossly amiss to forget the value of a customer success team.
Without CS, a company’s hard-earned investment in awesome products, high-flying marketing campaigns, and the tenacious work of sales teams would all be for nothing. Imagine all the hard work that goes into the sales funnel, evaporating into the ether due to poor aftercare.
To echo the words of Jason Noble, VP of Global Customer Success at Vinli, Inc.:
“Customer success is about partnerships with our customers. It's not just about our customer's success, but about our success. We wouldn't be doing what we were doing if there wasn't value to us and to our businesses.”
As one survey participant pointed out, “customer success enables your customers to fully adopt their investment, all the while ensuring their experience across every company interaction is a positive one with measurable outcomes.” In order to truly implement this, a customer success team needs to feel valued within their organization.
We asked: “On a scale of 0-10, how much influence do you feel you have on shaping your company's goals and strategy?”
We found: The results accumulated an average score of 6.3/10.
In 2021, this figure was 6.7/10 – highlighting a 0.4 decrease for this year. 📉
We asked: “On a scale of 0-10, how much influence do you feel you have on shaping the direction of the product(s) you market?”
We found: The results accumulated an average score of 5.8/10.
While this isn’t a worrying figure, we’d have hoped customer success professionals would feel like having an ear to the ground – listening to customers’ feedback daily – would bear some influence on their company’s future products.
In 2021, this figure clocked in slightly higher at 6.2 – showing a YoY decrease of 0.4%. 📉
We asked: “On a scale of 0-10, how much do you feel your role in customer success is valued at your company?”
We found: The results revealed an average score of 7.1/10.
Thankfully, this figure is encouraging, demonstrating how seven in ten customer success practitioners feel like their hard work is appreciated by their colleagues.
When we asked people this question back in 2021, the response was marginally more positive, boasting an average score of 7.1 – 0.6% higher than this year’s results. 📈
What skills have accelerated career progression?
When you’ve worked hard and honed your craft, it’s natural to want to ascend the career ladder. For those who have bagged a promotion or two in their time, there are some pearls of wisdom to hand down to those aspiring to follow suit.
Mark Higginson, Chief Customer Officer at Roster believes “the best CSMs have a do-anything attitude and a work ethic that is off-the-chart. Flexibility is crucial, and gaining sales skills adds to the full CS package.”
For Ryan Noakes, Customer Success Manager at SAI360, a lot of the skills of a great Customer Success Manager are not taught – you’re born with them. To be a legendary CS professional, you need:
“Without empathy, you’ll never be able to truly understand how a customer feels. If you cannot put yourself in your customers’ shoes, how can you ever ensure they get the best? Secondly, you need to have good relationship skills – you need to be able to communicate effectively. Thirdly, you need skills to present confidently. All of these skills will help you stand out.”
For Michelle Wideman, Chief Customer Officer at Onna, you have to be able to play well in the sandbox:
“Success is the most cross-functional role in an organization, so you need to be a strong communicator that can speak the language of the person you are communicating with. You need to understand the goals of all the cross-functional leaders and communicate how the success team can help them exceed their goals.”
But what did our survey respondents have to say? According to our research, Ryan is on the money; communication (80.5%), problem-solving (78.8%), strategic thinking (70.3%), relationship-building (66.1%), and empathy (60.2%) are the top skills to have if you’re hoping to get promoted.
These were closely followed by organizational skills (58.5%), listening (58.4%) and analytical skills (51.7%).
Deciding to stay put in a job, or wanting to skedaddle, is telling for many reasons. The number of resources dedicated to your team and the ability to perform your job to its full potential are both indicative of the way you’re respected at your workplace and the efficacy of the customer success function.
Thankfully, the results of this segment optimistically revealed that over two-thirds (68.7%) of our audience plan to progress up the customer success career ladder and become the CS leaders of tomorrow.
Despite the slightly lower figures in the previous section of this report that indicated a drop in value felt by those working in CS, this figure has not dissuaded people in their quest for outcome success.
Just under one-quarter of the overall survey population (21.2%) claim to be content in their current positions. When you consider this in conjunction with the above 68.7% CS progression statistic, there are 89.9% of our entire survey respondents who’ve confirmed their intention to remain working in the CS function. Pretty good going if you ask us.
While a finite number of people saw entrepreneurship in their future (2.6%), sadly, 7.6% of our total amount of respondents admitted to wanting to leave their job in customer success, and enter a completely different field.
Interestingly, the people who want to stop working in CS cited the following internal barriers that prevent them from appropriately doing their jobs:
- “Poor development team resources.”
- “Two words: my boss.”
- “C-suite leadership doesn’t fully understand or value customer success.”
- “Conflicts and overlaps between business areas (marketing, product, support, sales) and mostly, the lack of experience in the area.”
- “Poor alignment between customer segmentation and product.”
- “A lack of revenue attribution.”
- “Next to no resourcing.”
- “Unfortunately, it’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Those who want to exit the CS field gave the following reasons:
- “I am poised to grow and learn new traits and skills.”
- “I’ve found there to be a definite lack of engagement from customers and team members.”
- “I can’t work in CS anymore due to abysmal product management.”
- “In a nutshell: poor leadership.”
- “I’m simply in want of a new challenge.”
Understanding internal barriers
There’s an ancient customer success proverb that goes something like this:
“In order to master the future you desire, one must overcome the internal departmental barriers thrown in one’s way.”
Okay, we may have fabricated the truth a smidge with the origins of that one, but the sentiment stands the test of time.
In order to manifest career progression, you need to first realize what’s holding you back. From a management perspective, understanding what’s going wrong for other CS teams is like gold dust – it allows you to make sure your company doesn’t make the same mistakes and re-focus efforts on ensuring CS is as effective and valuable as possible.
From an individual contributor’s perspective, knowing your peers’ pain points can help identify company behaviors you don’t want to encounter in your career. If you recognize some of the below issues, it might be worth re-addressing what you want out of your CS career and whether your current workplace is the right fit for you.
Here are some of the grievances our pool of survey respondents admitted to hindering their performance:
- “We’ve more work to do than resources permitting.”
- “There’s a lack of company focus, mission, and direction, to boot!”
- “The governance from our parent company is an interference.”
- “For me, it’s the power of three: no structure, no process, and no tools.”
- “In our company, there’s inadequate alignment between the executives that makes my job harder.”
- “I find that our customer success team is constantly being pulled in different directions by senior management.”
- “I come from a sales-led org instead of a product-led one. Often that results in not getting the new features or enhancements deployed when customers want them.”
- “High employee retention is the largest barrier to promotions and salary increases.”
Of course, these pain points are subjective and only capture a snapshot of the issues our CS professionals face. Nevertheless, we put the question of commonplace challenges to our CS experts, Mark, Ryan and Michelle, to gain a more nuanced understanding of what’s going wrong, and what can be done:
“Your experience of challenges definitely depends on the size and stage of an organization. Sometimes, for companies in their early stages, CS becomes a catch-all function. Alternatively, in late-maturity orgs, CS can lose a seat at the table. Keeping representation, while maintaining an understanding of the value of CS at the highest levels will always be important. You’ll learn a great deal by working with your CSMs to define clear roles and responsibility with the mindset that they’ll probably end up changing.”
- Mark Higginson, Chief Customer Officer at Roster
“Customer success faces the most challenges when it comes to influencing the direction of change, the priority of projects or decisions. Internal teams have their own actions and way of working and as much as we can be the voice of the customer and advocate for them, sometimes it’s hard to influence others.”
- Ryan Noakes, Customer Success Manager at SAI360
“[Challenges or pain points] will vary greatly depending upon the size and the stage of the company. I think the goal is to move from reactive to proactive, then to a predictive customer success team. For me, having customer usage data and calls to action set based on this data is a critical first step, for without having customer usage data you are flying blind.”
- Michelle Wideman, Chief Customer Officer at Onna
The amount of budget allocated to customer success functions
The sequin-wearing, musical legends, and social commentators, ABBA, once noted that “Money, money, money, must be funny in a rich man’s world”.
Allocating a budget can make or break a department, and it can be a sore spot for underfunded teams. We wanted to gauge amongst our respondents whether they feel their CS team is being adequately invested.
Unfortunately, 55.7% of our survey respondents said that there wasn’t enough money being invested in customer success at their company, with 44.3% of people acknowledging sufficient funding.
We decided to do a little digging and discovered that 90.2% of those who confirmed adequate investment into their CS function were part of companies in late growth/scale-up and mid-growth stages, suggesting that maturer companies can afford to properly fund their CS team.
Make your next career move today
Do you want to supercharge your career in just six weeks? Well, you can do just that with the Customer Success Leaders Fellowship. Designed for the CS leaders of today and tomorrow, you'll enjoy:
- Insights from industry leaders in live presentations, panel talks, and fireside chats
- Coursework projects to test your understanding and put your learning into practice
- Facilitated discussion and networking sessions in your private fellowship alumni channel
- Access to a bank of industry-standard templates and frameworks
Sound like something up your street? Download the brochure for more details.