This article was transcribed from Zuzanna Ostojska's presentation at June 2021’s Customer Success Festival. At the time of recording, Zuzanna was Head of Customer Success at UXCam; she now holds the title of VP of Customer Success.
Building strong customer success teams is so important. Every good team has to have a strong strong foundation supporting it. That’s why in this article we’re going to look at the five essential pillars of building successful teams.
It’s not a task to be taken lightly, so let’s break down our main talking points:
- Why customer success matters
- The ideal customer success manager
- The interview process
- The onboarding process
- Creating a culture of positivity
Before we get into the main subject of this article, here’s a little bit of background on me and my experience.
My name is Zuzanna Ostojska, and I'm Head of Customer Success at UXCam. UXCam is a mobile analytics solution that helps you understand how your users are behaving in your mobile apps.
With our solution, you can get a lot of insights. You can build your mobile apps in superior ways for your users.
We’re currently quite a small team of customer success managers, but we'll be definitely growing in the upcoming months. I also have six years of experience in building customer success teams.
In my previous company, I was leading a team of 14 people in three different roles. 💪
Why does customer success matter to us
At UXCam our values are always customer-centric. Quite simply, bringing happiness and success to customers is our major goal. And this is really the driving force behind good customer success.
But we can’t make customers happy without happy customer success teams. So, another one of our goals is to ensure that our teams are on the same page and thriving!
Because the thing is… 👇
Customer success is hard
And the hardest aspect of it is that you can’t always predict customer behavior. That's what makes the job really stressful and difficult at times! User needs vary and there’s definitely no one size fits all approach.
And just because your customer is happy in the short term doesn't mean they’re going to stay happy in the long term! Some of the major skills of a customer success manager include:
- Managing customer expectations
- Apologizing to customers when things don’t work out the way that they’d thought
- Setting customers at ease when they’re concerned.
Not easy, right? CSMs are always directly in the firing line when it comes to customer concerns.
CSMs are good empathizers
Customer Success Managers are highly empathetic. They’re highly sensitive to negative emotions and this is what makes them so good at dealing with customer concerns.
Team leaders have to set the standard and be highly empathetic towards their team. They have to offer strong network support to their team members because the job can be really difficult and frustrating!
Of course, it can also be highly rewarding and that’s why I’m writing about it now.
The ideal Customer Success Manager
Now we all know there’s no such thing as perfection, right? Having said that, there are some typical traits that you’d hope to find in the ideal CSM. Let’s break them down here: 👇
CSMs have good soft skills
This is perhaps the most important quality in CSMs. These are skills that can be taught, but they usually come naturally to certain kinds of people.
Soft skills are all about being sensitive to other people’s needs, being open and empathetic, and listening to the concerns of others. People who have good soft skills tend to set others at ease just by being present.
Oftentimes you’re going to have to manage the expectations of clients. This is no small feat, as it can sometimes involve telling customers that they’re wrong.
How do you do this delicately? Well, this is why good communication skills are a must. You have to be able to communicate information and be persuasive in a non-threatening way.
CSMs are good at prioritizing
There are always going to be customers who have louder voices than others. A good CS person is able to cut through the noise and prioritize the feature requests that are really going to have the most positive impact.
It’s important that CS folks are able to prioritize not just the things that are making customers angry, but also the things that are actually going to have the most benefit.
Being able to identify those issues that should be the primary focus is all about problem-solving. It’s not just about telling customers that everything’s going to be all right all the time or selling them on empty promises, you have to be able to back it all up with tangible solutions.
There can be this misconception that good customer service is all lip service, but if that’s all you have, your customers are going to find you out very soon.
CSMs are good motivators and passionate
This is a quality I'm always looking for when I’m interviewing people. Do candidates feel a sense of accomplishment in motivating others?
Are they passionate about motivating others? Do they have a positive, energetic approach to customer success? I'm definitely seeking these qualities during the interview.
This is not an easy job, so the CSMs team better be passionate about helping customers to find the best solution for them. In customer success, you’re going to have your bad days.
You’re going to have your days when customers have unreasonable demands and you can’t accommodate them. The key is to be passionate even about the difficulty.
Good CSMs are learners
This is all about being humble and accepting that you always have more to learn! With CS, we’re always looking to hire people who want to learn and grow. It’s also important to connect with other CSMs and read a lot of articles and insights from experts before starting a new project.
If you have such an opportunity, hiring CSMs with experience in similar fields to your customers can be really helpful.
Good CSMs are diverse
Having a diverse team can be really helpful because ideally, we want to have a team of various different skills. If you hire an amazing CSM, you shouldn’t be looking for another person that will just be a carbon copy! Try to find different people with different skills.
That way you can have different CS folks working on different projects and approaching different problems. It’s just so valuable to have a diversified perspective on the team.
The interview process
When it comes to finding the ideal CS candidate, I don’t think the process should be too complicated. But when it comes to interviews, it’s good to have a few different perspectives on a potential candidate.
This is just a short call to discuss why this person wants to change jobs, why this person wants to join our team, and what this person has experienced so far. It’s just to get a feel for the kind of person we’re talking to and whether they’ll be a good fit.
This part focuses more specifically on customer success, how to approach customers and how this person thinks about customers. This gets more in-depth on the actual job role itself and whether the candidate has the aptitude to carry it out.
Here, we’re inviting the candidate to come and work with us for four hours to work with us. There are a few different areas we’re assessing:
- Whether this person is prepared to do the research.
- How this person can communicate with customers.
- How this person reacts to feedback that she or he gets.
This part of the process is really helpful for the whole team to gauge whether this is the kind of person we want to work with or not. We had some really amazing feedback after the demo days from the candidates.
They were able to get a really good sense of how their work will look on a daily basis. It wasn’t just beneficial for us, it was helpful for the candidates to see whether our organization was a good fit for them or not.
This is the final step of the interview process. Candidates will meet one of our founders in the interview process. Here, there’ll be asked some more specific questions about the job role, including:
How would you define a customer that’s at risk?
This is a great question because it really helps us to see whether this candidate really understands your product and whether they’ve done their research. This is also an opportunity for them to share some insights and usage metrics.
What happens when you get a few different candidate complaints at once?
This is a realistic situation that a CS person is likely to find themselves in. It also assesses how well they’re likely to cope under stress and how capable they are at prioritizing different demands.
How would you measure the quality of support our customers are getting?
We want to assess how well customers are going to handle different metrics for measuring customer success.
If they’re not able to keep track of customers’ evolving demands, they’re not going to be agile and adaptable in their approach, which is something that we really need in a CS professional. Quality has to be sustained over time, and for that to happen, it has to evolve.
After you’ve made your decision that’s when you move on to the onboarding process
The onboarding process
This is such a crucial part of the process when it comes to hiring new team members, and I'm always really surprised when I hear that some companies don't have any structured onboarding for new team members. We have a few golden rules for new member onboarding:
1. Make sure that members know what to do
This sounds really obvious but so often candidates sit for hours when they start, not knowing what to do. It can be really frustrating for new candidates to not know what their role is right off the bat, and this can lead to them becoming seriously unmotivated pretty quickly.
2. Have a list of specific training for each specific role.
We propose a very specific list of training for each role that we are hiring. Even before the new person joins our team, we schedule all the training in the calendar. You can take a look at an example of the calendar for one of our new starters. 👇
3. Continued support
We want to make sure that all our new hires come to us fully armed for what’s ahead, and they can learn everything through training with us.
But then it’s not just a case of putting them through the training process and sending them on their way. We have to ensure that candidates have a reliable support system that they can turn to when they’re unsure of what to do.
This can come in the form of an experienced mentor who continuously checks on them and makes sure they have all the support they need. This can be accomplished through weekly meetings with their mentor, where the mentor makes notes of all concerns and possible issues that are occurring.
The ultimate aim is to ensure that a new hire has the confidence to be self-sufficient.
Setting expectations and feedback
We share expectations for the new candidate on the first day that they join. This is really important for keeping new hires focused on self-improvement, as well as keeping them driven and motivated.
We let the person know everything we hope they will achieve within the first six months. It’s important to have a metric by which you can measure employee performance.
You have to have something to discuss during those quarterly reviews, and if the employee doesn’t have proof of their progress, especially if they’re remote working, you're not going to get very far.
What’s also really important is that we’re clear on our company values from day one. We are a team of many people with different expertise, that’s true, but we’re all working towards a common goal. You can’t hold people to account if you haven’t been honest about expectations from the get-go.
Also, to go back to staying motivated, you need to be very clear about different salary levels. It’s perfectly appropriate to talk about a potential rise in salaries as they go up through the ranks.
That way, an employee won’t have to worry about negotiating. You set a more tangible goal for their self-improvement, and employees are going to feel that there’s a reason for them to improve
Creating a culture of positivity
Want your team to stick around? You need to create a culture of continued support. This is really as simple as making sure that colleagues always feel listened to and valued.
A great way to ensure this is by encouraging the rest of the team to celebrate the success and achievements of their colleagues.
We’ve found great success through a customer Slack channel. Here, we gather positive feedback from customers and share it with the team.
Birthdays and anniversaries might seem like trivial things, but keeping track of these things with colleagues and making an effort to celebrate can really have a massively positive impact on your team.
To wrap up
Firstly, it might seem obvious, but make sure that you hire the right people. If you hire someone that shouldn't be a CSM, you will see that they’ll burn out quickly. You’ll notice quickly that this isn’t a good fit for them.
Secondly, don't take any shortcuts when hiring. You might want to hire a CSM very quickly, but it’s always best practice to wait for the right person. This is a long-term investment you’re making and you want to make sure it pays off. Wait for the right person.
Finally, make sure that your team members have a lot of support from you during our structured onboarding. Don’t just throw them out there and expect them to be self-sufficient immediately.
This is the ultimate goal, yes. But you have to support them to get there. Just like we do with our customers, you need to help others to help themselves.
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