Before I broke into customer success, I did practically every customer-facing job you can think of. I've been a waiter, I've been a barman, I've been a chef, I've been a cleaner, I've run a cafe in Sydney, I was an ice cream man for about six months, I'm a trained barista… I could go on. Along the way, I picked up a lot of skills that I still use to this day.
Today, I’m a Customer Success Manager at SAI360, where I look after our EMEA and US clients. I’ve been in customer success for the better part of five years, and I've had the opportunity to connect with and learn from so many people. I was even recognized as one of the Customer Success Collective’s Ones to Watch in 2022.
Let’s dig into some of the transferable skills and qualities that have helped me get here.
A lot of customer success work relies on the natural skill sets that you have as a person. Empathy is one of those: It’s not a teachable skill; it’s something you're born with.
If in your current role, you’re able to put yourself in that customer's shoes, understand their challenges, and from there, find a solution, you could have the makings of a customer success pro. You could be in a call center, you could be in a retail role, you could be in hospitality, but if you can understand when and why a customer isn't totally happy or there’s frustration within one of your customer bases, you’ve got the human touch, and that's a very transferable skill.
When you're 17 years old and working as a waiter in a fish and chip restaurant, you never think you're going to need those skills later in life. However, understanding your customers, learning to interact with them, and being the go-between for the back of the house and the front of the house are vital skills for customer success.
Maybe the chef tells you that you’re out of a certain dish, and then you have to walk out on the floor, smile, and communicate that to a customer in the hope that they still stay and enjoy their meal. Of course, that's what you're there for: you want to make it a pleasant experience so they return.
That’s exactly what we often have to do as CSMs. We have to hear news internally and communicate that externally while maintaining a great experience for the customer. This customer focus is one of the first skills that I transferred over into customer success.
Prioritization and time management
I would be extremely surprised if you were to tell me that at no point in your career have you needed to use prioritization or time management. They’re massive transferable skills that will serve you in any role.
Picture this: I'm in Sydney, Australia. There's a little cafe bar down by the wharf hitting commuters in the morning and stay-at-home parents throughout the day. I started working there as a barista and before long the guy who ran the place asked me if I fancied learning how things work in the back. I've done a bit of cooking in my time – I used to be a breakfast chef – so I said yeah, of course.
Within a couple of weeks, he threw me the keys and said, “You and Ellen are going to open up every day.” She did the coffee, and I did the food. Getting orders thrown at you left, right, and center is stressful. How you handle it comes down to prioritization and time management.
The same applies to customer success. You’re juggling onboarding calls, internal meetings, and various projects all the time. How many of us have had hours of back-to-back meetings, and then at the end of the day, found ourselves with three or four hours of notes to log? If you've just got off a client call, you need to be able to follow up in a timely manner while working your schedule around the next task. Task management software and to-do lists are your friends here.
#1 tip for time management
To stay on top of things, I buffer my meetings. I block half an hour in my schedule after each client meeting to type up my notes, update Salesforce, send over slide decks, and do any other admin. I’ve always managed my time this way. It helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance and keep my clients and stakeholders happy.
If you look at the core skills of a Customer Success Manager, one of the most key is relationship building. You have to get to know your customer, not just as a business or a statistic, but as a person.
You’ll hear various customer experience specialists talk about the method and the process of actively listening and picking up on the little things, and this is a crucial part of building relationships. There's a great guy called Gavin Scott, who wrote a book called Finding Gold Dust: How to Create Exceptional Customer Experiences. It’s all about picking up on the gold dust in conversations, and that’s vital in any customer-facing role.
To build a rapport with the customer, you have to get to know them outside of what you need to deliver in that meeting. If somebody says to me that they've just moved house, in the next meeting I'm going to say, “I hope the move went well. How are you liking your new place?” It's those little things that make a difference.
If you’re working with other regions, showing that you understand their cultures and contexts also goes a long way. For instance, I have customers in the US, and I make a conscious effort to say good morning to them when it's my afternoon. That means a lot to them because I’m addressing them where they are. Plus, if there are nine of them and one of me, it effectively is morning, not afternoon. You always have to keep the customer front of mind.
You should also pay attention to what’s going on wherever they are in the world. For example, last summer our customers in Texas were dealing with temperatures of 101º F every single day for months on end. When I spoke to them, I’d check how they were dealing with the heat, and be sure to refer to temperatures in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius, which we usually use here in the UK.
Do you have what it takes to be a customer success pro?
When it comes to the customer success skill set, yes, you can learn certain methods, processes, and ways to work within different organizational structures, but ultimately I think you’re born with the qualities that it takes to succeed. If you’re currently working in a different field and the skills I’ve described so far sound familiar to you, you might just be a natural CSM. Let’s take a look at how you can break into the CS landscape.
Every company does customer success a little differently, so first of all, you’ll need to understand a variety of CS roles. Read some job descriptions and check out the responsibilities – you’ll likely notice a common theme running through them all. Once you’ve identified that theme, it’s time for some self-reflection.
If you can't picture yourself working within that theme – building relationships, collaborating with internal departments, and being the voice of the customer – honestly, there's no point looking any deeper into your other transferable skills because you've not got the core.
If the themes you pick up from customer success job descriptions do appeal to you, it’s a great idea to reach out to some real-life customer success managers to find out more. LinkedIn is a gold mine, filled with great customer success groups and people like myself who will be more than happy to have a virtual coffee with you and explain more about the responsibilities and challenges of CS work.
The next step is to break down the role you're currently doing. Think about every responsibility you have, every hat you wear, and how you serve your customers, then create a list – just like you would for your LinkedIn profile or CV.
Next, think about the motivations behind all of the customer-oriented tasks you do every day. On the surface, it might look like your role is completely different from that of a CSM. However, when you dig a little deeper and really think about everything you do to generate outcomes for your customer, you might realize, “Blimey! I'm already doing CS!” If you're thinking, “You know what? My job is just a CSM role wrapped up in a different title,” you're already halfway there.
Over the last 12 to 18 months, I’ve noticed a lot of people with zero background in customer success transitioning into our field. That's because if you’re a born provider of great customer service and you care about giving your customers the best experience and helping them achieve what they need to achieve, you can easily pick up a CS role. There are ample opportunities out there – you just need to find your fit.
It’s going to be a comprehensive guide to the churn landscape of 2023, and we’d love your input! The report will cover everything from the strategies CSMs use to prevent churn, to how companies identify at-risk customers and what metrics are used to predict churn.
And the best part? It only takes 7 minutes of your time, and when the report is published you can apply all the new-found churn strategies back to your own customer base!
Your expertise is invaluable to us – we can’t create a central catalog of churn-crushing insights without you.