What do CSMs do?

In the past few months, I’ve worked with a half-dozen vendors who all had different views of their Customer Success programs, hence the roles of their Customer Success Managers (CSMs). That got me thinking about the range of distinct activities that may come under the umbrella of customer success:

  • Converting prospects (using freemium products or running POCs (Proof of Concept) projects.
  • Onboarding customers, getting them trained and set up to use the product
  • Providing technical support
  • Monitoring usage and expanding adoption
  • Providing best practices for using the product or service
  • Nurturing an ongoing relationships with customers
  • Renewing contracts
  • Identifying revenue expansion opportunities
  • Selling into the existing customer base.

Is it all Customer Success?

Now some of the activities may strike you as being outside the scope of customer success programs. Converting prospects, for instance. Isn’t that a job for the sales team? and tech support a job for, well, Tech Support? Renewals and selling look like they may belong elsewhere, too.

  1. Depending on the circumstances, not all activities are needed. For instance, renewals could be entirely automated.
  2. It’s difficult to find people who can sell and have great relationship-building skills and can run and interpret usage metrics and know the product inside-out for training and tech support. So specialization is common, and beneficial.
  3. For startups, it’s quite normal for the customer success program, and CSMs, to do a little bit of all the activities listed above (and more!)
  4. With low-complexity products and services, it’s absolutely possible for one person to  fulfill several roles, in particular technical and relationship-building roles.
  5. Conflicts may occur with scheduling rather than roles: onboarding and technical support are quite similar skills, but having to show up for scheduled onboarding sessions makes it difficult to respond well in an interrupt-driven support environment. so specialization is common, if not absolutely required.

The decisions often come with scale: there are few benefits to specialization for small teams (Big is Beautiful, to quote an FT Works maxim). Selling (including renewals) is usually the first to get partitioned off, followed by tech support. The core activities for customer success, onboarding, best practices guidance, and relationship building, may remain unspecialized for the long run, or diverge into different teams.

What does it mean for hiring?

My observation, looking at my clients’ experience, is that it is difficult to find experienced CSMs. One of the reasons why vendors create specialized teams for onboarding is that it’s relatively easy to hire onboarding specialists and teach them what they need to do — with the expectation that one day they may mature into relationship builders.

(Self-serving plug: FT Works offers great Customer Success training and a hiring guide, too.)

How do you conceive of Customer Success? What’s working or not for you?

What makes a good support website landing page?

We’ve all seen support landing pages that just do not work: they are cluttered, they advertise last month’s user group meeting, they hide important stuff like current case status several layers down. What would a good landing page do? It would:

  • Be easy to find, typically from a Support menu item on the main landing page and with an easy URL like support.organization.com.
  • Be task-oriented. Customers almost always visit the support page to (1) get an answer to a question and (2) download software. Do you know what your customers want from your site (not anecdotally, mind you, but from your web metrics)? And are the key tasks clearly accessible, near the top of the screen?
  • Minimize clicks. It’s not enough to be organized by tasks, the page should, as much as possible, allow the user to complete tasks without leaving the page. For instance, if you automatically display the list of open cases, a user can check if a recent update was made without lifting a finger.
  • Be usable on small devices. We talked about responsive and adaptive design last month: checking the site from a phone should not require intensive scrolling, or intensive squinting.
  • Automatically display relevant, fresh information. If the user logged in, show relevant (as determined by the profile) community threads, articles, announcements. Have a system to automatically refresh news.
  • Provide a customer-oriented experience. Users don’t care that training reports to another manager, or that marketing stores press releases in a different system. Show all user-relevant information together.

Does your support landing page “work”? If not, we can help.

And tell us your pet peeves about support pages.

Welcome to Charlotte

Three flights in three days. Flight attendants were coalescing into a blur. Then came Lindsey. Lindsey was a trainee, looked to be in her very early twenties, and possessed boundless enthusiasm and genuine good cheer. As we taxied towards the very recognizable terminals in Dulles, VA, she intoned, “Welcome to Charlotte!”. Oops! The passengers chuckled, but it was not the cynical chuckle of weary travelers wondering how they just can’t get their stuff together up there. No, it was an amused chuckle, encouraging her to try again. When she opened the door of the plane, spontaneously, accurately, and entirely off script exclaiming, “O, it’s cold!”, we smiled. And when she offered a personable, enthusiastic, “Thank you for flying with us” as we filed out,  passengers looked at her and wished her good luck or said thank you, rather than perfecting their usual “my feet are so interesting” look away from the greeter.

Lindsey will become a great flight attendant. But she is not the topic of this post: Ernestine is. Ernestine was her instructor. At the beginning of the flight, Ernestine introduced herself, then the flight attendant at the back of the plane, then she said: “And we have a trainee today. Her name is Lindsey. She is standing with me at the front of the plane. It’s her first flight. Will you put your hands together for her.” And we did. How nice to get an ovation on the first day on the job! Lindsey beamed in her new, impeccable uniform.

When Lindsey welcomed us to the wrong city, what did Ernestine do? She cooed supportively, clearly audible to the passengers in the first rows of the cramped regional jet, “That was so good! You got the level just right, not too loud, not too soft!” When Lindsay protested that she messed up the city, she said, “Sure you did, but you corrected yourself, that’s fine. The goal was to get the volume right and you nailed it! Now, you are no longer afraid of the microphone, are you?” Lindsey admitted she was not, and allowed she may actually have grown to like it.  As Lindsey thanked the passengers, Ernestine was standing in the shadows behind her, beaming at her charge.

Ernestine is my hero. Welcome to Charlotte! What’s your coaching style?

The FT Word – April 2015

The FT Word

The FT Word is a free monthly newsletter with support management tips. To subscribe, click here. The subscription list is absolutely confidential; we never sell, rent, or give information about our subscribers.


to the April 2015 edition of the FT Word. Topics for this month:

FT Works in the News

Join me on May 5th. Barry Duplantis of Hortonworks and I will present at TSIA’s TSW Spring conference on the topic of predictive analytics. Our official title is Predicting Renewals – Automatically! — Building predictive analytics to anticipate and prevent churn. The presentation is scheduled for 2-:3:15pm

And join me and the rest of the FT Works team at our booth in the EXPO hall, May 4-6. You can register for the conference here. (Enter FT Works as the partner).

And on May 20-21. I will be speaking at the joint symposium of ASP, SSE, and NASM in Chicago about the differences and similarities between supporting on-premise software and SaaS. You can register here.

Hope to see many of you at either (both!) conference.

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics — or add one in the comments — and your name will appear in future newsletters.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

About FT Works

FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at www.ftworks.com.

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