The Ultimate CSM (Customer Success Managers:) Are they the Real Champions of Truth – Excellence for Customer Needs, Customer Loyalty, Experience and Retention or mere a Smoke Screen and Advocates of Illusion ?
In the dynamic landscape of customer-centric business models, the role of CSM (Customer Success Managers) stands at the forefront, charged with the crucial responsibility of ensuring client satisfaction, loyalty, and overall success. As organizations increasingly recognize the significance of post-sales engagement, the question arises: Are Customer Success Managers or Customer Success Leaders genuine advocates, tirelessly championing and defending the cause of excellence for their customers, or has the role evolved into a mere eye wash?
This inquiry delves into the dichotomy within the responsibilities of CSMs—whether they authentically advocate for customer needs and parity, or if their actions are merely performative, and defend the Organizations, concealing a focus on revenue-driven objectives and short-term gains. In exploring this tension, we aim to uncover the true essence of the Customer Success Manager’s role—be it a genuine advocate for excellence or a symbolic gesture in the pursuit of customer satisfaction.
Who is a CSM – Customer Success Manager?
A Customer Success Manager is a professional responsible for ensuring that customers achieve their desired outcomes while using a product or service. Unlike traditional account managers who focus solely on sales, a CSM’s primary goal is to nurture ongoing customer satisfaction and loyalty. They act as the bridge between the customer and the company, ensuring that the customer’s needs and concerns are not only heard but addressed in a meaningful way.
Why Does a CSM – Customer Success Manager Matter?
A Customer Success Manager’s role goes beyond mere customer satisfaction. It involves strategic thinking, proactive engagement, and a genuine commitment to understanding and addressing the unique needs of each client, ultimately contributing to the success and growth of both the customer and the company. Lets understand in detail the Reasons why they matter ?
Long-Term Value Creation
- Explanation: A CSM (Customer Success Manager) is instrumental in creating long-term value for clients by understanding their unique needs and aligning the product or service with their business objectives. This involves a continuous dialogue with the customer, ensuring that they are not only satisfied with the current offering but also positioned for success as their needs evolve.
- Example: Imagine a software company that provides a project management tool to a growing marketing agency. The CSM, in regular interactions with the client, identifies that the agency is expanding its services and requires additional features for collaboration. The CSM works with the product team to implement these features, ensuring the client’s long-term success and loyalty.
Reducing Churn and Increasing Retention
- Explanation: The Ultimate CSM (Customer Success Managers) play a crucial role in reducing churn, which is the rate at which customers stop using a product or service. By proactively addressing customer concerns, ensuring their ongoing satisfaction, and actively managing the customer relationship, CSM contribute significantly to customer retention.
- Example: Consider an e-commerce platform facing a rise in customer complaints about the checkout process. The CSM, upon hearing these concerns, collaborates with the technical team to streamline the process. By addressing the issue promptly, the CSM helps prevent frustrated customers from abandoning the platform, thereby reducing churn and preserving revenue.
- Explanation: The Ultimate CSM (Customer Success Manager) goes beyond the traditional role of a company representative by becoming a passionate advocate for the customer within the organization. They not only listen to customer feedback but actively champion the customer’s interests, ensuring that their voice is heard and respected across different departments.
- Example: In a telecommunications company, a CSM receives feedback from a corporate client expressing dissatisfaction with the response time for technical support. Instead of merely relaying the feedback, the CSM becomes an advocate for the customer, presenting the case to the support and development teams. As a result, the company improves its support processes, enhancing the overall customer experience.
Proactive Problem Solving
- Explanation: Rather than reacting to customer issues, a proactive Customer Success Manager anticipates potential problems and collaborates with clients to find solutions before they escalate. This involves a deep understanding of the customer’s business, industry trends, and potential pain points.
- Example: Consider a SaaS company providing a data analytics platform to a financial institution. The CSM, aware of the upcoming regulatory changes in the industry, proactively reaches out to the client to discuss potential challenges. Together, they devise a plan to ensure that the platform remains compliant with the new regulations, demonstrating the CSM’s commitment to proactive problem-solving and the customer’s long-term success.
How the Role of a CSM Can Become an Eye Wash?
While the concept of a Customer Success Manager is noble in its intent, there are instances where the role can be diluted or misused, turning it into more of a facade than a genuine commitment to customer success. This can happen in several ways:
1. Lack of Empowerment
- Explanation: In some organizations, CSMs may lack the authority to challenge existing policies or make impactful decisions. If their role is confined to relaying customer feedback without the ability to effect change, the position becomes a mere formality, and customer concerns may go unaddressed.
- Example: Imagine a technology company where a CSM receives consistent feedback from clients about a software bug affecting critical functionality. Despite recognizing the severity of the issue, the CSM lacks the authority to escalate the problem to the development team for immediate resolution. Despite efforts to communicate the issue to the development team, the CSM faces organizational barriers preventing a comprehensive solution. In this case, the CSM’s role may be seen as limited in impact due to a lack of empowerment to address systemic issues and the CSM’s role becomes ineffective as they are unable to advocate for the customer and address the root cause.
2. Overemphasis on Metrics
- Explanation: If a company places excessive emphasis on metrics such as customer satisfaction scores and renewal rates, CSMs might prioritize these indicators over genuine customer advocacy. The pursuit of high scores may lead to superficial efforts to meet numerical targets, potentially compromising the quality of customer interactions and problem-solving.
- Example: Consider a subscription-based service where CSMs are evaluated primarily based on customer satisfaction survey results. In an effort to maintain high scores, CSMs may avoid addressing complex customer issues that could result in lower ratings. This overemphasis on metrics turns the role into a checkbox exercise, with the primary goal being to meet numerical targets rather than ensuring authentic customer success.
3. Insufficient Collaboration
- Explanation: In organizations where different departments operate in silos, CSMs may struggle to collaborate effectively with other teams. If there is a lack of synergy and communication, the CSM may find it challenging to address customer issues comprehensively, leading to a fragmented customer experience.
- Example: Picture a scenario in a large corporate structure where the sales, product, and customer success teams work independently, with limited communication channels. A CSM identifies a recurring issue that requires collaboration between the product and support teams to provide a holistic solution. However, due to departmental silos, the CSM faces obstacles in bringing the necessary teams together, resulting in a fragmented resolution process.
4. Superficial Customer Success Programs
- Explanation: Some companies implement Customer Success programs on the surface without genuinely empowering their CSMs. If the programs lack substance, CSMs may find themselves unable to drive meaningful change within the organization, rendering the role more ceremonial than impactful.
- Example: Consider a retail company that introduces a Customer Success program with the goal of enhancing customer satisfaction. However, the program lacks defined processes and fails to integrate customer feedback into actionable strategies. CSMs, despite their willingness, are unable to effect change or challenge existing policies, leading to a situation where the customer success initiative becomes more of a marketing slogan than a substantive commitment.
5. Token Customer Engagement
- Explanation: If the engagement with customers by CSMs is merely tokenistic and lacks depth, the role becomes performative. When interactions are superficial and do not lead to meaningful actions or improvements, customers may feel neglected, and the CSM’s role becomes more of a checkbox exercise.
- Example: In a software company, a CSM schedules periodic check-ins with clients but only goes through a standard set of questions without delving into specific challenges or opportunities. These interactions do not result in any tangible improvements or tailored solutions for the customer. In this case, the CSM’s role becomes more about maintaining the appearance of engagement rather than driving actual customer success.
6. Failure to Address Systemic Issues
- Explanation: If CSMs are unable or unwilling to address underlying systemic issues within the company that consistently impact customer satisfaction, their role can be considered superficial. This might happen if they are hesitant to challenge established processes or reluctant to escalate issues to higher levels of management.
- Example: Consider a telecommunications company where CSMs consistently receive complaints from customers about the same billing error. Instead of investigating and challenging the billing department to rectify the issue, CSMs may repeatedly offer apologies without addressing the root cause. In this scenario, the CSM’s role becomes more about managing complaints rather than proactively solving systemic problems.
7. Inadequate Customer Training and Onboarding
- Explanation: If a CSM neglects or is prevented from providing comprehensive training and onboarding for customers, the likelihood of dissatisfaction increases. In such cases, customers may struggle to derive full value from the product or service, leading to a perception that the CSM’s role is limited to post-sales support.
- Example: A software company introduces a complex analytics tool without offering sufficient training sessions or onboarding resources. Despite the CSM’s awareness of the issue, they are constrained by company policies that limit the time and resources allocated to customer education. Consequently, customers face challenges in using the product effectively, and the CSM’s role is reduced to firefighting rather than facilitating long-term success.
8. Lack of Personalization in Customer Interactions
- Explanation: If CSMs fail to personalize their interactions with customers and treat them as individuals with unique needs, the role becomes transactional rather than relational. This lack of personalization can result in customers feeling undervalued and the CSM’s efforts appearing perfunctory.
- Example: In a subscription-based service, a CSM sends generic email communications to all customers, regardless of their usage patterns or specific requirements. The emails lack personalized recommendations or insights tailored to each customer’s business. In this case, the CSM’s role is reduced to a routine communication task rather than a personalized partnership with customers.
9. Inadequate Follow-through on Customer Feedback
- Explanation: If a CSM collects customer feedback without implementing substantial changes based on that feedback, the role can be seen as superficial. Customers may feel that their opinions are not valued, and the CSM’s role becomes more about the appearance of responsiveness rather than genuine improvement.
- Example: In a software company, CSMs regularly gather feedback through surveys and customer interviews. However, despite consistently hearing about a specific feature that customers find cumbersome, the company fails to prioritize the improvement of that feature. The CSM’s role in this case becomes more about collecting feedback rather than driving meaningful product enhancements.
10. Overemphasis on Upselling and Cross-selling
- Explanation: If a CSM’s primary focus is on upselling and cross-selling rather than ensuring the customer’s success with the core product or service, the role may be perceived as driven by sales targets rather than genuine customer advocacy.
- Example: In a subscription-based service, a CSM frequently engages with customers to promote additional features or premium packages, often overshadowing discussions about the customer’s usage experience or challenges. Customers may feel pressured, and the CSM’s role becomes more about sales generation than ensuring the customer’s success with the initial product.
11. Failure to Address Ethical Concerns
- Explanation: If a CSM is aware of ethical concerns related to the company’s practices but fails to challenge or address these issues, the role may be seen as complicit in superficial customer satisfaction. Customers increasingly value ethical business practices, and a CSM’s silence on such matters can erode trust.
- Example: In a retail company, a CSM becomes aware of deceptive advertising practices that mislead customers about product features or even Post Sales Incremental Service Costs. Despite recognizing the ethical implications, the CSM refrains from raising the issue internally or advocating for a change in marketing strategies. In this case, the CSM’s role becomes more about maintaining the status quo than ensuring ethical and transparent customer interactions.
12. Limited Accessibility and Responsiveness
- Explanation: If a CSM is inaccessible or unresponsive to customer inquiries or concerns, the role may be perceived as a mere façade. Customers expect timely and meaningful engagement, and a lack of responsiveness can lead to frustration and a perception that the CSM’s role is not genuinely focused on customer success.
- Example: In a subscription service for business software, a CSM takes an extended period to respond to urgent customer inquiries, causing delays in issue resolution. Despite having the expertise to address the problem, the CSM’s lack of timely response diminishes the perceived value of their role, making it seem more like a token position than a proactive advocate for the customer.
13. Lack of Alignment with Customer Goals
- Explanation: If a CSM fails to align the company’s offerings with the evolving goals and needs of the customer, the role may seem disconnected from genuine customer success. Customers expect their CSM to understand their business objectives and provide solutions that contribute to their success.
- Example: Consider a marketing agency that invests in a project management tool. Over time, the agency expands its services, requiring more advanced collaboration features. If the CSM remains focused on promoting the tool’s basic features without recognizing the agency’s evolving needs, the role becomes ineffective in facilitating the customer’s long-term success.
14. Inconsistent Communication and Engagement
- Explanation: If a CSM communicates with customers sporadically or inconsistently, the role may be perceived as more of a formality than a proactive advocate for the customer. Regular, meaningful engagement is crucial for understanding and addressing customer concerns.
- Example: In a subscription-based software service, a CSM initially engages proactively during onboarding but becomes less communicative after the initial months. As a result, the CSM is unaware of emerging issues or changing customer needs. The role, in this case, appears more as a routine check-in than an ongoing partnership for success.
15. Failure to Provide Value Beyond Troubleshooting
- Explanation: If a CSM’s interactions are limited to addressing customer complaints or troubleshooting issues, without actively contributing to the customer’s strategic goals, the role becomes more about problem-solving than driving overall success.
- Example: In a software company, a CSM consistently addresses technical glitches but fails to offer insights into optimizing the customer’s use of advanced features. The role becomes transactional, focusing solely on issue resolution, rather than a strategic partnership aimed at maximizing the value derived from the product.
16. Ignoring Customer Experience and Sentiment
- Explanation: If a CSM overlooks the overall customer experience and sentiment, merely focusing on quantitative metrics, the role may be perceived as disconnected from the real customer journey. Neglecting the qualitative aspects of customer feedback can lead to a superficial understanding of customer satisfaction.
- Example: In an e-commerce platform, a CSM relies solely on Net Promoter Score (NPS) ratings to gauge customer satisfaction. Despite consistent feedback in survey comments about difficulties in navigating the website, the CSM does not address the user experience issues. In this scenario, the role becomes more about meeting numerical targets than truly understanding and enhancing the customer journey.
17. Limited Proactivity in Anticipating Customer Needs
- Explanation: If a CSM is reactive rather than proactive in anticipating and addressing customer needs, the role may be perceived as merely responsive to immediate issues rather than strategically aligned with the customer’s long-term success.
- Example: Consider a cloud services provider where a CSM primarily engages with customers when they encounter technical problems. While the CSM efficiently resolves these issues, they do not proactively guide the customer on optimizing their cloud usage or adopting new features. In this case, the CSM’s role is more about firefighting than driving proactive customer success.
18. Failure to Leverage Customer Data for Personalization
- Explanation: If a CSM neglects to leverage customer data to personalize interactions and solutions, the role can be seen as generic and detached from the individual needs of each customer. Personalization is crucial for demonstrating a genuine commitment to customer success.
- Example: In a subscription-based fitness app, a CSM has access to user data showcasing specific workout preferences and fitness goals. However, the CSM’s communication remains generic and does not provide personalized recommendations or challenges tailored to individual users. In this scenario, the CSM’s role appears more routine than a personalized guide to the customer’s fitness journey.
18. Failure to Collaborate Across Departments
- Explanation: If a CSM operates in isolation and fails to collaborate effectively with other departments such as product development or customer support, the role may be perceived as fragmented, hindering the ability to provide holistic solutions to customers.
- Example: Imagine a scenario where a CSM identifies a customer need for a specific feature enhancement. However, due to a lack of collaboration with the product team, the requested feature is not prioritized in the development roadmap. The CSM’s role becomes less about driving comprehensive customer success and more about managing expectations without the ability to effect change.
19. Lack of Strategic Alignment with Customer Business Objectives
- Explanation: If a CSM does not actively align the company’s product or service with the broader business objectives of the customer, the role may be seen as transactional rather than strategic. Customers expect their CSM to understand their business goals and contribute to achieving them.
- Example: Consider an e-commerce platform that provides a fulfillment solution to an online retailer. If the CSM focuses solely on troubleshooting technical issues without understanding the retailer’s expansion plans or seasonal fluctuations, the role becomes more about reactive support than contributing strategically to the customer’s business success.
20. Failure to Provide Adequate DIY Educational Resources
Example: In a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company offering a complex data analytics tool, the CSM consistently resolves technical queries but does not offer training sessions or educational materials to help customers unlock the full potential of the tool. The role becomes more about immediate problem-solving than empowering the customer to maximize the value of the product.
Explanation: If a CSM neglects to provide educational resources and guidance to customers or doesn’t take initiative to Update the Training Material or DIY Guides, the role may be perceived as limited to issue resolution rather than fostering the customer’s continuous learning and improvement.
21. Inability to Influence Product Roadmap
- Explanation: If a CSM lacks the ability to influence the product roadmap or advocate for customer-requested features, the role may be seen as detached from the company’s commitment to evolving based on customer needs.
- Example: Imagine a scenario where customers of a project management software consistently request integration with a popular collaboration tool. If the CSM cannot influence the product team to prioritize this integration, despite recognizing its importance to customers, the CSM’s role becomes constrained in driving meaningful enhancements.
22. Neglecting Customer Health Monitoring
- Explanation: If a CSM does not actively monitor the health of customer accounts or proactively identify potential issues, the role may be seen as reactive rather than preventive.
- Example: In a subscription-based software service, a CSM fails to regularly check in on customer usage patterns or engagement metrics. As a result, they miss early signs of declining activity and customer dissatisfaction. The role becomes more about addressing issues after they arise rather than proactively ensuring the ongoing success and satisfaction of the customer.
23. Overreliance on Automated Communication
- Explanation: If a CSM predominantly relies on automated communication and fails to engage in personalized, human interactions, the role may be perceived as robotic and detached from the customer’s individual needs.
- Example: Consider a telecommunications company where a CSM sends automated, generic emails to customers without tailoring messages to specific concerns or achievements. Customers may feel that the CSM’s role is more about following a script than actively understanding and addressing their unique requirements.
24. Ignoring Industry Trends and Best Practices:
- Explanation: If a CSM neglects to stay informed about industry trends and best practices, the role may be perceived as stagnant and unresponsive to evolving customer needs.
- Example: In a financial technology company, a CSM fails to keep up with emerging security standards in the industry. As a result, they cannot guide clients on necessary updates to ensure compliance. The role becomes more about reactive problem-solving than proactive industry guidance.
25. Neglecting Customer Advocacy in Internal Discussions
- Explanation: If a CSM does not actively advocate for customer needs in internal discussions or decision-making processes, the role may be perceived as disconnected from the organization’s commitment to customer success.
- Example: In a software development company, the CSM is aware of recurring customer requests for a specific feature that aligns with industry trends. However, during internal product development meetings, the CSM does not actively champion this feature, and it is consistently deprioritized. The role becomes more about managing individual accounts than influencing organizational strategies.
26. Failure to Provide Actionable Insights from Customer Data
- Explanation: If a CSM collects customer data but fails to analyze and provide actionable insights, the role may be seen as superficial, lacking in the ability to guide customers toward meaningful improvements.
- Example: In a marketing analytics platform, a CSM has access to a wealth of data showcasing customer engagement patterns. However, the CSM merely shares raw data without providing strategic insights or recommendations for improving campaign effectiveness. The role becomes more about data collection than actively contributing to the customer’s success.
27. Ignoring Emotional Intelligence in Customer Interactions
- Explanation: If a CSM lacks emotional intelligence and handles customer interactions solely based on protocol, the role may be perceived as mechanical and indifferent to the customer’s emotional experience.
- Example: In a customer service-oriented industry like hospitality, a CSM responds to a customer complaint with a standard script, failing to empathize with the customer’s frustration. The role becomes more about following a procedure than fostering a genuine emotional connection with the customer.
28. Overreliance on Standardized Customer Success Plans
- Explanation: If a CSM relies too heavily on standardized customer success plans without tailoring them to the unique needs of each client, the role may be perceived as formulaic and lacking a personalized approach.
- Example: In a consultancy firm, a CSM uses the same success plan template for all clients without considering their distinct business objectives. The role becomes more about adherence to a template than crafting tailored strategies that align with the individual goals of each customer.
29. Inconsistent Application of Customer Success Strategies
- Explanation: If a CSM applies customer success strategies inconsistently across different accounts, the role may be perceived as arbitrary and lacking a standardized approach to ensuring customer satisfaction.
- Example: In a subscription-based service, a CSM provides regular check-ins and strategic guidance to some clients while neglecting others. The inconsistency creates a perception that the CSM’s role is selective, and not all customers receive the same level of attention and support.
30 Reluctance to Challenge Company Policies
- Explanation: If a CSM is hesitant to challenge or question company policies that negatively impact customers, the role may be perceived as more aligned with corporate interests than with the advocacy for customer success.
- Example: In a telecommunications company, a CSM is aware that a billing policy is causing confusion and dissatisfaction among customers. However, the CSM avoids challenging this policy internally, and customer concerns persist. The role becomes more about conforming to company policies than actively championing customer needs.
31. Neglecting Customer Relationship Building
- Explanation: If a CSM focuses solely on transactional interactions and neglects the development of genuine relationships with customers, the role may be perceived as mechanical and lacking a personal touch.
- Example: In a business consultancy, a CSM provides strategic advice to clients but does not invest time in understanding the client’s company culture or building a rapport. The role becomes more about delivering services than fostering a strong, trust-based relationship.
32. Retention Takes a Backseat to Acquisition
- Issue: The CSMs, influenced by company policies, prioritize acquiring new customers over retaining existing ones. This shift in focus impacts the quality of customer interactions and diminishes the attention given to maintaining strong relationships with long-standing clients.
- Example: The CSMs are incentivized to bring in new clients at the expense of nurturing relationships with existing ones. Consequently, they spend more time on acquiring new accounts, leaving little room for the personalized attention required to ensure the satisfaction and loyalty of their current customer base.
33. Neglect of Customer Parity
- Explanation: The CSMs, under pressure to meet revenue targets, start offering preferential pricing and enhanced features only to new customers, neglecting the existing loyal customer base. This creates a stark contrast, leading to a perception of inequality between old and new customers.
- Example: An old client who has been with the cloud hosting company for few years notices that new customers are being offered significantly lower renewal rates and additional services. Despite the client’s loyalty, their renewal quote is substantially higher, showcasing a lack of parity in treatment.
34. Promises Made but not Kept – Ethical Issues
- Explanation: When a company or CSM (under Leadership Direction) fails to honor its commitments made to customers, it not only damages the trust between the business and its clientele but also raises questions about the company’s integrity and ethical practices.
- Example: A CSM made assurances about a Cheaper Renewal Rate with some Additional Benefits, but when the Renewal Date Came the Promise was not kept (most likely under the direction of his boss or another Senior Leader in the Organization) leading to Erosion of Trust and loss of Customer Goodwill. This issue encompasses the Breach of Promises and Trust made in various contexts, including Product Pricing or Service Delivery, Feature Assurances and other representations that influence customer expectations
These examples illustrate how the role of a Customer Success Manager may be perceived as an eye wash when there is a lack of proactivity, failure to leverage customer data for personalization, insufficient empowerment to address systemic issues, and a lack of collaboration across departments. To enhance the authenticity of the CSM role, organizations should empower CSMs to proactively anticipate needs, personalize interactions, address systemic issues, and collaborate effectively with other departments.
In conclusion, the ultimate Customer Success Manager (CSM) is not merely a facilitator of customer satisfaction but a formidable challenger within the organization and a steadfast defender outside its walls. As a challenger, the CSM fearlessly advocates for current customers, tirelessly pushing for their needs, promoting loyalty, and championing customer retention.
This role extends beyond the confines of internal dynamics, positioning the CSM as a vocal defender on the frontline of customer interactions. By unapologetically standing as the advocate for the customer’s best interests, the ultimate CSM fortifies the organization against complacency, ensuring a commitment to excellence and longevity in an ever-evolving business landscape.
A genuine Customer Success Manager is a critical asset to any company aiming for sustainable growth and customer loyalty. They go beyond the superficiality of metrics, challenging internal policies based on customer feedback and relentlessly championing the causes of those they serve. However, organizations must empower their CSMs, foster collaboration between departments, and ensure that customer success is not merely an eye wash but a core value embedded in the company’s culture. When a CSM is given the authority to effect change and is genuinely committed to customer advocacy, the results are not only increased customer satisfaction but also a thriving and resilient business ecosystem.