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What are Customer Success Managers, and Why are They Important?

October 31, 2022
September 1, 2022
October 3, 2022
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13
min.

Too often, a customer is left to their own devices after implementing new software. 

Of course, they were waited on hand and foot during the sale. 

Once they become a new customer, they'll usually have some sort of Account Manager or technical account manager primary contact assigned to them at the company that they can go to for questions, but even that isn't a guarantee. 

A lousy onboarding process and a customer struggling to achieve their first "success" in your product are two of the leading reasons for churn, and both can be easily fixed if there is a dedicated person at your company whose goal is to ensure a customer's success within your product.

More and more software companies are creating Customer Success Manager (CSM) roles; people in the company responsible for pushing their customers towards success with the product. 

They work cross-functionally with support, sales, and product teams and are responsible for collecting, managing, and analyzing several important metrics, but more on that later... First, let's dive into what being a Customer Success Manager really means.

What is a Customer Success Manager? (CSM)

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) (sometimes referred to as Client Success Manager within the context of professional services businesses) are in charge of Customer Success Management; a unique hybrid role between customer service and sales.

The main goal of a customer success team is to provide support for customers as they transition from the sales pipeline (prospects) to the support pipeline (active users). They're typically responsible for maintaining customer loyalty, upselling existing customers to new features within the product, fostering long-term relationships with their customers, facilitating overall customer service, and ensuring that their customers are achieving the goals they were looking to achieve when purchasing your product. 

A Customer Success Manager is often considered a trusted advisor by their assigned customers.

A tall order, right?

The reason that roles such as Customer Success Manager (as well as Customer Success Specialist) are growing so rapidly within the SaaS space is simple: engaged, happier customers lead to less churn, better customer retention, and lifetime customer loyalty. 

Customer Success helps turn a new or existing customer into a customer advocate.

So spending resources to improve a customers' experience and ensure they're as successful as possible in the product pays off in the long run.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

One of the most commonly asked questions is the difference between customer success and customer support? 

With customer success being a relatively new field, it's easy to see how they can get mixed up, but there is a distinct difference: proactive versus reactive responses.

Customer support teams are typically on the front lines:

  • They're replying to live chat messages.
  • They're handling questions about where to find specific features.
  • They're answering ad-hoc questions about pricing or functionality.

So customer support teams are typically more reactive in their response to customers, meaning that they deal with the questions and the feedback as they come in. 

On the other hand, customer success teams tend to be more proactive; they try to anticipate the needs of their customers and provide resources and answers ahead of time before their customer actually runs into the issue. 

Customer success professionals tend to focus on more high-level issues, such as running a smooth onboarding process, directing customers to new areas of the product they haven't checked out yet, or resolving issues blocking an upsell or renewal opportunity.

Customer Success Managers Are In High Demand

SaaS companies are starting to see the value in customer experience and fostering a better customer relationship.

The demand for CSMs is growing rapidly. In fact, LinkedIn named Customer Success Managers as the third most promising job in 2018, and the market for CSMs has only grown since then. Plus, the position pays well too. According to Glassdoor , the national average salary for a customer success manager is $81,414, and can range from anywhere between $55,000 on the low end to about $126,000 on the high end for senior customer success manager positions.

Being a customer success professional opens up all sorts of opportunities for career growth and learning new skills.

What Does a Customer Success Manager Do?

Alright, so we know what a CSM is, how they differ from customer support, and how valuable they are to a company. But what exactly does a Customer Success Manager do? What are their day-to-day responsibilities like? 

Let's break it down.

1. CSMs onboard new customers

One of the biggest priorities and responsibilities for a Customer Support Manager is customer onboarding. 

As mentioned earlier, a lousy customer onboarding experience is one of the leading causes of churn because it's one of the first interactions a customer will have with your product. 

When we talk about the customer journey, the customer onboarding experience is one of the most critical steps to optimizing that journey. 

It's crucial that your customer has a positive onboarding experience, which is what the CSM is there for. 

The onboarding process typically focuses on educating the customer about the product's features and functionality, setting up specific goals that the customer wishes to complete within your product, and getting them set up with everything they need to be successful and complete those goals. 

It's a great way for the CSM to introduce themselves to the customer and begin to foster that relationship; customer engagement is one of the super powers of a CSM.

2. CSMs build relationships

Arguably the most important thing a CSM can do is build an unbreakable relationship with their assigned customers. Not only will this allow the customer to feel comfortable enough to ask any question they need to be successful within the product, but it lowers the chance of churn and it can create a lifetime loyalty bond. 

If a CSM can create a strong bond with the person behind the account, then even if that person leaves the company they're initially working for, they will bring your relationship to whatever company they go to next. So not only is fostering a solid relationship good for the current customer satisfaction, it can create advocates for your product and even increase your customer base if they ever switch roles. 

With good communication, a wealth of knowledge of the product, and a friendly face, a CSM should create strong relationships with each of their customers.

3. CSMs reduce churn

Customer Success Managers are responsible for creating loyal customers who come back again and again. That's why CSMs have to focus on upsell opportunities, renewal dates, and reducing churn. CSMs typically track a wide range of metrics that vary depending on the company they're at and the product that they sell. 

However, most customer success teams keep track of a customer's renewal date, some sort of temporal measurement of activity (daily/weekly/monthly active users), satisfaction scores (CSAT), and retention rates. 

A good CSM will have a working knowledge of all of this information for each of their customers, and will reach out to them if one of these scores shows an indicator of risk; a low satisfaction score, a dip in activity, etc. So the main focus of a CSM is to reduce churn and increase renewal rates.

4. CSMs upsell and cross-sell

In addition to reducing churn, a CSM is responsible for upselling and cross-selling their product. Upselling typically refers to the encouragement of the customer to purchase an additional feature or functionality as a part of the initial product. 

At the same time, cross-selling refers to the encouragement of the customer to purchase a tandem product that would improve their experience but isn't necessarily a part of the base product. So it's up to the CSM to understand to find the best times to upsell or cross-sell to their customers and to decide which features, functionality or additional product would best suit each customer. 

This is where the ability to develop a trusting relationship with your customer comes into play; if your customer trusts you and knows that you have their best interests in mind, they're more likely to purchase something from you.

5. CSMs collect and analyze feedback

Customer Success Managers are responsible for understanding what their customers want, how to improve their experience within the product and increasing customer loyalty. 

The best way to do this? Collect and analyze feedback. 

If you aren't listening to what your customers are asking for or telling you regularly, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand exactly what it is they need and to keep them satisfied. 

CSMs should regularly check in with their customers and collect as much feedback as possible. They'll often use surveys, announcements, or regularly scheduled check-ins to ensure that their customer is getting everything they need out of their product and that they are always on top of their customer's most significant pain points.

6. CSMs act as the voice of the customer

CSMs are often the people in the company who have the strongest relationship and most often communication with their customers. 

As such, they often advocate for their customers, ensuring that the organization understands what the customer is looking for and what they are getting from the product. 

Unfortunately, many teams have little to no interaction with actual customers regularly, so it's up to Customer Success Managers to communicate customer needs, feedback, and requests to product or engineering teams to address these needs. 

This gives the customer the sense that their ideas are actually being listened to and incorporated into the product, leading to increased renewals and reduced churn.

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Key Metrics for Customer Success Managers

As a Customer Success Manager, you'll be responsible for collecting, tracking, and analyzing several essential metrics for your team. While these metrics will vary depending on the company and product, we've listed below the six most common key metrics we tend to see within customer success teams.

DAU/MAU

One of the most simple yet common metrics that CSMs typically track is measuring the amount of activity your customers do within your product. 

Tracking Daily Active Users (DAU) or Monthly Active Users (MAU) can show you how many unique users actively use your product during a particular interval.

When calculating user activity, it's important to determine what your team defines as an "active" user:

  • Is it when they login to your product?
  • Is it when they click on a specific attribute or open a specific page? 

Once your team has defined what an active user is for your specific product, then you can find how many daily, weekly, or monthly users you have. 

If your DAU or MAU metrics are steadily growing, then there's a good chance users are satisfied with your product, but if they're stagnant or dropping, it may be time to look at your product to find out why.

Onboarding engagement rate

Your onboarding process is a huge factor in customer success and satisfaction. If a user has a very negative onboarding experience, they will assume the rest of your product is designed just as poorly and probably won't stick around too long. 

By investing some time and effort into designing a strong onboarding experience and tracking engagement rates during onboarding, you can ensure that your customer isn't confused or discouraged when getting set up with your product.

Is the customer clicking on all the tutorial links as they go through onboarding? Are they exploring all aspects of the product? Are they reaching out for additional support because they're confused? 

Tracking these metrics will help you perfect your onboarding experience and provide your users with all the tools they'll need to succeed.

Retention rate

New customers are great to have, and increasing the top of your funnel with new users can be crucial to growing your business. But if users try your product once and never return, then that means they're not seeing the value in your product or are not fully understanding it. 

This can be a huge problem for CSMs as it will increase churn rate and stunt your company's growth.

Tracking your retention rate shows you how many customers are getting value from your product versus those who aren't. You can calculate retention rate by taking your number of active users and dividing it by your total number of users during a certain time period.

Retention rate = # of active users / # of total users

Once you understand how many customers are actively returning to your product, you can target those customers who aren't returning with additional messaging or educational materials to help them understand the value of your product. 

If you have a low retention rate, you may want to reach out to those users and see why they haven't returned, or send along some helpful tips and tricks to get them to come back.

Expansion revenue

Expansion revenue is the percentage of your new revenue coming from your existing customers; that is, upselling. 

Are they upgrading to a higher-tier plan? Are they paying for additional functionality? Do they want more seats to get more people on their team to use your product? 

Expansion revenue can give insight into how much perceived value your product has to your existing customers and whether or not they're willing to invest more money.

To calculate expansion revenue, you take the amount of new revenue from upsells during a specific period and divide it by the amount of revenue you had during the previous period. 

If you're tracking this number month to month, the equation will look like this:

Expansion revenue = Amount of upsell revenue / revenue from the previous month

As mentioned earlier, a CSMs main goal is to increase expansion and encourage upsells, so expansion revenue is an important metric to track.

Net Renewal Rate

A good indicator of whether or not your customers are successful in your product is if they're coming back time and time again to continue using your product. That's where Net Renewal Rate comes in. This metric measures not only which customers are renewing their accounts but also if they're upgrading and starting to explore new features in your product. The goal is to have a Net Renewal Rate over 100 - meaning that your rate of expansion and renewal is higher than the rate of churn.

To calculate Net Renewal Rate, you take the value of renewals, add the value of expansion, and divide by the total value of contracts that were up for renewal.

Net Renewal Rate = ($ of renewals + $ of expansions) / Total $ of contracts up for renewal

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

If you've ever purchased a product and were then asked how satisfied you were with that product, you've provided a Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT). CSAT is a super simple way to understand a user's overall content or discontent with your product. To calculate CSAT, you ask your customers to rank your product on a numerical scale (1-3, 1-5, 1-10, etc.), and then you take the sum of the scores divided by the number of respondents.

CSATsum of scores / total number of respondents

While NPS measures overall satisfaction, CSAT typically measures a user's satisfaction with a certain feature inside your product. 

This metric is most effective when you use it at the exact moment they just finished using that feature during their journey through your product.

Want a comprehensive list of all of the most popular Customer Success metrics? Then, check out our blog post here! 

Conclusion

With more and more SaaS companies seeing the value of investing in the success and engagement of their customers, it's no surprise that Customer Success Manager roles are becoming increasingly common. CSMs work cross-functionally with sales team, support team, and product team to ensure that their customers are getting value out of their product and to build strong relationships that stand the test of time. 

The responsibilities of a Customer Success Manager are wide-ranging and encompass areas across the entire customer journey, but it's a rewarding position that allows you to connect with customers in a brand-new way.

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