What new skills are needed for customer success to be effective in times of economic uncertainty?

StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭
edited May 2020 in Revenue Growth

Customer success does need new skills. How are people helping management and HR understand the new skills needed for customer success? Customer success is very different from customer support but not everyone can articulate the difference. In my experience, customer support is very much focussed on understanding one's own application. Customer success requires an understanding of (and caring about) one's customers business. Customer support is about use, customer success is about value.

Best Answers

  • EddieAguilar
    EddieAguilar Moderator | mod
    Answer ✓


    I completely agree! Coming from a highly technical background in customer support and jumping in to customer success felt like night and day. The points you make are excellent in what the difference is with the two roles. I can remember with support I always felt that I was reactive to the interactions I engaged in, with very rare proactive engagements. In CS I think it flips the script entirely with my main goal being to remain proactive to help customers realize value in the product therefore making renewal a no brainer. I noticed that some of the skills I had sharpened up in support like technical knowledge and customer service were so useful and came second nature to me.

    This blog does a good job of highlighting the characteristics of a CSM. I think the most important skill that will mark a successful CSM in this time of uncertainty is to remain functional. As customers begin to change their business plans and outcomes it continues to be key for CSM's to be able to shift with them and identify areas where they can help achieve value. During such uncertain times it is great for the users to continue seeing your solution/product as a necessary tool to make it through this shift. Interested in what our other community members say about this as well.


  • David Perrault
    David Perrault Founding Analyst | Expert ✭✭✭

    CS drives to bring value to our customers means you need to have team members who understands the customers' use of your products, instead of understanding how they work, and who have knowledge of your customers' industry to be able to guide them effectively.

  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    Thank you @David Perrault and @Eddie Aguilar. How have you seen companies changing their selection process and training for customer success? What are the emerging best practices to really help the customer success team understand customers and how the solution delivers value?

  • David Perrault
    David Perrault Founding Analyst | Expert ✭✭✭

    Definitely. Originally we looked for team members with Services background, we are now also including candidates with Pre-Sales profiles who usually understand better their customers' industry and can articulate value to enable adoption.

  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    Crazy idea, but given my background in pricing not entirely so. The best practice in pricing is to focus on value delivered to the customer and to base pricing on the differentiated value (this is known as value-based pricing). Customer success is also based on ensuring that value is delivered to the customer. So there are some overlaps here. @Laura Fay do you have any thoughts on the connection between pricing and customer success and the shared skills?

  • Jeff Plumer
    Jeff Plumer Member | Enthusiast ✭

    All great comments. One thing to add that you may have touched on is, the right person in the right place. At the end of the day your CSM should be an extension of your customers team, not just a trusted advisor. There needs to be a persona match that isn't necessarily a simple HR competency when hiring.

  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    Does anyone see design thinking as an important skill set for customer success? Here I am using design thinking to refer to the process codified by Tim Brown and IDEO (I am aware of the other ways of thinking about design thinking, I manage the design thinking group on LinkedIn).

    The IDEO approach (which is also taught at Stanford d.school) is built around empathy for the user and a six step process:

    Empathise - Define - Ideate - Prototype - Test - Assess

    The process is meant to loop back so that a spiral might be a better framing than a process.

    There is a set of general skills applied in design thinking plus specific skills at each step in the process.

    It is exploratory and generally requires involvement by the customer to be effective.

  • Carlos Alves
    Carlos Alves TSIA Administrator, Moderator, Founding Member | admin

    I direct these skills to the Portfolio team, using design thinking in an agile method.

    For the CSMs I'm starting to go to customer journey. And I think IDEO method may help in it...

  • StevenForth
    StevenForth Founding Partner | Expert ✭✭✭

    @Carlos Alves Can you say a bit more about the Portfolio team to make sure I am understanding this the way you intend it?

    There is also a rich debate on how to combines design thinking and Agile, but we can leave that for another time (maybe even another lifetime!).

  • SumitBhat
    SumitBhat Founding Member | Scholar ✭✭

    Great and really insightful comments. When it comes to skills , in my opinion boundaries are blurring between customer success and TAM ( Technical account management) roles and I have asked this question to myself numerous times, what is value add of customer success and what are the skills one should focus on or actively seek while recruiting someone for a customer success role ?

    Based on my experiences having worked in both customer support and customer experience, it boils down to three key skills.

    Negotiation Skills + Technical Acumen + Resourcefulness

    Someone in customer success role or while scouting for talent if the person can demonstrate/develop these three skills, in my opinion its a recipe for success.

  • Carlos Alves
    Carlos Alves TSIA Administrator, Moderator, Founding Member | admin

    @Steven Forth : I ran CS, Portfolio and Pre-Sales teams in the company. Portfolio team is responsible for formatting new offerings and MVPs to market so Pre-Sales can sell more standardized offers. And afterwards, CS can adopt/expand on it.

    This Portfolio teams applies the method for development. Sorry I wasn't clear before.

    About the other discussion, it is a rich topic!

  • David Perrault
    David Perrault Founding Analyst | Expert ✭✭✭

    @Sumit Bhat I recommend to differentiate very much TAM vs CSM. In our industry, TAMs are far too often seen as an extension of the Services organisation focusing on solving or preventing problems, mainly technical. CSMs are all about value and outcomes and you do not want to cause confusion about what a CSM role is with your field teams and customers.

  • Kerri Wienbeck
    Kerri Wienbeck Founding Member | Scholar ✭✭

    @Carlos Alves How often did the portfolio team launch new offerings into the market?

  • John Ragsdale
    John Ragsdale Member | Guru ✭✭✭✭✭

    Last week I did a webinar with Jamie Domenici, SVP, Customer Success Adoption & Growth, Salesforce. Jamie shared a lot of great information, and one surprise for me was as soon as they sent all their CSMs home to work, they provided empathy training. While I think CSMs tend to be empathetic people, or at least I hope so, I think focusing on this skill can be extremely helpful, as many customers are under tremendous personal and financial pressure, and they will remember the brands who were "there for them" when this craziness finally ends. Here's a link to the webinar: https://www.tsia.com/webinars/salesforces-secret-growth-engine-during-covid19-a-culture-of-customer-success

  • Alexander Ziegler
    Alexander Ziegler Founding Member | Expert ✭✭✭

    Coming back to the comments around Design Thinking and Agile: The agile usage of Design thinking that @Carlos Alves mentioned should be the ultimative goal, but it means people master both approaches. But trying to give some insight to @Steven Forth around experience with Design Thinking and Customer Success: We have a focus to get at least basic knowledge to everybody in the company around Design Thinking (and also Agile), as it has proven to be the key. In my larger area of work I would even state that most new strategic decisions (customer focussing but also internal) are build upon some way of Design Thinking. What I personally learned: The longer teams are using some kind of Design Thinking and having some kind of basic Agile understanding the way of work in those teams is automatically changing as they incorporate as @Carlos Alves said both automatically.

  • Carlos Alves
    Carlos Alves TSIA Administrator, Moderator, Founding Member | admin

    @Kerri Wienbeck , the process for a new launch takes 30-40 days. Considering the team is small, we may launch (or review) up to 12-15 solutions/year.