3 Lessons From my First 3 Years in Customer Success

In June 2018, I accepted my first official position in Customer Success. I had graduated from university just back in December and my first job out of college was, let’s just say, not what I expected it to be.

Hence why I was only there for 6 months.

I had moved my wife and I out to Arizona to start a new chapter with this job and was feeling pretty foolish at this point. I had just found out about this cool new space called “Customer Success” a month or two prior to getting this gig so I was hoping and praying it would work out.

3 years later, and I can say that choosing to persue a career in Customer Success is the second-best decision I’ve ever made (2nd only to marrying my wife).

My first gig was a Client Advocate position for a social media marketing company in Scottsdale. I was there for a year and have been working as a CSM for a global software company that creates Virtual Data Rooms for the past two years. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve grown in ways I didn’t think was possible for the first few years of my professional career.

If I could give advice to any college graduate who is unsure about what they want to do career-wise, it would be to get a job in Customer Success. The skills you will learn and the community you will be a part of are unmatched.

So, with three years under my belt of working in the space, here are the top three lessons I’ve learned thus far:

The Customer may not Always be ‘Right’ but They are Always the Most Important

Sorry Sam Walton, but “The customer is always right” just isn’t correct anymore. As Customer Success Managers, we need to know our product and services better than our clients. This will help us provide them with the highest possible value when working with us.

And because of this, sometimes the client may request something that we can’t offer directly, have a misconception about what our product actually does, or even tell us what our product should be doing when in reality, it just doesn’t work that way. These kinds of conversations happen and sometimes we can’t deliver on specific requests exactly how the customer wants us to.

But because we are knowledgeable about our product or service and care about our customers, we can always offer some kind of workaround and alternate solution that can help our customers get where they want to go. A huge part of CS is delivering on customer’s desired outcomes. And sometimes we need to help them see how our product can do just that even if it may not be what they expect at times.

Working for a social media marketing company, I had to have these conversations nearly on a weekly basis.

Customer Success can only be Attained through Consistent Cross-Department Collaboration

Customer Success, when done right, isn’t just a department. It’s a company-wide mindset.

That means it’s up to Customer Success Managers and Leadership to ensure that other teams are doing what is best for the customer in the respective duties. Usually, this starts with teams like sales and product. Both of these teams are critical when it comes to company growth and customer satisfaction.

Breaking down internal silos is a key duty (often “unofficial”) of Customer Success. We, as CSM’s, are on the frontlines helping our customers succeed. But teams like product are working behind the scenes to ensure our customers are being successful with adopting the product. And teams like sales and marketing are helping to bring in new business to help the company grow and stay “afloat”.

So to ensure our customers have all the tools and training they need to succeed, it’s imperative to have conistent collaboration with these teams. This can be done in a variety of ways. This article isn’t meant to explain it all in detail but having open lines of communication through meetings, Slack channels, and informal conversations is a ‘must’ not only to help the company grow but to help the overall culture of the company actually be something to brag about.

My Job as a CSM is to Make the Lives of my Customers Easier

Simple as that. An organization can only be as successful as its customers. And the first thing you need to look at when assessing the success of your customers is how easy it is to use your product or service.

No matter how complex your product may be, it’s your job as the CSM to help your customer adopt and see value in it as quickly as possible. Value for your customer can be measured by how easy it is for them to achieve their desired outcomes.

So there you have it, folks. 3 simple lessons.

What have been your top lessons from your time in Customer Success?

So You’re the First Customer Success Hire at Your Company…

Congratulations! You’ve joined the exclusive club made up of individuals who are the first customer success hire for an organization.

What now?

Well, since Customer Success is still a new concept, every organization and every situation is different. We know that many organizations are finally starting to see the value in having a solid CSM team and are making the right moves to put it in place.

Take my experience for example. I was the second Customer Success Manager hired at my current company. It was me, another CSM that had been hired about 6 months previously, and the Head of Customer Success who was a woman who had been with the company for about 5 years working in various roles. When I was hired we had a cheap CRM and that’s about it. No playbooks, no CS Software, no real CS processes in place. I was still pretty new to my CS career so this was an exciting challenge to be a part of a CS department that was basically in “start-up” mode.

Now, a year and a half later, things are much different. We have HubSpot, Churn Zero, a Customer Journey Map in place, playbooks and processes so we know what’s expected for us to excel in our roles, and have a growing global team of rockstar CSM’s. It’s been a fun, bumpy ride up to this point and we’re still growing and evolving every day.

If I could sum up what I’ve learned being one of the first CSM’s at my company, it would be this: Collaborate with your fellow CSM’s on a daily basis and never be afraid to voice your ideas. As I said earlier, Customer Success is still new so many of your ideas on how to improve, streamline, and innovate things can be very valuable to the department’s and company’s growth.

So how about being the first Executive of VP-level Customer Success hire?

After doing some field research on the subject, I came across some great advice and best practices.

For starters, Gainsight wrote an article about this very subject and outlined the 7 most important things every new VP of Customer Success should prioritize:

1) Understand your customers
2) Understand your team
3) What is your segmentation strategy?
4) What is your engagement strategy?
5) What tools do you have at your disposal?
6) What are the boss’s expectations?
7) Make sure your CEO is all-in

Read the full article here: https://www.gainsight.com/blog/youre-the-new-vp-of-customer-success-now-what/

I also asked my fellow LinkedIn community about their experience being the first CS hire. I asked them to share the top 2 or 3 lessons they learned. And, as always, the advice did not disappoint.


1. Success teams are most reactive when they aren’t communicating or collaborating well with product, support and sales.

2. Digital engagement is key for Success teams, especially when there’s a large SMB customer base at play, but paradoxically, self-service strategies are useless if you don’t continue enough 1:1 conversations to know what your customers pain points are.

– Liz Stephany, Director of Customer Success at Close


Learn as much as you can about the sales process and do some support tickets to quickly learn what customers are regularly struggling with.

– Rav Dhaliwal


1. We know enough to listen and “love” on our clients, but are we doing this internally with our team? Continually improving new hire onboarding, and taking the time to understand each CSL’s superpower has been helpful in creating harmonious collaboration. Advocate and support your talent like you would your top client.

2. CS moves fast and information changes daily. Don’t assume that other key players across the organization know what’s going on. Take the time to pause and educate others on your process and share the “why” behind the decisions that you make to create buy-in. Trust can be ruined when decisions are made in vacuums. 

-Amanda Torrelli, Associate VP of Client Success at Mongoose


1. Be flexible. Customer Success is an integral part of any organization. With as much weight as CS holds, you can’t expect processes and procedures be 100% correct in their first iteration – fleaxability is key

2. The challenges you are facing are not specific to you/your organization. Leverage your network, connect with other CS professionals and don’t try to recreate the wheel for everything.

-Nashad Abass, Customer Success Manager


Lesson #1 – Infront of the customer, you are the CEO of the company and you got to own everything.

Lesson #2 – You got to set the expectations right at your customer’s end.

Lesson #3 – Its okay to question the processes at your organization and suggest changes which can expedite the delivery to your clien

-Amit Bhadu


1) Recognize that your CSMs will likely be more reactive to begin with and take that into consideration in your planning. There are probably a lot of quietly frustrated customers out there that no one is seeking out.

2) It’s already been said, but active listening in the first 30-60 days is critical to get a sense of what you need to prioritize. This applies to both customers and employees. Go on a relentless pursuit of learning WHY things are the way they are.

3) Don’t assume you’ve got the “playbook” from previous roles. Every company’s needs are different. Apply your best practices from the past, but don’t assume that they will all have a place.

-Parker Chase-Corwin


Make sure Executive Leadership is clear on why they are hiring YOU and why NOW. I’ve joined organizations where the leaders thought they understood CS or why they needed the function but clearly “didn’t get it”.

-Kristi Faltorusso


Progress over perfection, the program will constantly evolve. Be scrappy don’t get stuck over-engineering for scalability. Get started simple see what works and resonates then iterate. Build a foundation of every interaction adding value to the customer not a culture of “checking in” noise.

-Samantha Styles



Learn as much as you can about the sales process and do some support tickets to quickly learn what customers are regularly struggling with.

– Rav Dhaliwal


1. We know enough to listen and “love” on our clients, but are we doing this internally with our team? Continually improving new hire onboarding, and taking the time to understand each CSL’s superpower has been helpful in creating harmonious collaboration. Advocate and support your talent like you would your top client.

2. CS moves fast and information changes daily. Don’t assume that other key players across the organization know what’s going on. Take the time to pause and educate others on your process and share the “why” behind the decisions that you make to create buy-in. Trust can be ruined when decisions are made in vacuums. 

-Amanda Torrelli, Associate VP of Client Success at Mongoose


1. Be flexible. Customer Success is an integral part of any organization. With as much weight as CS holds, you can’t expect processes and procedures be 100% correct in their first iteration – fleaxability is key

2. The challenges you are facing are not specific to you/your organization. Leverage your network, connect with other CS professionals and don’t try to recreate the wheel for everything.

-Nashad Abass, Customer Success Manager


Lesson #1 – Infront of the customer, you are the CEO of the company and you got to own everything.

Lesson #2 – You got to set the expectations right at your customer’s end.

Lesson #3 – Its okay to question the processes at your organization and suggest changes which can expedite the delivery to your clien

-Amit Bhadu


1) Recognize that your CSMs will likely be more reactive to begin with and take that into consideration in your planning. There are probably a lot of quietly frustrated customers out there that no one is seeking out.

2) It’s already been said, but active listening in the first 30-60 days is critical to get a sense of what you need to prioritize. This applies to both customers and employees. Go on a relentless pursuit of learning WHY things are the way they are.

3) Don’t assume you’ve got the “playbook” from previous roles. Every company’s needs are different. Apply your best practices from the past, but don’t assume that they will all have a place.

-Parker Chase-Corwin


Make sure Executive Leadership is clear on why they are hiring YOU and why NOW. I’ve joined organizations where the leaders thought they understood CS or why they needed the function but clearly “didn’t get it”.

-Kristi Faltorusso


Progress over perfection, the program will constantly evolve. Be scrappy don’t get stuck over-engineering for scalability. Get started simple see what works and resonates then iterate. Build a foundation of every interaction adding value to the customer not a culture of “checking in” noise.

-Samantha Styles


To read my nearly 150 answers I got on my LinkedIn post, click Here

So friends, if you find yourself being the first CS hire for an organization, you’re in for a fun ride. There will be challenges along the way but make sure you have an open channel of collaboration with your team and the C-suite and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish for the organization.

Best of luck to you and, if you’re not only new to the org but new to Customer Success, welcome to the family!

Additional Resources

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/one-step-time-lessons-learned-from-building-customer-success-steve/

https://360leaders.com/2020/10/09/customer-success/

Customer Success and Product: A Vital Partnership

I grew up watching the Karate Kid. One of my favorite movies. In this movie, the main character, Daniel, immediately becomes enemies with Johnny after a misunderstanding and scuffle on the beach. This rivalry continues until the end of the movie where they face-off in the final championship match. Over 30 years later, they are reunited in the new Netflix series, Cobra Kai.

The rivalry is far from over.

After a new series of misunderstandings, poor communication, and actions based on preconceived notions, Daniel and Johnny find themselves competing, once again, in the ring. This time as rival coaches.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the story here (I recommend watching Cobra Kai) but my point in sharing this is that you have two boys, now men, who both want the same thing: To be great at what they do.

Both had the same goal and both could have easily worked together to make their dreams a reality. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past petty fights and minor differences.


I see some similarities in the relationship between Daniel and Johnny and the relationship between Customer Success and the Product team.

We both are working towards the same common goal: to better serve our customers.

While Customer Success is on the frontlines communicating with customers daily, the product team is working behind the scenes to ensure our customers have a seamless experience using our product. Both teams help mitigate risk and ensure a quality customer experience.

So what does this mean for Customer Success Managers like you and me?

First off, it means that we need to be mindful that the product team has the same goal that we do. They are here to serve our customers. They are aware of most the product issues. And the ones they are not aware of, it’s our job to present those issues to them. But it’s through this communication process where words can be misconstrued, tone can be read wrong, and misunderstandings can occur.

As a CSM, you need to have a strategy when it comes to presenting product issues to your product team. Megan Bowen, Chief Customer Officer at Refine Labs, says it best.

“My rule of thumb for working with product teams – DO NOT ask them to build new specific features – rather identify the biggest pain points of the customer and bring them the biggest friction points or pain points with data to back up how many customers are impacted. Then, let product do their job to identify the right solution to the biggest customer pain points.”

You have a job to do and so do they. Finding ways, like Megan pointed out, to make their job easier will greatly impact the relationship you have with them. Showing the “Why” behind a product request through any kind of data will help the product understand the need for it.

Krista Roberts, Enterprise CSM at IntelliShift, also added her two cents based on her experience.

“Regular communication with Product is key! Inviting them to attend customer calls, EBR’s and other times where they can hear first hand how customers are using the product, want to use the product and how our product is and can solve their business challenges is so helpful.”

Just like how sales and marketing should work closely, CS and Product should be working closely and meeting regularly. Knowing how your customers are performing and adopting the software is vital information for both of you to know. Identifying usage gaps and pain points can help both teams excel in their individual jobs as well as grow together to help the overall growth of the company.

In one of the most recent episodes of the Women in Customer Success Podcast, Katrina Coakley shared her experience as a CSM and how she has built good relationships with her respected product teams. She explains that how important is for anyone involved in building out the UX/UI of the product to involve representatives in the company who work with the customers face to face. Customer-facing reps can help identify and avoid certain pitfalls they know their customers have the potential to experience.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

One last word of advice to my fellow front-line CSM’s; just remember that our fellow product specialists are here to do their job just like we are. Sometimes misunderstandings occur and there might be some frustration. I’ve been there. But consistent communication (in person, if possible) where ideas are shared and pain points are identified will make a huge difference for you and your customers.

Maybe send them some donuts sometime to show your appreciation. They’ll like you a lot more. Trust me, it works.

If you’re interested in technology that helps product and CS teams communicate effectively, check out https://productsignals.com/

Customer Success and Reimagining the Modern Workplace

Author: Corinne Goldberg, Customer Success Manager at Slack


There is a large opportunity for organizations to re-think the modern workplace as the global economy continues on the road to recovery from the pandemic. Jared Orr and I sat down to discuss some of the trends and transformations we have seen to the workplace over the past year, and the role of the Customer Success organization in shaping the future of work. Here are some of our observations.

Operationalizing Remote Work     

In 2020, leaders were grappling with the unprecedented operational feat of standing up remote environments for their employees as quickly and effectively as possible. Empowering teams with hardware, secure network access, and adequate licenses for collaboration tools such as Zoom and Slack were top of mind for IT leaders. 

Providing employees with the tools they needed to remain productive and engaged at home was a necessity to protect continuity of service, mitigate risk, and maintain any semblance of business as usual for customers. 

As organizations move into a new steady state and operate a fully remote or hybrid workforce in the year ahead, new concepts will be trialed, and experimentation will be rampant. It will be fascinating to watch how the modern workplace evolves not only inside the companies where we work, but also at our customers. 

Customer Success at the Center 

Customer Success should be at the center of the dialogue as companies reimagine the future of work. This is especially true for customer-centric organizations. We recently spoke with Sarah Bierenbaum (Founder of Sarah B Consulting), and she mentioned that more and more companies are realizing how important it is to invest in their current customers. Focusing their attention on a quality Customer Success team to ensure a high LTV for each customer is one of the greatest investments organizations can focus on in the year ahead. 2020 taught more businesses than ever this important lesson. 

From a customer perspective, Customer Success teams are intimately aware of how the workplace is changing at our customers, and how we should adapt our engagement model and our product over the longer term to meet their evolving needs. As our own organizations future proof their workforce model, understanding the tools and processes required to continue to serve our customers effectively will be even more important as we adapt to a new normal. 

These are some considerations we should bear in mind as we think about how our customers will adapt to the modern workplace: 

  1. How have our customers adapted their workforce to new ways of working, and how is their leadership team thinking about the future of work at their company? Understanding their roadmap will help us be more thoughtful in the pursuit of success motions that are in line with their broader business changes, helping them realize greater value from their technology stack.  
  1. How will their engagement model with their suppliers, vendors, and customers change? Companies are interacting with their networks in different ways, and we can all probably agree that email alone is on the way out. Understanding how our customers engage with their customers and business partners will help us continue to develop meaningful relationships across different stakeholder groups as their business evolves. 
  1. Mindshare can be a scarce commodity as companies move remote. Are we being purposeful and intentional when engaging customers? Business reviews on-site used to be the norm and a valuable channel to both gather intel about customers, understand where we might be excelling and falling short, and get to know them personally. Thinking about alternatives we can employ that cater to a remote context will be vital to mutual success.   

Understanding how the modern workspace will evolve, and how our customers are adapting to a new normal will make us more effective and impactful strategic advisors, better customer advocates, and stronger partners to more meaningfully influence the product roadmap so that it considers the evolving needs of our customers as they adapt to their new workplace environments. 

How are your customers thinking about their workplace in the weeks and months ahead, and what has been top of mind for your Customer Success organization to meet the evolving needs of our customers in today’s business climate? How has your team been influential in shaping your organization’s approach to work?

About The Author

Corinne Goldberg is a Customer Success Manager at Slack. She’s fascinated by how organizations use technology to collaborate, automate, scale, and the Future of Work. Being a front-line CSM at a company that is reimaging the future of work, she gets first-hand experience and knowledge everyday on how companies are innovating and adapting to current work trends.

LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/corinne-goldberg

Driving Success from High-touch Accounts

Author: Maria Jose Villanueva, CSM at Ultimate Kronos Group and Founder of Customer Success Montreal

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariajosevillanueva/

Customer Success Montreal: https://cs-mtl.com/

As a CSM, you have been given a book of business that consists of mostly Enterprise accounts, with the highest ARR contract value.

It is now in your hands to foster and grow them.

In this case, let’s say you have the right engagement model in place for them. So now, it’s imperative that you develop a plan and have the right approach in mind. These are the 4 things that I have implemented in my day to day that have helped bring value to my high-touch customers.

Create and Strategize a Joint Success Plan

Everything starts with understanding your customers as deeply as you can.

What business outcomes do you need to see them achieve to know that they are successful with your product? How are you measuring that?

Creating a Success Plan for each of your customers will help you have a clear definition of success and have them also commit and sign off on it. Once you have established the plan, the next step is to work in collaboration with your customer on outlining, developing, and prioritizing key activities that will drive your customer closer to their goals.

The Success Plan will help you ensure key Customer Success engagement activities will take place, and that they are aligned without any conflict. One thing this can do is provide future value for EBRs. These are key to help you present what your customer have achieved, their progress so far, and their overall experience with your product.

Another key activity is having a joint roadmap planning exercise with your customer. This will allow for greater alignment with other technology platforms and provide better long term plans. 

I still remember the first time I presented these exercises to one of my Enterprise customers. They were very enthusiastic in their feedback:

“ I wish all our vendors would do the same! This has helped us keep track of all our initiatives. Thank you!”  

Having a Success Plan will help you set mutual goals with your customers and give you a roadmap on how to achieve those goals. 

Build Internal and External Stakeholder Relationships

Establishing cross-functional communication will be imperative for you as a CSM. It will play a crucial role in creating a top-notch customer experience for your Enterprise customers. It will empower you to provide product knowledge, quicker customer updates, and generate more in depth insight about your customers.

By doing this, you will become your customer’s advocate and the voice for your customer inside your organization. 

When it comes to building the relationship with your external stakeholders you should always aim to take the role of a strategic advisor verses a tactical one. Thinking together with your customer by helping them solve critical problems with your product can elevate the current and future conversations you have with them.

Always have a value-driven discussion with your key executive contacts at every interaction.

Having these value-driven discussions will be key in helping your customer move closer to their desired outcomes. This isn’t always easy since putting out fires may disrupt you delivering value.

So how do you prepare for it? 

Ensure you are always prepared for every single call you have with your customer. Do your due diligence! Research the project at hand, ensure you have the right resources, and remind yourself of what the desired outcome is for the customer.

This is al important information to have, otherwise, you won’t be able to add any value and you’ll miss a great opportunity. Make it an habit to ask yourself these key questions on your on-going cadence meetings with your customer: 

How can my product/service bring more value to my customer?

How is my customer tracking against their desired outcomes?

How can I help them drive product adoption?

When it comes to leveraging digital engagement for certain value-driven activities, such as new feature announcements, you might need to make sure you follow up with them if they need training that focuses more on their relevant business case.

Be a Problem Solver and Knowledge Advisor

Help your customer by constantly sharing best practices for your product or service. By providing best ways to use your product and connecting them to the right company resource, you become a trusted partner.

Be present beyond the initial period of onboarding.  When you customer is having a critical escalation, it’s an excellent opportunity to build trust as you will find ways to help your customer with their issue at hand. These situations often position you in way that help your customers see you as their knowledge advisor.

Brainstorm on leading change management initiatives with them and find creative ways to solve their problems. Don’t shy away from these conversations. 


I hope these key points help you and that at some point along your journey as a CSM, you’ll cross a threshold where you’ll say to yourself, “Bring it on! I can take on any Enterprise account and there isn’t a customer situation that I can’t handle!”

Keep in mind that your relationship with your enterprise customer will be a continuous evolution process. It’s challenging but rewarding in the end.

About The Author

Maria Jose is an experienced business and Customer Success professional with 10 + years of experience in SaaS technology industries. In her current role with UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), Maria Jose is responsible for working closely with Enterprise customers as their Customer Success Manager, focusing on driving their long-term success with their solution and building relationships. She is the founder of CS-MTL, the first Customer Success Meetup group in Montreal, where she has hosted several Customer Success content-driven events contributing to the growth of the Montreal CS community.  She is also an active Mentor at CS Network Mentorloop program. 

3 Tips to Stay Ahead in The Customer Economy

We are living in the subscription economy. Or as I like to call it, the Customer Economy!

The ability to provide a great customer experience while delivering desired outcomes is the very essence of Customer Success. It’s also the foundation of every business that is striving to stay ahead in the Customer Economy.

As Dana Niv, Strategic Customer Success Manager at WalkMe says, “Today’s B2B customers feel empowered. They demand a whole new level of customer focus, expecting companies to know them personally, recognize their challenges, and cater to their needs.”

In other words, your customers know they have the power. It’s no longer a secret.

If you’re still with me, allow me to share three tips that I believe are essential to staying ahead in the Customer Economy.

Customer Success is a Company Mindset, not just a Department

In a recent interview, Dan Steinman talked about the exciting and promising future of Customer Success. He talked about how important it is for the Product team and the Customer Success team to be on the same page.

“The only real scalable thing in your company is your product.” He said, “If you’re going to scale Customer Success, it has to start by doing things within your product. Nothing is as impactful than delivering on something in your product that makes a difference with regards to user adoption and clear ROI.”

When Product Success and Customer Success come together, world’s collide. In a great and scalable way!

Dan went on to talk about the relationship between sales and CS.

“If Customer Success is not a slide in your sales deck, you’re not doing it well enough.”

I’ll give you a minute to take that in…

Prospects these days aren’t only thinking about your product and what it can do for them. They are also thinking about what your company can provide as far as service and client experience. This can only be accomplished well if the CS team is on the same page with sales, product, marketing, and other departments.

The customer journey involves all departments to some extent. Make sure all of them know what they need to do to provide a legendary experience.

Full interview can be found here:

Track the Health and Success of your Customers

One of my favorite books on CS is The Startup’s Guide to Customer Success by Jennifer Chiang. You can’t find a more detailed book regarding what you need to do to become a successful startup.

In the book she quotes Jeff Cann, Senior Director of Client Experience at Sysomos. Here is what he had to say about tracking customer success metrics:

“There is an incredible amount to learn from customers outside of that 1:1 opportunity that you have a responsibility to know. Product usage behaviors, areas of your application customers may have challenges with, NPS, the frequency of support requests. All of this information is critical to understanding the health and success of your customers and you owe it to them to be diligent with how you not only learn from it but act on it.”

Understanding the health and success of your customers is vital. Some metrics are quantitative and others are qualitative. Both are important when determining how your customer is performing with your product or service.

ClientSuccess goes into detail about these metrics and how you can best use them. See what they have to say here: https://www.clientsuccess.com/blog/6-metrics-help-calculate-customers-health-successscore/

Be Ready and Willing to Adapt

As JFK said, “Ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you and your product can do for your customer!”

I may have misquoted slightly but you get the idea.

Customers understand that the software and technology landscape is constantly changing and evolving. If they get the feeling that your company isn’t one step ahead of the game and not willing to adapt, they will shop around for a new vendor.

One of the first career lessons I learned is when I was still in college. I was working for the student housing office and they were rolling out a lot of new policies and initiatives. Many of these initiatives didn’t make a lot of sense to me. So I asked my direct manager why we were doing all of this extra work that, to me, just added a lot of unnecessary tasks for us.

He told me that any business that isn’t constantly innovating is not moving forward. He explained how vital it is, even for a student housing office for a university, to always be thinking of ways to innovate and adapt to inevitable changes. This lesson has stuck with me ever since.

Irit Eizips, CEO and CCO of CSM Practice, spoke with Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, about the importance of Customer Success in today’s business ecosystem. Listen to their conversation here.

What are your thoughts? In today’s customer-centric world, what are some ways businesses can stay ahead and really ensure their putting their customers first?

2020: A Year in Review for Customer Success

“Happy New Year” will take on a whole new meaning when we ring in 2021.

If this blog withstands the test of time and someone is reading this who hasn’t heard about 2020, go ask your grandparents to tell you the stories.

2020 has been a ride. And not one of those fun rides you go on at Disneyland or Six Flags. It’s been more like the rickety, rusty rides you see at a local carnival that are assembled by a hungover 20-something with weed in his back pocket.

So while it’s been one of the hardest years many of us have gone through, there have been many highlights and things that have made this year memorable in a good way.

For Customer Success, this year has been one for the books.

Here are a few ways 2020 has positively impacted the Customer Success Community. These are simply my observations. Feel free to add your own observations in the comments!

The Rise of Online Communities

According to Kantar Profiles, 1 in 5 people are turning to online communities for stress management in 2020.

With online communities becoming more common, thanks to lockdowns and quarantine, the CS community has been a leader in creating and participating in these communities. Gain Grow Retain, Product-led Growth Hub, and RevGenius are a few examples of spaces where CS professionals have made their mark, grown in their presence, and collaborated with hundreds of other online professionals.

Online communities for business professionals will continue to grow and Customer Success will continue to be at the forefront of the growth.

The Emphasis on Customer Experience

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The companies that make Customer Experience a priority, will win in the end.

More companies have discovered this in 2020. Many have doubled down on their efforts to take care of their customers and provide a legendary customer experience.

Cisco and GitLab are great examples of this.

Cisco has implemented a Customer Experience initiative that has helped their customers deliver extraordinary experiences to their own customers. Today, they have more than 27,000 people around the world working daily with customers and partners to build solutions that delight and inspire.

GitLab has created, what I believe to be, a model Customer Journey Map that should be duplicated and tailored to every other organization. They created a Customer Success vision and put that vision to work through a well-thought-out journey map. Their goal with this customer journey is to “deliver faster time-to-value and customer-specific business outcomes with a world class customer experience, leveraging the full capabilities of the GitLab application.”

Follow these links to learn more about how these two organizations took 2020 by the horns:

https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/customer-success/vision/

https://blogs.cisco.com/customerexperience/intro

Many frontline CSM’s and CS leaders learned that putting their customers first was the best solution for driving success forward. Not only for their customers but also for them and the company they work for.

This podcast episode is full of CS professionals sharing their wins and success stories from 2020.

The Strength of the CS Community

I got my first official CS job in 2018. I knew right away that I was on a great career path.

Around mid-2019, I started getting more involved in the community on LinkedIn. It was great connecting with other like-minded professionals and reading their CS-related content.

Well, we all know what happened around the beginning of 2020. With all the uncertainty and stress that it brought, the Customer Success community became stronger and bigger.

Online communities like Gain Grow Retain and Success Chain started popping up and gaining new members on daily basis. People who had gotten laid off and wanted to start a new career in Customer Success were welcomed with open arms. CS job boards via LinkedIn and Slack were created. CS professionals were connecting 1 on 1 via Zoom to collaborate, network, and learn from one another in record numbers. Many of these Zoom conversations were posted on LinkedIn if one or both of the participants were looking for a job.

The more CS professionals I connected with, the stronger my network became and the more inspiring my LinkedIn feed would become.

Being a part of all this confirmed to me that I am part of the best professional community there is.

To see more of the progress CS has made in 2020, download this free report from TSIA: https://www.tsia.com/resources/the-state-of-customer-success-2020

How to Make the Most out of Your Executive Business Review

Have you ever had to sit through a presentation when the presenter was basically telling you how amazing they are?

If you answered “Yes” to that, you’ve either sat through a Tony Robbins seminar or a crappy Executive Business Review.

In the Customer Success world, an Executive Business Review can take on a few different titles. The two most common being EBR and QBR (Quarterly Business Review). No matter how often it occurs, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to meet with executives and have a dialogue with them about their progress and experience with your product or service. Every one of your customers should receive some version of an EBR at least once a year.

I recently posted on LinkedIn and asked the CS community how they get the most out of their EBR’s.

The advice did not disappoint.

Since I value the advice of these individuals over my own, I’ll share what they had to say rather than ramble on with my opinions and advice!

There are some critical components to EBRs that I’ve found beneficial and add great value to customers.

First, make sure you understand what your customer’s want to get out of their EBRs. If you don’t know [and meet] their expectations, you won’t add value.

Second, don’t tell them what they already know or read a bunch of metrics. Provide insights, thought leadership, and guidance. Be strategic. Those are some of the qualities of a Trusted Advisor.

Third, keep your EBR to a reasonable time and keep the information at a high (executive) level. Many people confuse EBRs with QBRs. They’re not the same. Avoid getting into the weeds on anything unless your customer takes you there. Customer executives are busy people and they want to get in, get what they need, and get out.

Fourth, never throw your day-to-day contact under the bus to their leaders in an EBR. In fact, you can solicit your D-T-D contact’s help in preparing for the EBR.

Finally, follow up your EBR with a warm thank you. Let them know that you appreciated their time and engagement, and ask whether your customer received value from the meeting.

David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer at Centric Leadership Strategies

Setting expectations for the EBR to be prepared by both customer and supplier as part of the partnership commitment. This is key for transparency on performance goals and achievement. Celebrate wins and correct gaps with an action plan with clear responsibilities for both supplier and customer.

Sue Nabeth Moore, Founder of Success Chain and Success Track

I recall my most successful series of EBRs were really a progression of story telling. Of walking the customer through their success and positioning my key contact as the star of the show. It resulted in an expansion deal and his promotion.

Peter Armaly, Senior Director of CS Enablement at Oracle

Always have a new project for the client to commit to as part of the EBR. Continuous engagement is key.

Emilia D’Anzica, Founder and CEO at GrowthMolecules

The EBR is a time to highlight not only what the partnership has accomplished to date but also brag a little on our main point of contact with the customer. This is a great time to shine the light on the hard work they are doing with setting and working towards goals. This is actually how I often sell the idea of an EBR as often they are nervous or put off by the idea of a member of their SLT joining a call. But when you tell them that it is all about them and how awesome they are it usually helps to ease their mind! Getting that buy-in is so key to a successful meeting.

Krista Roberts, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at IntelliShift

Another great resource is a recent video created by Rick Adams, CEO and Founder of Practical CSM. In this video, he talks about the essential practices for any effective business review. I like his emphasis on the word “business”. EBR’s should not focus on upselling or technicalities. They should focus on business and outcomes.

At the end of the day, an effective EBR/QBR/BR helps the customer understand the value they are getting from you. Plain and simple.

What do you do in your EBR’s to prove your value?

Additional Resources

The Key to Start-up Success

Back in the good ol’ days when we could gather in large groups, I attended the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City.

Among the incredible line-up of speakers and presenters, the one that stood out to me the most was Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot. I honestly don’t remember much of what he said but I do remember one golden-nugget of wisdom he shared.

“These days, your product or service will seldom make you stand out from your competition. The companies that will truly win in the end will be the ones that make Customer Experience a priority.”

Brian Halligan, CEO, Hubspot

This simple piece of advice is what gives me, personally, a vision for the future of Customer Success. CS is what will catapult companies towards massive growth and customer satisfaction.

If I could give advice to anyone starting a business, it would be this:

Figure out who your target customer is and invest in them first.

Your customer may not always be “right” but they are always the most important!

The 3 B’s for Customer Success

What does it take to be a great Customer Success Manager?

Well, you may get a lot of different answers when asking multiple CS professionals. In my “not-so” humble opinion, there are 3 things that truly separate the good CSM’s from the great CSM’s.

If you want to truly excel in CS, you need to implement, what I call, the 3 B’s

  • Be Empathetic
  • Be Proactive
  • Be an outrageously great communicator

Pretty simple, eh? Let’s dive a little deeper.

First off, without empathy, it’s next to impossible to succeed in this career field. Sometimes, this is easier said than done but working on this skill will lead to immeasurable success. Take time to make your contacts more “human” and less “transactional” and it will be time well invested.

“Of all the skills that you can acquire as a CSM, becoming more empathic is probably one of the important that you can develop. Customer Success is known as a “human-first” concept and endeavor. As a CSM, you must reach out beyond yourself and place yourself in your customer’s shoes.”

The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook by Ashvin Vaidyanathan and Ruben Rabago

Next is being proactive.

If you haven’t read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, you should read it…right after you’ve finished this article.

Spoiler Alert: The first habit is Be Proactive. So it’s not just important for CSM’s to be proactive, it’s important for everyone to implement this habit in their day-to-day life, regardless of career path!

For a CSM, being proactive means not waiting around for your clients to reach out to you with an issue. And it means actively managing your book of business so that you can identify problems before they happen.

Tedious daily task, emails, meetings, etc. can get in the way of this so it’s important to block out time each day to proactively manage your book of business.

In The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook, chapter 3 is all about the day in the life of an effective CSM. The 2 most important things every CSM should do at the beginning of their day are as follows:

  1. Check your calendar before doing anything else.
    • This will allow you to know what you have going on that day so you can prepare appropriately. Having your critical appointments be top-of-mind is key to proactively preparing for them. It is also an opportunity to reprioritize non-essential meetings.
  2. Review your proactive to-do list.
    • This a list of deferred items from previous days, important date-triggered events such as customer renewals, upcoming business reviews, and anything else that requires your attention today.

So moral of the story, stay on top of your book of business the best you can. It will position you as a Trusted Advisor for your clients, help reduce the risk of churn, and mitigate risk.

And finally, being an outrageously great communicator.

The Gain, Grow, Retain podcast recently came out with a fantastic podcast all about communicating with customers. The hosts, Jeff and Jay, interviewed Kristi Faltorusso. If you know of these three, you know this is basically the holy trinity of Customer Success.

Kristi is the VP of Customer Success at IntelliShift and every month they have a live product webinar that they invite all their clients to. So far, they have seen great success with these webinars and it’s the CSM’s job to follow up with their clients that attended to ensure the client is adopting the product features that were discussed in the webinar.

Listen to the full episode here:

This is one of many effective ways/methods to communicate with clients. Follow up about everything. Their renewal, a product request they had, your previous QBR. Heck, if your previous conversation included some talk about a big game their favorite sports team was about to play, follow up on that.

To reiterate, simple follow up is one of the most effective ways to show your client that you are listening and that you care.

What would you add to this list?

Additional Resources