What’s Your Unique Value? A Question for CSMs and their Managers

This year, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to work with organizations where the Customer Success Managers (CSMs) did a lot of support work. I don’t mean that there was no support team at all, as can be the case with startups–no, the issue was that customers would routinely copy their CSMs on support questions, CSMs would often provide answers to their questions, and CSMs would spend a significant chunk of their time following up on support issues.

You may think there is nothing wrong with that? After all, CSMs want their customers to be successful and helping out with support issues is very welcome by the customers–and often makes the CSMs feel good, too. But are CSMs’ talents and energy best utilized by working on support issues? I think not. CSMs need to deploy their relationship management skills to retain customers and try to expand their connection with the vendor. That’s not going to happen if they are spending hours every day working on support issues. Here are 6 techniques for CSMs to reverse the trend, and 6 more for their managers.

CSMs:

  • Unsubscribe from routine notifications. It’s fine to request notifications for high-severity situations, or for accounts that are in crisis, but you don’t need to see everything.
  • Refrain from providing direct technical support help. It undermines your colleagues in support and sets you up to have to do it over and over again. If you have a clever solution, good for you! Enter it in a private comment and let the support engineer bask in the glory.
  • Get a login into the case-tracking system. Some vendors (e.g. Zendesk) offer cheaper, mostly read-only accounts that are sufficient for your needs. Being able to see what’s really going on with your customers’ cases may calm your anxieties, and also help you identify when you need or don’t need to take action.
  • Do not hassle individual support engineers. They either are doing their best with the backlog they are managing–or they have performance issues, which you can address more effectively through your manager. (Polite reminders and questions logged as internal comments in cases are totally fine!)
  • Learn to say no. Just because a customer wants something (an immediate response, a new feature) does not mean that they will or should get it. Grow a spine and learn to say no firmly and kindly when required instead of blaming the support team.
  • Embrace your role as an escalation manager, when appropriate. While the general idea is to disengage from support issues, when there is a critical situation, you may be the best person to manage it.

CSM managers:

  • Create a positive working relationship with your support counterpart. The vast majority of support managers and executives really want to provide a good support experience; they just need to provide it to all customers, not just the ones you care about.
  • Learn about the support process. Are complex issues handed off to a senior team? What are the criteria for working issues off-hours? What’s the role of engineering and product management? Are we meeting target metrics for response, communication, and resolution time? The more you know, the better you can intervene.
  • Agree on a segmentation strategy. Many times, support engineers have no idea that they are working with a VIP customer. Sure, they need to help all customers, but they perfectly understand that some customers are more equal than others–if only they knew which ones.
  • Insert your team into the engineering prioritization process. Most long-lived issues require engineering work and most vendors have long backlogs. Build business cases with your CSMs so you can prioritize properly.
  • Insist that CSMs work on high-value activities. Resolving support issues is probably not high value.
  • Know when to push for more headcount outside your team. If support is understaffed or the product is riddled with bugs, increasing your own headcount won’t help, but adding support engineers or dedicated bug fixers will.

 

What are you doing to ensure that your CSMs work on high-value activities?

 

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