Customer Success Career Path Hub | Roles and Responsibilities
The rise of customer success has brought about a boom in new business functions and job openings, creating entirely new careers and paths to professional success. In just one year, we’ve seen some dramatic statistics like:
Orgs that have
Global Customer Success
New CSMs Added by
IBM in One Year
Why Work in Customer Success?
Working in customer success is somewhat different from most other business departments. For all the efforts you’ll put in, your job will bring you a unique satisfaction in return, one seen across our profession – that of being a helping hand customers need and value.
Many other connected jobs like sales, support, and marketing remain inward-looking, prioritizing ROI and attempting to directly drive the business. Conversely, customer success sets its sights outward – towards the customers, their business, their goals, and how to achieve those goals in a manner best suited for them that makes optimized and sustained use of the products, services, or goods your business is selling.
Reviews, referrals, testimonials, case studies, upsells, and cross-sells are just a sample of the value a good CS department typically returns. The real value is far greater and intangible. Upon optimizing onboarding and maximizing retention, your accounts will turn into loyal business connections, going far beyond what a traditional business-customer relationship entails.
But the path to that ideal scenario is long and filled with ups and downs. It could take years of experiments and hard work to get there. At this point, you’re likely wondering: is it worth it? We may be biased, but we say yes! A recent poll in the Customer Success Group confirms it, showing 96% of CSMs are proud of their job. So, customer success is clearly a fantastic career from any angle you look at it:
From a compensation standpoint
You can expect a fairly high wage even as you take your first steps in CS. Customer success reps make, on average, 35.9% more* than customer service reps – a similar, often related entry-level position.
From a mental health point of view
Your possibilities are exciting – CS has positions for everyone from beginners to analysts, from former salespeople to data nerds, and from high-energy “people persons” to inspiring leaders.
From a growth perspective
As we’ve mentioned, it can be tremendously gratifying. The tasks might be many and stress-inducing until you fall into a comfortable rhythm for your workflow, but the turnaround once you reach that point is immense.
The most vital prerequisite to a successful CS venture is empathy and the ability to work with people.
Understand the Roles in Customer Success
Customer Success Managers are often confused with other roles, usually Account Managers or Customer Support, because, especially for early-stage startups, these roles are not yet clearly defined (most of the time, they are handled by a single person). As the business grows, companies start hiring more people, building different teams, and each department’s responsibilities should become far more evident. Sadly, this isn’t always the case and confusion creeps in on what some roles are responsible for. For CS, many titles and job descriptions overlap or are straight up a wishlist.
Head of Customer Success at Custify
Average annual salary: $54,955
Role in Customer Success Team: Execution
Reports to: Customer success manager, Customer success operations manager, Director of customer success
Average annual salary: $77,587
Role in Customer Success Team: Management
Reports to: director of customer success operations, director of customer success, head of customer success
Average annual salary: $106,905
Role in Customer Success Team: Management
Reports to: director of customer success, VP of customer success, chief customer officer
Editorial Opinion: How does the CS space look?
After months worth of research & work writing, compiling, and editing the customer success jobs above, the overwhelming feeling I get is that the space is still maturing.
Many jobs have overlapping responsibilities – after all, how many people can handle the upsell and cross-sell part of CS? Surely not everyone in CS, as the internet would have you believe. As such, I’ve taken the liberty of removing that job responsibility or adjusting it on a case-by-case basis. I think Nick Mehta said it best:
The reality is – at least right now, but likely for the foreseeable future – there isn’t a standard Customer Success organization structure, especially when it comes to up-sell and renewals.
CEO at Gainsight
Other job functions, I’ve found, don’t yet fall under the CS umbrella. Account managers, expansion managers, customer operations managers – all of these and more are still seen as slightly distinct roles by most of the business world. Yet looking at their responsibilities and the skills needed to perform, it’s clear these are definite CS roles – so we stand by our decision to include them here.
Even more confusing was an issue that has plagued the business world since forever – labels. The same job can have wildly different titles based on completely random or inconsistent factors, as you can see highlighted in our “similar roles” section for each position. However, I’ll pass it over to Shep Hyken for an expert opinion here:
What’s in a name? Sometimes the CXO (Chief Experience Officer) has the same responsibilities as the CCO (Chief Customer Officer). Which title is right? Does it matter? It’s all about what they are supposed to do, not what you call them.
And then, some companies get creative with their titles, such as the CLO, which stands for Chief Love Officer. That’s the person that designs the Customer Love Program, which resembles the responsibility of some CCOs, or V of Customer Service.
My personal title is the CAO, Chief Amazement Officer. We create amazing experiences for our clients – and teach them to do the same for their customers, clients, guests, etc. It’s fun to get creative with titles, but it’s not the title that is important. It’s what the role and responsibilities are that go with that title – and if they are executed properly.
Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations
So despite the 16 job titles above, you should still move on in your customer success career path based on what you want to do, not by which title sounds flashier or is better paid.
Relating to payment, the entirety of the wage data present on this page was researched on Salary.com between September and November 2022. Further updates to the Career Path Guide will include average annual salary changes reflecting the most recent available data.
The CS space is vast, even if it does not look like it. The first step in developing your career in CS is to understand what part of the field you like the most:
- The implementation – the more technical side of CS
- Providing expert support on specific areas – the operational side of CS
- Creating procedures, processes, and workflows – the enablement side of CS
- Focusing on helping the customers achieve their desired business outcomes – the strategic side of CS
- Mentoring people and helping them grow in the field while driving business and partnership results
You can perform a self-assessment to decide on the next step in your career and the role in the CS field that you would like to apply for. As tips & tricks, be honest with yourself and choose what you enjoy the most. You have better chances of learning and becoming a top performer this way.
Head of Customer Success at Bright Spaces
Customer success is a very accessible career. The range of valuable skills in CS is vast, so much so that nearly anyone from any previous business position can contribute to CS. Once in, CS people can climb to positions best suited to their specific set of skills within the same customer success team. As we’ve seen above:
- People that are more inclined towards communication and relationship building can find their calling as CSMs.
- Those who prefer the more technical side of business can easily find a TAM job to fit their portfolio.
- Professionals with a love of analytics, processes, and data can work toward a CS Ops position, eventually taking charge of all customer operations.
- Those who enjoy training and public speaking can opt for a CS trainer position, which in time, lends itself well to a career as a CS consultant.
- Marketers and those with a bit more creative output can start their careers in CS by creating customer education materials, eventually leveling up to handle all customer materials as part of the CS Ops team.
But a customer success career isn’t just great for those starting out. It’s also fantastic for those within it at all times. Opportunities for career shifts abound, and whatever whims may turn anyone towards a different side of CS can easily lead to a corresponding job. Let’s explain with a few more examples:
- If a CSM realizes communication is not their strong suit, they can easily shift to a position where they have less contact with customers – such as CS Ops.
- Suppose an Expansion and Upsell Manager is concerned that customers are already halfway out the door by the time they reach out. In that case, they can shift to a Customer Retention Manager position. Even better, they can combine the two into a more agile role that prevents churn while encouraging upsells in a calculated, data-led, and customer-first approach.
- If an Onboarding Team Lead decides they love the training part of their job, they can take a hard left to a CS training specialist role. Eventually, they can increase their network and build their personal brand to become a CS influencer and consultant, helping the CS space mature through hidden insights and valuable materials.
There’s an ever-expanding wealth of opportunities just waiting for CS professionals to reach for them, regardless of their starting point.
Jobs that Can Get You Hired in Customer Success
Let’s quickly review some of the positions that lend themselves perfectly to the start of a fruitful career in CS:
- Sales. You’re an expert in making people want to buy something. Whether it’s because they don’t want to feel left out or because the product makes sense for them, you’re the one who pushes that narrative and gets them across the finish line and into the hands of the CS team. What then? If you feel like you’re too invested in your acquired customers’ stories and want to continue to serve them, maybe a move to CS isn’t such a bad idea. We’re biased, but we think it’s a great idea!
- Customer service and support. You’re the person who solves customers’ issues. You’ve reached a resolution with some of your most difficult accounts, on issues that would’ve left others stumped. One thing you notice, however, is that many of these issues could’ve been prevented through proper onboarding. So you decide to become an Onboarding Specialist, helping customers through their first steps with your product and joining the ranks of CS in the process.
- Account management. Yes, we’ve said that account managers are part of CS. But we’ve also said that it’s still not set in stone – many still see this position as part of the Sales department. Regardless, if you’re in this job, you know customers. You understand their point of view and often have a unique and data-driven perspective on their goals, concerns, and relationship with your company. That perspective can help you land a job that’s even more focused on customers – such as a CSM.
- Marketing. You’re the one who writes. As part of a customer-focused organization, maybe you’ve edited and launched many customer education materials. You’re something of a CS expert yourself. So why not become more invested in it by joining the CS department? After all, customers need guidance all the time, and your product documentation needs a lot of work.
Walk the Path to Customer Success
Every path you take, every career move you make can help you inch closer to customer success. But the ultimate decision is yours – will you join Customer Success and lend a hand to your customers?
“Customer success is a mentality, not just a job. You must be truly interested in your clients’ requirements and driven to support their success if you want to flourish in this industry. Building lasting relationships and learning new things are ongoing processes. Yet, it’s also tremendously fulfilling since you get to act as a liaison between your firm and its clients and see the difference you can have on their organizations and quality of life.”
Founder & CEO at Custify
If you’ve found this career path guide useful, consider sending it to other customer success prodigies who maybe aren’t too sure about their next career move.
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