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Proving customer success value: Day-to-day challenges in the life of a CSM | Webinar

Updated on June 4, 2024 32 minutes read

Summary points:

As CSMs, proving our impact is vital. It aligns us with our business goals, validates our efforts, and fuels growth. In our new webinar, we discussed with Eleanora White, Director of Customer Success at Supermetrics, and Stijn Smet (Stino), Customer Success Team Lead at Whale about the day-to-day challenges in the life of CSM.

Read on to discover:

  • What it’s like to be the first CSM in a company
  • What are the key metrics you need to measure
  • How to say no when everybody wants CS’ help
  • How to prove CS value


Irina 00:01
Good morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on where in the world you are joining us from. I’m thrilled to have you here today to discuss how day-to-day challenges help you prove your customer success. I’m Irina Cismas, Head of Marketing at Custify and I’ll be your host for the next hour. I’m sharing the virtual stage today with Eleanora White, Director of Customer Success at Supermetrics and Stijn Smet (Stino), customer success team lead at Whale. Thank you for accepting my invitation!

Stino 00:31
Thank you, for inviting us, I’m super grateful for the opportunity that we can shed a little light on our day-to-day operations challenges and wins. And I’m even more extremely grateful that I can share the stage with a powerhouse like Eleanora. So I’m excited to learn myself as well, from one of the greatest within the game.

Eleanora 00:57
Stino’s amazing too. We spent a couple of minutes catching up previous to this webinar, he is so impressive himself. If you don’t follow him on LinkedIn already, his content is so thought-provoking. Definitely, somebody who is hugely prevalent in the community. And I think it’s just so exciting to have these opportunities to all learn from each other. Of course, like we’ll be on stage answering some of the questions, but really excited to hear about all of your viewpoints and experiences within the chat as well.

Irina 01:23
Before we dive into the topic, I want to address a few housekeeping items. This event is being recorded. So rest assured a copy will be sent to all registrants afterwards. We value your participation. So feel free to post your questions using the question tab word chat. No worries well, I’ll make sure I’ll monitor them. And we’ll incorporate your questions throughout the conversation or we’ll save them for the Q&A session at the end.

Daily Customer Success Challenges

Irina 01:54
Now, our agenda today focuses on the daily challenges faced by CSM and exploring strategies to address them effectively. Working in customer success positions as at the frontlines of various issues. The question is, how can we align our efforts with organizational expectations and truly make an impact? To provide clarity, both of my guests today will discuss their challenges, strategies for overcoming them, their success metrics, and their methods of communicating progress to their managers. But before we delve into their stories, I’m curious about your experiences. And like always, I prepared the poll for you guys and the topic is “What is the biggest challenge you are trying to overcome as we speak?” Let me actually push the button and go live.

Okay, I think everyone can see it. There is a twist. You can see it. Can you thumbs up? Stino, Eleanora can you see the poll?

Irina 03:04
Okay, perfect. I see some thumbs up. Okay, perfect. Now I encourage everyone to also vote, there is a twist, you can only choose one option. I know that a lot of you are trying to solve many things at the same time. It’s the same in marketing, not only in customer success, but this time, I want to know, what’s that challenge in customer success that keeps you up at night. I’ll give it a moment. We also have some options:

  • Scaling operations while maintaining service quality.
  • Identifying the effective customer success KPIs
  • Improving inter-department communication,
  • Managing high expectations from customers,
  • Maintaining customer satisfaction in a competitive market
  • Others

If you vote for others, please make sure that you go a bit into details in the chat because I want to make sure that we are addressing your challenge in our discussion today.

I think the battle is between scaling and identifying effective customer success KPIs. Now it’s an equal distribution, not owe effective customer success KPIs. Okay.

Irina 05:22
Now looking at the poll results on challenges. Do they vibe with you on what you’ve seen out there? Any of those make you go -”Yeap, been down that road.”

Eleanora 05:45
Absolutely, I definitely feel like I’ve had I’ve been there moments with all the challenges that were really posed in that list. I feel like there’s always a flavor kind of the week per se. But scaling operations while maintaining service quality is definitely one that’s super near and dear to my heart.

Personally, I really believe passionately that the future of the CES industry lies in the art of balancing human touchpoints with digital touchpoints. And really, it all comes down to the Art of Timing at the right point in the customer journey, so that you’re still delivering that proactive experience. I think companies and CS leaders who can execute this well really set themselves apart in our industry. And I think there’s so much testing and trying going on, especially as we really think of the industry as a whole. It’s gotten so remote from a world where we really were in office post-COVID.

Everybody is really wanting a piece of their customers’ time. So how do we balance that? I even think the age of true enterprise CS where you are on site for quarterly QBR is and all those items, we now have customers with extensive tech stacks. They don’t have time for that. So how are you being really intentional with your human touchpoints?

And what are you really doing to lead those with value? Obviously, with ChatGPT coming into the picture, how do we also use AI to our own advantage to add that personalization touch? I’m definitely super intrigued about that. If you add me on LinkedIn, happy to have a conversation all day every day. I think this is really where the CS community is going to come together and really share those strategies because it’s a new frontier for us all as well.

Irina 07:15
Stino, one challenge mentioned was identifying the right KPIs. Have you ever faced this?

Stino 07:28
I think anyone answering this question No, is lying. I think we all do. I think it’s not just on one occasion. I think it’s on multiple occasions because it is a little bit of a hoax that you can set your KPIs firm.

Your KPIs evolve together with the evolution of your product and SaaS product is never done. We keep on adding features, we keep on adding a lot of new stuff, we make changes in the pricing plans, or we switch from sales motion to BLT. A SaaS business is never a one-and-done deal.

It is an entire journey. So what are KPIs? They need to be evolving as well. I think some of them are like set in stone, like NPS, like retention, like customer effort score, but even then how we interpret them really differs on the stage of your company.

For example, when I first started out at Whale, NPS wasn’t that important. The reason why was we didn’t have anything CS-related. So it wasn’t my job to first go for that NPS, it was my job to first go for that churn rate, map that out, go for my retention rate, map that out. So I think it’s really important that you have those key KPIs, but you don’t need to focus necessarily on all of them at once. There’s something that you really need to reevaluate maybe every quarter, maybe half a year, really depending on the stage that your company is in.

The challenges of joining a new organization

Irina 09:17
Talking about the beginnings, Eleanora, I know that you just started at Supermetrics. Can you give us a sneak peek into how the customer success engine runs there? I want to start talking about your challenges as you join a new organization.

Eleanora 09:32
Absolutely! So I’m about a month in at Supermetrics and still wrapping my arms around the nuances of the CS business over here. But I think the most noteworthy difference with Supermetrics to really call out is that they’re already a profitable Series B which is so impressive. They’ve been enormously successful at product-led growth and starting with customer-free trials. There’s already a differentiation between managed and unmanaged customers.

Eleanora 10:00

At past companies that I’ve been a part of, they’ve really started out almost at that enterprise level, or been so focused on growing into the enterprise that they really struggled to commit the resources in order to define what a recipe for success at scale within an SMB or CBU business segment really looks like.

It tends to always be an afterthought, the best value of your time is going to be the sum of those enterprise deals. So to see the reverse is definitely extremely interesting. And it’s a reversal here at Supermetrics, where the emphasis is on creating that scalable CS machine, as we talked about earlier, that can be a challenge.

I believe, if done successfully, this can set a really strong foundation for when you grow up even to that deeper enterprise-level support. Because as I mentioned earlier, let’s be really honest, gone are those days of white gloves CS where you’re on site with a customer four times a year. Nobody wants to spend an hour discussing value. Every single piece of a customer’s tech stack wants a piece of their time on a quarterly basis. So I think the biggest challenges are how are we scaling in impact, and communicating value in a way that doesn’t require a multi our commitments from our stakeholders.

Also, I think we’re also focused with all these free trials, almost on the user-specific experience, and not always on that account level. So how are we also creating community within our user groups and doing that, like really empowering that at scale? Because I think that’s what most customers are really craving. It’s not just the how-tos but it’s the inspiration around. What are templates? What does benchmarking look like? How are other customers using the platform? I think that’s what really CSMs are always used and leveraged for. So you’re maybe not when you have a larger book of business, and maybe you’re not getting that deep with your customers. How are you creating those moments where you are talking strategy, talking success plans, and being able to also invite open communication within your, like customer base and those users?

So I think those will really be and I hesitate to always use the word challenges, but more the opportunities that lay in front of us. How do we, on the user level, create either that certification or that real user camaraderie, and use that to also empower and couple the impact of CSMs as well? I also think leading Supermetrics, for those who don’t know, is actually based in Helsinki, and I run the North America region and team, I think it’s really powerful for those customers that are technically out of the home region because they have that timezone support within their own user community as well. So I think those will be some really interesting broader-level opportunities as we go forward.

Irina 12:33
What was the “homework” that your executive gave you for the first few months, what’s your mandate as a new CS director?

Eleanora 12:45
Absolutely. Um, so it’s definitely collaborative.

I think the first goal first and foremost, and I’ve joined a couple companies joined a couple of new business segments, even within the same company in the past. And I would say it really boils down to kind of the same consistent 30-60-90-day plan when you’re in customer success. I think first 30 days is honestly getting to understand the business itself and feedback from an internal perspective. So understanding the team that you’re going to be managing, what are the pain points, also really cross-functionally, and getting that input.

Because your team is going to be probably jaded or have one point of view, but also understand how can our team better serve our cross-functional peers.

Then your next 60 days, I think, is now that you have the internal voice going, and really making sure that you’re speaking to the customers themselves, getting the voice of the customer, I think that’s something that’s really important, especially as I’ve joined Supermetrics, because, in North America, customer expectations are definitely different than those of European customers, they’re gonna have some different philosophies around urgency, time availability, we know we love all those escalations, obviously, there’s multiple different time zones, you’re combating.

So I think that’s really also what you need to do as a success leader – understand if you’re advocating for the customer, what is their voice of the customer, get to know those customers, become a face with them.

Then in the last 90 days, this is really your vision, building, and planning. So what is your next year’s plan for organizational transformation? Also three to five years, where are we headed? I’ve always done when I really look at organizational transformations is three key phases every single time, which is really like an evaluation phase, a strategize phase, then you’re gonna go into really your transform stage where you’re doing a lot of the building. And then you’re going to go into your third phase, which is really the elevation elevate phase. So now that you’ve really transformed, you’ve built new processes, you’ve done better segmentation.

It’s about really elevating the level of service and offering that you’re delivering and that cyclical that goes right back. Once you’ve elevated it’s time to reevaluate, again, re-strategize, continue to transform, and elevate as well. So those are kind of the pathways and the vision building that I think you should be doing within your first 90 days. So it never ends. It’s always a new challenge, as we mentioned before, and you always come back to the same ones again, that’s what keeps it fresh and exciting. Never a dull day in customer success.

Irina 15:00
Stino you’ve been hanging with the Whale crew for about two years now, right?

Stino 15:06
Yeah, almost there almost two years.

Being the first CS at the company

Stino 15:13
Has it changed much like you hoped it would or is it the same old song and dance?

Stino 15:18
Like every time your company and especially for CS as it has those three big phases you will strategize about it, you will execute on it, and they will elevate the customer success methodology within the firm, I have the feeling that happens, especially the first year every week. So one of the things that you need to know about me is that I love to be the very first CS or CSM at a company.

So Whale now exists as a training and knowledge-sharing platform, sorry, some blunt marketing in here as a knowledge area and training platform that we have. And they have existed for now, I think two years. So the first thing on their mind was not necessarily hiring CS, in the first two years. So then I joined, there were already a couple of customers. So in the beginning, it wasn’t like getting to know my customers, it was getting to know the value of the product. And there was nothing for success.

So I needed to really paint an image about what it was the voice of the customer, what is my customer, what is the value of the product and really build a little bit of an onboarding around it. But also meeting with existing customers seeing what they’re sent in their journey and really making them renew and make sure that that retention percentage was also very great.

As one CS it was sometimes a little bit of a challenge. But I pushed through. But however, Whale has grown, is growing is scaling, like every startup so I’m now changing from a team from one to a team of four, which I’m extremely grateful for. But this also means that there were other challenges. So we had that onboarding part down, and we have that retention part down. Again, we still keep evaluating that, of course. But that’s done, we have that customer journey. But of course, we also made changes in the beginning because Whale was very sales motion-driven. We’re turning over to the big roots as many SaaS businesses do. So we really need to assess as well, like Eleanora said, it’s not about the white glove CS anymore. It’s really trying to scale your business with a lot fewer resources, but be as personal as possible.

Either way, it’s a call, or via those digital touch points. So now it’s more focused on really giving customers users individually more of a personal journey based on their industry, based on their size, based on their problem. So now it’s more towards that benchmarking. I’m not here to tell them like hey, that’s what we can do. Marketing can do that. For me. It’s more like: “Hey, you’re in construction. These are the training materials. This is the processes, these are the SOPs that you need.” So a lot of my time really is focusing on benchmarking building that out segmenting that out to a lot of segments. I think we face some of the same challenges.

Irina 18:50
Speaking about challenges and priorities, what’s on your to-do list from your executives these days? What are they urging you to focus on as we speak?

Irina 19:00
Well, the thing is, I think it’s a model answer. No, I think every CS, CS lead, CS Director, and VP of Success hears from their board from their executive from their managers these things.

I think it’s two things. It’s the retention of existing customers and revenue expansion. Of course, we still want to keep growing. As a company, I think the focus more or less lies on retaining existing customers, because let’s be honest, the economy of today, is not really going great. And people are shifting more to less strict contracts where they have the feeling that they can easily move under from. That’s a trend that I see a lot of SaaS companies move to a subscription-based model, and not necessarily to longer commitments, I would say so we definitely need to focus on how I make sure that the customer base stays retained as it is right now based on that subscription model.

Irina 20:17
And what’s your game plan? How did you overcome this?

Stino 20:25

I would say, the game plan is really mapping out. And being very data-driven. There is nothing while there is a lot of nuance to it, but data-driven is really my key point right now or wasn’t very good. At the beginning of my career, identifying KPIs, metrics, health scores, NPS. Interpreting that it’s really very helpful. The thing is, we’re growing and scaling. I can’t handle a book of business of 250 clients, going over them picking them up one by one, analyzing the features.

So you need something like a tool that is really focused on that data-driven on that analytical part where you can build in Notifications, where you can really build in those digital touch points towards your clients, but also towards yourself, to really have those red flags, green flags, upsell opportunities, churn risk being flagged to you, which makes it then easier to really work on the digital way, but also makes it easier for you and your team to not be burned out at the end of the day.

But really build out those practice customer outreach programs, those programs that notify your client is going to churn, that customer is ready to upsell. So really, really, really, again, really being a data-driven person analyzing those key features, those data points, but as well, having a tool gives you that peace of mind, because again, in the beginning, we didn’t have the tool well. And this really stressed me out. But for now, I do have a tool. Again, I can sleep as a baby just to know that I have the data at hand. And all those points programs playbooks built out that I can show to my executives and be like, Hey, this is how we’re doing. So yeah, that is my game plan. Really analyzing metrics and being data-driven.

Irina 22:56
There are two other CSMs who are joining us today and they share your story. It’s Corey, who is the first CSM in their organization. And also Maria. She’s also the first CSM and she is sharing the same frustration.

Valuable tools for Customer Success

Irina 23:24
So it’s a question for you. You mentioned tools. I don’t want to shout it out. You didn’t say it. You were asked to mention some of the tools that you use as CSM and also the analytical insights, because you mentioned data.

Stino 23:41
So the thing was, I didn’t want people to think that I was sponsored doing this, I’m not, that’s why I was like not dialing the name, I use Custify. I’m using Custify to bring every data point that I have.

So what we’ve done is that I work very closely with our product team. The first thing that you really need to know and especially as a first CSM is really understanding value training, how does the customer get value out of your product, and together that already talk with existing customers to really check on how their onboarding went. And that will allow you to map out the features that they use or the Northstar metrics that you need to go for. Then I worked with our product team and development team to map out those features and via API bring them to Custify but what we also use is for instance Mixpanel. It’s a very data-driven tool that I use as well. But again, that links up with Custify, of course.

We use segments for data-driven things and then all the other things. ChartMogul gives me also a really great overview of retention and churn rates. But again those data points all in come back in Custify.

Customer Success Strategy

Irina 25:09
Sticking to those data points. Was that something that you developed over time? Was there a clear data strategy in place when you joined as a CSM?

Stino 25:30
Back in the day, yes. The thing was, I thought I had every data point figured out. But again, you really need to revisit your data points every month, basically, what I do is really revisit every month because our product also doesn’t stand still. Well, I try to do that every month, at least once a quarter.

And again, to Eleanora’s points, you really have those three stages every time you need to strategize, is this still the best approach? Or are these still the best data points to go for that define if the customer is healthy or not, you need to strategize, you need to rebuild your reporting your health scores, and your KPIs, and then elevate your business. My set of data points has changed really hard. So if you need to see my health score now, you need to see my health score over a year ago. Yeah, I’ve changed. I had 4 health scores in the beginning, I now have 25. So yeah, everyone, that is the first CSM in this call, please link up with me on LinkedIn, I can definitely share some best practices on how to approach your first set of data-driven data points.

Irina 26:53
Eleanora, you were talking on the chat and you mentioned that almost 60% of the annual ARR typically comes from expansion revenue, and the best way to quantify CS value to your CFO. And you mentioned sales qualified leads. And Ellen asked you how do you define these qualified leads, and I want to basically address it to the whole audience because we are talking about marketing qualified leads, we are talking about MQL, SQL. So now also about CS-qualified leads, and it’s a way to prove value. So let’s speak about CS-qualified leads.

Customer success-qualified leads

Eleanora 27:35

Definitely, I would say, I’ve tested and tried the CS-qualified lead model, it’s definitely something that’s more in vogue as we really have gone through the most recent period where there’s been some right-sizing within different SaaS companies. It’s all about how do you create a value story for your internal CFO? And how are you advocating for the value that your team brings, as you mentioned, marketing qualified leads, everybody wants to claim some sort of ownership over the dollars that are being generated by the company. So everybody wants a piece of that pie, I would definitely say that as you kind of look at the CS business in general, it’s different at every company, you have some CSMs who are very revenue driven and are responsible for new renewals and cross-sells. I’ve definitely dabbled recently within you know, the relationship between account managers and CSMs, where you have a hunter-farmer type of technique, but really, at the end of the day, like a CSM’s role is to really water the garden, so to speak, make sure that accounts are healthy because if they’re healthy, then they become advocates and they expand.

And that’s what you really want at the end of the day. So in those natural conversations that you’re having, there’s ways that CSMs are actually identifying those opportunities and those leads, even if you’re transitioning them over to somebody from sales, who’s ultimately executing on them.

Now what happens is when you kind of lose, maybe when you have an account manager and CSM, the direct correlation to those sales dollars, sometimes the value comes into question with the CFO internally. So what you really want to also identify is that X percentage of those expansion dollars were actually found or identified by the CSM in general.

And without that, that wouldn’t have been a success. So it’s again, kind of claiming ownership, some of some of that piece of the pie. But I think that’s what’s really important and why it brings so much value and weight to those strategic QBR conversations or when we automate the customer journey but still have customer or human-lead touchpoints. What is the result of that X number of leads tends to come from that we build X number of the pipeline, those are all numbers, whether we love to talk about it or not, because we’re normally focused on the customer matter to the board matter to our executive team.

So it’s definitely an art, there are ways to it everybody’s going to want some sort of different Salesforce, I would say logic about who the account owner is. But I think if you go by who’s created the opportunity and even set MPOs and even potentially make it a part of the comp plan that the CSM is or have like a certain number of qualified leads that they need to identify, you’ll actually see that the close rate is much higher than just like you know, kind of like I would even say Marketing obviously sells value, but you’re just spraying opportunity, whereas these can sometimes be a bit more targeted. So I think that’s a really interesting talk track to bring to your CFO.

Certifications in CS

Irina 30:09
Let me see, there’s also a question:

I’m new to this role. I would like to know if any certificates are required for the CSM role. What’s your take when it comes to this certification?

Stino 30:37
I don’t want to kick anyone to the curb. But to be bluntly honest, these won’t land you a job. Those certifications are very good for getting to know the lingo. If you’re first breaking into CS, you didn’t really have a CS job before. And you again you want to do to break in, it’s good to test the waters, it’s good to really have a full vision, well close to a full vision of what the CSM does.

So I’m all here for certification because they give you insights in our world. That is the most wonderful world that ever existed. You need to first look at your transferable skills. Every job is basically a CSM, if you work as a teacher, your communication skills are out of this world, even better than mine. Like the thing is, I wasn’t born in CS. I did law school, and I was a lawyer before I joined the ranks of CS. But the thing is, to be bluntly honest, my personality doesn’t really fit into the box of being a lawyer. So the thing is, again, I had some great communication skills, or if you work in, for instance, in health or you’re a nurse. And that way, you’re very detail-driven, you’re very caring, you have that like that nurturing aspect from you. So really, first look at your transferable skills and really check on how you can leverage that.

Certification programs are really good to dip your toe into the water and really have plans on what we do on a daily basis. But there are so many certification programs and good ones really great ones again. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you would land the job. Sorry, to be bluntly honest, I don’t know, Eleanor, if you have different opinion.

Eleanor 32:46
They’re nice to-haves. I think if you want to, step in with a better understanding and reduce your learning curve. They’re always helpful. Obviously, I think certain certifications are really helpful if you’re trying to navigate into a different field within customer success.

If you already were a CSM and want to go more into operations like the customer experience side, there are definitely some interesting certifications. There are even layers to add on top of once you’re already a CSM, such as your PMP, for better project management, or some of those different items.

But I would agree I would say the soft skills are really your that’s your entry point is what you really want to focus on in that aren’t really teachable within customer success. And everybody’s going to have a different philosophy and strategy on customer success. So I think doing more mentor-related interviews are getting a sense of really like what’s in vogue within the industry, just even free webinars and those types of things so that you can walk the walk and talk the talk, I think is going to be valuable, I don’t think there’s going to be a clear certification if on your resume is going to pull your resume out of the pile.

30-60-90-day CS plans

Irina 33:46
I want to I want to go back to your 30-60-90 days plan, Eleanora and I want to ask you about the playbook. Your playbook. How do you execute on it? What’s your strategy? How do you tackle this? How do you implement it in order to be successful and in line with your manager’s expectation?

Eleanora 34:14
Definitely, I mean, I would say it’s a lot of fact-finding in the beginning, making sure that you are like ruthless about really going back looking at the themes and trends, seeing the forest through the trees so you can create that vision and then getting buy-in with cross-functional stakeholders and also obviously, like your leaders and executives as well.

Once you have that alignment, it’s about really making sure that you also understand the business priorities and OKRs. Rome wasn’t built in a day, there’s going to be countless like number of opportunities. It’s really going to be about ruthless prioritization and really creating that vision of okay for the first three months we’re focusing on this because this is really strategize. Then it’s transform, and we’re gonna bucket these initiatives here and then it’s really elevating because they need to layer on top of each other because you can’t do everything at once.

I think ruthless prioritization and very clear communication are the only way you really when they’re, in addition, you’re going to definitely no matter what role you come into, or even if you’re the first CSM, and you’re like particular company, there’s going to be goals you have to hit, and the expectations are going to be high. And it’s up to you to set the right expectations in terms of timely delivery. So make sure that you’re super clear that this is my plan to get there. This is how we’re going to build on top of that, I think in CS, a lot of items are a bit intangible in terms of their value, but without them you can’t scale and grow.

So that is really the art of customer success that I think becomes the challenge at the director executive level is how do you really express that like these commitments to customer satisfaction, and these small, different items, all really are leading indicators that go into that lagging indicator of retention because that’s what people are anticipating and focusing on.

But if you’re clear that it’s going to take two or three-quarters to get there. But here’s my plan. And here’s how I envision this really quantifying and moving the needle, like three, four quarters out, that will really definitely make an impact. So I think it’s really about ruthless prioritization, communication, and clear expectation setting on your end of how you aim to reach these goals.

Because if not, then people will give you like a goal or a timeframe, and that might not be achievable. And then you’ll end up just not hitting that goal and like kind of missing on those expectations. So make sure that you own that narrative and are bringing that up to to your team, executive team or board or whoever it might be.

Irina 36:30

So you weren’t the one setting up the KPIs and you’re the one setting up the expectations? So when you when you join Supermetrics, and you had your first conversation with your manager? How did this go?

Irina 36:40
Um, so there’s definitely already KPIs in place that I’m kind of reaching towards, I would say there’s an introduction of new KPIs that I’ve used elsewhere that I’m definitely bringing forward as well, I think the biggest thing is that you can be super KPI heavy, there’s always a new metric that’s coming to light.

Something I’ve done in the past, when I was on the executive team at Cube was really we created across the company, a very clear data book for our board, have a set of metrics that we were going to live in like kind of breath by that were also board level that we were communicating on you the art is that you don’t want to have too many metrics, because that’s just going to create a lot of chaos, but be really specific about what those key KPIs are going to be. And you need to make sure you have a balance of leading indicators and lagging indicators as well.

Especially in customer success, like your beds already made six months out, when it comes to retention, really a clear focus needs to be on like leading indicators, because that’s really what’s going to help you have a more accurate forecast. And if you’re not focusing in that first six months, like leading up to a renewal, then you’re just spending more effort trying to do damage control. And that’s never going to be a good use of your time to really move the needle substantially with like a retention number. So I think really making sure that you’re clear. And everybody’s clear what those goals are, everyone’s speaking the same language as well. And that you have global alignment on those metrics is what’s most important.

Irina 38:02
I’m curious how the board meetings or EBRs go. Maybe for Supermetrics is too soon to tell. But the past experience at Cube how’re they? What were the exact metrics? You mentioned that you created the book of business. And there was a set of KPIs. Can you name a few of them, just to provide some insights to the audience?

CS Metrics to focus on

Eleanor 38:29

So when I was at Cube, I ran end-to-end customer success. So we had key metrics for support for services, and for success. Obviously, retention is going to be the leading indicator. But there are definitely satisfaction scores that were very important to us. But the biggest one for me is customer health. And that’s one I’ll always really lean into.

It’s such an interesting metric, because it’s unique to each company and how you personally view customer health. So there’s no core template, but it encompasses so much and the fact that you can break down customer health into true pockets. And it also includes manual inputs, such as the CSM sentiment, which is super valuable, because a data-driven health score can tell you the customer is healthy, but we can have a conversation and know that that’s not true.

Then there’s also the actual NPS surveys and the surveying that you’re doing at key entry points. And then there’s also that really data-enriched information such as how many engagement points do you have with the customer? Are they engaging with marketing content? Have they ended up exhibiting product fatigue, for example, tracking how many support tickets they put in? There’s, you know, some healthy support usage and then also not-so-healthy support usage? What are those key product metrics that really indicate a healthy customer and make sure I think most importantly, that you don’t overcomplicate the health score?

One of the very first companies in which I was a CSM, it was such a way too robust health score, that it was too hard to be actionable. It was like you were looking at so much and so inundated with the different pockets of data that was like how As a CSM Am I actionable? So I think that’s the key to a health score as well is not just what are the components? But how is it actionable for the CSM? And how when they look at this, how score, do they know what to go in into course correct. This will allow for scale as well, and some of those user journey components, and that was really, I would say, the biggest kind of leading indicator for us, because you can make correlations then into forecasts for retention.

Putting the spotlight on customer success

Irina 40:23
Stino how do you handle executive meetings in your case? How do you how do you navigate them? And how do you put the spotlight on customer success?

Stino 40:39
Just by walking into the room. No, I think, and in our leadership meeting on how I visualize things is definitely putting like the spotlight on those health scores, and indeed to Eleanor’s point, those health scores need to be clear and need to be something that your CS team maybe also everyone else can work on. Like everyone else, yes, within the company everyone has an impact to the health scores.

How I put the spotlight on CS is to really pull out numbers, bring them onto very beautiful slides into a report as well. And really be like, “Okay, that’s where you can improve, this is what we did we improve the retention rate, doing this, this and this”.

But also really involve and bring in the other departments, because it tends to get a little boring to just go into a board meeting, or to go into a leadership meeting and be like, Hey, this is what we’ve done, and go to the next team, no one has any value to that, really to be engaging, and to really mark down your, like your present presence as a CS team. Because I still have the feelings CS teams are often overlooked. We’re just like being cheerleaders. And we just need to ensure that we retain our customers, and there is a very, very low churn.

And people tend to look more at sales, people marketing, stuff like that. So to really make everyone engaged with CS to really bring in the different things, like for examples to Eleanora’s point. And that’s a really good point. Like, do they engage with marketing content, that health score or that’s like that, that little segment that builds up to your global health score is pretty low? Like how can we do that? How can we fix that? How can we cross function, work together to really get that number up. And then that way, you grab their attention, and you make sure that everyone is feeling CS because everyone is CS.

CSMs don’t own the client, we just own the moments of interaction, just like the marketing team does when they send out a marketing campaign just like the salespeople do, whenever they bring in leads, just as a sports team does, just as the development team basically does. When building the product, everyone is CS, everyone is building the best experience for a customer. So really to own the board meetings, bring in their piece of the pie as well. You’re not alone responsible for your clients, you may own 80% of the moments that you interact. But that other 20% is equally as important. And that’s why you really mark your voice, you really let your voice be heard. One, not only being the most fabulous person in the room as a customer success manager but as well to really engage and bring in the other departments as well because again, they’re equally as important.

How to have an impact as a CSM?

Irina 43:26
And this is how you are also reaching alignment, that everybody is basically wanting it and somehow many companies and everyone in business is talking about alignment in terms of vision, in terms of objectives, but for whatever reason we fail to do it. We are looking for but in terms of executing it, we sometimes have challenges in putting it in putting it in place. I want to ask you both.

How do you make sure that you stay focused and watch the North Star that you are basically having in front of you when you juggle through all the challenges and through the day? How do you make sure that at the end of the day, you have an impact?

Eleanora 45:01

I mean, absolutely, it is so easy in our role to be distracted. I think it’s a lot about whether you’re on an individual level. Honestly, even more when you become a director sitting on that executive level is ruthless prioritization of your schedule, time blocking, making sure that you have those time periods where you are sitting back and like, re-thinking about outside the noise, what are those Northstars and those intentions that I’m setting for myself, a lot of this can go and should be coupled, even on an individual level, with some sort of OKR strategy, because those goals are the things that should constantly reorient you.

If you’re getting distracted by something that doesn’t really contribute to those goals, then that is just noise and should be added into the roadmap for later down in a different part of the phase or the journey, you definitely need to have those anchors for yourself, you should be setting them at an annual level, you should be setting them at a quarterly level. And then you should also be creating monthly targets to achieve those quarterly goals.

This even goes for ICS or maybe even just setting like annual goals for yourself, and where you really want to take your career development. You need to set aside those times in your schedule to really make sure they are going back and reflecting and you have to be ruthless about your schedule, your schedule can get taken over by individuals, especially when you’re in customer success. And that level of urgency.

I strongly suggest Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, like just know that Tuesday through Thursday is going to be when customer things are going to always come up. So make sure that you kind of you know your schedule. Know your customers know that anything can come up and set those times so that you can really reorient because if you’re not ruthless and strict about your own schedule, you will get overrun and burnt out way too easily. So it really is like time management, organization ruthless prioritization. And that goes from anywhere from an individual to a leadership level as well.

Stino 46:50
For me, I think the first thing that I learned as a CSM is just to say, learn to say no. That I think is the most important thing, indeed, because of how grateful the position is because you’re literally in the center of your business like you can literally uplift and help anyone within the company.

But indeed, it’s all about setting your priorities straight, what we do is that we have OKRs. And I’ve read a really good book, but I totally am lost for the title of it. But what we’ve done is really have a moonshot objective OKR. And then we have departmental OKRs. Then we have team OKRs. Then we have individual personal OKRs. And now we have you to really keep, do your priorities align with different teams, like moonshot is really on company level, where we want to be in a year and two years and three years and four years, and then departments/team this is what we do going to do that the next 90 days, Team OKRs is in the cycle of every six weeks, and we really want to hit those key results. Again, if there is something falls out that you really want to do. Scrub that like that you have a cycle of every six weeks to really get to your moonshot. Okay, so you definitely need to prioritize straight. So definitely learning to say no, and go to therapy for the shiny new objects. Like disease that you can have. I’m definitely guilty for that. Everything something shiny, comes across my desk, and I have the urge to jump on it. But again, learning to say no, no, no, no. Yeah, I think I already have a nickname within my company like Mr. No. Because sometimes I’m just like, Nope, no can do.


Irina 48:50
We have two questions that I’m gonna publish:

Speaking of saving, now, what is the best way to tell a customer no to their request without being afraid of ruining the relationship? I’m really anxious, anxious whenever I have to say no to a request from a customer.

Eleanora 49:16
I would say the biggest thing is it’s a no but strategy is what I generally tell my team, there’s always I would say, you never want to put yourself in an opportunity where you’re saying yes to something or to a customer that you’re not actually well suited to deliver on because that’s just going to create a poor customer experience.

The biggest thing is to actually educate the customer as to why you’re saying no. I feel like it’s similar to when I was like, definitely annoying my father when I was like in high school, and he would say no to something and I was like, Okay, but why? And it’s those types of things. So if you actually give reasoning justification and an alternative, then it looks like you are working to be a partner and actually still help them accomplish their goals, but maybe it’s not the original way that the customer wanted to accomplish it.

So I think if you are saying no but providing the proper justification. So it is a well-educated response and not just like an inability to want to work with the customer and provide alternative solutions. That is how you go the extra mile and you’ll find more customers are willing, they just don’t know maybe even what they’re asking for. And it’s just an opportunity for education.

Stino 50:17
Yeah, well 100%. I do lead my CS methodology with a thing being 100% transparent like the thing is, I always say my kickoff calls. I will work from my customer but on the payroll of my company that I work for, like a company would be nothing with his with its customers. So you want 100% transparency.

For example, if someone quits and a feature gets delayed I just straight up tell the customer “hey, so sorry, someone quit, or he needed to someone needs to let go someone, and this is why it’s a no for now.” But and deep like “no, but” strategy always works. Be 100% transparent. If that works for you. For me, it works tremendously because sometimes, like I said, I always give no excuses always be straight up and clients really appreciate it. And it really works and strengthens the relationship for the downline.

Irina 51:20
We have one more question coming from our audience:

Are there any tools available to manage the data for metrics? How many reviews we have done weekly bi-weekly or customer satisfaction? Do you use any tools for those particular things?

Stino 51:45
Well, obviously. For those, Custify is my main tool, but there are a lot of great CS tools on the market. Think of Client Success, think of Churn Zero, think of Custify, think a Vitally. There were so many tools on the market, some of them highlight another aspect of CS business, or what we do as a CSM, and some are really great. And in reporting, some are really good in automating stuff. Some are really good for building health scores, but there are a lot of great CS tools that I just named, but my Bible that I swear to is Custify today.

Irina 52:39
But besides Customer Success platforms and data analytics tools, what other tools do you use? So how does your technology stack look in your department? So leaving aside the customer success platform, what other tools do you need in order to properly run your operations, your day-to-day operations?

Stino 53:01
I would say your invoicing/revenue-related tools, like Stripe or ChartMogul, stuff like that. Your sales tool that will help them integrate like a Salesforce and HubSpot and stuff like that. And that will be it for me today.

Irina 53:24
Eleanora, in your case?

Eleanora 53:27
I would say there are different tools that ultimately you pipe into a CS tool, I think most mature organizations go that way. Or you can even pipe into a CRM such as Salesforce. What I would really encourage you to do is actually start first with a health score strategy, because that will help you determine what you want as inputs, and then what tools you need to get there. So kind of like really starting from a CS philosophy approach before you start on the tooling.

Because you can definitely very quickly have a very robust tech stack, or there’s an opportunity for consolidation. I would say invoicing software is absolutely something to take into consideration in a health score. If a customer’s not paying, they’re not renewing survey software. So definitely through CS tools, you’ll have a lot of that offering. There are other tools that are taking new approaches to NPS. I think there’s a new philosophy on NPS in general and doing more micro pulses on surveys, which are super interesting. There are also in-platform survey tools that are coupled with products that is interesting to actually get to the user in the moment that they’re using a tool. Ticketing software. So really bringing in the support journey is super important.

If you’re doing a lot of customer advocacy, such as webinars or engaging content, that customer marketing materials, maybe that’s coming from a HubSpot or something of that nature. And then in addition I would definitely say you want to have product data. So wherever that’s coming is your product data hosted at Mixpanel at home grown that’s something you obviously you’re going to need and want and probably that’s like step number one is where’s the product data and how do you want to format it? But I think you can pipe all of those elements that relate to the healh score. And that just depends on where you want that to live.

Do you want to do that more homegrown through our CRM and Salesforce? Do you want to buy a CS tool that connects to everything organically and is typically turnkey and allows you to be set up for success? I think it’s a robust answer there. I think communities like talk points or those channels will be really helpful for you based on what you’re specifically looking for. The world is super robust in terms of tools, I think it’s just about your strategy if you want to have a lot of differentiation or want to consolidate within a singular tool and try to get as much bang for your buck.

Irina 55:33
We only have 3-4 minutes until the end of the conversation. I want to ask you both to give one piece of advice or strategy for every CSM who is struggling to prove their value to their managers. What do they need to do? How can they better prove their value? What’s your piece of advice?

Stino 56:06
Follow Eleanora. Rewatch this webinar. That’s the thing, the piece of advice that I would give is: Don’t forget, you’re not alone in this. You’re not just a department, you’re entire company is So if you’re feeling that you’re like struggling to show bring in those internal stakeholders within your company, because they’re equally as responsible for your KPIs. As yourself, you’re just driver. Like, don’t be afraid the passengers of your car, that you’re driving a car, or your airbags, so definitely rely on them and bring them in when they need to be into account taken into account.

Eleanora 56:51
I definitely think there are layers there. This isn’t about quantifying, I would say like direct value. But I’ve looked back on my career, the successes, and the rapid successes that I’ve had. And there was a podcast of Brene Brown interviewing Liz Wiseman, on the aspect of being an impact player, I’ve brought that with me to all of the team cultures going forward.

It’s a way of approaching the business, really focusing on the quality of the work that you do, and making sure that you are a team player that aspect, I’ve never had to search for an opportunity opportunities have always come to me and I think because if you just operate intrinsically and organically with caring about the quality of your work, the way that you deliver how you multiply your value across the team, people just take notice.

And you don’t have to even worry about quantifying your value and having those conversations because it’s so easily observed. So if you haven’t read that book, if you haven’t listened to that podcast, truly I was driving a car and just was listening to it. I was like this is exactly what I was trying to articulate about my successes to everybody that I’ve ever mentored. So I really think it’s an attitude, it’s the way that you show up. And you don’t have to advocate and create all these value stories for yourself, if you’re showing up and continuously showing up in that way.

So really just know your brand is huge. The tech world is small, it gets smaller every day you’ll learn that so you know really care about the quality of your work and letting your brand speak for yourself. years from now is going to do a world of wonder as well.

Irina 58:16
Do you mind posting the book and the podcast in the chat for everyone to take it up? Time does fly when you’re having a good conversation. A big shout-out to both of you. And thank you for the talk. And also thanks to everyone who tuned in. Hope you had as much fun as I did. We are about to drop a recording of this jam in your inbox share it rewatch it hit us with more challenges and we’ll overcome them together. Till next time, take care and stay safe. Thank you both for a wonderful conversation.

Nicoleta Niculescu

Written by Nicoleta Niculescu

Nicoleta Niculescu is the Content Marketing Specialist at Custify. With over 6 years of experience, she likes to write about innovative tech products and B2B marketing. Besides writing, Nicoleta enjoys painting and reading thrillers.

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