As customer success becomes a major talking point, companies are scrambling to prioritise it and put together dedicated teams. Prioritising the customer is nothing new but the exact discipline of customer success is and it can be difficult to know what to look for when hiring for these teams.
Below are some of my thoughts on what you need to have in place before even thinking about your first hires and what traits to seek out for your customer team.
1) Communicate your customer success vision internally
There’s a fundamental difference between customer service and support and customer success. This has been written about extensively elsewhere but the main point it success is proactive and business results focused while customer service is reactive and task focused.
Even more importantly, in subscription based businesses retention is so critical to growth that a lack of alignment around it could have a serious bottom line impact.
Most of us in customer success understand this but it’s often not that clear to other teams. If you’re going to grow an amazing team of customer success pros you will need to rely on referrals and recruitment help from other teams. Likewise if other teams understand and are excited about how you impact the business there’s an opportunity for internal movement. If you want to dig deeper into alignment and buy in for CS I've written about it here.
2) Decide what part of the customer funnel you are hiring for
Just like a sales funnel, customers have their own journey and it can vary depending on the complexity of your product. For example, implementation, training, adoption, retention, upsell and referral/advocacy can all be parts of a customer journey and therefore the customer success team.
Where is the priority area for you? It’s an important question to ask because each of those skills sets could be very different or it could be possible that one individual would manage them all.
3) Prioritise your desired skill sets
Once you’ve identified where the problems or focus areas are in your customer journey it’s time to start thinking about what skills and competencies you need to solve them. The unfortunate reality of this phase is you can’t have everything. In many cases you will have to be willing to compromise on certain areas.
My advice is to think about 3-4 key skills quadrants you need and decide early what parts you can compromise or take risks on. For example, if your company develops project management software for enterprises - your customer success managers might need i) technical skills ii) previous project management experience iii) client facing skills or evidence of driving customer success and iv) Sales/account management exposure.
You would either need to be very lucky or extremely well funded to find someone amazing at all those things. In that case it becomes a decision on which areas you need to import and which areas you can train and develop on the job. In our previous example it could be that project management can be learned during training and we can compromise slightly on technical skills but they need to hit the ground running with sales and customer skills.
4) Ensure candidates have an opportunity to show more than tell
Your interview process needs to provide some opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their skills in your defined areas through action. This might come in the form of mock customer calls, projects to demonstrate their technical skills or presentations that show their sales and communication skills.
A simple interview process might consist of i) an initial phone screen with a recruiter or manager to discuss previous job experience and expectations ii) A role play or presentation iii) A face to face to interview that digs deeper on the skills quadrants but goes into culture and team fit in more detail.
One strategy that works quite well is a case study. This can take place prior to a face to face interview or on the day itself. The goal here is to simulate and roleplay a single customer’s lifetime in the interview environment.
For example you could provide the candidate with a fake customer profile and role play scenarios at different stages tin the customers life -
- The customer has just signed up and is looking for a recommended project plan for the next 2 weeks
- The customer has run into an integration issue in week 3 and needs technical help or escalation
- The customer is starting to see results but is finding it difficult to get the right reports for his/her boss
- There’s an opportunity for a additional products at renewal but you know the customers budgets are tight
5) Hire for potential, passion and coachability
My last point might sound kind of fluffy but it’s something I truly believe so let me break it down
i) Potential - customer success is definitely challenging but it’s not a specialised skill that takes years of experience or advanced degrees in technical areas. In that case it’s a great fit for people from varied backgrounds who are simply results driven and like building relationships.
The candidate might be have been a journalist, a government researcher, in marketing or sales, the list goes on. As long as the person can speak to customers and have a business conversation I say think outside the box and consider focusing your time on training and developing the exact skills they need.
ii) Passion - I would really dig deep into what you need your customer success teams to be passionate about. In many cases you may be able to hire people with limited customer experience but who are so bought into your industry, product or vision that they will have no problem speaking and evangelising it to your customers all day.
iii) Coachability is critical. Because customer success is relatively new it’s rare that hires have done this exact job before. Even with years of experience they are going to need to be open to constructive criticism and comfortable with change.