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Customer success managers: Guides to client happiness

Whose concern is it whether your customers derive a business benefit from using your product or service? At Signavio, a vendor of business process management software, it’s the customer success manager’s.

You might be thinking, Who’s that now? Jim Smith, senior customer success manager at Signavio, has an answer. He spoke at the Argyle 2017 Information Technology and Security Forum in Boston on Thursday.

The goal of a customer success program, Smith said, is to make sure “customers hit the ground running and really get the most success from products and services.”

Now you might be thinking, What does a customer success manager have to do with IT? Smith didn’t explicitly say, but he didn’t really have to. Being “customer-obsessed” has become almost as much a part of CIO job requirements as a degree in computer science or even IT experience. A customer success manager could be that vital link in the IT-business chain that connects to customers, determines their needs — and keeps them coming back.

Full disclosure

In his role, Smith said, he becomes the main point of contact for customers. He works to understand what their business is and how it works, what their goals are and what roadblocks they have.

Jim Smith, senior customer success manager at Signavio, speaks at the Argyle 2017 Information Technology and Security Forum in Boston on Thursday. Photo: Jason Sparapani/TechTarget

“We want to make sure that they’re constantly getting as much value as possible from our services, and that ultimately we’re hitting the mark, we’re meeting those goals,” Smith said.

To get a deeper understanding of what customers want to accomplish in their business, the customer success manager works closely with sales, “because they’re that first point of contact,” Smith said, and have information such as why customers bought a certain product or service, what problems they’re struggling with, what their needs are.

After the sales handoff, a customer success program begins simply: with interaction, Smith said — a kickoff meeting marks the start of a business-customer relationship. In it, the customer success manager explains what exactly it is that the company will provide — be it software or services — what the installation process will be like and how long it will take.

At Signavio, Smith gives customers guided tours of its software and services and provides best practices for using them. He evaluates how well customers are using software and services, answers questions and gives informed recommendations on how to improve their experience and handle problems that come up.

“It’s all very important that they get a good feeling from the word go about our services, so we reduce that churn, so they stay customers, they stay subscribers — this is a critical piece,” Smith said.

Dressed for success

The job description for customer success managers covers a lot of ground, Smith said. They have to learn about the company’s products and services and gather stories about customers’ experiences “because those are useful for sales, for marketing,” Smith said. And they have to know enough about software and services to help configure them. They have to understand contract terms, review customer accounts and listen for feedback — “how are they liking our products and services, and what would they like to see that we can incorporate in future releases?”

What type of people should customer success managers be? They should have diverse backgrounds, Smith said — “people who can do a lot of different things, who have seen a lot of different things, who might be both technical and customer-facing.”

They need to be versatile because of the many relationships they have to maintain — relationships with customers, of course, but also with sales, with marketing and with the product team, so they can get a good sense of the company’s product roadmap. That way, customer success managers can relay that information to customers and also relay customer feedback to the product team.

And one important thing to keep in mind when hiring for a customer success manager, Smith said — “Pay them well. They do a lot of stuff.”