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What Is A Customer Success Specialist & Why Your Company Needs One

April 8, 2021

Jackie Goudreault

Your whole revenue organization’s fundamental goal is customer success. Customer success is when your customers see the ROI (return on investment) that they are looking for in your product. In times gone by, this would have been the responsibility of an account executive. Now, with customers demanding more from the products they invest in and with products growing more complex, keeping clients happy has become the responsibility of the customer success specialist (CSS).

Relationship dynamics are intrinsic to SaaS sales. No sale can truly be successful until the customer has seen through their contract with satisfaction (perhaps with an upsell or two along the way). Because SaaS products are complex and represent significant investments, ensuring that each customer can derive as much value as possible is vital. This devotion to customer success is all the more critical in times of real uncertainty in the market. Accordingly, we saw customer success professionals taking more and more meetings throughout 2020.

Let’s look at a customer success specialist’s profile, examine their typical duties, and evaluate exactly what they can bring to your revenue organization.

What Is a Customer Success Specialist? #

A customer success specialist's job is to take your new customers through the launch lifecycle's key phrases to make sure they're comfortable and ready to get the most out of your product. They'll then take up account management duties to make sure a customer who starts happy stays happy.

More than any other single role in your revenue organization, your customer success specialist holds the key to maximizing your customers' lifetime value (LTV). They will answer to a customer success manager (CSM) in a mid-size or large company or the main sales lead or CFO in an earlier-stage startup.

Please note that the terms “customer success specialist” and “customer success manager” will often be used interchangeably. For the sake of clarity, we'll refer to a “customer success specialist” as a particular kind of representative and a “customer success manager” as the head of your customer success team.

You may introduce your customer success professional at any point in the sales cycle — and we'll explore the value of including them in team selling a little later. However, their main time to shine comes after your sales rep has done their thing and secured a closed-won deal. While your sales rep then goes back to winning their next customer, your customer success specialist takes over the reins of the relationship to start building up a great customer experience and getting your new signing up to speed with your product.

To that end, your customer success specialist will oversee what's known as the launch lifecycle. The launch lifecycle involves everything, from sending your customer the right software version and credentials to training them on how to use your product.

Who Does A Customer Success Specialist Work With?

Your customer success specialist will act as the fulcrum between the other pods in your sales organization. For example, they will interact with sales development representatives (SDRs) to understand buyer pain points and the reasons why your customers need your product. They will also be closely aligned with your customer support professionals, keeping tabs on customers who seem to be experiencing particular difficulties when using your product.

Customer success representatives also work closely with your sales reps. Your sales rep has built familiarity and a relationship with this new customer. They will, as a result, possess vital information about customer needs and how to achieve customer satisfaction with your newly won client. Your customer success specialist will require this information to make their onboarding program a success.

Finally, customer success pros will also meet regularly with devs/product designers. Customer success specialists need to know all about your product. In fact, they should know as much or more about it than any other client-facing member of your revenue organization. After all, they'll be the ones showing your customers how it works. Customer success specialists will liaise often with developers and product designers to understand new and current feature arrays, as well as how to train customers in their use.

How Customer Success Specialists Handle the Launch Lifecycle #

There's a reason that customer success specialists occupy their own niche on a sales team: the launch lifecycle they manage is a complex job and can last an indefinite period. Your customer success representative will look after your customers closely for the first three-plus months of their time with you. Depending on your product's complexity, speed of upselling, the state of the market, and other particulars of customer use, that period may be longer.

Handling the lifecycle and creating a great customer experience involves:

Holding tutorials for customers #

Perhaps the key interaction for customer success specialists is the interactive tutorial/training session for customers new to your product. Customer success specialists will work with your developers/product designers to create a logical training program your customers can follow. They should prepare your customers for a frictionless relationship with your product.

Most customer success specialists will hold a Zoom call with new customers and guide them through the product via a simple screen share. When scaling makes this difficult, there are many ways to standardize customer training. For example, interactive content and interactive walkthroughs are fast gaining in popularity in customer success circles. This straightforward "learn-by-doing" approach to user training also helps you gather quantifiable information about user engagement at this early stage of your relationship with this new customer.

Developing and storing documentation #

Your company wiki is a vital component of knowledge sharing, and it should be well-fed with new information gleaned during the launch lifecycle.

Your customer success representative should be making careful records of:

  • Customer responses to new and present features
  • The ease and frequency with which customers use particular features
  • How closely your SDR’s anticipated user behavior (based on buyer personas) aligns with how your customer is using your product

This information can be of vital use for other arms of your business as well:

  • Sales reps, to know which features have particular value for certain kinds of buyers
  • SDRs, to understand the accuracy of their buyer personas
  • Product developers, to learn how to tailor new features to customer preferences

Customer success representatives should see disseminating learning from each of their onboarding experiences as a vital part of their job.

Maintaining progress reporting for new customers #

We already spoke about the benefits of rebooting that old warhorse, the sales report, for your departmental benefit. Assiduous reporting can help you ensure customer success as well. New customers are particularly vulnerable to frustration when using your product for the first time, and this can lead to lessened LTV and even churn.

Keeping tabs on progress reporting allows your customer success specialist to tend to any customers who aren't quite tapping into your product value yet. Additionally, it can help assess the effectiveness of your customer training and onboarding.

What to Look for in a Potential Customer Success Specialist #

As a sales enablement professional or sales manager, you will likely help vet candidates for customer success specialist positions. When choosing your CSS/CSM, look for evidence of some of the following:

Experience in implementation, customer success, or account servicing #

Customer success can be a challenging job, particularly if, as in recent times, you're dealing with customers demanding "extreme ROI." Of course, you can get great results by hiring a new customer success specialist who's got nothing in the bag but a bachelor's degree, energy, and talent. Nevertheless, experience in dealing with demanding or frustrated clients can make the difference between business retained and business lost.

Flawless communication skills #

The customer success specialist deals with the most important (and most interactive) stages of the customer relationship. Our research shows that customer success specialists will deal with an average of 4.6 stakeholders per account. As a result, it's no surprise that a suitable bedside manner goes a very long way.

Excellent communication skills are particularly important in the current climate. It's vital to assure customers of your product's value in helping their company weather economic storms.

Comfort in the Sales Environment #

A customer success specialist can play a key role during the sales process. Our research has shown more touchpoints recorded per deal and increased C-suite participation on sales calls during the past year. Reps will seek out strategic advisors from elsewhere in their organization to contribute at specific stages of the sales cycle, depending on which buyer-side stakeholder they’re talking to.

A customer success specialist who is happy to jump into the sales environment can be an invaluable asset. Their naturally warm manner will set prospects at ease. If a sales rep brings a customer success specialist into the sale early enough, the CSS can craft a clearer picture of what client success will look like for the prospect. A prospect who already knows exactly what their path to ROI will look like is more likely to be confident in authorizing a sale.

Competence as a problem-solver #

The title “customer success specialist” can give something of a false impression of the role. Life as a CSS is frequently fast-paced and deals with a lot of unforeseen circumstances. Particularly if your company likes to put custom packages together for new customers, your customer success specialist will be the frontline support for your clients’ teething troubles. Malfunctioning portals, incomplete download packages, missing features — they’re all bound to happen to one client or another. Your customer success specialist needs to know how to deal with these issues.

Ability to speak multiple “languages” #

Your CSS has ties to your customers, but they also have links to every department in your company. They will frequently be interacting with a variety of stakeholders, both buyer- and selling-side. To understand and communicate the needs of the various parties involved, your customer success specialist will need to communicate competently with marketers, devs, and support departments alike.

Strong presentation skills #

Although they don’t necessarily have the word “representative” in their name, customer success specialists are, in many ways, the most representative members of your sales organization. They need to be able to devise and deliver effective, logical training sessions. They need to make sure all the instructional packs, PDFs, and tutorial decks they send out are well-structured and on-brand. A good presentation is a game of inches, but the inches add up fast.

Acute Systematizing intelligence #

As well as presentation skills, your customer success specialist needs to have good awareness for storing and maintaining informational databases. Their sense of how best to clearly express and store information must be on point. Their ability to analyze usage metrics and spot trends in the data should also be road-tested — are they aware of all the forms that churn risk can take? Do they know how best practices differ when dealing with delinquent churn as when dealing with a customer unhappy with their experience? Do they know how to derive insights from your churn rate?

Your customer success specialist must also prioritize their time effectively. They will be spending a good chunk of time onboarding new clients. However, a good CSS will also be keeping track of the status of existing customers, vetting who’s ready for an upsell (and who’s a churn risk), and proactively reaching out to them.

Why a Customer Success Specialist Is Fundamental to a SaaS Sales Organization #

It’s easy to think that a deal is done once the client signs on the dotted line. However, that is a vestige of pre-SaaS sales thinking. The period immediately after signing — i.e., onboarding — represents a time of peak churn risk for customers. Having a customer success specialist on hand to tailor and guide customers through the process prevents late-deal and onboarding churn by supporting the new user experience (NUX). While a less noted cause of churn, poor onboarding causes 23% of overall deal risk. A customer success specialist reduces the likelihood of these kinds of avoidable losses.

SaaS sales are, after all, about relationships: building them and maintaining them. The customer success specialist takes on this task as a separate discipline. Not only does this enable your already time-strapped sales reps to focus on selling, but it also allows your customer success specialist to take a 360-degree approach to client retention. Training, frontline tech support, upsell outreach, informal check-ins, and survey building — your customer success specialist is in charge of it all.

The presence of a customer success specialist also enables a more direct understanding between your internal team members and your customer’s pain points. Your SDRs and sales reps will have an informal or partial understanding of pain points from their own time with this new customer. However, the customer success specialist has a front-row seat for how these pain points manifest day-to-day with your customer and how your product solves (or does not solve) those problems. Your specialist can then communicate insights from this first-person experience to other teams (like sales, product, tech, marketing, etc.).

Feeding back the right information from onboarding to your product/tech team can, with the right solution, lead to better product outcomes.

How to Enable Your Customer Success Specialist #

Once you’ve sourced the right talent, your main responsibility as a frontline sales manager is to make sure you equip your customer success specialist to do their job. But this task isn’t as straightforward as it might sound.

Your customer success specialist's own job success relies on client context management: their needs, pain points, and more. Ironically, few SaaS companies plan their analytics architecture for customer success, or, at least, they don’t plan it for their customer success specialists. The information your customer success specialist needs will probably be scattered throughout your CRM or across multiple CRMs. There might be more of it contained in private email chains. Pressed-for-time sales reps who have discovered key client insights on a call may not have recorded this important information in any form whatsoever.

That’s where a solution like Chorus.ai’s Deal Hub comes in. It’s a tool designed explicitly with customer success and customer success specialists in mind. It collects disparate data in one place and enables reps to provide a clean and comprehensive handover of vital information to customer success specialists when the time comes. From a chronological feed of client emails to deal-review specifics detailing what made your new customer choose you, Deal Hub can be a foundational pillar of a stellar onboarding and service experience.

Customer Success = Company Success #

Think of customer success as a progressive investment. As your client role call expands and their demands become more various, the single intrepid customer success specialist you started out with will become part of a whole customer success team committed to helping your customers get the most out of your product.

Customer success specialists can help bring the best out of your other sales team members, too. With sales reps already spending only a fraction of their time selling on average, a customer success specialist can both free up your department and make it more effective. By having someone at the center of events, you can maximize each customer’s LTV while keeping your entire revenue organization in the loop in terms of how your customer is doing with your product.

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