Defining the CSM Role: What Should Customer Success Managers Really Be Responsible For?

As a current CSM partner, former CSM, and for all the time I’ve spent working with CSM’s I’ve noticed one thing: Customer Success Managers have all kinds of responsibilities and at times stray away from their real purpose — being a strategic partner to the customer.

Customer Success Managers become onboarding specialists, learning and development resources, technical support reps, account managers, and everything in between. No one person can perform all of these duties and succeed. It’s just not possible.

This LinkedIn post from Marija Skobe-Pilley started a great conversation and admittedly inspired me to write this. While commenting on the post I shouted out Carmen Schuller, who wrote:

“CEOs and shareholders do not fully understand CSM and the true value of it because it is too new”

Followed by my own comment:

THIS!!!!!

CSMs have been a catch all for so many companies because no one knew what to do with them. They became account managers, support, trainers, onboarding, and so much more. When they couldn’t succeed (because they were overwhelmed and no one can be all those roles) no one looked at the root and instead just thought there was no value.

So do I think that this is the end of Customer Success? No. I firmly believe that for one simple reason: Customers no longer accept the role of just an Account Manager who reaches out maybe once a quarter and leaves them to their own devices to figure out how to use the product to grow their business. 

With no Customer Success Manager, customers are left to read documentation, having only Technical Support to reach out to, or even worse, they’re left feeling lost and not knowing where to begin. There goes your churn! 

There’s a stark difference between the support Customer Success vs. Support can provide and you see that in the responses you get from each team. Customer Success is supposed to know your business, your needs, your goals, and sometimes even help you figure out those goals based on your business and needs. Support doesn’t have that context or relationship with customers. So the responses will be vastly different to a question like “how can I leverage this tool to grow my business?” Support will not know that, but Customer Success Managers will.

In Their Own Words: How Should the CSM Role Be Defined?

With these thoughts in mind, I recently set out on an adventure to find out how current CSMs define their role, and the responses followed a theme. Customer Success Managers believe their purpose is to make customers happy. But how do you make customers happy? Well, that’s an easy question to answer — by providing solutions to their problems. 

The ultimate goal would be to create a world where the customer can’t imagine working without your tool. For example, I love HelloFresh and have been a loyal customer for over three years. My problem? I don’t want to think about what I need to cook after a long day of work, and I don’t want food to be wasted because I didn’t use it in time. HelloFresh provides me with a solution that addresses two problems perfectly and therefore I can’t see a world where I go back to grocery shopping for my weekly meals. 

The responses we got from current CSM’s were all creative and showed their role's importance. Here are some of the responses that were particularly impactful:

“A CSM provides the air a company breathes in order to be successful.” — Mandi Kurth, Customer Success Manager at Aidoc

“What a CSM does is help their customers to maximize (and continue to grow) the value they are getting from your product by closing the gap between what they are able to do on their own, and what they are able to do with you as their advisor and advocate.” — Greg Saunders, Customer Success Manager at Klaviyo

“A Customer Success Manager is the wizard behind the scenes, turning customer challenges into triumphs and ensuring their journey is a magical experience.” — Vivian Toledo Augusto, Head of Customer Value and Success at Construmarket

“CSMs are the vehicle by which businesses switch lanes from gambling with customer success to investing in it. 😉” — Rach Richardson, Senior Success Coach at Trainual

The simplest and my personal favorite: “CSMs ensure clients get the 'why' they paid for.” — Lo Michaels

My shot at defining Customer Success in one sentence? Customer Success Managers are a vital part of any organization as they are a key part of the ecosystem that fosters loyalty and builds intentional, valuable relationships to retain and expand.

Customer Success Managers are vital, and their worth should be acknowledged. This role can transform customers into advocates and foster long-term loyalty when built correctly. When given the time to focus on their specific role as strategic partner and not be overloaded with other work that is not relevant, the payoff will be retention and expansion.

Laura Bedoya is the Founding Technical Support Manager at Vitally. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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