The Importance of Diversity in Customer Success
To truly represent the goals of our customers, Customer Success Managers (CSMs) should reflect the populations of the customers they serve. A diverse Customer Success organization means that the team is a reflection of the society in which it exists and operates. Research shows that diverse groups are higher performing and more creative.
The current Customer Success talent pool is not diverse. CSMs are 82% white and 90% college educated. Since it can be costly and time-consuming to train a new CSM, hiring managers look at experienced CSMs and continue to hire from the same talent pool. This leads to CSM teams looking drastically different from the customers they serve and leading to a wider societal issue, with technology and education requirements being filtered through the lenses of an industry that lacks diversity. Without intentionally removing obstacles, under-represented groups are being excluded from the recruiting process and the opportunity to pursue a career path in Customer Success.
Diverse Teams are High Performing and Creative
CSMs, with diverse backgrounds, can collectively relate and empathize with a larger number of customers and customer situations. Whether it be building out new processes or dealing with a tough customer, a diverse team is likely to exchange more information and consider a broader range of data before settling on a solution. By integrating more viewpoints, and a larger variety of lived experiences, teams can make better decisions around estimating risk, predicting reactions or anticipating responses. This enables your team to get ahead of issues and can save a lot of time, effort and stress.
Let’s say you are running a CSM team at a construction tech company. Your team is made up of someone who came from 5 years of being a CSM at another SaaS company, a former contractor, a former construction worker, and a former project manager. Imagine all of the colorful perspectives and creative ideas each one of them could bring when tackling a new problem. You are likely to draw on ideas that have stemmed from each of their previous work experiences and can help inform the most well-rounded solution.
Start with the Job Description
Many companies include minimum requirements when hiring a Customer Success Manager, but those requirements are often not critical to being successful in the role (eg. Must be fluent in SFDC, Minimum of 2 years of Customer Success experience in B2B SaaS, bachelor’s degree from a 4-year college, etc.). While these requirements, if actually honored, help guarantee a specific skillset or some level of prior training, this automatically boxes out a huge talent group that doesn't meet the requirements and will likely never be able to.
Think of a restaurant general manager who has 10 years of customer-facing experience. They have implemented multiple technologies within restaurants, developed project management skills, vendor management skills, and people management skills responsible for kitchen staff, wait staff, and other employees. Their ability to prioritize projects, multi-task and de-escalate customer issues has set them up very well for a job in customer success.
While having prior, direct experience may be critical for an enterprise or a strategic CSM role, this is typically not the case for lower or entry-level CSM roles (ie. digital, SMB or mid-market).
Hiring teams should look carefully at the skills that are critical to the specific job. Don’t search for a generic CSM job description online and simply substitute it with your company’s name. Have the qualifications reflect what will actually make the candidate successful in the specific role at your company. Are you a startup that requires your CSMs to wear many hats? Try a requirement like “Proven ability to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines, with expertise around multitasking. Are you a company that sells to complex organizations? Try a requirement like “Must have strong executive presence and a track record of navigating and influencing an organization at multiple stakeholder levels.”
To further ensure that your job description is attracting the best potential candidates, include an equity statement on the job posting, encouraging non-traditional candidates to apply, for example, “Company is committed to considering all candidates even if you don’t think you meet 100% of the qualifications listed.” This is a great way of encouraging qualified, non-traditional candidates to have the confidence to apply.
Navigating the Interview Process
There are many ways to screen for hard and soft skills in an interview process. Behavioral questions are a great way of determining whether or not someone is up for the task. Assessing a candidate’s storytelling ability is a good way to figure out if they can conduct a compelling QBR, “Tell me about a time you’ve used data to tell a story.” Have you historically required all candidates to have prior experience with a particular software? Maybe a candidate has never used that particular software before, and while that would have been a dealbreaker in the past, instead, try to assess their ability and willingness to learn quickly. “Tell me about a time you had to learn a new software and how you became an expert at it.”
A former teacher, turned school administrator, has worked with multiple stakeholders within the school organization and school district. They have created individualized success plans, managed parent-teacher relationships, district school board relationships, implemented and trained staff on math curriculum software, school attendance software, student CRM and worked cross-functionally on a day-to-day basis with internal staff and external personnel. While they have never used the specific CRM you are looking for, they have many times over learned and mastered other SaaS products.
Be thoughtful about how you form the interview panel. For the same reasons diversity is better for a CSM team, it is also better for recruiting. A diverse interview panel is better suited to identify the unique characteristics that would determine the best candidate for the job. Many companies have created a 4 or 5 step process for hiring CSMs. Aside from being consistent with who participates in each round, ensure that each candidate is being assessed in a fair and consistent manner by putting structure around the questions and evaluation metrics used during the process. It is also critical for each member of the interview panel to form their own opinion about the candidate before hearing the opinions of others and discussing as a wider group.
Build Your Diverse Team Early
Focus hiring efforts around diverse talent early on. People want to join a company where they feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. As the team grows, it becomes increasingly more difficult to attract diverse talent when they see and believe that your historical hiring practices have been homogenous. Broaden your talent pool and open up your opportunities to hire the most well-rounded team. Move away from arbitrary requirements-based hiring, and switch to a hiring process based on a skillset that will make a CSM successful on your team. Researching and compiling a list of CSM skills critical to your particular role is a great place to start. One recommended resource to look at when researching needed CSM skills on your team is Vitally’s latest blog discussing storytelling as an essential skill for a CSM.
Additionally, be sure to check out the upcoming Vitally x RecastSuccess webinar where the discussion of hiring diverse CSM teams will be continued.
Interested in diverse talent? RecastSuccess connects the dots between career transitioners and inclusive employers hiring Customer Success talent.