Running the Customer Success Bar

Building a great support or customer success team is often a complex and delicate process, full of adjustments and lessons learned. Often, as the product evolves, so do the skills needed to support it. The first several years may be involve more high-touch interactions, when fewer customers are using an immature product and your team is learning the ropes. As new and varied user personas jump onboard, their goals will vary accordingly.

What can make this a less risky process for a manager is building a team that can realistically grow and adapt. What skills does your ideal team possess? And after you compile this list, consider this: are you giving the people, your users, what they want? For example, in the customer success world, one of the most sought-after traits in CSMs is empathy. But does having a team of empaths translate to happy users? Of course not. Product knowledge, domain knowledge, and other soft skills all matter.

What’s the right mix? According to a recent HBR article, what managers desire in a support team isn’t what your users say they want. For this study, support engineers were grouped into several personas: “Accommodator," “Empathizer," "Hard Worker," “Controller," etc. An Empathizer approach their job focusing on understanding the customer’s viewpoint, and are “wired” to solve other’s problems. Accommodators look to compromise and meet customers halfway, and so on.

Managers and customers were asked what type of support person they look for when hiring, and Empathizers came out on top. However, when measuring performance across a balanced scorecard, which included customer surveys, Controllers came out ahead. Who is a Controller? A controller cares about the feelings of the customer, but mainly to the extent of solving the problem as rapidly and efficiently as possible. Controllers tend to take charge of the situation. They may not follow the playbook, instead opting to take the most direct route to resolution.

During my years in the service industry, it was often said, “Run the bar, don’t let it run you.” One of the best bartenders I met would refuse to make the drink ordered if he thought the customer was making a poor choice. He was revered by customers.

Isn’t there someone on your team, or on a past team like this? Someone opinionated, measured, and willing to say the difficult things?

Customers certainly appreciate a customer success managers that is "always there for them," but if they can’t solve the problem, empathy and fifty cents will buy you a doughnut (SF residents price-adjust the metaphor accordingly). If every complex issue needs to be escalated past the empath, or if time it takes to solve a problem is spent understanding a customer’s situation, opinions about support quality will drop. Customers want their problem solved. They didn't want to ask you in the first place.

This doesn’t mean that hiring very technical support engineers will solve the problem. A better goal is to look for problem solvers. Yes, I know: during an interview, who isn’t a problem solver, right? But a problem solver doesn’t necessarily have a long customer service history or a emote any particular passion to help customers. But given a problem, she or he looks for the most efficient way to solve it.

The moral of the story with this survey, is that what you think your customer wants may not be what is really best for them.

Need help building a great team? Let me help! I am super-controlling.