Hiring for customer-facing roles can be a challenge (especially the first one). There’s always the risk that your new hire will damage your relationship with your customer, potentially affecting your churn and revenue.
This problem doesn’t exist to the same degree for internal jobs. If an employee who doesn’t work with customers turns toxic, you can remove them from the equation and fix the problem, but there’s little effect on the company’s income.
This means that hiring a new customer success manager (CSM) is a delicate process.
That said, it’s hard to generalize what makes a good CSM. “It’s such a new profession and interviewing for a CSM role differs from company to company, which makes it hard to know what to look for,” says Danni Fiedland, cofounder of Jaco.
Do you need a retention expert? A strategist? A liaison between the customer and product? Once you figure out what type of CSM you need, it’s time to start interviewing.
These questions will help you interview CSM candidates, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Use these in conjunction with your own questions that directly relate to your company, product and customer.
This question separates the candidates who took the time to learn about your product before applying. At the minimum, you should expect candidates to have studied your website and blog.
There’s no room in a growing SaaS organization for people who won’t become personally invested in the company.
Here are a few related questions to ask:
“What main problem do you think our product solves?”
“What’s our product like in relation to similar products in the same industry?”
“How would you drive adoption of our product?”
Quality CSMs are built to serve. They have an innate capacity to support other people. It’s a distinctly different skill set than you would find in a product specialist, salesman, marketer, etc.
A good CSM candidate shouldn’t even hesitate to answer this question. He or she should be able to recount numerous instances where they provided excellent service. If your interviewee struggles to answer this question, you should look elsewhere.
While you shouldn’t expect a candidate to know your product or customer intimately, they should have researched or explored your product enough to say something intelligent. Accept answers with caveats, like “I don’t know your customers well, but the onboarding felt slow.”
Be suspicious of any candidate who says the product is perfect and shouldn’t be changed. In the SaaS world, those words are antithetical to everything we do.
In customer success, managing one’s time is the key to productivity. There’s always something that might pull a CSM away from real customer success work.
A quality candidate would have a system in place that works for him/her. It should balance time working with the internal team, focusing on the customer, working proactively, and still leave a little time for the inevitable firefighting.
Here are some related questions also worth asking:
While I believe that account managers should push upsells, CSMs should still identify opportunities to grow the revenue generated from each account.
Ask your candidate how he or she might determine if a customer is ready to be sold on additional products or services. Your interviewee won’t have a perfect answer because they won’t be intimately aware of your customer and product, but they should have a general idea of what an upsell opportunity looks like.
The quarterly business review is a critical piece of a customer success program. Even if you’re a low-touch SaaS with a lot of customers, there are always some accounts that could use a review (usually the biggest) to keep them on board. A good CSM will have a clear process in place to gather QBR data, create the presentation, and deliver it.
Some people need direction and supervision, and that’s fine, but it’s not the life of a customer success manager.
Your CSM needs to be able to identify problems and take action on their own, without relying on a superior to tell them what to do. They need to be willing to identify a problem, organize a project, and take steps to complete it, all by themselves.
This is a seriously open ended question, so don’t expect a perfect answer. Organizations reduce churn in different ways. It might require product changes, customer attention, a new internal methodology, or countless other changes.
What you’re looking to determine here is 1) if the candidate is really passionate about improving retention, and 2) they have a strategic mind and the ability to think long-term.
Intuition and gut feelings aren’t enough, especially if you want to scale your product. Your customer success program needs to take a data-focused, analytical view of behavior and sentiment.
“Here is an opportunity for the candidate to talk about metrics and data tracking,” says recruiter Rosie O’Connell. “Some specific things you’re listening for are details on how they measure the effectiveness of customer interactions and calls, how the company scores churn rates, etc. It’s important for candidates to articulate any key performance indicators that they’re tracking regularly.”
A good CSM will prefer to use a numerical system like a Net Promoter Score or a more granular customer health score to gauge satisfaction. He or she will also like to use surveys and predictive analytics to read customers.
Even though the purpose of most customer success programs is to prevent customers from getting angry in the first place, CSMs deal with unhappy customer regularly. It’s just part of the job.
Here are some related questions to ask:
If your customer success program is new, you want know which tools the candidate will bring into your organization. If your program is mature, you probably have a system of tools to gather your data and communicate with customers, but finding out where the candidate has experience is still insightful.
Find out what types of software products they’ve used in the past and what they like or dislike about those applications. Look for clues about the candidate’s ability to lean on automation and his/her willingness to try new solutions.
A strong team is built by acknowledging and organizing the skills of its members. If someone is good at one thing, they should be the ones to do that specific task as much as possible. It’s just easier that way.
As a leader, it’s your job to identify a person’s strengths, but it helps if the candidate is self-aware. If someone can tell you “I’m an excellent communicator, even with new people” or “I can get to the heart of someone’s problem,” they recognize where they add the most value.
Here are some additional questions to add to your quiver:
12. “Tell me about a time when things changed significantly for you with a client. How did you navigate that change?”
13. “When a challenging situation arises with a customer, what are the steps that you take to work through it?”
14. “Tell me about a time when you had to shift your style/approach with a customer to get the impact you wanted.”
15. “What was your most recent investment in your own professional development?”
16. “When you have multiple customer projects and tasks to complete going on at once, how do you keep track of them?”
17. “How would you keep yourself up to date on changes in our industry?”
18. “Tell me about the most challenging relationship you've had with someone inside the company? What made it challenging? How did you handle it?”
19. “When expectations or guidelines aren't clear, how do you react to that environment?”
20. “When you get stuck on a problem, what do you do?”
Like I said, don’t rely solely on these questions. Use them in addition to your own questions. The interview process is your opportunity to give your customer success program a real boost, so make the most of it.