Customer Success time management: how to stop firefighting and start managing your time as a CSM - Glide Consulting
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Customer Success time management: how to stop firefighting and start managing your time as a CSM

You head into work with a strict schedule: call your three newest customers to see how onboarding is going, meet with the product and development teams, and finish helping the client who phoned in yesterday with questions about your app’s newest feature. You’re chugging along when all of a sudden you get a call—one of your clients has lost all their data.

Now, your job is reduced to firefighting.

You have to run around and talk to a bunch of departments who all have their own stuff to deal with. Not only does this one customer’s problem eat into your day, it eats into the rest of your week. And that schedule you worked so hard to draw up? It’s gone with the wind.

In our recent survey of more than 700 CSMs, we discovered that Customer Success time management was the most commonly reported frustration for CSMs. Some have almost resigned themselves to this fact, and see a reactive schedule as part of the job description. In order to please customers, they think it’s impossible to manage their time well. They have become accustomed to the stress of living without a schedule.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Your job as a CSM is to help your clients with long-term success. You’re not going to be able to do that if firefighting obscures the big picture with smoke, and prevents you from being proactive. Here are 3 ways to for you to fix your time management problems and get off of a reactionary schedule once and for all.

1. Process Your Inbox 2 Times a Day

At the heart of CSMs’ time management problem is the dreaded inbox. A lot of the CSMs we work with feel like they live at the whim of their email, constantly checking for new notifications of things that need fixing. For CSMs, each new email represents a new task to be completed, and there’s no predicting when you’re going to get a new task—or five. What’s more, you can’t predict how big a given task will be. Any given email might represent a task that takes 2 minutes or 2 days.

How are you supposed to manage your time with that kind of unpredictability?

What’s more, in order to keep their finger on the pulse of a multiplying task list, many CSMs spend all day in their inbox, constantly rearranging their schedules to make room for new tasks that crop up. Inbox Zero begins to feel like a far-fetched dream.

Here’s the thing: constantly checking email prevents you from getting anything done. If you’re always ready to drop everything you’re doing to put out the biggest fire, you’ll never take care of the smaller tasks on your to-do list.

You need to Heisman your inbox by only processing email twice a day. Check it when you get into the office, then give it the stiff arm until after lunch.


Ask Yourself: Can the Customer Wait Half a Day?

By processing email twice a day, you give customers a maximum 4-hour wait time. Sometimes you’ll get something that merits an immediate response—like a customer who’s lost all their data. If it’s an emergency, they can call you directly. But if you can respond to everybody else within half a day, they’ll know you heard them, and still feel valued.

When you do go through your inbox, make sure to do it in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent emails. Your first inclination might be to go from the bottom up. It’s 4:15—surely someone who emailed you at 1 deserves a response faster than someone who emailed you at 4.

But if you respond to the email you received at 4 by 4:15, you’re still really impressing that client. There’s not much of a difference between a 3 and a 3 1/2 hour response time from the customer’s perspective. Meanwhile, the person who emailed at 4 and gets a response within fifteen minutes will feel like they had a magical support experience.

2. Throw Empathy Out the Window When You Delegate

CSMs have great personalities.They love helping people. They’re scrappy. They’re hard working. But one common quality can actually hurt CSMs in the crucial decision-making process: empathy.

Even though it sounds like the most important trait for a CSM to have, too much empathy can really hurt you. As Des Traynor, co-founder and former VP of Customer Success at Intercom told us, empathy often makes people wind up doing their peers’ work. Imagine this scenario: you’re on the phone with a customer who is having a hard time inputting data into your product. You know that the problem is with the formatting of their CSV file, but they don’t know how to fix it. In Des’ words,

Empathy is what will cause a Customer Success Manager to say, “I know exactly the problem. It’s absolutely with your CSV file; it’s not with Intercom. Send me the CSV file; I will fix it for you and I’ll give it back to you. You can import it and that will get you to your end goal.”

If you’re too empathetic, you wind up doing too much work, which means you don’t have any time for your own tasks.

Here’s a better quality to have when delegating: resourcefulness. Resourcefulness involves getting creative and choosing the best possible solution from all the ones possible. It’s way more powerful than empathy because it protects your time and still gets the job done. An empathetic CSM might take that CSV file and fix it. A resourceful one might have the educational material on hand to give the customer so that they can learn to do it themselves.

pass baton

Ask Yourself: Can The Customer Take the Baton?

CSMs often feel like a one-man marching band. You’re trying to help the customer as much as you can, so you wind up doing everything yourself. But just because you know the most about the problems your customers face doesn’t mean you’re the right one for the job. You need to know when to pass along a task. Yes, it might take a few minutes to explain the situation to someone else, but it’s worth it in the long run.

In some cases, it’s worth it to pass the baton to the customer. Yes, the customer. Your job as a CSM is to help them with long-term success. If they have a problem now, like not understanding how to fix a CSV file, they might have it again. It’s that old “teach a man to fish” parable. You’re actually going to help your customer more if you give them the resources to understand the problem instead of fixing it yourself. That way, when they have this problem in the future, you’ll have saved them the chore of having to call you.

If you tap into your resourcefulness and not your empathy, you’ll be able to find a way to get someone else to take over while you can move onto the rest of your tasks. You’ll figure out the best way to find someone who can take over the problem, you’ll sniff out an answer, and you’ll find a creative solution that gets the job done.

3. Stick to Process Goals, Not Product Goals

When I was a CSM, I often could only plan 24-48 hours in advance, since I was always putting out fires. That’s a crazy short scope—especially for someone whose ultimate goal is long-term Customer Success. Of course, there was all kinds of proactive stuff that needed to be done. It just was always left on the back burner.

CSMs need to focus on the long term. And they get there by focusing on process goals, not product goals. There’s a really crucial difference here, and one that’s easy to forget in the heat of a crisis.

  • Product goals are about ultimate outcomes like customer renewal, company growth, healthy NPS numbers.
  • Process goals are about how you get there. They’re about doing what you know is right on a day-to-day basis, even if it means not following your gut instinct to put out fires as they crop up. You might have a goal to do one proactive thing per day, or reach out. Think of them as repeatable activities or actions that, when done over and over again, will help you reach your product goals.

“I want to lose 10 pounds” is a product goal. “I want to exercise every day” is a process goal. You reach your product goals through your process goals—but only if you actually stick to them. If your goal is to lower your churn rate to 3%, your process might be to be proactive and reach out to 10 customers a day.

When one customer threatens to leave, you might remember that the product goal is to prevent churn at all costs. But if you sacrifice the process for the outcome, you end up with other unsatisfied customers, which hurts your overall churn.

It’s easy to let product goals take over, but your job as a CSM is to keep the big picture in mind and remember that you’ll be of more help to your clients if you adhere to process goals, not product goals.


Ask Yourself: Am I Following My Process Right Now?

Let’s say you have a client who has a minor problem with inputting their data. They sent you a bunch of strongly worded emails, and shouted at you over the phone, threatening to churn. Even though it would help your business to help fix their problem immediately, would it adhere to your process?

If your process is to wait until someone else’s problem is solved, you need to stick to that. You can’t help the angry customer first just because they have the loudest voice—you won’t be left with the time to prevent other crises from cropping up. Firefighting only leads to additional firefighting. You need to stick to the processes you’ve created.

This is really hard, especially if you’re worried about letting people down or hurting numbers in the short term. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to switch course and focus on product goals. But the next time you have an emergency, ask yourself if you’re following procedure, and stick to your guns.

Stay the Maestro

In a reactive environment, you don’t know how long things are going to take, so you can’t plan your schedule accordingly. And if you can’t plan accordingly, you can’t help your customers. Time management is hard for CSMs.

You have to stay in control of your own time, at all costs. You’re the maestro here—don’t cede control to your inbox or to one particular crisis just because it’s getting the most immediate attention or heat from customers.

The real problem with keeping a reactionary schedule is that you don’t end up taking care of the things on your to-do list. By only taking care of crises, you cripple your ability to prevent other crises from starting.

Taking care of yourself is the only way to take care of your customers.

Want to learn how to master your time?

Check out the CSM Time Mastery Program.

Want more Customer Success Manager insights? Keep reading…

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