Coaching Tips for Helping CSMs Move Beyond the Tactical

October 26, 2022

Colby Bock

Category: Change Management, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Operations, Customer Success Strategy, Voice of the Team

Customer Success leaders often run into a recurring theme when meeting with Customer Success Managers (CSMs): CSMs seem to be weighed down in tactical conversations with their customers and leave every call feeling they are adding little or no value to the business partnership. They often report that customers only want to speak about lacking product features, support problems, or roadmap items. This, as we all know, is not what we want our CSMs spending their time on (and chances are, your CSMs don’t want it either). Strong CSMs want to push their customer conversations up a level, and to drive continued value and partnership.

So, how can you help your CSMs move beyond the tactics and enable them to have those more strategic conversations? Here are some helpful coaching tips:

  • Help CSMs remove tactical communications out of their recurring strategic meetings. Suggest that they choose another medium for those items, such as a monthly email update. They should establish a cadence of when they will provide tactical updates for their customers and be ready with helpful information when that time comes.
  • Ask CSMs if they’re creating meeting agendas in advance of their customer meetings. Remind them to send the agenda to their customer well ahead of the call and include it in the meeting invitation.
  • Ensure CSMs are leveraging the other teams that their customers should be contacting whenever possible. Teams such as Support, Billing, etc. Customers can tend to assume it’s okay to go to their CSM for everything if they haven’t been educated about the proper channels for assistance. And of course, CSMs should continue to serve as a resource if customers are unsure of who to contact or if your company doesn’t yet have those other points of contact available.
  • Coach CSMs on forecasting scenarios that may negatively impact their customers and strategies to provide them with predictive and proactive information early to build trust. By getting ahead of potential issues, CSMs can (hopefully) avoid any panicked tactical questions during regularly scheduled check-ins and help mitigate risk.
  • If your CSMs’ customers continue to demand that the tactical ‘ticket list’ remains a part of their recurring meetings, CSMs should list that as the very first item on the agenda and should specify that they will spend the first five to seven minutes of the discussion on it. CSMs should also be ready to provide them with solid information on the list.
  • If CSMs see the tactical list growing for your customer, they should ask themselves why? Then they should review their tickets, look for themes, and schedule appropriate follow-up actions. More times than not, setting up some concentrated time with a customer and an elevated Support tech can be worth its weight in gold in these scenarios. By knocking out the issues together or providing some training to your customer, CSMs can quickly clear several items off their customer’s list.

By helping CSMs better understand their customers’ concerns and better meet their needs, you can enable them to remove roadblocks and level-up their customer conversations. In addition to the coaching opportunity these scenarios present, it can often be helpful to provide CSMs with example scripts and conversational techniques to help elevate their conversation with the customer. Feel free to utilize these (which have worked well for me and my teams) or create your own.

  • “I can see how that situation can be frustrating and I completely understand the impact to your business. I’ve added this to my notes and after this call I will have an expert from the Support team contact you. You can work with them directly to resolve it.”…TRANSITION…”Tell me more about <strategic topic you want to better understand>, how can I help you set up a plan for that?”
  • “I completely understand your use case and need for this feature, it would allow you to <repeat back the customer’s key point>. I will ensure a feature request is written up and brought to the attention of our Product team. Also, I will email you the link to an article that walks you through entering these requests online for the future.”… TRANSITION…”By the way, last quarter we discussed this year’s goal of <previously stated customer goal>, what challenges are you facing to meet that goal? I’d be happy to help you accelerate within our application by leveraging <XYZ feature>, as I noticed you haven’t set that up yet.”
  • “You have made yourself clear that this feature is critical for you, and I can assure you we are taking this seriously. I know you are contemplating leaving us for <ABC vendor> but let’s take a step back and really look at your usage on the platform for a moment. Since your company came onboard, you’ve improved your <metric> by <percentage>. You’ve been able to <customer accomplishment(s)>. That’s significant progress! We have also released <number of new features> in the past <release timeframe>, for which you paid no extra money as part of our commitment to your success and added value.”

As you can probably tell from these examples, there’s a pattern to shifting CSM conversations away from Product or Support issues and towards strategic initiatives and long-term goals. It requires CSMs to first acknowledge and empathize with the customer’s concerns. Second, to explain what can be done to address that. And third, to transition the conversation in a logical and respectful manner in a different direction.

Following the simple ideas above will allow you to enable CSMs to take the reins of customer conversations and help both frontline CSMs and leaders to drive the conversation and the relationship to the next level.