Top Skills for 5 Customer Success Roles

By Kristen Hayer

In most organizations customer success includes several different roles, each with its own function and critical skill sets.  Unfortunately, many companies still lump candidates into a single customer success bucket while they are recruiting, and search for the same skills across the board.

Over the past 6 years my teams have included customer success professionals from a variety of backgrounds, who had widely different strengths.  To get my arms around the talent I was working with, I adopted the practice of having members of my team take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment from the Gallup organization.  I tracked the results of everyone who worked for me during this period, and found some interesting trends among the strongest team members.  Here is my take on the critical skills and key strengths required in 5 common customer success roles.

Customer Success Manager

Key Strength – Communication

CSMs are the storytellers and advocates of a success team.  In order to be able to communicate effectively to clients, however, they also need to be great listeners and good at handling challenging conversations.  Speaking intelligently with customers requires strong general business acumen as well as industry knowledge.  Of course, busy CSMs also need to have excellent time management and organization skills.

Hiring Tip:  Hire people with some background in the food & beverage or retail industries.  They have experience communicating with lots of different types of people.

Account Manager

Key Strength – Positivity

For the purposes of this article, think of account managers as CSMs with revenue responsibility.  Like sales reps, they need to be incredibly positive and flexible in order to keep going in the face of rejection.  That said, solid selling and negotiation skills can help to limit rejection in the first place.  Account managers need to be good listeners and have business acumen in order to understand how best to serve their clients.

Hiring Tip:  Hire salespeople who also understand how business works.  Former entrepreneurs or people who have worked in organizations like Enterprise Rent-A-Car tend to work out well.

Support Rep

Key Strength – Learner

Support reps are often tasked with staying up-to-date on changing products and services, so being someone to loves to learn is a critical strength.  Related and also important are the ability to ask good questions and a gift for creatively solving problems.  Of course, technical aptitude is necessary, but so is being calm in the face of frustrating customer issues.  Being a team player means a support rep can comfortably share best practices with their peers.

Hiring Tip:  Look for people with creative hobbies like music or painting.  They tend to be creative in their approach to everything, including client problems and troubleshooting.

Implementation Specialist

Key Strength – Arranger

Anyone who manages onboarding, implementation or professional services needs to understand how to keep the trains running on time.  Project management and organization skills are critical.  Industry experience is also important because they need to understand how their solution fits into the industry ecosystem.  Finally, while an implementation specialist should be independent, they also need to understand how to build relationships with complimentary service providers.

Hiring Tip:  Consider people who come from product or marketing backgrounds.  Both are project-driven fields, so their skills can often translate well into this kind of role.

Team Manager

Key Strength – Strategic

People managers need to take a big-picture view of the team, goals, metrics, and how customer success fits into the overall strategy of the organization.  The ability to both understand and perform analysis helps leaders make good decisions for their team.  Being a great leader also involves the people side of things: Listening, showing emotional intelligence, and being willing to engage in difficult conversations are all important in a management role.

Hiring Tip:  Don’t assume that your best customer success employees will be the best managers.  Ask people what they want to do before you move them into this kind of role, and provide an alternate career path for those who want to stay on the front lines.

As you build your team, consider the different roles in your group and develop interview questions that uncover whether your candidates have the skills you really need.  Consider using the StrengthsFinder assessment with your current team to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right positions.  Doing so will make your team more productive and the people on your team happier in their roles.

Need a hiring kit that can ensure you recruit the best people for your team?  The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that can help you define your roles, build hiring kits and design a strong employee onboarding plan.