Getting Beyond the Veil: 5 Tips for Hiring Customer Success Talent

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By Lauren Costella

Earlier this year, I talked about the lessons learned from 2017 and how 2018 would be bringing the “thunder” in Customer Success.

Half way through the year, this rings true. We are bringing the thunder in Customer Success at Medrio. Our customers are AWESOME, our existing business is kicking butt, and overall, it’s been amazing to really mobilize our customer journey across the company! It’s been incredible. With all of the success, there are always areas for improving. And for us, a major pain point has been hiring.

In the past 18 months, I’ve made three pretty big hiring mistakes, and when I reflect back on why, I realize that I hired too quickly, didn’t have proper process for really getting the right people, and many times these folks couldn’t really perform the job we needed. I let my desperation for having a bodies in place dictate how quickly we went. This can be an easy mistake to make, especially when growth is overwhelming, but let me tell you, it’s not worth it! You can make it work without those bodies because more often than not, the wrong fit is 10X more destructive than simply sticking to your guns.

Finding the perfect combination of a person who fits your business and team culture, who is curious and wants to ramp fast, and who can just hit the ground running is HARD, but it’s not impossible. And the good news is, we were able to figure it out, and I want to share our approach in the hopes that you don’t need to go through the same painful experiences.

Inspired by Lindsay Stirling and her song “Beyond the Veil” I’m gong to share a few tips for going beyond the “veil” that candidates have and getting down into the meat and potatoes: can they do the job, ramp up easily, and fit in with your team. The example I share here is specifically for hiring CSMs, but the higher level recommendation is to make sure you have a few key things in place for good hiring:

Fire Fast, Hire Slow

Nothing is more demotivating and destructive to the whole team than having a person, who is the wrong fit for whatever reason, stick around. Whether the person just doesn’t understand the job, just isn’t a good culture fit, or just isn’t motivated to do the job well, we all can agree that one bad apple can really ruin the bunch. Many times, however, even when we know the person is a bad fit, we keep trying to make it work. We keep trying to turn it around. Just think about the amount of time, energy and attention that goes into that “poor fit” person vs. spending that same amount of energy motivating, coaching, and inspiring your A-Players? How much more could you get out of an A-player by focusing on them and just letting the bad apples go? My advice is cut your losses fast! Your A-Players will thank you for it, and they’ll step up to help.

Build a Proper Job Description

Or in Medrio speak, scorecard. Medrio adopted a Rockefeller Habits tip to our hiring process, which is creating Job Scorecards instead of job descriptions. Job descriptions are just that: descriptions. They are three pages of a bunch of words that describe what the job is but actually don’t get down to brass tacks. What is it that you’re expected to do and how will you be measured? What is the result? I actually am a huge fan of scorecards. The purpose of a job scorecard is to describe what the role is and then describe exactly the measures to which you’re held. This allows the candidate to weed herself out of the process early, if what she reads doesn’t match her expectations. For example, on our support team, we have a certain number of cases each person is expected to answer each month. We expect that a person takes on cases within 3 weeks of starting, and we expect a 90% CSAT. These can easily be written into the scorecard which then lays out what success looks like. When we get candidates, they know what they are signing up to do. For CSMs, we say about how many accounts they are expected to manage, the number of activities they are held to per week, the health expected as a result of activities, and the bookings they are tied to with their AM counterpart.

Map Out the Plan With the Candidate

You need to be clear with candidates on your hiring process and timelines. This comes down to a fundamental principle of which most CS teams are familiar: setting expectations. With all job candidates, it’s important to set expectations on timeline and the process. For our CSMs, we explain the process to be something like this: initial screening, onsite interviews, off site exercise, final presentation of exercise. At any given point, a candidate might not move forward. We explain this up front and generally let them know it can take time to move through the steps. If they bank on 1 step per week, this usually is a good timeline. We also don’t let candidates we feel are “so-so” stay on in the process. We are either a yes or a no. A maybe for us is a no. By being black and white, explaining the process to the candidates, and following through, we keep great candidates engaged, and we don’t waste anyone’s time.

Dig Into the Details

One part of hiring that’s tough to understand is: can the person do the job we are hiring them to do? Many candidates can speak a great game. In Customer Success, a CSM might use buzzwords like playbooks and customer health, but do they really know what that means? Do they know how to manage a portfolio? Could they speak to a customer and learn your industry quickly? I’ve been at companies where the primary method for getting those necessary problem solving and core attributes was case studies, and let me say: death to case studies! This is not the way to understand if you have a good CSM. Instead consider what we’ve put into place: practical application and following up with a “real world” test. In our onsite interview, we actually give them an excel sheet with some fake account data and we ask them straightforward, customer success questions. Using the data you have, how would you prioritize your accounts? Which accounts are most at risk and why? How would you handle your at-risk accounts - what is your plan? We give them about 15 minutes to look at and come up with an answer. This is a fantastic way to see how candidates think about accounts and it’s really easy to see if someone could manage a large portfolio. If a candidate passes the in-person, a day later, we send them a follow up test account and ask them to do a common exercise that our customers do: build a form. We then ask them to present it back as though they were sharing best practices with a customer on a follow up call. It’s amazing to see how candidates approach this. We’ve had candidates go all out use extra functionality and even show us how our “example” could be improved. And when they present, we can assess whether we could trust them on the phone with our customers. Since adopting this method, we haven’t made a poor hire to the CSM team.

When it's a thumbs Up, pull the Trigger

When you adopt the above tips, you can confidently pull the trigger when everyone gives a thumbs up. Don’t debate it, just do it! Because guess what? You’ve done the due diligence to get the right person.

I hope these few tips help you avoid the hiring pain that we experienced. It’s certainly made our lives easier and from a leadership perspective, you can’t afford to have multiple bad hires. Hiring the wrong person is too time, resource, and energy intensive and not worth it. Get the right process in place and go “beyond the veil” that cloaks judgment and qualifications of candidates now. For more tips, sign up for Kristen Hayer's executive class on hiring! It’s a good one!

Looking for more help hiring a stellar team? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops. Our upcoming Leadership Training Program consists of classes like Hiring Top Performers and Planning a Team Structure. For more information on these and our other classes and workshops, please visit

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.