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Hiring Your First Customer Success Manager

Shareil Nariman

7 min read
Hiring Your First Customer Success Manager

Hiring your first customer success manager is a great investment for your customers and for your company. However, hiring in general is tricky, let alone when you are looking for the “first of” for any role. To make things more complex, your first customer success manager will not only have to do the job itself, but also think about the overall strategy and potentially lead your future teams.

It’s a good problem to have, but there is a lot of great talent and experience in the marketplace today; trying to decide who is the right person for your company can feel challenging when all the candidates seem like they’d be a great fit.

This guide is intended to help you make an informed decision between all the great candidates that come your way and help you land on the right person for your needs today and beyond.

You’ll find tasks you can assign during the interview process, along with what to look for in your candidate’s answers. Choose the tasks that make the most sense for the seniority level of your desired candidate!

For more information on hiring your first customer success person, check out Chapter 2 of The Startup CEO’s Guide to Customer Success & Onboarding.

Interview Assignments for Your First Customer Success Hire

You already know your product and company culture, so be sure to dig into those questions early on in your interview process. For candidates that make it to those final rounds, creating take-home interview assignments can be incredibly helpful in leading to a decision. Here are some ideas:

Assignments to gauge the ability to do the job itself (being a customer success manager):

  1. Ask your candidate to write emails for different customer scenarios (welcome emails, replies to escalated situations, or check-in emails) and look for:
    1. The ability to write clearly and concisely. Your customers are getting emails and communications from all directions. Can your candidate clearly state what is needed and when it’s needed? Pay attention to subject lines as well; they are important in getting customers to open emails.
    2. The ability to be direct when necessary. Being direct does not mean being rude, but it is crucial to accomplish tasks that are pressing, especially when there are escalated customer issues.
    3. The ability to foster an enjoyable customer experience. Even in escalated or frustrating matters, you need to treat your customers with respect. The tone in which your candidate writes their emails is telling to how they will treat your future customers.
  2. Ask your customer success candidate to participate in role-play scenarios over zoom calls. Have them onboard you onto a product or run a mock business review. They may not have time to learn your product, so give them the choice to do this within a product they are comfortable with - you want to see them at their best. With this exercise, you’ll want to look for:
    1. The way they interact with you during those calls. This is how they’ll interact with your future customers so the things they say and how they say them matter.
    2. Are they asking discovery questions and providing answers to them as they go?
    3. Are they showing you how to do things and teaching you why?
  3. Ask your candidate to write out the steps to instruct someone on how to use a certain feature in your tool and look for:
    1. Similar to the emails, the ability to do this clearly and concisely. Are they covering the important details while explaining why they matter?
    2. Would you post those instructions on your website or help center? This first customer success hire will be creating a lot of the content your customers will eventually interact with, so you need to feel comfortable knowing there will be a day when you can’t get to editing everything they write.

Assignments to gauge the ability to think about customer success from a strategic lens:

  1. Give your candidate some brief details about your current customer journey and ask them to evaluate it from there. For example: “Today we email our customers after they sign up and invite them to an onboarding call during the first 30 days. Here are the emails we send and what we talk about during that first call. What would you change or add?” Look for:
    1. Having them expand on something basic like “send an email” and “schedule a call” begins to illustrate their ability to understand customer lifecycles and touchpoints, both of which are needed to build out a true customer success strategy. This also begins to touch on the concept of customer journey mapping, which we dig into here.
    2. Do they account for instructions missing in your email? Do they have a plan for anyone who misses that scheduled call? Do they start to add steps that make it easier for your customers to accomplish the task at hand?
  2. To go deeper, share some of your existing customer usage and/or churn data and ask the candidate how they’d approach a certain problem. For example: “Today we see a big spike in churn at around the 60-day mark after customers sign up. How would you go about starting to tackle this problem?” Look for:
    1. What do they focus on during their tackling of the problem? Are they trying to understand the why or just jumping to a solution?
    2. Does their solution only solve the problem for that one example or are they thinking holistically about the problem for future customers?
    3. How do they structure their answer? Is it spoken AND documented clearly?
    4. Ultimately, you are looking for the ability to create a process here which starts to get into the territory of writing business proposals; which a strategic customer success person should be comfortable doing.
  3. To go even deeper than that, give your candidate insight into a process that is very manual today and ask them to think about how they’d “automate” it (or at least parts of it). Look for:
    1. The ability to first understand the process at hand and ask questions where they need clarity.
    2. From there, are they able to create or verbalize a process that is repeatable? This is key when it comes to their ability to help you and your customer success department eventually scale these efforts.

Assignments to gauge the ability to lead your customer success efforts:

  1. The two sections above will help you determine your candidate’s abilities to do the customer success job and to help develop the strategy. In order to then lead those efforts and your future team, you’ll want to look for:
    1. Their ability to be consistent. Great leaders can remain consistent, both when it comes to delivering results and working with your customers. There will be new problems, broken processes, and frustrated customers along the way. You want to look for a leader who can consistently show up. Ask for examples and stories to highlight their ability to be consistent through the ups and downs.
    2. Their ability to give and receive feedback. There will be A LOT of this, from you and your customers. Have the candidate share examples of feedback they didn’t agree with and how they handled those situations. Have them also share examples of feedback they did agree with and then explain how they applied those lessons to better their leadership skills.
    3. Their desire and passion for their own and their team’s development. Great leaders are always bettering themselves and those around them. Ask for examples of something they have recently worked on developing for themselves. Ask for examples of when they helped an underperforming direct report (or peer) and how they went about helping them grow.

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