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What are Customer Success Specialists?

What are Customer Success Specialists?

As the focus on customer experience has steadily increased, so have the number of roles contributing to it. Most people are familiar with customer support specialists—team members who handle incoming requests from customers—but many are less familiar with customer success specialists.

In this article, we talk about what a customer success specialist is, why you should consider adding them to your team, and traits and backgrounds to look for when hiring for the role. Read on to learn more. 

What is a customer success specialist and why do you need one?

A customer success specialist is an individual contributor on a larger customer success team. Where customer support teams are primarily reactive, customer success teams are primarily proactive. Customer success specialists help support customers at different stages of their customer journey. Their primary purpose is to help ensure customers are successful with your products and services.

There are two main ways customer success specialists contribute to overall business goals: retention and growth.

On the retention side of things, customer success specialists give proactive assistance to help customers get value from your product. If they don’t see value in your product, the chances that they’ll stick around drops dramatically.

With their direct access to customers, customer success specialists are able to gather insights you might otherwise miss out on. With those insights you can make a better product, improve your marketing materials, and even learn how to sell your product more effectively.

Quality service and successful outcomes can also lead to word-of-mouth marketing and other things like positive online reviews and referrals, which can further boost your reputation and make you more attractive to potential new customers. All of these are examples of the many different ways in which customer success specialists can help your organization grow.

What does a customer success specialist do day-to-day?

Customer success specialists tend to wear a number of different hats. Their daily responsibilities tend to vary from organization to organization, but there are some core things that are common in the position:

  • Answering customer requests - Generally speaking, customer success specialists are assigned a certain group of customers. They serve as the primary point of contact for those customers. That means they’ll handle some inbound requests in addition to proactively helping customers. If they can’t answer a question themselves, they’ll help facilitate getting customers answers from other experts.
  • Helping with customer onboarding - In order to get the most value out of your product, customers need to know how to use it. Customer success specialists usually help with initial product training to get customers started on the right foot. The main focus is usually to get the customer to a point where they’re able to accomplish a goal with the product (such as sending their first email newsletter or launching their website).
  • Conducting research - Customer success specialists often have goals pertaining to account expansion, which is a fancy way of saying they’re meant to help grow your existing accounts. Conducting customer research can help reveal things like leading indicators that a customer might be looking to expand their account with you. On the other hand, they might discover that certain customers are at risk of churning. Customer behavior research helps your teams better anticipate these situations. Customer success specialists may also participate in research around product fit. Since they have direct interaction with clients, it can sometimes be easier for customer success specialists to elicit feedback on your product’s strengths and opportunities.  
  • Analyzing data and reporting findings - Since data isn’t any good in a silo, after customer success specialists conduct research, they generally report their findings to others in the team, as well as people like product managers. They may also send their findings to marketing and sales teams to help them better position and sell your product.  

Depending on the specific team, a customer success specialist’s time could be split evenly among these responsibilities. Others might focus on one area more than another. 

Hiring a customer success specialist

Customer success specialists are unique because they have to wear a number of different hats. That can make hiring for the role seem like a big challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. Below we share some traits and backgrounds to consider when hiring for a customer success specialist.

Traits to look for

Being a customer success specialist really requires a mix of hard and soft skills. Below are five traits we think you should look for in your customer success specialist search:

  • Personable - Since customer success specialists are the primary point of contact for certain customers, they need to have good interpersonal skills. If customers find it uncomfortable to interact with someone, it’ll make everything else that much more difficult. 
  • Analytical - Finding and interpreting data is a big part of what a customer success specialist does. Being analytical could help them sniff out new sources of data or find different ways to interpret findings. 
  • Organized - Wearing lots of hats means needing to be organized. Customer success specialists juggle a lot of different responsibilities. If they’re not organized, chances are they’re going to drop something. 
  • Proactive - Part of being a customer success specialist is about keeping customers in the loop when things change. If someone isn’t proactive, it could lead to customer’s being caught off guard by product changes and updates.  
  • Empathetic - Support may not be the entire job, but it is part of the job. If someone isn’t able to put themselves in another’s shoes, it will be more difficult for that person to deliver a great customer experience.

Though it would be great for someone to have every one of these traits, it may not always be realistic. Pick two of three of the traits you think are most important in your specific organization and optimize for those. If job candidates happen to have any others, it’ll just be a bonus.

Other backgrounds to consider

Since customer success is a little newer than some other roles, it’s not always possible to find someone who’s held the title previously. That said, there are a number of related positions that, when paired with some of the traits mentioned above, can be a great fit.

Below are four professional backgrounds you should consider when searching for a customer success specialist.

  • Account executive/Account manager - Account executives and account managers are often a good fit since a large part of a customer success specialist’s role is relationship building. These candidates  may not have as much experience with the onboarding and research aspects of the role. Keep this in mind as you’re interviewing candidates.
  • Teachers/trainers - Being a customer success specialist requires frequently giving thorough and easy-to-understand explanations. This aligns well with teaching and training experience. People with these backgrounds also have to be good at managing different personality types, which can come in handy when working with an array of customers. 
  • Customer support -  Support people tend to be very empathetic, which makes them a great fit for customer success. It’s also a helpful background because customer success specialists do end up answering a decent amount of support-type questions, being as they’re the main point of contact for customers. One challenge you may encounter with support candidates is that shifting from a reactive to a proactive mindset can take time, so be aware of this as you’re vetting out applicants.
  • Product managers - Product managers are basically internal product researchers. Because of that, they tend to have great interviewing and analytical skills. Both of these are very useful for skills for a customer success specialist. That being said, you should try and ensure they have some previous experience in a customer-facing role. Without this experience they might struggle with the communication aspect of the customer success specialist job.

Moving forward

Offering a great customer experience is paramount for the success of modern businesses. And the experience has to be great all the way throughout the customer journey. Adding customer success specialist(s) to your team can help you better ensure that the customer experience is great, no matter where someone is at in their customer journey.

If you need some customer success expertise quickly, contact us today. Our outsourced customer service teams bring a wealth of experience and can get started in weeks, not months.

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