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The expansion of Customer Success continues to impress me. This time five years ago, a search on LinkedIn for “Customer Success” roles rendered around 100 results. Today, I can perform the same search and find 105k advertised positions. Opportunities are abundant if you’re a job seeker, but the larger question for the SaaS world is, how do you hire great Customer Success professionals? Here are some thoughts on how to interview to get the best results in your hiring.

Questions To Ask

In this article, I’ll skip the basics like “What do you know about the company?” and focus on more targeted interview questions. That said, don’t skip the standards altogether; these baseline questions speak to the candidate’s preparedness and level of interest. The best types of questions to ask are situational. You can derive a lot of detail around tenacity/drive, “bedside manner,” and experience level. 

I find that the most successful Customer Success professionals have an equal blend of IQ and EQ. Where IQ can range from understanding and expressing technical concepts about a product, industry, and/or domain to implementing, and troubleshooting said technology.  

While the CS industry continues to gain in popularity, many are working to transition their careers into this field. It’s not always an easy transition to make. CS can be both incredibly challenging as well as highly rewarding. For those reasons, I test for EQ traits such as resilience, ability to negotiate, presentation/speaking ability, intuition (reading a room and sensing the climate), and exuberance. Maintaining positive energy and a healthy sense of humor will go a long way in this industry.

Tell me about a time you went above and beyond for a customer. What triggered the situation and what was the outcome? 

Customer Success Managers will find themselves going the extra mile for customers, and it may not be rewarded. You’re not just looking for customer-facing experience; you want people that dig in and delight your customers. You also want to see how they use their storytelling skills to convey the situation to you. Do they lay out the background? Is there enough context? Is the story impactful?

Tell me about a time when you have had to manage a particularly challenging escalation. What was the issue and the outcome? How did you manage the situation with your client?

Here you are understanding if this candidate is a problem solver who handles issues with customers directly or more of an air-traffic controller that brings in the proper resources? Both are valuable skill sets, but you may value one over the other based on your technology, available resources, and even the stage your company is in.

Share a story about a time that one of your customers chewed you out. What did the customer say? Why? How did you respond? And what actions did you take after that? 

Customer Success Managers must be capable of dealing with adversity in a professional and productive manner (without allowing it to impact them personally). Not all situations with clients will have a happy ending. The actions they take to address this issue speaks volumes about how well they’d do in your Customer Success Manager role. It also speaks to the applicant’s ability to operate under pressure. You can also test the storytelling skills mentioned repeatedly to see if they are consistently good (because sometimes these answers are well-rehearsed).

What are the metrics you have owned in your past? Are your customers happy? How do you know this? What’s your average (Net Promoter®, customer satisfaction, net retention, etc.) score for your customers? 

Customer Success has to own some kind of a number. This can include net retention, NPS®, customer satisfaction, upsells, revenue (or not), renewals, or a variety of other metrics. The candidate should be able to speak about what their metrics mean and how they positively drive their numbers.

What’s the largest renewal (ARR) that you were involved in? What amount of time did it take? Who did you have to get involved?

While not all CSMs are responsible for renewals, they are most certainly instrumental in preparing the customer for renewal. Customer Success Managers should have the capability to understand the financial impact they have on the company and articulate their process. If they’re not responsible for revenue, Customer Success Managers must know how to properly coordinate the handoff for upsells and cross-sells.

Do you know what a Business Review is? If yes, what’s your process? If you haven’t performed one before, can you give me an idea on how you would approach performing a Business Review? 

Regardless of their cadence, business reviews are critical because these events convey the value your product is delivering back to the customer and set the stage for expansion. If your candidate has been a Customer Success Manager in a previous company, they should already have a process that can be articulated. If the CSM hasn’t done this before, seeing how they would approach a BR provides useful insight into the candidate’s mindset. There are times where it is also appropriate to ask the candidate to provide you or your interview panel with a mock review.

Throughout the interview, be on the lookout for the following capabilities:

  • Ability to gain and keep attention
  • Articulate ‘wins’ back to the customer (describe value realization)
  • Clearly describe areas of opportunity for further adoption (success planning)

 Tell me a time when you realized there was a product mismatch? How did you handle this?

It’s very easy to love the customer when things are going right, but how does the candidate react when there are serious problems? Customer Success often acts as the glue for relationships, even if there are problems with the product fit. An ideal candidate will take this dissatisfaction information and channel it back into their organization to get the customer to a good place. Not all product mismatches can be saved, but ending the relationship amicably can set the stage for future business opportunities.

Tell me about a time an Executive Sponsor left. What did you do?

This happens frequently, and it can cut many relationships off at the knees unless proper actions are taken. Your ideal candidate should have an escalations process in mind for this scenario and understand the requirement for looping in the proper resources to make the save. Additionally, you should expect that a great CSM will continually build relationships with power users and other stakeholders in the company so that one person leaving won’t sever the relationship.

What are your career ambitions? How does this role help you get there?

As a quick reminder: you’re not just hiring for the next month, quarter or year. You want Customer Success Managers who will be with you for years and potentially evolve into leaders. Make sure the role aligns with the candidate’s professional ambitions.

Hiring the best Customer Success Managers is always the goal. Luckily, candidates are quite easy to find. The typical persona of a CSM is someone that will go above and beyond the job requirements to ensure that his or her customers are successful with your product(s) and/or services. CSMs are a lively group of caring individuals that want the best for your business and customers alike and will work hard to ensure that it happens! As our function continues to grow, these tips will make sure you are looking for the right people to help you succeed as a leader and build a great CS team! Now go close an awesome candidate!