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Guidelines for Strengthening Customer Success Management Programs Guidelines for Strengthening Customer Success Management Programs
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Guidelines for Strengthening Customer Success Management Programs

author - Rebecca Hammond
Rebecca Hammond
author - Darin Dooley
Darin Dooley
November 5, 2021 | Read Time: 6  minutes

When measuring success, provider organizations don’t consider solely product outcomes—the vendor relationship is also critical. KLAS has found that vendors who partner with their customers cultivate stronger loyalty among them, even when the product is in need of improvements. This is because vendors have properly managed expectations, communicated the developmental road map and vision, and understood their customers’ goals to help drive outcomes. To define some guidelines around strengthening customer relationships, KLAS interviewed 65 vendors about their customer success management programs. The research includes vendors who have an account management team or customer success managers (CSMs) that fulfill responsibilities outside of generating sales and offering frontline support. This report outlines common CSM pitfalls and some guidelines that address these pitfalls and strengthen CSM programs.

strong csm program vs weak csm program

Common CSM Pitfalls

After analyzing years’ worth of customer commentary about the CSM experience, KLAS identified three common pitfalls that cause customers to have a negative CSM experience:

Provider organizations see CSMs as much less effective when they do not understand the product itself or the organization’s goals.

High CSM turnover limits successful long-term relationships with provider organizations, who want to rely on trusted CSMs for success.

Lack of availability
Provider organizations are highly dissatisfied when their CSMs are unavailable and unresponsive. Most customers expect their CSM to respond to a request within 24 hours.

These customer-reported pitfalls can be directly addressed with the KLAS-identified guidelines that strongly correlate with higher customer satisfaction scores. For example, experienced and empowered CSMs receive better compensation through the right sales incentives, which reduces turnover. The following section explains how vendors can eliminate pitfalls and strengthen their CSM program by considering three guidelines:

Length of CSM training

length of csm training

CSM sales incentives

csm sales incentives

CSM empowerment

csm empowerment

Guidelines for Success

length of csm training

Length of CSM Training

Thorough employee training is essential for providing a consistent, high-quality experience for customers. Successful training requires vendors to invest time and money into their employees before the employees assume all their job responsibilities—this lays the groundwork so that all employees can provide the same level of service to customers.

Our research for this study revealed the following:

High-performing vendors train their CSMs for 8–12 weeks, with 12 weeks being the most frequently reported duration

Low-performing vendors trained their CSMs for 4 weeks or less

Vendors that offered training for more than 16 weeks saw diminished returns compared to vendors that offered training for 8–12 weeks

The high-performing vendors with 12 weeks’ worth of training have a formal training program that includes job shadowing and client-focused training. A formal training program is key for establishing consistent processes that familiarize individuals with the product, quality best practices, and company culture. Additionally, job shadowing allows new hires to watch how seasoned employees perform in the role. As green employees are mentored, they can more easily assume responsibilities and better understand clients’ needs.

length of training impact on customer experience
csm sales incentive

CSM Sales Incentives

Sales incentives can prompt CSMs to identify valuable opportunities that salespeople can then pursue. When a sales incentive is implemented appropriately, customers are less likely to report nickel-and-diming. Top-performing respondents say they have a sales growth metric incorporated into the CSMs’ individual KPIs, though the CSMs are not part of the organization’s sales structure.

Vendors must tread lightly with sales incentives and avoid being pushy with customers. Incentives are most successful when paired with a service-oriented company culture. This results in CSMs prioritizing customer success—regardless of risk/growth potential—instead of exclusively focusing on sales. Vendors that create long-term career paths and appropriate sales incentives can keep CSMs motivated and engaged in their roles, which can reduce turnover.

impact of sales growth metric on average strength of CSM program rating
csm empowerment

CSM Empowerment

Empowered employees feel trusted and autonomous in their roles, allowing them to take greater care of their customers. The interviewed vendors that don’t micromanage their employees see higher overall satisfaction among customers, particularly around relationship, product vision, and implementation. In these circumstances, CSMs are deeply knowledgeable and are trusted as decision-makers; they don’t need to seek approval from people higher up the ladder.

Many respondents struggle to get their employees to the necessary level of autonomy and trust to drive customer success. Empowered CSMs don’t just track customer success, answer support questions, and call customers to check in (although those are all important responsibilities). Empowered CSMs also issue refunds, rearrange schedules and other personal responsibilities to serve customers in need, and travel to customer sites at a moment’s notice. It is critical for vendors to be able to differentiate between basic and empowering CSM job responsibilities.

average overall performance score by csm empowerment

Ideal CSM-to-Customer Ratio

Vendors frequently ask about the ideal CSM-to-customer ratio. While there is not a strong correlation between ratio and customer satisfaction scores in KLAS’ data, the most common ratio for interviewed vendors is 1 CSM for every 8–12 customers. It is difficult to ascertain an ideal ratio, as it depends on customer needs, product complexity, and size of the customer base.

Based on this study, it is critical for CSMs to respond to customer requests within 24–48 hours. Thus, measuring a CSM’s workload by their ability to respond to customer requests in a timely manner should be considered when determining the appropriate CSM-to-customer ratio.

Report Information

KLAS asked 65 vendors with CSM programs the following questions:

  1. What are some examples of the activities your CSMs are empowered to carry out?
  2. What is the escalation protocol for CSMs?
  3. When a customer calls in with a problem, who owns the problem resolution?
  4. What percent of your customers have CSMs?
  5. How do you determine the ratio of CSMs to accounts (i.e., revenue or number of accounts)? What is your ratio of CSMs to customer accounts or revenue?
  6. What is the number one metric you use to measure the success of your CSMs? Is this metric used for financial incentive? If not, then what is?
  7. How much training is required prior to owning relationships and accounts independently? How do you certify your CSMs?
  8. What is the profile that you look for when hiring CSMs? How do you vet for these people? Do you look for whether someone is a people person or a technical person?
  9. What is the average length of time that your CSMs stay with a customer? How do you actively try to reduce turnover in this role?
  10. At what point in the customer life cycle does the CSM begin working with the customer? At what point does the CSM have full ownership of the account?
  11. What are the stages of the CSM relationship?
  12. Do CSMs have sales responsibilities? Do they share with a sales representative, or do they own all inside sales?
  13. Are the CSMs part of the sales structure? If not sales, what part of the organization do they report through?
  14. What teams do CSMs work most closely with? How do you promote cross-team collaboration to make customers successful?
  15. How frequently do CSMs connect with customers? If not the main point of contact, how often do they connect with provider executives?
  16. What is the purpose of your customer meetings?
  17. What are your best practices for a successful customer meeting?
  18. What is the primary medium for customer communication? How often do your CSMs meet with customers in person versus over the phone?
  19. What type of problems do CSMs handle that support does not?
  20. How do you train your CSMs on your development road map? How do CSMs communicate this to the customers?
  21. Are CSMs centrally located or divided into regions?
revenue number of employees and average age of company

KLAS did not speak to companies that do not already have a CSM program, excluding many young companies that do not have one up and running yet.

author - Sarah Hanson
Sarah Hanson
author - Natalie Jamison
Natalie Jamison
author - Natalie Jamison
Project Manager
Natalie Jamison
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This material is copyrighted. Any organization gaining unauthorized access to this report will be liable to compensate KLAS for the full retail price. Please see the KLAS DATA USE POLICY for information regarding use of this report. © 2024 KLAS Research, LLC. All Rights Reserved. NOTE: Performance scores may change significantly when including newly interviewed provider organizations, especially when added to a smaller sample size like in emerging markets with a small number of live clients. The findings presented are not meant to be conclusive data for an entire client base.