How to start your career in customer success

by Feb 16, 2022

You know when you witness a terrible decision and can almost feel the lost potential? That’s the foundation of my career in customer success.

It started the way most business ventures do – with an idea. I’d seen CEOs spend millions on product development, only for them to turn their backs on their customers after, and then wonder why they leave. Something needed to change.

Without a systematic approach to keeping clients happy, the product’s value won’t shine through, customers will churn, and return on investments (ROIs) will dwindle. That’s where customer success comes in.

Why is customer success a good career?

Customer success is somewhat self-explanatory – it enables customers to reach their goals by using a product. These goals can vary wildly, but one thing stays constant for customer success managers and reps: genuine human connection.

Regardless of the KPIs, goals, and overall job performance, talking to customers and getting to know them is a sure-fire way to make it big in customer success. That also makes it one of the most rewarding careers to have entered the job market in the past ten years.

Yes, you read that right. Customer success is a relatively new addition to the business space. Back in 2015, people were still asking what CS is, what it does, and how it helps us. Fast forward to the present, we see businesses worldwide investing in it and hiring hundreds of CS reps per year. And they all know it’s about helping customers, not themselves.


1. Understand customer success

So you’ve decided to pursue a career in customer success. The first step is to understand the concept. Besides the short overview above, customer success people also deal with:

  • Creating, nurturing, and evolving relationships with customers
  • Customer research to understand their goals, KPIs, and how they want to use the product/service
  • Working together with customers to attain those goals
  • Handling onboarding, assisting with migration, and just generally being there for customers
  • Proactively preventing churn through different means, including customer engagement
  • Scouting for upsell and cross-sell opportunities and reaching out when they come up


2. Read up on customer success concepts

A Venn diagram of customer success concepts and business concepts would probably show a very big overlap, but there are still some terms that you need to zoom into:

  • Customer journey

The customer journey is typically mapped out by customer success specialists and it follows all touchpoints from the moment a prospect first interacts with a business.

  • Onboarding

While very common, onboarding is an essential responsibility in a customer success person’s workflow and must be treated with extreme seriousness. A McKinsey study shows that 52% of customers name poor onboarding among the top three reasons for ending their relationship with a company.

  • Touchpoints

Part of the customer journey, touchpoints represent all the points where the customer comes into contact with the business – whether it be a marketing email or an invoice. One of the CSM’s responsibilities is to smooth out touchpoints and turn them into positive experiences.

  • Churn

Churn is the cornerstone metric of any CS initiative. It shows the percentage of customers that leave per month. Different businesses measure it differently, but a CSM’s job is to keep it as low as possible.

  • Proactive Outreach

While customer support is a reactive approach to customer interactions, customer success is proactive. That means setting up alerts for potential customer issues and acting before they show up or become critical.

  • Automation

Every business niche has evolved some form of automation. Customer success is no different, and you must familiarise yourself with typical CS playbooks so you understand how they can be set up.

  • Segmentation

A good customer success specialist must know how to segment customers based on the most important metrics for themselves and the company.

  • Offboarding

The often-ignored cousin of onboarding, offboarding can provide just as many valuable insights. By finding out why churned customers left, the CSM will learn to prevent existing customers from leaving.


3. Practise your soft skills

Active listening, empathy, compassion, proactivity, and overall high emotional intelligence – all valuable skills for people looking to start their journey into customer success. Add in a bit of business acumen and you’re well on your way to a prosperous career.

However, before you can land a top-paying CS job, a bit of practise is necessary. While a customer success course might give you some idea of what type of soft skills you need, the best approach would be to find a good Soft Skills training course such as this one from LinkedIn Learning.


4. Research the job market

Now it’s time to research the job market. It’s also the moment to learn about the CS department and how it fits in a typical business structure.

Customer success efforts are typically spearheaded by a Customer Success Manager (CSM), Chief Customer Success Officer, or Head/Director/VP of Customer Success. Depending on the business model, budgeting, and the ROI of CS efforts, the CSM can have one or more teams of CS reps at their disposal. Large organisations may have a CSM for each team, all reporting to the head of customer success or someone in an equivalent position.

As for average pay, here are some numbers so you know what to expect:

No other pay data is available for the Australian market, but in the US:

For a more complete picture of customer success salaries, it might be a good idea to find CSMs from your region and simply add them on LinkedIn and ask. Who knows, they might even be willing to offer you an internship. 


5. Tailor your resume for customer success jobs

However much you’d like to have a single CV full of everything you’ve ever done, the hard truth is every job sector requires a specific resume. Here’s what I find most useful in a customer success resume:

  • Good professional summary
  • Highlights of the most important CS-related skills, education, and work experience
  • Good, readable formatting
  • Any achievements that might showcase your knack for customer success
  • A good cover letter to accompany it (since customer success is so new, showing genuine interest trumps traditional education)


6. Give your LinkedIn profile a facelift

The people that run in the customer success circles spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. There are also plenty of recruiters looking for good customer success people. Here’s what I find most significant when I scan a LinkedIn profile:

  • A relevant and well-written profile description
  • Job descriptions for past work experiences, particularly any that have to do with customer success
  • The appropriate, customer success-focused resume attached
  • Any skills (and endorsements) that are necessary in customer success
  • All recommendations, usually the best insight into what type of person they are

Once you have all these elements in place, it’s time to look for a job. I recommend setting an alert for “customer success” jobs in your area and then joining customer success groups such as the Customer Success Leadership Network on Slack, the Customer Success Network on Workplace, or many others on LinkedIn.

If you engage and post enough, you’re bound to receive at least a few messages from customer success recruiters.


Customer success is a very rewarding field

If you’re almost convinced to try it out, remember that customer success is one of the most fulfilling sectors in business. Your main job will be securing the goals of customers in a friendly, relationship-focused manner. And seeing people succeed makes the whole endeavour more than worthwhile.

If you still have questions, be sure to follow me on LinkedIn where I share deep dives into customer success on a weekly basis.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels

Phillip Wolf

Phillip Wolf

CEO | Custify

As the CEO of Custify, Philipp Wolf helps SaaS businesses deliver great results for customers. After seeing companies spend big money with no systematic approach to customer success, Philipp knew something had to change. He founded Custify to provide a tool that lets agents spend time with clients—instead of organizing CRM data.