Customer Success Manager (a.k.a. CSM, a.k.a. Batman)

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation to explain to a new partner what Sysomos CSMs (Customer Success Managers) do, and what makes a good CSM.

The role isn’t different from what CSMs do in other companies. We are the main point of contact for the account and we help clients and end users take the best out of their subscription to reach their goals. Internally, we are also a powerful channel for customer feedback that has true impact in the development of the product.

It’s a mix of support, training, strategy, client advocacy, marketing and a bit of sales; all of it with the goal of: ensuring clients are successful (hence the name of the role), prevent churn and facilitate growth.

As per the skills, while preparing for the presentation I came up with an idea that would allow me to fill my slides with Batman references:

good CSMs are like Batman

The main reason is that we are actually meant to be the client’s personal super hero. We don’t try to sell them anything -we are there to help. We share the good news like updates and new features, and we help navigate through everyday challenges.

A good sales person helps build and maintain this heroic image of the CSM by taking some heat from us when things go south, because as a team we know that the relationship client-CSM is a key factor to prevent churn -and it puts us in a better place to grow the account. Many organizations describe that relationship as that of a “trusted-advisor”, making clear that the CSM is a voice that the client should always be willing to listen to.

So, what makes an outstanding, Batman-like CSM?

1 – Be Responsive

Batman always responds to the bat-signal. A CSM has to respond when a client reaches out.

Of course that can be challenging some times: when you don’t have the update from the product team that you need, or when you are busy with something else (equally urgent) for another client and can’t do the proper research/debugging right away. One thing that helps me show responsiveness is to send a reply within 30 minutes. Not necessarily with an answer or the solution to a problem, but just to acknowledge that I have seen the bat-signal and that I have their back.

The potential downside is setting the expectation that you are always available, but I find that if I simply do my best and not worry too much about when I can’t reply within those 30 minutes most clients end up understanding that I get to things as soon as I can -after all, even Batman is human under the mask!

2 – See Everything

Working in SaaS, you’ll hear this a lot: the CSM is the person that knows an account the best. And I believe that’s a good thing. So I try to make sure that I really am the smartest person in the team: researching the client, taking notes of their users and the different use cases, and keeping track of pain-points that slow them down.

This way, when I receive a question from a user I know exactly where they are coming from and the best way to help them. For example, if there is a bug that breaks their workflow I’m able to quickly come up with potential workarounds, because I know exactly what they need even if their email didn’t describe it in detail.

3 – Be Resourceful

Many people understand resourcefulness as having something like Batman’s belt with all the tools and gadgets ready to go. And that’s important -to be successful, a CSM needs to have access to the right tools, documentation, etc.

But to me, being resourceful is also when you face a problem for which there isn’t a solution yet and you just go to the bat-cave and engineer something new. If  I know that the developers team is addressing my client’s pain-point int he next release but that it wont be in production until next month, I try to find or create a workaround so the client can keep working until the release is published (and here is when point 2 comes handy!).

4 – Adapt Quickly

On top of being resourceful, Batman also excels at adaptability –and so do CSMs. Always ready to change the plan and move in a different direction when needed. Think of the bat-mobile being stalled and Batman just taking off in the motorbike.

I think the best real-life example of adaptability is the client call that for some reason changes direction: it was going to be about solution A but now that doesn’t work for the project and solution B is a better option; it was going to be a training call and it becomes a brainstorm/strategy session with a demo of something new… a CSM just has to be ready to change gears.

5 – Be Strategic

Being able to adapt at any moment to face the unexpected should not be taken as a call to not be strategic when approaching account (and success) managing. As a CSM, I work with the sales account manager on a strategy for short, mid and long term; creating a journey for the account (the account is here and we want to go there).

This allows us to be proactive and get things ready: It’s a lot easier to go from point A to point B if you have a map, so we make our own map.

To involve the client, I like to schedule monthly or quarterly calls as a regular touch-point to receive client feedback and review new features and future use cases. I find this extremely helpful with accounts that are going through a harder time seeing the value of the tools, to ensure there is at least one call every now and then that is not a reaction to the users being frustrated with a specific project.

6 – Take Off the Mask

This is the one difference between CSMs and Batman (other than the pile of money to support all the R&D and engineering involved in being Batman).

Batman is the Dark Knight. He is the hero Gotham deserves, not the one Gotham needs. CSMs are the opposite: the hero the client needs, not the one they deserve.

A friendly, savvy client deserves a CSM that shares all the news and helps with everything, is constantly in touch…. but a savvy client doesn’t need that. They need space to do their job, and the occasional help or call with updates. They are good on their own, they don’t need to be constantly interrupted. I trust that they’ll turn on the bat-signal when they need me.

The opposite extreme would be a client that complains every day about bugs that are not bugs but user errors, maybe because they haven’t taken the time to learn how the tool works and expect that you do everything for them… they deserve to be ignored. But those are the clients that actually need their CSM the most. They need more training, more detailed and faster responses, and more hand-holding. And maybe some day they won’t need so much help.

So, as I see it, a CSM is meant to be the opposite of a Dark Knight. And a big part of that is that you don’t hide. You pick up the phone even if you know they are going to yell at you. And you don’t hide or delay news either. Being transparent might be a bad idea for Batman, but for a CSM transparency always wins long term, because the client needs to trust you. Plus it’s actually a lot easier to handle expectations if you just tell things as they are.

My pro tip here is to get used to really take off the mask and turn on the webcam when having calls with clients. There is something about seeing the other person’s face that automatically creates a stronger, more trusting relationship. There is a reason why onsite visits add so much value, and a video call is the next best thing.

7 – Be Resilient

And some times you just need to power through the rough times: a feature your client has been waiting for gets delayed to the next release, or there is a service interruption and as a CSM you can’t really fix it yourself, or you have four different deadlines to meet by EOD…  and you feel you are going to give up.

But you don’t, because you are Batman and you can be drugged with poisonous gas and set on fire, and still find the strength to jump out the window and run.

If you are a CSM, what other skills would you highlight? And more importantly, Which super hero do you see yourself as?

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The Toilet Glyph Project

Isn’t it amazing that, no matter in which country you are, you can always tell which door sign marks the bathroom for women and which one marks the bathroom for men? Think about it: you go to a country where you don’t speak the language (maybe they even use a different alphabet), enter in a restaurant where there is no chance you know what you are going to eat… and you can still find your way to the right bathroom.

It might be that we all understand the awkwardness of going into the wrong bathroom (specially if you are in a foreign place) and have developed a global set of symbols that work for everyone.

Or it might work the other way around. Maybe our brain is specially good at reading bathroom signs to avoid the feeling of embarrassment and the funny (sometimes offended) looks from anyone who sees us making the fatal mistake.

I find this fascinating.

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Simons (Square One) – Mississauga, Canada.

A post shared by Toilet Glyph Project (@toiletglyphprj) on

Each bathroom sign is an incredible mix of creativity, functionality and social context. From the public and corporate impossible-to-miss icons (think of what you would expect to see at an airport) to full on art pieces; and from inoffensive drawings to obvious sexual references or strong statements about gender equality. From accessible bathrooms to family friendly.

It almost feels like toilet glyphs have now become the universal representation of gender: everyone knows what they mean, even if they have never seen that glyph before or come from a place where the meaning of that symbol is something simply inconceivable.

That’s why last year I started to work in what finally became The Toilet Glyph Project. An Instagram account (that spreads to a Twitter account and a WordPress blog) to collect these signs and think about their meaning -because someone made the choice to put that specific sign on that specific door, and it might be a bigger responsibility than you think.

I hope you have as much fun following @toiletglyphprj as I do finding new signs.

Three lessons from six months at Sysomos

Six months ago I joined the Enterprise Social Media Specialist team at Sysomos. Time flies, and when you work in an industry as fast as social media, and for a company with innovation at its very core, there is something new to learn almost every week. Since I sat at my desk for the first time back in May we have launched a new user interface and bought two companies, to name some milestones.

So, to mark the date and celebrate some wins, here’s a short list with the most interesting things I have learned during this time -other than how big dodgeball is in Canada.

1) Boolean Syntax is your Best Friend

Before coming to Sysomos I was only somewhat familiar with Boolean syntax. I knew it existed, and that you could do some stuff with it in Google.

Now I have discovered the true power of the Boolean logic applied to text search. It’s basically what allows us to make a search as broad or specific as we need. In a way, it’s what gives us the option to add context to keywords to get only relevant results.

Thanks to Boolean syntax we can find all conversations that mention iPhone, Android and Firefox OS; or we can find only conversations from people saying that they are impressed with the quality of the pictures taken with an LG Android device in poor light conditions. Really, it’s that amazing.

2) Managing Expectations is Key Long Term

When it comes to client relations, one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my team is the importance of managing expectations since the very first call.

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand the value of telling people what you can’t do for them, but I find that it’s the foundation of a healthy long-term relationship in which the client knows they can trust you and you know that there won’t be any frustrating surprises. Once the limitations talk is out of the way you can focus on all the amazing things you can do for them.

3) Visual Recognition is Here

As much as I love Boolean syntax there is a catch: it relies on keywords. And while most of the internet is text-based and we can analyze millions of conversations a day that way, the truth is that “today’s conversation is increasingly visual”, to quote one of my bosses.

So when we got the news that Sysomos had acquired GazeMetrix and they showed us what that technology can do, we got understandably excited. Visual recognition is not the next thing, it’s already here.

Instead of searching for the words “coca-cola”, now we can upload Coca-Cola’s logo and find pictures where that logo is present even if there is no text to help us find it. And it’s not just that: we can see if the Coca-Cola logo appears in images where there are hamburgers, or cars, or bottles, or pizza. You get the point.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from Sysomos Gaze is the vast amount of content that flies under the radar simply because we don’t didn’t have the technology to find it. And how all this content can help brands understand things like how people are using their products or what other things they like, do or buy -which communication teams can use to improve their messaging.

What Will be Next?

The best part is that this is just the beginning. Social media platforms keep evolving (just look at the last few weeks at Twitter!) and companies are getting more social-savvy every day, which means there will be a lot more to learn during the next six months. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

The Oscars as seen on Twitter

While we live in the era of digital media, and more specifically the era of social media, it’s undeniable that mass media still have a lot to say. I believe the reason is simple: online conversations wouldn’t happen without things to talk about.

That is what events like the Oscars have been providing for 87 years: conversation topics. The difference is that now we don’t have to throw a party at home or wait until we get to the office or the school the next day to talk about it. We can do it live on Twitter, and not just with the people we know but with the millions of people watching the same thing.

On this cool data visualization from Twitter you can see exactly that: the Oscars led the online conversation, minute by minute. People quickly forgot about the movies that were not being mention on the screen, but kept posting about what they were seeing live.

the oscars on twitter
Same on WordPress.com: the embed code won’t work and you don’t get to see the animation. Click on the image to visit Twitter’s site.