A discussion on the seventh of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The seventh tenet is “The CSM is an Educator”
The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 7: The CSM is an Educator
This short article expands upon the seventh tenet (or principle) in my “14 Tenets of Customer Success” that are taken from my upcoming book “Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for rapid generation of customer success” which is due for publication summer 2019…
Tenet 7: The CSM is an Educator
In my book – Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for managers and professionals – I set out 14 tenets (or principles) by which customer success managers can carry out their professional duties. All 14 of these tenets can be found in my LinkedIn article – The 14 Tenets of Customer Success – which can be viewed here:
This seventh tenet is:
The CSM is an educator
Its definition is:
Key stakeholders within the customer organization may not always know everything that they need to know about the products and services they have purchased from us, or about the activities that need to be performed to get them fully adopted. Whilst the CSM should make sure not to take on a formal training role, it is definitely part of their role to provide informal training and related activities to help these stakeholders understand the situation more completely in order that they can make well informed decisions.
The Role of Education
Education plays an important role in helping customers to onboard, adopt and realize value from the products and services they have purchased. Whilst the customer success manager should make sure they do not end up in a full time training role, or get roped into delivering so much training that it doesn’t leave them time to conduct their other essential duties, it is most definitely appropriate for CSMs to expect to need to deliver some training, especially to the customer’s key stakeholders and maybe even sometimes to their power users.
The most obvious (and indeed often the most essential) aspect of education for the CSM is educating the customer’s key stakeholders on the features and functions of the products and services they have purchased. Where the CSM can add more value as an educator than a standard training video, course or book could do is in using their understanding of the customer’s initiative, current situation and outcome requirements to explain their company’s products and services in context, rather than just generically. Helping key stakeholders to understand how individual aspects of products and services provide specific functionality that helps to deliver the specific value that that customer needs can be very powerful in generating support for adoption and in helping those key stakeholders begin to think about who within their company will be impacted by the introduction of these product and services and in what ways they will be impacted.
Alongside the products and services themselves, CSMs may well find themselves needing to educate the customer’s key stakeholders around onboarding and adoption best practices, training, support and certification options for their end users and ways to measure and report on value generation.
Who Needs Educating?
The work that needs to be done to help customers attain their desired outcomes from the products and services they have purchased can be divided up in various ways. Below I have divided it up in a logical order in terms of the performance of education as one part of the wider tasks and duties that Customer Success Managers perform:
In this first chunk of work, the CSM will need to make sure that they have a sufficient handle on the situation to be able to provide high quality advice and assistance to the customer. Before anyone else then, the CSM must first of all be a self-educator. This means being (or becoming) aware of existing knowledge or skill gaps and knowing how to go about filling those gaps. This may involve educating oneself on one’s own company’s products and/or services, and/or educating oneself about the customer’s organization, including both its current status and its desired status, as well as its strategy to get from where they are now to where they want to be.
Key Stakeholder Awareness
Customer key stakeholders come in many flavors. Some key stakeholders are exceptionally experienced, highly proficient in their role and very well aware of what is going on. Others may be less so in one or more specific aspects. The Customer Success Manager therefore needs to assess what the key stakeholders know and do not know and then help them as best they can to fill the gaps. This might include educating key stakeholders about what products and services they have purchased and what the core features and functions of these products and services are. It might also involve educating key stakeholders about why their company has purchased these particular products and services, including what specific initiatives and/or wider strategies these products and services will be supporting, and in what capacities they will be providing this support. Additionally, the CSM may need to help key stakeholders to understand the impact of change from adopting these products and services, both in terms of who within their company will be impacted (both directly and indirectly) and what types of education those impacted people might need in order to help make them productive after the products and services have been adopted.
Directly and Indirectly Impacted Users
This group includes all people who will experience some sort of change to their role (ie what they do each day) due to the implementation of the initiative which the products and services have been purchased to support. Some of these people will require a great deal of education – for example operators of a new and complex product such as a sophisticated piece of machinery, or users of a complex and multi-functioned software application – others may need no more than a simple communication to make them aware of a minor change which they do not need help and advice about but just need to know will be happening.
Part of the CSM’s role is to help the customer’s key stakeholders to work out who all these people are and what their educational needs are. Another part of the CSM’s role is then to help those key stakeholders to formulate watertight plans for providing that education and (where necessary) testing and certifying these users to ensure they meet whatever standards of knowledge and skill are necessary in order to operate or otherwise use the new products and services. Finally, the CSM will also need to help key stakeholders to work out how to implement this education in a timely and cost-effective manner and how to measure the results from it to prove its effectiveness and (where necessary) to adapt it to ensure that necessary targets are achieved. Note that whilst the CSM may be directly involved as the educator for both themselves and for key customer stakeholders, when it comes to end users, the role of the CSM generally changes and their role in education is less about doing the educating and more about planning, managing and measuring it.
The Concept of KSA – Knowledge, Skills and Attitude
A good concept from the world of academia which Customer Success Managers can use – especially when considering the education needs of end users – is the concept of KSA, or Knowledge, Skills and Attitude. These can be thought of as the three foundational legs of a stool that provides all of the education required for someone to fulfil their role well:
Knowledge is often described as “book learning”, and refers to cognitive understanding of what the stakeholder is required to do and how they are required to do it. The reason that it is sometimes referred to as “book learning” is because increasing knowledge is the traditional role of academic organizations such as schools and colleges, and because knowledge is (or at least was) generally transferred through books and lectures.
Having an understanding of what needs to be done generates the ability for the person to think and act independently rather than having to be told what to do by a supervisor at every stage of the performance of a task. Knowledge is therefore of particular importance in jobs that require autonomous decision making by the person involved, such as in sales, customer service or consultancy roles.
Skill is the ability to perform a task adequately, and this performance ability tends to increase in quality over time as more experience of performing the activity is gained. Different types of tasks have more or less of a skill-related component. For example tasks requiring precise brain-to-body motor skills such as dentistry or fork lift truck driving will tend to require a high level of skill, which in turn requires at least a degree of on-the-job style training to be completed before a person gains the desired skill. Because skill cannot be taught through books but through experience, it tends to be taught in situ by coaching and/or mentoring rather than just by instructing (for example think about how you might teach someone how to swim or ride a bicycle).
Attitude is the emotional and personality-related aspect of capability. Regardless of how knowledgeable and/or skilful a person might be, if their attitude towards performing the task is wrong, they will either perform the task less well than otherwise, or even not perform the task at all. Emotions that might negatively affect a person’s attitude towards performing a task might include ignorance (not understanding why it is important for example), anger (caused for example by feelings of being unjustly imposed upon by being ordered to perform the task) and fear (perhaps due to feelings of insecurity around the ability to perform the task sufficiently well, and concerns about being sanctioned in some way of they cannot do so).
An individual’s personality will at least to some extent dictate the level of impact that attitude may have to the performance of the tasks they are asked to perform. People with high emotional IQs and mature personalities will be more likely to need less support with attitudinal problems than their counterparts with lower levels of emotional IQ and less maturity.
Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM is a Communicator”
The next article in this series will be on tenet number eight which is “The CSM is a Communicator”. Communication is a core, critical skill in almost any type of job role, but especially so where that role involves collaborating closely with customer stakeholders and with colleagues to generate team-based results. Even more so are strong communication skills important when the person is not just a part of the team but a leader of that team that needs to explain, evangelize and inspire. The Customer Success Manager is just such a role and in fact the CSM almost has it harder than many leaders, since they have to “lead without being in charge”. In this situation great communication skills is essential.
About the Author
Rick Adams is an independent author, trainer and consultant, specializing in helping technology companies deliver measurable business value for their customers. Adams has over 25 years’ experience of working in the IT industry, including owning his own startup software-as-a-service business which he sold in 2012 to focus on writing, training and consulting. Having delivering training and consultancy to many hundreds of businesses and thousands of technology professionals in over 30 countries across four continents, Adams is now based in the rural west coast of Ireland where he lives with his two dogs Zeus and Terri.
Adams’ recent work includes the development and delivery of a global certification program on customer success management for Cisco Systems Inc. He is currently working on a book titled Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for managers and professionals which will be published by Routledge in the summer of 2019. His current interests includes helping individuals and companies develop best practices in customer success management and in business outcomes focused selling.