An Intro to Customer Success

An intro to customer success and careers

As the customer success manager (CSM) at Qapital, a full-service banking app, Morgan Kashin is no stranger to a jam-packed schedule.

She oversees the user experience for more than 40,000 customers, per a post on entrepreneur and digital marketing strategist Sujan Patel's website.  Every day, Kashin monitors channels like Twitter, Facebook and the Apple App Store to measure sentiment and gather data from user-generated questions, concerns and feedback.

Through these interactions, she's able to find what's working and — maybe even more importantly — what's not. Her day-to-day tasks? They range from writing weekly reports for management, biweekly Slack huddles with sales and marketing, and measuring growth via retention and acquisition.

Busy? Sure. But Kashin wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

“My feedback is tremendously beneficial to [the entire team] because I’m working so closely with our end users," explained Kashin. “A focus on the intricacies of our platform has allowed us to provide consistently exceptional support at every stage of the user experience.”

Bottom line: In the world of CS, your wins are your customers’ wins.  

Does this sound like a role you’d like to tackle? Before you dive headfirst into your new career in customer success, consider the following:

  • The day in the life of a CS specialist
  • Why the field is growing
  • Some of the challenges you’ll face
  • The tools that will help you (and your customers) along the path to success

What are the responsibilities of a customer success manager?

Every CS role will look a little different depending on the size of your organization, the team you oversee and the industry you're in. 

A CSM is responsible for developing relationships that promote retention and customer loyalty. Your job will be to work closely with customers to ensure they’re satisfied with the services they receive and to identify and improve upon areas of dissatisfaction. Your daily workload might vary, but it will typically involve:

  • Maintaining healthy and long-lasting customer relationships
  • Finding ways to enhance the customer experience
  • Evaluating and analyzing customer needs to identify opportunities for expansions and upgrades 

Maximizing retention and advocacy will be your two primary goals. However, the job is a lot more than that — you’ll want to look at customer success as a holistic strategy rather than a siloed series of tasks. We like to think CS expert and growth consultant Lincoln Murphy puts it best when it comes to your end goal as a CSM: 

"You can focus on adoption, retention, expansion or advocacy; or, you can focus on the customers' desired outcome and get all of those things."

CSM resources  

Still interested? If you’re not sure, consider the following questions.

Do you have a natural curiosity for figuring out how things tick — and how you can make them even better?

Do you have the confidence to explore new options and innovate along the way?

Do you thrive when you’re talking to people and working together to find a solution?

If you answered "yes", then you just might be the perfect candidate for a role in customer success. In addition to having the courage to explore new opportunities and a passion for helping others, some of the professional skills Linkedin has found to be helpful to the role include:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) experience
  • Salesforce knowledge
  • Prior roles in a customer relationship management position 
  • Account management expertise 

There's no need to worry if you haven't checked off all of those boxes. If you’re passionate about helping people reach their goals, you’re already well on your way to a fruitful career in CS.

Since the field is so new, there’s not a ton of information out there about the roles or past experience that make up the “perfect” CSM’s resume. What you can do in the meantime is take advantage of online resources and start earning some CS certifications to give you that competitive edge.

Just some of the classes you can take include:

Customer success certifications

Although there’s no “perfect” combination of prior work experience and certifications, the more you know, the more you can provide meaningful customer support. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite CS blogs to follow so you can stay on the cutting edge when it comes to CS trends

These certifications will be helpful — but you should know that customer success professionals typically have a complementary set of soft and hard skills. You’ll be responsible for both understanding the SaaS product your company creates and managing the customer relationship, so you’ll need to be driven and ready to learn. Some of the words we use to describe our CSMs here at UserIQ include "confident," "curious" and "bold."

While Morgan Kashin is responsible for over 40,000 users, that number is definitely a bit of an outlier. Traditionally, professionals used to say that CSMs should oversee 37 accounts on the lower end and 200 on the higher end of the spectrum, but our friend Lincoln Murphy thinks otherwise: 

“Each company should consider the needs of individual customers and the experience and expertise of reps to find the number that best serves both users and internal team members.”

Your account-to-coverage ratio will vary depending on your customers’ needs, the complexity of your product and size of your team. Murphy also recommends factoring in each individual CSM’s experience level as well as the coverage expected from the customer’s POV.

What can I expect for my CSM salary?

Drumroll please …

The answer to the question that’s likely been at the top of your mind: What can you expect for your salary?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for CSMs falls around $75,000 a year, with higher pay for more experience in tech-focused markets like San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The annual low comes in at $45,000, with a higher range salary falling at $119,000. A CS representative will be on the lower end of that pay spectrum, as it's typically the entry-level position in the career track toward CSM.

21-Aug-UserIQ-Skyscraper_Customer Success_3_Salary Ranges

It’s important to note that those numbers can more than double as you continue along the path toward your professional development. Glassdoor has also found that the U.S. average for Customer Success Director falls around $133,000, whereas a VP of Customer Success can expect to make anywhere from $126,000 to $288,000

The average salary of anyone within the CS field is only expected to rise as more and more companies are beginning to realize the same thing: Customer success is about to become a must-have at every organization rather than a nice-to-have department. 

Why is having a customer success strategy the 'next big thing?'

Customer success is quickly standing out as one of the decade’s most promising and high-growth professional fields — don't just take our word for it, though. 

cs specialist role

LinkedIn's 2020 Emerging Jobs Report found that the demand for CS Specialist roles is on the upswing, with the position coming in sixth as one of the most rapidly growing roles across the country. When it comes to the sectors these jobs are popping up in, 72% are currently within the SaaS and IT space. Some of the other major markets CSM roles have begun to appear in include marketing, advertising and financial services.

So, what’s driving this growth? Although there is no one singular force pushing this movement, an evolving consumer expectation is definitely leading the change.

Personalization and genuine human interaction are among the last few viable differentiators when organizations are looking to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. Although this is true across nearly every industry, it’s especially apparent within the SaaS space. 

For up-and-coming software companies and startups, getting a leg up on the competition early is critical when trying to capture market share in such a highly competitive sector. And, according to Dassault Systèmes, 63% of early technology adopters expect products and services customized based on personal data and interests. 

When many think of customer success, their first thought is customer service. However, success goes beyond customer satisfaction

The CSM's ultimate goal is to help users reach their goals and find new opportunities to grow their own business. It's a long-term commitment to creating a feedback loop to deliver deeper relationships and more meaningful wins.

So, in an industry where recurring revenue is the key to sustainable growth, building and maintaining a portfolio of health customer accounts is everything. And who is the team that holds the key to unlocking those wins?

Customer success.

In the future, every successful business will have a CS team. Armed with the right technology, a CSM can pinpoint problems — and opportunities — before they ever arise by collecting and leveraging as many data points as possible about the user to create and execute more the right strategies. 

What challenges can a customer success representative expect? 

It’s important to note that like any job, you will face some challenges as you continue down your path as a customer success specialist:

Marketing, sales and success — oh my!

Marketing and sales have long since received credit as the primary drivers of revenue and organizational growth. It’s easy to look at marketing output versus the amount of contracts sales has closed on and see where the departments excelled. However, as customer success is such a new concept, there may be times your team's contributions are seemingly overlooked. 

Let’s face it: It’s more common to pop the champagne when a sales rep closes on a huge deal than it is when you’ve kept an existing customer from one month to the next. 

The truth is, although the influence you’ll have as a CSM is a little trickier to pinpoint, it's just as important — if not even more. 

No matter how strong your marketing strategy is — or how effective your lead-nurturing approach is — every new customer costs money to obtain. If a company is routinely losing more users than they are attracting on a month-to-month basis, it’s like taking one step forward and about 10 steps back. If you’re interested in learning more about this concept, we recommend checking out our guide on customer churn.

At the end of the day, the bottom line here is clear: Without customer success, a SaaS company won’t be able to achieve sustainable growth.

The product you represent

Even the best customer success strategy can only go so far if there are problems rooted in the product itself.

As a CSM, it will be important to maintain an ongoing relationship with the product development team. Both teams play a critical role in shaping the customer experience. And, although they achieve that in two very different ways, both are attacking the same problem from different angles: Maximizing the user experience.

You’ll have the clearest visibility into how customers are using your product, as well as the issues they’re running into most frequently. By creating a feedback loop between your team and the folks on the product side, you can flag functional issues that should be addressed as well as opportunities to build out new features and provide even more value to your users. 

Unavoidable churn

Even the most experienced CSM will tell you that some accounts are destined to churn. Whether you lose access to your primary stakeholder, your customer goes out of business or they just don’t have the budget to renew, having a churn rate of 0% is nearly impossible.

It will be up to your success team to manage organization-wide expectations and communicate when accounts have left for reasons that your company simply couldn’t control. However, when it comes to churned customers, we do have some good news: The majority of churn can be avoided. You just need to know where to look to find the signs of an unhappy user as well as the tools to save the account before it's too late.

Which technology will improve my customer retention rates?

Whether you’re responsible for 30 accounts or 300, it may prove difficult to take control of your team’s customer success initiatives in a way that’s sustainable. 

The right technology will help.

Quality customer success software can be customized to track your progress toward internal goals or the customer goals of your choice. Plus, it optimizes processes at every stage of the customer journey. During onboarding, technology can be used to monitor adoption and initiate engagements that help customers see value quickly.

The right CS software will give you all of the information you need to maintain good customer relationships. And when it’s time to renew, it can help you identify at-risk customers and forecast renewal rates.

Depending on the size of your organization and how many accounts you manage, you may need your technology to deliver on different needs. However, some of the most important features to look for include: 


A health score analyzes accounts using customer success metrics that help to predict the likelihood of an outcome you consider important, such as renewal or expansion. You should be able to know exactly where an account stands with just one look at your database. Instead of waiting for a bad feedback form — or a churn notice — you’ll have holistic data to meet customer needs as they happen. 


Your team’s strategy will only be as useful as the data driving it. You’ll want a tool that helps you collect important data on how your customers are interacting with your product, whether that's feature usage, login frequency or how they engage with emails and other communications. 


Speaking of strategy, all of the data in the world won’t help you unless you know what to do with it. Look for tools that actively provide real-time recommendations and actionable insights based on the information you’ve collected about your users. 


While it’s critical that your support team maintains that human touch across all of your accounts, it’s equally as important to ensure that your processes are repeatable and have been proven to work. Playbooks will walk you through a step-by-step process for when and how to check in with your customers.

If one thing is for sure, it’s that there’s no shortage of technology available to you as a CSM. Even the most experienced CS leader can quickly become overwhelmed when it comes time to find the right solutions for their pain points. Not all software is created equal —  fortunately, our buyer's guide helps to take the guesswork out so you get the most out of your investment.

Finding the right customer relationship management system

CS software won’t be the only technology you use to help optimize your processes as a CSM. 

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are a type of technology used for managing all of your company’s relationships and interactions with customers as well as prospects and leads. Just some of the benefits of a CRM system include helping companies stay connected to customers, streamline processes and improve profitability.

Similar to CS software, the market for CRM solutions is massive. As the largest software market in the world, Gartner estimates it will reach over $80 billion by 2025. The simplest options out there will act as a sort of virtual rolodex, maintaining contact information and keeping all of your information in one place. The more complex solutions can provide real-time recommendations, actively manage data and more. 

CS software market

Jumpstart your career in customer success 

Although the future of customer success is hard to predict, it’s likely that the field will only continue to expand, and so will the opportunities within it.

Since customer success is such a new career track, there’s no tried-and-true path to success. We recommend getting a head start by exploring training resources and acquiring certifications that will help you to deliver more value to your customers. 

With the right combination of people skills and some powerful technology on your side, there’s no limit to how you can help users achieve their goals, while also growing your own company at the same time. In the world of SaaS businesses, one thing is certain: A successful customer leads to a successful company.

No matter where you are in your customer success career, UserIQ is here to help. Explore what our technology can do for you and your users.