What's the best piece of career advice you've ever received?
Whether you're at the beginning of your career in customer success, or you've been working with customers for years, we could all stand to benefit from a new perspective or a push to go one step further from the expert practitioners in our industry.
We wanted to share some of the best career advice we've ever received from female leaders in the customer success space (although this advice is valuable no matter what your gender).
9 Pieces of Customer Success Career Advice
1. Practice active listening -- and scouting.
"Customer success involves both listening and scouting. Actively listening to your customers is a fine art. But truly active listening isn't as easy as it sounds.
What about scouting -- what does that mean? Think about the role of a scout on an expedition. The scout's job is to forge ahead of the group and report back on what can be anticipated or expected ahead. They play a proactive role that's pivotal to both helping optimize the journey and ensuring everyone avoids calamity.
As your customer's scout, your job as a customer success manager (CSM) is to not only listen to what they say, but also pay attention to what they don't say. By forging ahead, you can provide relevant insights to business needs and problems your customers may not even be aware of yet.
Scouting is not just for your customers -- it is also essential for your organization. Customers that are early adopters or well-connected in their industries can provide your organization with significant insight into both opportunities and roadblocks that your broader customer base may face.
How are you communicating the needs of your customer back to your organization? The creation of a transparent and actionable Voice of the Customer feedback loop is fundamental in communicating what your customers need and want -- because a company's ability to gauge and act upon that change can sometimes be the difference between market leadership and extinction."
2. Always, always collaborate.
"When it comes to customer success, it all comes back to the customer -- even when we're talking about growing your own career. Think of it this way: You are pivotal to the success of your business because it's your job to make sure the customers are getting what they need. Do that well, and you'll be indispensable. But, in order to do that well, you can never lose sight of the foundations.
You have to make sure the marketing team has access to the exact words ideal customers use to describe their problems and your solution so they can use it in their copy to attract more of the right customers, and work with the product team to ensure that their roadmap is planned with the desired outcomes of their ideal customers in mind.
If you don't have the full support of management, it can be frustrating to get everything you need -- and get everyone else what they need -- because you're working in and between so many departments. But I don't know how to do the job any other way than holistically. When you get results though, that's when you can prove your worth and name your price."
3. Make your customers successful, and your career will follow.
"Congratulations on being in the right place at the right time. The function of customer success has found its identity and voice in the business world, and it's incredibly fun to be in a space that has evolved so quickly and lets you act as an advocate for customers inside of companies.
I hate to use the over-used rocket-ship metaphor, it applies so nicely to the field of customer success as the function expands not only in volume of CSMs, but in a growing number of complementary, partnered, and career growth roles (such as success automation, strategic CSMs, Chief Customer Officer, renewal specialists, customer education, and more). This is a space where you want to get on board, put your customer first, work hard to deliver, and the opportunities will present themselves.
The hardest part might be reminding yourself to pick your head up every now and again to review what is new, and determining which path you want to take for your development plan."
4. Stay passionate, stay current, and stay focused.
"Customer success is an interesting field because there are so many different aspects required to be successful. I have seen people enter the customer success profession via account management, customer support, professional services, product management, and marketing teams.
The advice I would give someone already in customer success and looking to grow their career is threefold stay passionate, stay current and stay focused.
The key to customer success is in the name -- it's about making customers successful.
A CSM needs to be wildly passionate about wanting to help customers be successful and achieving their goals, while balancing the goals of their company too. Ultimately, that passion is what will fuel the creative problem solving required to help customers and the vendor's business succeed.
A strong project management background is really important to guide the customer forward and manage them to success. Great communication skills, being empathetic and listening skills are also important for CSMs, in addition to the subject matter expertise required to persuasively mature customers along in their journey. Continue to hone these skills so that you are acting as a true trusted advisor and continue to bolster loyalty.
The best way to keep growing your career is to ensure that you are successful by making sure that your customers and your company are successful. Aim for the triple win and understand how to align your goals with those of your company and its customers. Staying true to yourself and that triple alignment is the surest path forward to a rewarding and successful career."
5. Be curious.
"I think the greatest tool for a CSM is curiosity.
While you need to be an expert in the product or solution you are supporting, you really need to become an expert in your customers. This likely means being exposed to all sorts of different industries, operating models, organizational structures, company cultures, points of view and expertise. You sit at the intersection between your customers business need and your solution so only by understanding both can you provide real value. The best thing about that is you get to become an expert in all sorts of different things, even if just briefly.
I think the best piece of advice that I can give to someone trying to grow their career in customer success is to ask at least twice as many questions as you answer and listen far more than you speak.
The more you learn from the other parts of your organization and from your customers, the more value you can provide. It will help you connect solutions, ideas, and people together which is one of the best things you can offer. Very often the CSM is not the right person to solve the problem being presented to them but they are the best person to figure out if it has been solved, who solved it, or who could be the best source for solving it. I cannot tell you how often I use what I learned in my last customer call to help the next one.
Stay curious, and always be learning."
6. Commit to making big bets.
"Bet big on your team.
There are many factors that can accelerate and enhance a career in customer success, but nothing as much as the caliber of people you'll be surrounded by every day. Technologies change, the market evolves, competition heats up, but smart, driven, and passionate people focused on a shared vision for their customers will win consistently. You may be surprised to see how quickly revenue flows for the business and reward for you when authentic conversations build deep relationships, leading to optimal solutions that create massive impact -- for you, your coworkers, your company, your customer, and your community.
And commit to growth.
Be on the lookout for hard problems that need solving, and then raise your hand to help solve them. The more experience you gain, look for bigger and bigger problems to solve, with hands that are raised higher and higher."
7. Be clear on your goals, dream big, and make them known.
"The best thing you can do for yourself is be clear on your goals, dream big about them, and make them known. Do you dream of becoming a manager, working in a specific language or country, being the go-to trusted rep for top MRR companies, taking your service skills to a marketing role or becoming the top Product Expert?
Tell everyone - you will become 'that person' who your network will, over time, associate with your goal. That way, when your dream position opens up, guess who they are going to think of first?
Remember, this communication must go hand-in-hand with developing stellar performance in your current role. Becoming a focused rockstar in your current role is a vital element to being prepared for your next one.
Lastly, standing out in your networking will get you far. Don't be afraid to research which people in (and out of) the company have your dream role or something related, and reach out to them. Be brave - if there is someone you would love to speak with but you don't think they'd give you the time of day, try anyway! This is how I got 30 minute phone calls with LatAm Sales pros David Torres and Paul Rios before I was even hired by HubSpot, got referred by LatAm Success superstar Jose Ortiz and spent an entire afternoon with Pepe Vargas, the Founder and Director of the Chicago Latino Film Festival.
Research their role, wiki pages, LinkedIn, and website, to have a solid understanding of their path and accomplishments. If you have genuine interest in learning from them and listening to them and you come prepared, this will make you stand out. Let them know your goals and keep them in the loop. You never know when you'll be able to help one another.
Just before HubSpot I was really risky and outgoing with my networking attempts and it won me time with some real big shots. This helped me get hired by the company in the first place and make a name for myself in the LatAm deptartment shortly after I was hired."
8. Always keep pushing to learn more.
"The best advice I could give women in customer service would be always keep pushing to learn more. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.
You need to find a company that you feel aligned with their core mission. For my current position, due to COVID, the hiring process was stopped. Instead of giving up I was persistent, and kept the conversation going for about 4 months with the hiring manager until I was hired.
I showed dedication for the role. This is something that you keep striving for even when you're working. It's a rare quality people often talk about but don't exercise. For me, I plan to continue my career by always accepting new projects and responsibilities to keep evolving in my position and strive forward."
9. Have a positive attitude and don't take things personally.
"One thing that has been challenging for me in a customer centric role is feeling over apologetic while engaging with customers. Some of the best advice I have received is to try focusing on taking out the personal/emotional in customer communication and replace with direct but still nice wording.
For example, instead of saying 'sorry for the delay' replace with 'thanks for your patience'. In the past, I have found myself and other female colleagues wording emails in an unconfident way, such as, 'I think maybe we should…' by using stronger languages in emails such as 'It'd be best if we do x, y, z' will show customers you're confident in your position and know what you are doing.
This is not relevant to everything, but I often think 'how would your dad word that text/email' and this has helped me be more direct when interacting with customers.
I believe having a positive, can-do attitude is best way to move forward in your career. If I had a had a negative outlook when customers face a challenge, it would have been difficult for me to take a step back and look at the whole picture of why this ask is a business need.
Having a positive outlook allows for me to truly be the customer's advocate. When customers face challenges, remaining positive has helped me brainstorm work-around solutions that solve for their business needs. Positive thinking is one of company's core values. I believe living this core value allows me to network and collaborate more with my team/colleagues which in return has helped me grow professionally."
Ultimately, it's always a good idea to learn from successful people who have the role you want. You can network, reach out, and ask women who've succeeded for advice.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.