How do you communicate with customers if you can't resolve a problem right away?
What's the toughest case you've ever handled?
How do you collaborate with sales and product teams in your current role?
Explain to me how [Product Feature] works.
How would you explain Twitter to your grandparents?
How do you demonstrate value in the first phone call or email?
Pitch me on an upsell of our product's next tier-level.
How would you explain our product or service in a single sentence?
How would you change our product or service?
Why customer success?
How do you measure success in your current role?
How do you handle rejection?
A great customer success manager (CSM) needs to be a jack-of-all-trades.
They specialize in customer service, of course -- both providing reactive customer support and proactively offering solutions and strategies for their customers. But in addition to all of those skills, CSMs also need to learn the product or service, inside and out, to answer questions. They need to be able to write helpful emails and knowledge base content to send to their customers. And on top of all of that, they need to be able to navigate conversations about upselling and cross-selling.
Phew. All in a day's work, right?
This level of multi-disciplinary expertise requires a certain set of skills and traits that team leaders should screen for in all CSM interviews. Product details and email best practices can be taught, but emotional intelligence and other character traits are necessary dealbreakers to adding a new CSM to your team. Keep reading to learn the skills all CSMs need, and what interview questions to ask to evaluate your next candidate.
Customer Success Skills
In order to help customers, day-in and day-out, CSMs absolutely need to be empathetic people -- a key aspect of emotional intelligence.
Whether they're answering the same question for what seems like the millionth time, or they're counseling an angry customer through a pricing change, the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people is critical for CSMs to effectively de-escalate tough customer situations, understand a customer's goals and desired outcomes, and advocate for the customer with other teams and departments within the company.
Effective problem-solving, all day every day, requires a certain level of resourcefulness, too.
CSMs need to be able to quickly answer customer questions -- and if they can't answer their question, they need to track down the resource or colleague in a different department that can. This means that prospective CSM candidates must demonstrate a willingness and readiness to collaborate across teams and across departments -- and a track record of being able to solve problems -- no matter how big or small.
3. Communication Skills
CSMs need to be able to clearly communicate -- with customers, with team members, and with other departments within a company -- in order to be successful.
With customers, CSMs need to be able to answer questions and teach customers -- over the phone, on live chat or email, or in a knowledge base article. They also need to be able to share and teach best practices to other team members -- as well as identify trends, feedback, and user data to share with other teams within the organization. Excellent oral and presentation skills are important to evaluate in the interview as well.
It might seem obvious, but it's worth emphasizing here: A good CSM needs to be able to build rapport with just about anyone in order to get the job done. And this is a hard skill to teach.
Friendly, open, and genuine individuals who can build rapport in a short interview will likely be able to do it over the course of a longer customer relationship, too.
5. Technical Acumen
If they get the job, a new CSM will have to learn how to use a product or service, but a demonstrable level of skill with using -- and explaining how to use -- technology is valuable during the interview process.
Even once they get to an expert level with the products and technologies a company uses, a CSM will need to break it down from the beginning for new customers, or customers that aren't as technologically savvy -- so being able to use and explain different technologies will be key.
CSMs should be go-getters who don't need to be asked to go the extra mile or put in 110%. Listen for answers that indicate examples of when the candidate went above and beyond to solve problems and get answers for their customers -- or examples of when the candidate took extra time and effort to help a fellow CSM or a sales rep to achieve their shared goals.
13 Customer Success Interview Questions to Ask Candidates
Now that you know what you're looking for in a CSM candidate, here's what to ask to learn if they have what it takes:
Screening for Empathy
1. How do you deliver bad news to customers?
Stuff happens. Ask the candidate how they diplomatically share tough news while keeping a customer positive and engaged -- or give them a scenario based on a past customer support issue CSMs have had to tackle -- to get a sense of their ability to adapt to challenges and bounce back.
2. How do you communicate with customers if you can't resolve a problem right away?
CSMs can't answer every question right away -- and they can't always promise the customer a solution. Ask candidates their strategies for managing long-term requests and following up with customers -- and how they handle letting a customer know if their feedback or request won't be taken into account by the product team.
Screening for Resourcefulness
3. What's the toughest case you've ever handled?
The candidate's experience and strategies will demonstrate their problem-solving abilities -- as well as their communication and conflict resolution skills.
4. How do you collaborate with sales and product teams in your current role?
Customer success professionals have to communicate and collaborate with other people across the company in order to get the job done. Whether it's sharing product feedback or collaborating on an upsell, the candidate should share their workflows and best practices for cross-team communication that suggest speed, diligence, and a collaborative mindset.
Screening for Communication Skills
5. Explain to me how [Product Feature] works.
The answer to this question will tell you two things: if the candidate did their research about your product or service before arriving, and how well they can break down complicated concepts and demonstrate value.
6. How would you explain Twitter to your grandparents?
This question is along the same lines as the previous one, but it will reveal how skilled the candidate it at breaking down a tool they might use every day to an absolute beginner -- which is a key skill needed for new customer onboarding calls.
Screening for Relationship-Building
7. How do you demonstrate value in the first phone call or email?
The first phone call with a new customer is a critical building block of the future of the relationship -- and it's often a predictor of if the customer will churn or be retained. During the first phone call, CSMs have to set up new customers to start using the product or service, but need to show the value of working with them so the relationship will continue to grow. Ideally, the CSM will show the customer a way to save time or achieve their desired outcome using the product or service, and then open a conversation for next steps working together.
8. Pitch me on an upsell of our product's next tier-level.
Cross-selling and upselling is a delicate balancing act for any good CSM. Making a suggestion that's not in line with the customer's goals or that seems pushy could endanger the customer relationship -- and even make the customer switch to a competitor. Asking the candidate to demonstrate how they start that conversation will tell you if they understand best practices -- and the role of a CSM in the sales process -- or not.
Screening for Technical Acumen
9. How would you explain our product or service in a single sentence?
This question tests the candidate's preparation for the interview, but it also gives them the chance to flex their communication skills and technological muscles to accurately explain what they're proposing to help customers with in the prospective role.
10. How would you change our product or service?
This is another question that tests the candidate's understanding of the company -- but takes it a step further by evaluating how well they understand customers and users, too. CSMs have to interpret Voice of the Customer (VoC) and share it with the broader organization, and answering this question will give you an idea of how they'd do that in the role.
Screening for Self-Motivation
11. Why customer success?
The "why" behind a job or career choice is an important aspect of self-motivation. You want someone on your team who's intrinsically motivated to help and advocate for others to achieve their goals -- and not just by external goals set by team management. Someone like this will be a positive example and leader on your team.
12. How do you measure success in your current role?
The answer to this question will tell you two things: It will tell you how the candidate was evaluated in the past, and what concepts and metrics they're familiar with. It will also demonstrate the candidate's views on individual vs. team success, and how the team's success contributes to business success. You want a CSM who's highly motivated to achieve goals, but is also looking toward making a bigger impact for the team, and for the business as a whole.
13. How do you handle rejection?
People working in customer success might face as much rejection as salespeople. And it might be an even tougher kind of rejection to bear after building a relationship with your customers, only for them to churn and leave for a competing product or service.
By asking this question, you'll learn how the candidate is intrinsically motivated, as well as how adaptable they are. There could be months when customers churn due to outages or a competitor dropping their price, and you need to make sure the candidate will be motivated enough to keep creatively problem-solving to keep things going.