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
- Technical Acumen
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 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.
100 Customer Success, Service, and Support Interview Questions
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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.
CSMs need to answer questions and teach customers — over the phone, on live chat or email, or in a knowledge base article. They also need 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.
Now that we've outlined the skills you should be looking for in a candidate, let's review the questions you should ask during an interview.
Customer Success Interview Questions and Answers
Below is a list of the best questions to ask during a customer success interview. We'll explain why you should ask these questions as well as the answers you should look for from candidates.
Customer Success Interview Questions
- How do you deliver bad news to customers?
- 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 handle rejection?
- What skills are you hoping to develop in this role?
- How do you measure success in your current role?
- What would you add to our culture, or what would you change about it?
- How would you prevent customer churn?
- How would you de-escalate a frustrated customer?
- Let's say you have to complete multiple tasks, how would you determine their priority?
- If you saw a customer using more seats than they’re paying for, how would you handle it?
- What feedback would you give the interviewer?
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.
"I deliver bad news to customers by getting on a Zoom call, if possible, since it's easier to gauge their response when I can see their body language. If Zoom is not an option, I'll communicate this information through a phone call as I feel it's important to deliver bad news in a real-time setting where you can answer questions and provide support immediately."
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.
"I would be proactive with my communication. If a customer requested a product feature that didn't exist, I'd let them know why this feature isn't available and what their alternatives were instead. If the customer was insistent on having that feature, I'd meet with our product team to share this feedback.
If the product could make the feature, great! I'll share the timeline for when the feature will be created. If not, I'd communicate the reason why to the customer, re-emphasize the alternatives provided earlier, then share some channels they can use to pitch this idea formally to my company."
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.
"One customer called me demanding a refund for their purchase. They were clearly upset because they felt they had purchased the wrong product and that the sales rep they worked with only wanted to close a deal. Thing is, the product they had was exactly what they needed, they just needed to learn how it could help them achieve their goals.
I apologized for the frustration they must have felt and asked them to walk me through the problems they had with the product. Once they shared all of their feedback, I aligned myself by telling them that their concerns were fair and that what they wanted the product to do, it wasn't designed to do it. But, I told them if they used the product slightly differently, they might see different results. I then offered to walk them through how I'd recommend using the product, and it became clear to them that they misunderstood how to properly use our software.
Once this was cleared up, the customer was excited about using the product moving forward. They decided not to cancel their subscription and we agreed to follow up in a couple of weeks to make sure everything was still going well."
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.
"I will often refer customers to sales reps if it's clear that there is a product that they but do not currently have. I will only do that, however, if I truly feel that product will help the customer achieve their short- or long-term goals.
If a customer requests a product or feature we don't currently offer, I'll report this to our product team. They might have a workaround the customer can use, or they might be working on this new product or feature already. If that's the case, I'll share this timeline with my customer to let them know when they can expect to see that product, service, or feature. "
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.
"HubSpot's Workflow tool automates tasks for your business. Workflows begin with a trigger or an action that the customer must complete. Once completed, that launches a series of actions that are executed chronologically. You can also set up branches within the workflow that act as secondary triggers. If a customer completes that action — or doesn't — the next step in the workflow changes based on the customer's behaviors."
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 is 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.
"Twitter is a platform where you can share brief ideas and comments with peers, strangers, and businesses. Once you create an account, you can customize your profile and start engaging with other accounts on Twitter. The messages you share are called 'Tweets' and these messages have a set character limit. You can't go past that limit, unless you write a follow-up tweet.
You can also engage with other people's tweets by commenting on them, liking them, or "retweeting" them, which essentially means you're reposting their tweet to your account to show support. Who you can engage with depends on which accounts you're following. You can also use hashtags, too, but we'll get to that later on once you've mastered the basics."
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 the next steps working together.
"I demonstrate value by immediately aligning myself with the customer and their goals. I show that I understand what they're trying to achieve as well as the roadblocks they're facing, and that I have the resources they need to be successful. I let them know I'm on their team and I'm available for support in whatever way is needed. This helps build rapport and establishes my value early on in the relationship."
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.
"I see that you're using this product to attract new leads to your business. How do you feel that's going? From my standpoint, it looks like it's going well and I'm excited to see this growth.
With that in mind, one concern that you shared with me early on in our relationship is scalability. You're getting close to achieving your goals, but you don't want to plateau once you reach the finish line. We want to keep that growth going so you can continue to scale.
This product that we offer should help you do just that. It's intended for a customer who's facing the same challenges you are and I feel it would be exactly what you need to continue growing your business. If you're interested, I'd like to set up a demo for you with our sales team to see if this tool would be useful. If so, great! If not, no worries at all. I just wanted to keep your best interests in mind."
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 within the prospective role.
"HubSpot's products help businesses grow better and scale faster without having to hire as many employees."
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.
"One piece of feedback that I've noticed from online reviews is that customers are struggling with understanding how to use some of your tools. I notice your company doesn't offer a knowledge base and that might be useful to customers who need support, but don't want to spend time reaching out to your service team for help."
Screening for Self-Motivation
Why do you want to work in 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.
"I really like to help people. I've always been a team player and I always feel a sense of accomplishment whenever I help others achieve their goals."
12. How do you handle rejection?
People working in customer success might face as much rejection as salespeople. And it might even be tougher 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.
"I always take failure as an opportunity to learn and improve myself for next time. If possible, I'll ask for feedback or advice on where I can stand to improve. Then I apply that learning moving forward and move on to the next case."
13. What skills are you hoping to develop in this role?
As with any position at your company, applicants should consider how they'll develop in their role over time. They should be familiar with the skills needed to be a successful CSM and create a roadmap that will outline how they'll acquire those abilities. During their response, pay attention to the skills they describe, as this will outline some of the candidate's weaknesses.
"I would really like to fine-tune my ability to problem solve and think creatively while on my feet. Working with customers in a face-to-face setting should help me develop these skills which will help me become more proficient in this role."
Questions to Ask Customer Success Manager (CSM) Candidates
14. 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.
"In my current role, I measure success by analyzing customer feedback and quantitative performance data. I always ask customers for feedback because I'm eager to hear their thoughts about working with me and with my company. For a more objective viewpoint, I'll look at how many cases I take each week, how often I'm on the phone, and how many emails I send to each customer. This gives me real-time data that I can track over time to ensure I'm meeting my customers' and my team's goals."
15. What would you add to our culture, or what would you change about it?
When you're hiring for a managerial position, you're bringing on someone who will influence your company's culture. They're in charge of leading employees and ensuring your team meets short- and long-term goals. You'll want to make sure their philosophy and methods align with your business's corporate culture. If not, it will be difficult to motivate team members and maintain employee satisfaction.
"I would love to add a diversity and inclusion program to your company's culture. This would make everyone feel more involved and appreciated while working on our team. It would also show that we're paying as much attention to our employees' needs as we do with our customers'."
16. How would you prevent customer churn?
As a CSM, your job is to prevent customer churn. So, you need a candidate who's passionate about customer retention and willing to go above and beyond to retain a user. Consider laying out a mock scenario for your candidate, then ask this question to see what they'd do to ensure the customer reaches their goals.
"I would prevent customer churn by proactively communicating with the customer. If I noticed a potential roadblock that might impede a customer from achieving a goal, I would reach out immediately to provide a solution. I would also follow up afterwards to make sure the customer is still happy and that our workaround solution is still effective."
17. How would you de-escalate a frustrated customer?
Not all customers are good at receiving bad news. Some will be rightfully upset that your company can't help them achieve their goals. In these situations, you need a CSM who can diffuse an angry user and salvage their customer experience. While your company should always strive for perfection, what matters most is how your success team responds to your organization's mistakes.
"De-escalation starts with aligning yourself with the customer. You need to show that you truly understand why they're upset and what they want to change. If possible, physically align yourself by sitting on the same side of the table as the customer. This symbolically shows that you are on the same side of the issue as they are — not on the opposite side, where the friction is being created.
Once aligned, summarize the situation for the customer. Talk about what they want to accomplish, the roadblock that's preventing them, and their options moving forward. This will show that you understand their case and will make it clear what the potential solutions are. You can recommend one solution over another, but only if you can tie that solution back to the customer's needs.
Once a solution is settled upon, always follow up with the customer. Make sure the solution is still effective, and offer follow-up support if needed. This continued effort will prove to the customer that you are committed to their needs."
18. Let's say you have to complete multiple tasks; how would you determine their priority?
This question will help you understand the candidate's ability to manage time. Customer success managers need to be adaptive and capable of changing their routines on the fly. Sometimes they'll provide proactive customer service, while other times they'll handle inbound service requests. Your CSM should be able to account for all of their daily tasks and consistently complete them on time.
"I would first look at how long I have to complete each task. Tasks that have a more immediate deadline would be prioritized first, then followed by simple, easy-to-complete tasks that I can do in a matter of minutes. I would save the most complex tasks for when I have more time to dedicate to them."
19. If you saw a customer using more seats than they're paying for, how would you handle it?
This one is a bit of a trick question because there really isn't a right or wrong answer. Instead, this question demonstrates the candidate's ability to think critically about a complicated customer situation.
They not only have to consider the possible actions they can take but also the potential repercussions that will occur when they take those steps. The best candidates will provide a comprehensive breakdown of how they'd approach the situation as well as how they'd handle any roadblocks that may arise.
"The first step I would take is analyze their account details. I would look at how long they've been a customer, when their subscription will be renewed, what their monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is, if they've opened previous support cases, etc. This should give me an idea of how valuable they are to our company and how I should best procede.
If the customer's subscription is close to renewal, I would let them know about the situation, but assure them that their rates won't increase until the upcoming renewal. If this felt like a problem, I would talk to the customer about the options they have at this point — either paying for more seats, or brainstorming ways to use the product the same way with fewer seats.
If the customer's subscription isn't close to renewal, I would touch base with my team. Since we made the clerical error, it doesn't feel right that the customer has to suffer. I would see if we could continue with their rate until the next renewal. If not, I would be proactive and immediately reach out to the customer to brainstorm solutions."
20. What feedback would give the interviewer?
This is another interview question that doesn't necessarily have a right answer. Rather, this question shows the candidate’s ability to pay attention and think on their feet. You want a candidate who's actively listening and taking note of important details. By having them provide feedback, you can get a feel for their ability to read and react to customers.
"I would love to see a little more transparency with the interview process. While I feel confident enough to speak to anyone, it would be nice to know how many interviews I can expect to participate in during this process and who those conversations will be with."
Hiring the Right Customer Success Manager
The best customer success managers are customer-centric, empathetic, and creative problem solvers. Use the list of questions above during your interview process to effectively evaluate candidates and find the right person for your company.
Originally published Aug 4, 2021 11:15:00 AM, updated August 04 2021