One thing that makes customer success such an exciting field to be in is how multidisciplinary it is. It requires a mix of product knowledge, customer service skills, networking capability, and excellent communication abilities. What’s more, customer success managers (CSMs) need to learn about the industry of the customers they serve so they can capably answer questions and serve as a subject matter authority.
What makes customer success such an exciting space can also make it a challenging one when you’re trying to build a team and hire new CSMs. With so many different skills and traits that make someone successful in a CSM role, what questions do you need to ask to figure out if they’ll be a good fit?
To help out those are who are building and staffing a customer success team, we’ve put together some examples of questions to ask when hiring a customer success manager onto your team. We’ve highlighted questions that help test for both the level of business acumen needed and personal skills, as well as some personality traits of the candidate.
But hiring a customer success manager can still be a difficult task -- because the skills needed will depend on what service your company is providing and your business model.
In some cases, having more technical skills or knowledge is an important aspect, and in other cases technical skills don’t matter nearly as much as personal skills. A CSM to handle a complex and high-touch portfolio requires a very different skill-set from a CSM working on a low-touch model with customers working with a more simple product. The profiles would have close to nothing in common (except, of course, that you always need to be a nice person).
Remember to allow your company’s core values and product to help dictate what types of questions you ask. Because you’re really looking for a good teammate that can vibe with the rest of the team, contribute to it, and learn.
9 Customer Success Manager Interview Questions (and What They Evaluate)
1. "Are you familiar with any of our competitors?"
This is a good question to begin with because it shows how prepared the candidate is, and will sort of set the tone for the rest of the interview.
If the candidate has prepared and done their research they should know a bit about the top competitors in the market (or at least the biggest players). They don’t have to have a full SWOT analysis for you, but they should at least have an idea of the industry and competitors in the space.
2. "What would you guess are the top 10 SaaS companies in our segment?
Customer success exists mostly within the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, so it’s important for your candidate to understand a) what SaaS means and is, and b) what some of the top companies are in the SaaS industry are.
This will give you a feel for their level of understanding of the industry, what the basic business model is, what types of challenges customers in the industry face (churn being a big one), and why this business model has become one of the most prevalent and fastest growing.
The candidate will hopefully be able to get at least two of them correct, but as long as they have an awareness of the industry in general and they’re curious to learn more, that’s usually enough.
3. "As a CSM, what type of customer news would change your day and why?"
Before asking this question, you should discuss with the candidate what their daily tasks and responsibilities -- outlining the job in further detail, and going into what a typical day would look like for them.
Interruptions are commonplace in any job, and there will always be multiple customers that have the most urgent issue when a CSM is servicing multiple accounts at once. How does one define which issues are the most urgent?
The ability to handle competing priorities is a skill every CSM needs. A potential CSM should be able to grasp that there are differences between customers in their value and their relationship status, and having this awareness will help them to prioritize customer needs.
The candidate should address the aspects of the relationship and customer value in their answer, as well as acknowledge examples of events that might be higher-priority than others.
4. "How would you value a SaaS Business with $100K in recurring revenue?"
Having a more engaging and interactive “test case” question in an interview process is so important because it allows you to see the candidate in action, and gives you the opportunity to test for team fit, problem-solving skills, and personality traits.
And this is a question that will help to not only test their level of business acumen, but also their level of awareness and honesty.
As far as personality, you will be able to see how this candidate handles stress. Are they willing to collaborate and ask further probing questions, or will they try to just come up with an answer on their own? If the candidate isn’t completely sure of what’s being asked, they should ask questions to make sure they are fully understanding the task at hand before diving in.
During the test and after you’ll be able to see how the person reacts -- does the candidate seem to enjoy the challenge and task or do they become a bit grumpy being put on the spot?
This question will also give you an indicator of the candidate’s analytical skills. For example, there are some models that require some math, and there are certain cases where the valuation depends heavily on the product, other team members, the funding situation, etc. The way they reason the answer will show you their level of expertise in those areas.
The candidate should be willing to collaborate, ask questions when they need to, and should consider multiple valuation models and approaches.
5. "You notice a customer is using more seats than they are currently paying for. What do you do?"
Here is another question that will help you evaluate the candidate’s level of business acumen and people skills.
When answering this question, the candidate should consider that there can be complex relationships between them and their contacts at the customer company. They could be in a delicate situation between the CEO or COO and the champion of the account, for example. They could’ve been grandfathered into a new account at a previous price point.
This could also be an opportunity for an upsell, so they should think about who would need to be involved in the decision-making process, who will be the one signing off on the deal, and how to collaborate with the sales team to make it happen.
6. "What would you consider to be a weakness of yours coming into this role?"
We know this is a cliché question, but it can help you get a deeper understanding of the candidate’s personality. Everyone has weaknesses, so you aren’t looking to just write those down to create a list of pros versus cons - - what you’re really looking to do is see how honest they are with themselves and with you, and how they tend to benchmark themselves.
Is the candidate trying to twist a good thing into a weakness? Or are they actually honest about what they feel are not their strong areas? Hopefully, they will be honest and introspective about their weaknesses, and maybe offer ways that they would like to start to improve these in the role.
If they are honest about their weaknesses, how are they benchmarking themselves? Is this person the type of person that compares themselves to marathon runners when they’ve just started jogging last week? Or are they someone who compares themselves on a more even level? This can give you an idea of how ambitious the candidate is (without having to ask another cliché question related to ambition).
7. "What skills and career growth are you hoping to develop in this role?"
It’s important to know what the candidate expects from the role, the company, and their direct manager especially when it comes to career development and training. It can help you determine if the candidate will be a good fit for the team, and whether or not the candidate will be pushing themselves to grow and learn in the role.
It also helps you determine whether or not you’re able to offer the type of feedback, training, and career development this candidate is looking for, and lets the candidate know you understand that there are expectations on the company to deliver in order to keep a good candidate as well.
Be honest with the candidate when you’re giving feedback on their answer so they can determine if this is a good fit for them, too.
8. "Tell me about how you'd handle communicating an outage to your customers?"
The fact of the matter is, mistakes happen. Whether it's a software glitch or a major outage, over the course of any customer relationship, your CSMs will have to do some explaining and apologizing when things go wrong. So it's wise to test their ability to diplomatically and effectively communicate, apologize, and mend fences to help retain customers -- and not lose them -- when those times happen.
Listen for answers that suggest accountability, sincerity, and diplomacy -- someone who's not afraid to own up to mistakes and say they're sorry, but who are also able to confidently deliver answers to satisfy the customer that the incident won't happen again.
9. "What’s your feedback for me (the interviewer)?"
This could be a fun one or a stressful one for the candidate to answer, but hopefully they will be able to not only give you some good feedback that can help you learn about how you’re perceived in the interview process, but will also reveal how observant, honest and sensitive to different personalities they can be.
A CSM needs the ability to read relationship dynamics and be able to get a feel for someone’s personality. If they’re able to offer thoughtful insight about how they feel the dynamic was between you and them, that’s a great demonstration. This question will also let the candidate know that their input is valued and important to the interviewer and the company, and that their feedback will be valued going forward if they are chosen for the job.
For more ideas for questions to ask when building up your customer success team, here’s a list of more general questions to try out.
To learn more, read our list of essential customer success tools to use.