Customer success is multidisciplinary in nature. It requires product knowledge, networking capability, and excellent communication abilities.
What's more, customer success managers (CSMs) need to learn about their customers' industry, so they can serve as a subject matter authority.
What makes customer success an exciting space can also make it challenging when you're trying to 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 staffing a customer success team, we've put together some examples of questions to ask when hiring a customer success manager for your team.
Table of Contents
- What makes a good customer success manager interview question?
- 20 Customer Success Manager Interview Questions (and What They Evaluate)
What makes a good customer success manager interview question?
A good CSM interview question reflects your business needs — specifically, how the CSM role fits into your products, services, and business model.
Your questions typically need to test for the level of business acumen and any personality traits required to fulfill the CSM role.
Your questions should also evaluate specific hard and soft skills. In some cases, having more technical skills or knowledge is essential. In other cases, technical skills don't matter nearly as much as personal skills.
A CSM handling 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 simpler product.
The profiles would have close to nothing in common (except, of course, that you always need to be a nice person).
Finally, allow your company's core values to help dictate what 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.
TL;DR A good customer success manager interview question reflects:
- Your business needs (i.e., your company's product or service and business model).
- Your company's core values (i.e., accountability).
- Any hard or technical skills required (i.e., analytical skills).
- Any personal or soft skills required (i.e., relationship building).
- The level of business acumen needed (i.e., the ability to align complex customer needs with company goals).
- The personality traits necessary to fulfill the role (i.e., empathetic).
20 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. It shows how prepared the candidate is and will set the tone for the rest of the interview.
If the candidate has prepared and researched, 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 in the SaaS industry are.
This will give you a feel for their level of understanding of:
- The SaaS industry
- What the basic business model is
- What types of challenges customers in the industry face (churn being a big one)
- 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. However, as long as they have a general awareness of the industry and are curious to learn more, that's enough.
3. As a CSM, what type of customer news would change your day and why?
Before asking this question, you should discuss their daily tasks and responsibilities with the candidate — 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 the differences between customers in their value and relationship status. 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. They should acknowledge examples of events that might be a 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.
Why? 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 question will help test not only 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 fully understand 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, some models require 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 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.
For example, they could be in a delicate situation between the CEO or COO and the champion of the account. They could've worked with 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 would be signing off on the deal, and how to collaborate with the sales team to make it happen.
6. What would you consider a weakness of yours coming into this role?
We know this is a cliché question, but it can help you better understand the candidate's personality.
Everyone has weaknesses, so you aren't looking 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? Hopefully, they will be honest and introspective. They may even offer ways that they would like 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 regarding 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 you can offer the type of feedback, training, and career development this candidate is looking for. You also signal that you understand the expectations that the company needs to meet.
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 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, during any customer relationship, your CSMs will have to explain and apologize 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.
You want someone who's not afraid to own up to mistakes and say they're sorry, but who can also confidently deliver answers to satisfy the customer that the incident won't happen again.
9. You've identified a key customer who seems ideal for an upgrade. What do you do before meeting with them?
Your CSM should be the voice of your customers. That means understanding their needs and always having their best interests at heart.
But to meet company goals, they must build a bridge between your customers and other departments (i.e., sales).
As a CSM, you don't want to push for an upsell or cross-sell for the sake of a sale. That approach erodes trust and can cause customer churn. It can also harm internal relationships between your CSM and different departments.
Your ideal CSM should seek to meet with relevant departments first to check the upgrade's features match the customer's needs.
As with question five, look for answers considering other relationship dynamics between the customer and the company.
A good candidate will also preempt customer questions about the product features and field those questions to the right colleagues. That means they can come prepared for the customer meeting.
10. A long-term customer has mentioned something they dislike about your company's product. What do you do?
A good CSM doesn't just handle the positive news. They manage the bad news, too. But the great ones see 'negative' feedback as an opportunity for product improvement, happier customers, and company growth.
This question evaluates how candidates deal with feedback and whether they have a customer-first mindset. It also tests their interpersonal, analytical, and problem-solving skills.
Look for answers demonstrating your CSM has actively listened to the customer, analyzed the feedback, and created potential solutions to discuss internally.
If the candidate feels it's best to relay the feedback to the product team, that shows they have the customer's best interests at heart.
If they discuss how they'd share the feedback internally, demonstrating diplomacy, that shows relationship-building skills.
Great candidates will also aim to communicate the feedback in a way that highlights potential business growth and gets the product team excited. That shows a high level of business acumen.
11. How do you research a product or service in a niche you're unfamiliar with?
Whatever the niche or product, your CSM will face complex customer queries. Because of this, they need to make it their business to know the ins and outs of your products and services.
Even if you're only interviewing candidates familiar with your niche, this question will give you an insight into their research process. It'll also show you if and how they collaborate with other departments to become a subject matter authority.
Savvy candidates may suggest meeting with different departments — i.e., the existing customer success team — to learn about common customer queries.
They may also want to speak to the sales team to understand how a product solves customer pain points.
12. Accountability is one of our core values. As a CSM, how would you demonstrate that in your role?
This question shows how to integrate your company values into the hiring process. We've structured it so you can easily change the core value to suit your business.
But whichever value you choose, you want to see how the candidate would demonstrate it in their working day. In the case of accountability, that could be taking ownership of a mistake or a specific part of the customer success process.
13. Describe a challenging situation you experienced while collaborating with a colleague or another department within your previous organization. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?
Relationship building is a big part of life as a CSM. They need to manage long-term relationships with customers across accounts.
Internally, they should seek to build strong working relationships with team members, especially during challenging situations.
Strong candidates will be transparent about their role in the experience, even if they contributed to the challenging circumstances. Aside from honesty, this question allows your CSM to demonstrate interpersonal skills.
More specifically, how they used conflict resolution to find common ground and, ultimately, a solution.
The question will also give you insight into what they're like to work with. Including whether they value a collaborative work environment and if they're a culture fit.
14. Imagine you have access to a large dataset containing customer usage and engagement metrics. How would you analyze the data to identify opportunities for improving customer success?
Analytical skills can be essential for your prospective CSM, depending on your product or service.
This scenario will show how a candidate analyzes customer data, identifies trends, and makes data-driven decisions. How they use the data to make decisions will also show whether they're a strategic thinker.
If you need a CSM with advanced business acumen and analytical skills, look for answers showing their ability to use data effectively. That could mean listening for specific techniques.
They may mention segmentation, cohort analysis, identifying usage patterns, or correlating data with customer feedback.
Even if analytical skills are a lower priority for your CSM profile, you'll still want to see how they use analysis to solve customer needs and increase customer success.
15. Your company is considering launching a new product or feature. How would you assess the potential impact on customer success and choose the best approach to successfully introduce it to your existing customer base?
More broadly, this question tests your candidate's business acumen. But it also showcases their problem-solving ability and how they balance customer needs with company goals.
Listen for answers that show how they'd spot potential challenges. You'll want to test whether their approach to introducing new products or features is customer-centric, too.
Strong candidates may also mention how they'd evaluate the potential impact of a new product or feature on customer success. Specifics might include conducting market research, gathering customer feedback, and analyzing customer data.
16. Why do you gravitate toward customer success?
A candidate's "why" shows how they'd approach their role and whether they have the skills of a great CSM.
Successful CSMs enjoy collaborating with different types of people, including customers or colleagues. They're also empathetic to customer and team needs.
Strong candidates will highlight that they're a "people person." They'll also be team players who get a sense of accomplishment by helping others achieve their goals.
17. How would you increase customer retention?
One of the main functions of any CSM is to reduce customer churn. Reducing customer churn starts with a commitment to customer retention. An ideal CSM hire will have patience, empathy, and excellent communication skills.
They'll also need to be proactive in their communication style and actively anticipate customer needs.
Look for candidates that will go above and beyond to retain a customer, including approaching customers with potential solutions before issues arise.
18. How do you measure success in your current role?
This question provides insight into your candidate's ability to ensure customer satisfaction and build long-term relationships. It'll also show you if and how they use key customer success metrics to evaluate performance.
Listen for answers that include quantifiable metrics like customer retention and satisfaction scores. You'll also want to see if or how candidates used this data to evaluate customers' long-term value and happiness.
For bonus points, look for candidates who understand their role in company growth and how they can contribute to team success.
19. How would you demonstrate value in the first customer phone call?
New customer onboarding calls are usually the remit of your CSM. These interactions will help customers get started with your product. But they're also critical for establishing trust between customers and CSM early to prevent churn.
That means your CSM will need to demonstrate product value in a way that genuinely serves the customer's needs.
A candidate's response should show how they'd actively listen to customer needs and pain points. Then use that deeper understanding to align the product features with a customer's requirements.
20. What's your feedback for me (the interviewer)?
This could be a fun one or a stressful one for the candidate to answer.
Regardless, 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.
Still, they will also reveal how observant, honest, and sensitive to different personalities they can be.
A CSM needs the ability to read relationship dynamics and get a feel for someone's personality. If they can 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 chosen for the job.
Hiring the Right Customer Success Manager for Your Company
Hiring a customer success manager can be a difficult task. That's because the skills needed will largely depend on what service your company is providing and your business model.
But asking the right questions can make the process much easier by testing if candidates align with your company's needs.
Now that you're equipped with our list of questions, it's time to start interviewing. Take notes during the interview about how the candidate responded. Soon, you'll find the perfect fit for your customer success team.