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Customer Success

Strategies to Retain Customer Success Top Talent

Holding onto Your Customer Success Managers in a Job Seeker’s Market

5 min read
By Darlene Kelly
Customer Success is one of the hottest and fastest growing careers in the tech industry. In their 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, LinkedIn analyzed data from millions of LinkedIn profiles to identify professions that have been on the rise over the last five years. Sitting in the number six spot for emerging jobs is the Customer Success Specialist, with a 34% annual growth rate over the last year. This has manifested itself at TSIA, where Customer Success has also become the fastest growing and largest research practice in our company.

With all this growth, companies across the industry are quickly trying to hire as they scale their Customer Success teams to support their customers. But as many Customer Success executives and professionals know, your Customer Success Managers are a finite resource. This means that with more job openings than there are Customer Success professionals, companies are struggling to find the right talent. With the influx of jobs opening, this puts current Customer Success professionals in the position of exploring other opportunities. This is particularly evident as recruiters, who are keenly aware of the industry need, come knocking aggressively with attractive offers that may provide candidates with potential for career growth or even a career pivot.

The key Customer Success metric is customer churn – but what about internal churn? Given the rise in the Customer Success job market, it’s important now more than ever for companies to retain their talent and get ahead of turnover. We’ve all seen headlines talking about the “Great Resignation” or the “Turnover Tsunami,” but what’s causing the attrition?

Why Customer Success Managers Are Leaving

For many in the tech industry, we were afforded the great privilege of being able to work remotely when COVID safety and social distancing became a priority. However, being removed from the office and colleagues has also affected the regular interactions and collaboration that make up company culture. This can make employees feel less connected and more likely to leave for better opportunities.

Now with remote work becoming more of a permanent fixture in the modern workforce, there are more opportunities for companies to recruit talent without limiting their search to local geographies. With companies having a wider reach in a competitive market, this can put Customer Success organizations at risk of internal attrition.

But aside from the obvious factor of COVID and the shift to remote work, what are other reasons people leave? If your talent leaves, especially those that come unexpectedly, it could be a signal to take the time and better understand the reasons behind their departure. Some of the reasons you may hear are:
  • Burnout – feeling overworked and/or unsupported
  • Compensation – not staying competitive with the market
  • Career Growth - lack of internal career advancement opportunities
  • Recognition – feeling unappreciated
  • Enablement – lack of training
  • Company Culture or Performance
  • Wanting a change
  • Personal Reasons

Implementing Retention Strategies

It’s important for the Customer Success organization to take feedback and look internally to figure out what variables you can change control to prevent future churn and maintain your talent. There are some variables that can and should be addressed internally whether or not you’re concerned about internal churn.

Create an Environment with Open Communication

Not all resignations are bad. If leaders are doing their job well and developing their talent, there is always the possibility that their employees will look for other opportunities that will meet their personal and professional needs. Great Customer Success organizations create a culture of trust and transparency that support an environment for professional growth. Employees should be able to share their career goals and aspirations either on a regular basis (such as one-on-ones) or ad hoc as needed. Good leaders will guide their employees in finding opportunities to help them on their path, even if it means supporting their planned departure.

If employees feel safe sharing their search for outside opportunities, this will mean more notice for you to either address their desire for growth or search for replacements. And with a well-known work culture of open communication, you will be better able to attract top talent to fill the open roles.

Additionally, creating this type of environment will allow you to get more honest feedback from current and departing employees. Performing exit interviews and asking your outgoing employees, along with your current talent, for their feedback and analyzing it can give you invaluable insight into the employee perspective and will allow you to have a pulse on your overall organization sentiment.  

Address Internal Factors Head On

Unlike planned departures, resignations that are unanticipated can affect the rest of your employees and team morale. You will likely need to stretch that workload across your existing team while you start the process of backfilling for that role. With Customer Success being in such high demand, you don’t want to risk the possibility of having to replace your talent, especially your top performers. Use the feedback from exit interviews and current employee surveys to figure out ways to combat internal factors contributing to resignations.

Referencing the list of reasons above, start by looking for the things you can control and question areas that should be reviewed within your Customer Success practice:

 

Burnout
  • What activities can you automate to free up bandwidth and remove manual and time-consuming efforts?
  •  Have you established playbooks and defined processes so your customer success managers feel more empowered? 

Compensation

  • Is it time to review your compensation strategies to stay competitive with the industry?

Career Growth

  • Are you cultivating your own talent, and do you have a development program with clear paths for career growth? 

Recognition

  • Do you have recognition programs to award to high achievers?

Enablement

  • Do you need to revamp training so your customer success managers feel more supported? 

Company Performance

  • Are your charters in alignment across the organization?

This is not an exhaustive list, but completing an exercise like this can reveal some insights that you may not have considered and can help determine whether your employee retention strategies need improvement or modification. The key is to ask these questions early and often so that you can capture this information. Otherwise, you will find yourself doing this during their exit interview, and by then it is too late.

Utilize Benchmarking Data

Once you have identified some areas of improvement in your retention strategy, the next step is taking the right steps for change. But where do you start? At TSIA, we help Customer Success organizations solve business challenges like the ones posed in the questions above. When it comes to customer success trends and best practices, we are tracking the latest data in the industry through our comprehensive benchmark program. Benchmarking can help you understand how you stack up against the industry and your peers within a variety of categories such as financials and talent management.

One example might be determining how much training to offer. We see data that shows correlations between employee churn and employee training. Pacesetters that provide better training to equip their customer success managers have less attrition.  

Have you reviewed your training program lately? Perhaps you want to consider investing into some of these if they’re not already included.

Additionally, does your organization lay out clear roles and responsibilities in the charters, customer journey maps and success playbooks?  The best organizations lay out their customer success managers’ autonomy clearly in these important documents. Where there is ambiguity and lack of process, there is frustration. Honing in on their operational areas and many others are key considerations to thwart losing your top  talent.

These are just a few examples of how completing a benchmark with us can help bring awareness into areas for improvements in your program. However, it can also validate the areas and practices that you are performing well!

 

 October 28, 2021

Darlene Kelly

About Author Darlene Kelly

Darlene Kelly is the senior manager of customer success research for TSIA. In this role, she works closely with TSIA’s customer success members to deliver research and benchmarks to help companies realize and achieve their true value in customer success. Prior to joining TSIA, Darlene spent approximately 20 years in the digital marketing landscape with the last 12+ years at Adobe working in Customer Success across different customer segments and industry verticals. While at Adobe, Darlene served as a Senior Customer Success Manager, responsible for managing Adobe’s enterprise level accounts protecting some of the company’s largest book of business. Prior to Adobe, she held roles within services and sales at Claritas, a marketing company later acquired by market research firm Nielsen.

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