Customer Success (CS) is all about ensuring customers reach their desired outcomes using your product. It’s also one of the biggest proponents of your customer’s growth strategy. Ideally, this is a customer-centric, company-wide endeavor that everyone cares about and is involved with. It should be like a roadmap every department can use to operate around.

A Customer Success strategy lays out the definition of success for your customers and how you’ll help them achieve that success. A strong CS strategy makes sure to lay out the vision for how a customer can use your product and associated resources to better achieve their goals and their individual measure of “success”. By doing this, you can increase customer satisfaction, decrease churn, and encourage customer loyalty.

That all sounds great right? And it is—when done well. However the advent of the Customer Success wave came with its own set of challenges. Companies began hiring customer success managers (CSMs) to help the existing account managers (AMs) achieve a customer-centric approach without giving them any tools or resources. They simply created new roles and said “good luck, we expect a lot of you”.

So now there’s increased emphasis on CSM and AM roles being responsible for Customer Success, but what’s the functional difference between the two? And more importantly, is there a way we can make it better? Let’s jump in and find out!

Roles and Responsibilities

Let’s quickly take a look at differences between the core functionality and responsibilities of both a CSM and an AM.

Customer Success Manager

Customer Success Managers are currently the primary role for Customer Success. Their job is to understand the goals of the customer and make sure that your product is actually helping them achieve those goals.

The focus is on building collaborative, long-term relationships with customers to foster loyalty.

Typical tasks

  • Onboarding new customers
  • Building relationships
  • Collecting and analyze feedback
  • Acting as the voice of the customer

Scope

CSMs serve customers’ goals and take wider scope of customer performance at large. They’re the frontlines of the customer and advocate for them internally. This means they get to be involved with all the other internal teams and understand all aspects of the business to help deliver a healthy and collaborative experience. This process can involve a lot of back and forth between different departments and tools trying to pull together the necessary information.

CSM are in charge of adoption, onboarding, and general relationship management of working with customers. They’re typically responsible for maintaining customer loyalty, fostering long-term relationships with their customers, and ensuring that their customers are achieving the goals they were looking to achieve when purchasing your product.

As part of the customer journey, CSMs set milestones to track if customers are finding their versions of success. During this process, CSMs may find areas for expansion and upsells, but only as it relates to a customer achieving their milestones—even then, CSMs are likely to direct customers to an AM to close the deal. Instead, revenue growth is a long-term process that is achieved by customers finding success with your product and becoming a loyal advocate. This commonly takes form in customer reviews, testimonials, and referrals.

Proactive

Customer Success Managers manage the customer journey to identify areas of improvement for the customer experience. Because of this, they take a much more proactive approach to customer interactions—finding areas of friction and then finding ways to pre-empt those issues. One common way CSMs do this is by ensuring that the right resources are being delivered to the right customers at the right time to get the most value from using your product.

Metrics

CSMs are generally judged based on long-term customer ROI. As such, they have to monitor a wide range of customer experience metrics to ensure that customers are engaged and satisfied with their experience along the customer journey. One aspect of CS metrics that is often overlooked when discussing the roles and responsibilities of CSMs is that the information they track revolves around accounts. This adds an extra layer of complexity when it comes to determining the health of individuals within companies.

(For a more in-depth break down of all things CSM, check out our other blog post here)

Account Manager

Account managers are the day-to-day touchpoint for customers. AMs are responsible for delivering product solutions to key customers and negotiating contracts for growth opportunities.

The focus is on maintaining customer relationships for renewal and expansion opportunities.

Typical tasks

  • Developing an advisory relationship with key customers
  • Ensuring delivery of customer solutions
  • Working with Sales and Marketing
  • Designing strategies for account growth

Scope

AMs serve the organization’s goals. Because the scope is more commercial, AMs focus primarily on renewals, upsells, and cross-sale opportunities for their assigned accounts. This means that they work to maintain customer satisfaction as the main touchpoint for existing customers to ask questions. Account Managers have a high level of product knowledge that they use to answer questions on feature functionality, how to upgrade and renew subscriptions, as well as other general logistical questions. They also work closely with sales and marketing teams on retention strategies to leverage customer relationships and develop new avenues for growth.

Reactive

While CSMs take a proactive approach to the overall customer journey, AMs are reactive in nature. They react to customer feedback, renewal anniversaries, and the health of customer experiences. While relationship building is an active part of the Account Manager’s job and will require outreach and QBRs for example, the primary functions are generally carried in response to customer needs.

This also carries into the timeline for when AMs are most active along the customer journey. While it’s important for Account Managers to be involved early in the customer journey, say sales handoff, to establish the initial relationship with a customer, because their focus is driving revenue via renewals and upsells, they tend to become more active at the end of the customer lifecycle.

Metrics

AMs are largely judged on a sales quota for the number of renewals and upsells for their assigned accounts. Both CSM and AM goals are closely tied to increasing the customer lifetime value.

What is User Success?

So we’ve covered CSMs and AMs and why they’re important, but there’s a key perspective missing: both CSMs and AMs deal with customers from an account perspective, not the individual human perspective. Although the customer-centric approach was supposed to be geared towards tracking and understanding the customer, it actually still focuses on the account.

Let’s be honest for a second. When you’re assigned an account, there’s maybe two or three actual people within that account that really matter: the decision maker and your internal champion(s). They’re the ones most likely to be influential when it comes time to renew and upsell. Sure you want to ensure everyone in that account is using the product, but each person is going to have a different role and experience with your product based on their own individual characteristics.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to just understand how similar users engage with your product based on their lifecycle stage, engagement, activity, satisfaction level, etc.? To understand how a group of users with similar characteristics are engaging with your product at different points in their customer journey?

User Success is a business strategy that focuses on driving engagement, retention, and lifetime loyalty by creating personalized customer experiences through targeted user behavior trends, rather than account association. By developing segmented user personas based on characteristics that actually matter to your team, such as activity level or satisfaction scores, User Success enables your organization to gain a deeper understanding of your user base that an account-level view can’t provide you.

User Success Manager

So who’s in charge of ensuring this idea of User Success? A User Success Manager (USM). USMs are a part of the Customer Success organization, but act as more of a liaison between CS and product. It’s similar to a CSM and an AM, but the key difference is that USMs don’t factor in company affiliation; instead, it’s based on user personas. USM is all about user-centricity with a focus on understanding user personas to improve the customer experience to drive loyalty and company growth.

USM Goals

User Success Managers have three main goals:

1. Understanding users at a persona level
Personas allow you to understand how similar users engage with your product, based on characteristics such as lifecycle stage, engagement activity, and satisfaction level. This means you can target, track, and continuously report on user behavior trends for different segments of users, regardless of account, to provide them with personalized experiences.

2. Creating data-driven action items to better customer satisfaction
By focusing on each user’s journey, you’ll gain in-depth knowledge into how that specific user is interacting with your product, if feature gaps exist, when a user may be at a higher risk for churn, and when the best opportunity for upsells arise. As common trends for personas arise, you can begin to proactively include resources along the customer journey to decrease product friction. When you truly understand a user, you can provide the most value to them and become indispensable to their workflow.

3. Driving lifelong user loyalty 
User lifetime loyalty goes beyond calculating the current worth of the user, and instead focuses on the idea that if your team can ensure that this user is getting the most value out of your product, that they’ll remain loyal to your product even after they leave the company they’re at, opening up an entirely new stream of growth.

USM Metrics

The majority of existing customer experience metrics are typically an average of all the individual scores at a company. In the context of User Success, you can use the same metrics but pull them from a specific persona group rather than a company. Here are some examples:

  • Estimated Persona Sentiment – What’s the Estimated Sentiment of a persona?
  • Likelihood to Renew – How likely is it that the customer renews?
  • Expected Value Received – Is the product meeting the customers expectations?
  • CES – How much effort a customer needs to put in to complete a task, within a specific persona
  • CSAT – How happy, or unhappy, a customer is with your overall service, within a specific persona
  • NPS – How many of your customers are likely to recommend you to a friend or colleague, within a specific persona.

How does US work with CS?

User Success is all about deeply understanding users, and leverages segments of users that have similar characteristics. By tracking and reporting on targeted user behavior in the form of personas, you can better understand how users with similar behavior patterns or characteristics are engaging with your product throughout their customer journey. While Customer Success Managers and Account Managers both look at users from an account level—which is all well and good—User Success Managers add a new perspective that can benefit both teams.

For CSMs, a better understanding of users through personas allows additional context surrounding their feedback and behaviors because you gather data around key user traits. This provides a deeper level of reporting on engagement and can highlight high-level trends for decision makers, users in onboarding—any demographic of your user base that you want more insight into. From there, CSMs can become more proactive and ensure a higher level of customer success and loyalty.

For AMs, understanding which user personas are most successful in the product can help them predict which users are most likely to be receptive to upsell and cross-sell options. Personas can also help AMs understand which areas of the product resonate most with decision makers and VIP users, so they can be more proactive about highlighting user success stories when promoting the product and ensuring renewals.

Conclusion

CSMs and AMs are great and serve a very useful function at every company, but your CS organization is missing out on key insights and information if you don’t have a USM as well. The reason a USM role is so important in the SaaS space is simple; engaged, happier customers lead to less churn and company growth. User Success helps you better understand your users in key persona groups to help you create action items that will drive lifelong user loyalty. Allocating resources to improve a customers’ experience and make sure they’re as successful as possible in the product pays off in the long run.