Mar 20, 2020

6 min

The Goldilocks Principle in Customer Success: Finding the ‘Just Right’ Skill Balance


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The Goldilocks Principle in Customer Success

Not too hard, not too soft, Customer Success skills need to be “just right.” Or do they?

Spun from the beloved children’s fairytale about a home invasion conducted by an unsupervised, malnourished child (thanks, Reddit), the Goldilocks principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. It’s used in a range of fields including psychology, biology, economics, and engineering. Applied to Customer Success talent, it translates to possessing skills that aren’t too technical, nor too service-oriented, but rather a happy medium. The recent evolution of Customer Success, compounded by its intersection (and overlap) with more established functions, such as Account Management and Customer Support, creates an ambiguous amalgam of desired skills and competencies—turning idealized moderation into a murky mix. 

Peppered with nuance, the recipe for the perfect ratio of technical, subject matter, and relationship expertise is not as cut and dried or easily transferable across SaaS as hiring managers may hope. Customer Success skills drastically differ by product and market context, as McKinsey & Company explains in their report, Introducing customer success 2.0: The new growth engine. They found that one vendor most valued “industry vertical knowledge and relationship-management skills,” with another analysis revealing the prioritization of “strong technical skills above all.” Additional research showed that “[M]any of its Customer Success Managers fell short in this area, despite their technical backgrounds because they lacked the recent field experience needed to engage deeply with frontline operations teams.” This makes the idea of a universal Customer Success skills composite that’s “just right” sound more like a farfetched fable.

As Customer Success hiring surges, SaaS companies must look inward to define their ideal candidate profile for this oft-misunderstood, blended role. And, although it’s not a one-skillset-fits-all position, there are overarching commonalities that every Customer Success professional must possess. In Forbes, customer experience futurist and author of The Customer Of The Future, Blake Morgan, outlines the shared qualities needed to excel in this emerging discipline. To expand on Morgan’s post, I’ve outlined a few of these coveted traits below.

Be a Department Diplomat

In general terms, a diplomat is someone who helps people with differing views find common ground. In a government context, a diplomat nurtures lasting relationships between nations, fosters complex dialogues and negotiations, and gathers critical information pertinent to national interests. Are Customer Success Managers no different?

The Customer Success Manager is uniquely positioned to work with almost every internal department—each with their own subculture and way of doing business. They must be fluent in all company functions to facilitate and fortify the customer experience. As Morgan explains, “You might not have a degree in IT or finance, but you need to know how to speak their languages so you can work together to create a unified, customer-centric strategy.” Building mutual trust and respect with other functions is crucial to ensure your internal recommendations and requests are held in high regard.

Departments share company-wide goals, but often have differing views on how to achieve them due to isolated focuses, competing priorities, and individual success metrics. When internal groups are at odds with one another or the customer, Customer Success Managers must display tact, which Isaac Newton described as “the art of making a point without making an enemy.” As the customer advocate and liaison, Customer Success Managers mitigate tensions to cultivate collaboration and common ground.

Build Business Acumen

Put simply, this means knowing how companies operate, compete, and measure success. “[It’s the] ability to grasp how a business functions financially and how one’s job duties and actions affect the larger success of the business,” explains MightyRecruiter. To advance as a Customer Success professional, not only do you need to be well-versed in assessing customer health, but also the health of subscription businesses. As a frontline customer strategist, Customer Success Managers need a well-rounded understanding of their company and market to make highly informed decisions that consider multiple perspectives and contexts. “Great quarterbacks are said to have an unusual ability to ‘see the whole field.’ In business, individuals with acumen have this quality as well,” shares To become the MVP, Customer Success Managers must score big in overall SaaS savviness to drive new value creation, strategic wins, and ultimately, prove their value as a strong business leader.

Be Data-Minded

Customer Success focuses on driving positive customer outcomes and growth which translates to retention and expansion revenue for the company. To prioritize and target outreach, Customer Success Managers monitor customer vitals as they progress through their journey—tracking product usage, key milestones, surveys, and support tickets. They need to analyze and synthesize this behavioral data to uncover trends and anomalies as well as craft a contextual narrative for the customer. Customer Success software centralizes data from disparate systems like CRM, support, usage, chat, email, NPS, and finance platforms. It’s important that Customer Success Managers understand the logic behind these data integrations to fuse business insights for comprehensive customer view.

Be Personable

This may seem like a given for a role that has the word “customer” in its title, but personability entails more than being friendly and upbeat. At ChurnZero, we believe our Customer Success Managers shine their brightest when their personalities do. We encourage our team to build customer rapport in their own unique way by sharing their personal interests, hobbies, and experiences with customers.

No one likes talking to a corporate robot who spouts off rehearsed lines and scripts interactions. The B2B market already has a bad rap (rightfully deserved) for being stringent, insipid, and devoid of human connection. To become beloved by customers, lean into what makes you special and stand out from the rest. Unlike technical expertise, developing an engaging personality and empathy can’t be taught by sitting at a desk, which makes it a rarity in today’s business world.

This reminds me of my own recent customer experience.  

After an agitating ordeal of trying to transfer concert tickets through an online reseller, I surrendered and called their support number. Overtly perturbed, I recounted my issue to their Customer Experience Agent, Melinda. She was soothing, understanding, and all the things that a person in this emotionally delicate role should be. Feeling assured that the situation would be resolved, my abrasiveness eased as I resumed my normal, agreeable demeanor. As Melinda combed through the transaction details, she gushed when she saw the artist on my forfeited tickets: “Hozier! I love Hozier! He’s amazing live. I’m so sorry you’re not able to make it to the concert. That’s going to be an awesome show.” Slightly caught off guard yet delighted by her interjection, I responded with a resounding “I KNOW!” (Nothing breeds kinship like shared music taste.) This energetic exchange continued a few moments longer as we shared our favorite songs and past concert experiences. I hung up the phone smiling. Merely twenty minutes ago, I presumed Melinda to be my ticketing adversary—the funnel in which I intended to pour my discontent until the very last drop. Now, my former foe felt like a close friend. Had Melinda stuck to a script and not shown her humanity, this refreshingly candid and authentic encounter wouldn’t have happened. In world full of technology and automation, remember to be unabashedly human.

Improve Your Public Speaking

From leading onboarding and team trainings to strategy sessions and business reviews, Customer Success Managers spend majority of their time speaking (virtually and onsite) in front of customers. Morgan advises that “Change agents need to develop a strong voice.” Early in the customer relationship, Customer Success Managers act as the catalyst for change by driving product and process adoption. As a trusted customer advisor, they need to be clear, concise, confident, and most importantly, convincing. Awkward pauses, excessive fillers, and trailing sentences stifle your ability to command attention and respect. Luckily, we know that with ample preparation and practice (like signing up for your local Toastmasters or seeking internal opportunities to present), fearful speakers can overcome these oratory obstacles. 

Finding the perfect candidate who “checks all the boxes” in an emerging field like Customer Success is an improbable fairytale that doesn’t meet reality. Focus on finding people who have an insatiable curiosity for life, contagious excitement for meaningful work, and strong empathy for the customer. (Almost) everything else can be trained.

For more insights and advice on customer-centricity, check out Blake Morgan’s articles on Forbes.

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