Back when Customer Success was new (okay, I know, that feels like it was just yesterday), CS leaders deployed CSMs to provide a white glove high-touch experience, to what was mostly their enterprise or VIP accounts. CS was an emerging philosophy that SaaS companies were just starting to wrap their heads around, feeling out best practices and strategies to get the biggest bang for their buck. At first, the CSM role embodied the old standard that 20% of your customers get 80% of your attention, because they make up 80% of your revenue. Of course, we know this isn’t a viable long-term strategy, but hey, everybody has to start somewhere.
Once Customer Success organizations began to scale, the CSM role evolved. CS leaders needed a way to expand each CSM’s reach to a broader range of customers, and that’s when Digital Customer Success began to take shape. Today, many CS organizations are making a distinction between the role of a traditional Customer Success Manager and a Digital CSM, some bringing on Digital CSMs as a separate role entirely.
I believe that the industry is headed toward a digital-led revolution and that Digital Customer Success Managers will play a vital role in this new paradigm. There are many advantages to adding Digital CSMs to your team. But, to fully embrace all the benefits of hiring one (or a few), you need to know exactly what a Digital CSM is and what a Digital CSM does.
What’s a Digital CSM?
A Digital Customer Success Manager is a CSM who analyzes the customer journey and builds a proactive digital communication strategy with the customer's goals in mind. Traditionally, companies take a digital-first approach like this with volume accounts in the long-tail of a customer base, but more and more, the CS world is realizing the benefits of utilizing tech touch within every customer segment. Tech touch sometimes gets a bad rap, but when done right, it actually increases, not decreases, the level of interaction between customer and company, all while increasing the value of those human interactions when they do occur.
Digital CSMs incorporate automation into an overall customer engagement plan that makes a customer feel seen and heard without the need for constant direct communication with a CSM. In fact, customers actually tend to prefer self-service, especially when it saves them time and effort. Customer Success Managers accomplish this by utilizing key CS indicators to analyze the effectiveness of each customer touchpoint. They use technology and automation to streamline the customer's experience, continuously improving upon each step within each phase of the customer journey. For example, they might track the onboarding process, see customers consistently run into difficulty with a particular action required to setup the system, and tweak the in-app engagement messaging to give better direction and smooth out the rough patch. Or, they might spend their time mining your community platform for valuable insights on customer satisfaction, expansion opportunities, and identifying super users to test out new ideas.
This differs from a traditional CSM role in that a one-to-many approach is the goal, supported by technology that automates and digitizes the customer experience. CSMs have more direct one-on-one communication with their customers. Digital CSMs take a programmatic approach, driving customer behavior through data.
It’s all about the numbers
Speaking of data, you can’t accomplish any of these goals without it. Digital CSMs have to be part CS enthusiast, part communications aficionado, part data nerd, in order to document, collect, and organize all kinds of information about their customers to identify patterns and solve problems. They need to track both lagging and leading indicators to measure the success of your larger digital strategy. At each connection point with the customer, a Digital CSM will identify the desired outcome, and then, they'll work backward through the data to determine the necessary triggers that will lead to the desired result. They use KPIs like:
Reach KPIs that measure how well your customers received a digital communication point.
- Delivery or bounce rates
- Open rates
- Click (through) rates
Effect KPIs that measure the results of an activity or strategy from your customer’s perspective.
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)
- Direct customer feedback
ROI KPIs that measure the success of CS efforts from your own business’s perspective.
- Churn rate
- Renewal rate
- Monthly or annual recurring revenue
- Customer lifetime value
Process KPIs that gauge the effectiveness of a process for the purposes of improving performance.
- Customer health scores
- Engagement scores
- Open growth opportunities
- Customer support tickets
What an amazing Digital CSM looks like
The Digital CSM is a newer role, so many CS teams are still defining what it means for them. However, there are a few traits that everyone agrees are must-haves in order to be a great Digital CSM. As I mentioned before, this role looks a lot like a mash-up of marketing, data analytics, and of course, Customer Success. A Digital CSM will need both project management skills to keep things on track and high-level communication abilities to work with cross-functional groups and help others understand their role in the overarching Customer Success program. Let’s not forget, a Digital CSM should also be tech-savvy!
Because the position requires such a diverse skill set, a fantastic Digital CSM could come from a number of different backgrounds. Your current CSMs might be looking to develop their technical skills, or those who have historically been in “customer marketing” may be looking to focus more on the holistic customer.
Tech-touch is for everybody
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'll shout it from the rooftops if need be. Tech touch is for all your customers, and the trend towards Digital Customer Success means more of your customers will engage with your CS team through technology. A healthy CS organization can’t grow without embracing the technology and processes that make scaling possible. Digital CSMs lie at the heart of a digital strategy! It’s their responsibility to maximize customer engagement with fit-for-purpose technologies without losing the all-important human touch.
By Marley Wagner
Guided by expertise in campaign strategy, Digital Customer Success, service development, content creation, and branding, Marley is the Sr. Director of Marketing and Services at ESG. She leads ESG’s go-to-market strategy, Digital Customer Success practice, and portfolio of services that comprise Customer Success as a Service®. Connect on Linkedin