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A foundation of trust: The role of a Customer Success Manager

Proactive, expert support from success planning to governance

In a recent article, Guy Galon argues that in the wake of Covid-19, customer success is more important for business success than ever. The role of customer success manager (CSM) evolved with the advent of SaaS technology, but companies across numerous sectors now have a customer success function. Still, the role is often poorly understood or confused with customer support. Let’s explore what customer success is, and how working with a CSM can benefit your business.

Understanding the role of CSM vs customer support comes down to two words: proactive vs reactive. Customer support serves a vital and well-understood function as the go-to team for troubleshooting and providing fixes when technology fails to perform as it should. Customer success, in contrast, is a proactive function. CSMs connect with customers soon after they invest in new technology (typically even before implementation is complete) and remain engaged throughout their journey to guide the customer toward their desired outcomes.

What is a customer success plan?

At OpenText, the backbone of every customer success engagement is the customer success plan. The customer success plan defines success as the customer sees it, by outlining the business objectives to be achieved, as well as a roadmap for how to achieve them. The plan is jointly developed by key customer stakeholders with support from the CSM. It is a living document that is updated throughout the customer success engagement.

Unlike customer support, which aims to ensure that software is functioning as designed, the target outcomes of customer success will be unique to each customer. Gainsight observes that when it comes to success, “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition, but there is a methodology for discovering how your customer defines success and perceives value.” While goals are always unique, CSMs leverage a proven methodology to support customers in defining their goals and building a plan for how to achieve them. At OpenText, CSMs lead a series of workshops, each with a defined outcome, to structure and guide the success planning process.

What are the benefits of developing a customer success plan?

Certainly, defining and prioritizing the outcomes to be achieved is a crucial step when implementing new technology. But there are numerous benefits to success planning besides goal setting. The customer success plan also breaks down the steps needed to achieve those goals. Forrester notes that “having a formalized success plan helps CSMs design a framework and implement processes to meet customer goals, bringing other internal teams together where needed[1].” In addition to goal setting and planning, the customer success plan ensures that the right resources are in place for customers to realize value from their new product. Examples may include product information, support for internal communication or plans for employee training.

CSMs also help customers develop a governance framework. Effective governance is essential to any digital transformation effort but is not delivered by customer support teams. Governance frameworks define how decisions are made within the customer organization, and who has the authority to make them. Because digital transformation efforts are inherently complex and multi-layered, implementing a governance framework is vital to streamline decision-making. It ensures that roles and responsibilities, together with decision-making authority, are clearly articulated and agreed upon, so that when decisive action must be taken, projects don’t get sidetracked due to lack of clarity. Like the customer success plan, it also helps build buy in well before projects get underway. CSMs work closely with customers to develop and implement a governance framework in parallel to developing a success plan. Without the necessary structures in place for efficient and effective decision making, the success plan risks never being fully implemented.

The role of the CSM encompasses more than these two essential elements. In addition, CSMs help customers plan for and proactively avoid key pitfalls that can hamper or stall digital transformation efforts. Research demonstrates that simply choosing the right technology won’t guarantee success. Other factors can profoundly impact outcomes. Two of the biggest, poor user adoption and organizational change management are explored in past blogs. Taken together, these factors can cause digital transformation efforts to fail, stall, or never realize their full potential. Working with a CSM alleviates these challenges, as part of their role is to ensure plans are in place to proactively avoid these obstacles.

The benefits of working with a CSM go far beyond those highlighted here. Forrester observes that “Trust is the currency of Customer Success[2]” noting “Customers must feel their provider understands their situation and empathizes with their concerns to begin the journey toward value realization. Trust is the momentum that sets progress in motion[3].” In addition to supporting success planning and governance, CSMs are trusted advocates who connect customers to people and resources to provide support throughout their journey.

To find out more explore the OpenText Success Portal or discover OpenText Customer Success Services.

[1] The Role of Customer Success in Building Trust, Forrester Research Inc., July 12, 2022.

[2] The Role of Customer Success in Building Trust, Forrester Research Inc., July 12, 2022.

[3] The Role of Customer Success in Building Trust, Forrester Research Inc., July 12, 2022.

Cassandra Tilson

Cassandra Tilson is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at OpenText. As a former Customer Success Manager, she is passionate about developing content to educate customers about OpenText products and services. Her areas of expertise include cloud-based content management, digital transformation strategy, and customer success. Before pivoting to the technology sector, Cassandra worked in museums for more than ten years coordinating public programs and managing sponsorships and partnerships. She is based in Ottawa, Canada.

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