You’ve begun your search for CSMs for your SaaS start-up. You’ve sorted through the pile of resumes and have whittled down to your short list and you’ve extended invitations to the candidates for interviews. Great success! it dawns on you that you’re missing one key ingredient to further whittle down the pack to the top 2 or 3: interview questions. The following seven questions are some that I’ve personally been asked in interviews from the early stages all the way through to the final rounds. Feel free to use these as a starting point to gauge customer success skill.
N.B.: there’s no right or wrong for the below questions. These are more just to get an understanding of the experience of the CSM and also how they think through problems (sometimes on their feet).
How do you reach out to customers who don’t want to talk to you?
Don’t quote me on this but I reckon half the life of a CSM is trying to get in touch with a customer (25% is probably just playing phone tag). I’ll text, call, email and recently (during COVID-19 era) try and set up remote calls with customers who don’t pick up. I’ve even called customers on my personal phone (risky, because it means they now have your personal phone number), just to get through to them. See how creative the CSM’s answer is.
Tell me about a time you dealt with an irate customer.
I know this is not a question as such, but hear me out. This question tests two things:
- The actual experience of the CSM with really pissed off customers and how they got around them. The story should naturally flow into the STAR structure: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Bonus points if they are are able to tie the metric with a quantifiable result, but not necessary.
- The CSM’s storytelling ability. Depending on how much account management you’ll have your CSM do, their ability to engage the customer as an emotional level to get their buy-in on the product is also important.
How do you prioritise your day?
CSMs are very much the fix-it people. On paper, they help customers get as much value as possible out of the SaaS as possible, but often their high technical ability means that they double up as tech support. As custodians of the customer relationship, they also know the most about what features of the product customers care about the most, making them pseudo product managers. This questions helps you get a sense of how organised they are. You don’t want to be micromanaging them.
What are the three top skills in good CSMs?
When I was asked this question for a 2nd round interview, it was by a 3-person panel consisting of a senior tech lead, regional sales lead and CSM. I had to think on my feet. I can’t recall my specific answers correctly but they were something along the lines of:
- Empathy, putting the customer first above all else,
- Expert rapport builders, CSMs have to be the one the customers trust above all else,
- Multilingualists. CSMs have to speak multiple “languages”, being the Voice of the Customer, as well as talking to internal departments and their own lingo, e.g. designers, developers, PMs, etc.
Again, there’s no ultimate list, but look out for CSMs who don’t mention the customer as a priority. Seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised.
How do you keep a third party partner and customers happy simultaneously?
This is an interesting one that I didn’t have a good answer for. It was by the same panel that asked me the question about the top three characteristics of good CSMs. They asked it because their business structure was closely linked with 3rd party development companies who built integrations with their customers, i.e. they didn’t have an in-house team that did that.
They emphasised that keeping this partner company on-side was important, as they could maintain or develop the SaaS without them. However, it sometimes meant that customers would have to be patient with feature requests as well as deployment.
This may or may not apply to your SaaS tech start-up, but if a CSM does have experience working in a particular organisational structure, ask them about it.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your CSM career so far?
Personally, I feel that this question separates these wheat from the chaff. I’ve been asked this a few times and I’m able to confidently answer it, which I think is key. Not everyone agrees with me, but I feel that you can emphasise your weaknesses or shortfalls and turn it into a selling point, as long as you’re confident about it. This in of itself is a skillset that good CSMs will call on time and time again when they’re in situations where frankly, the customer is the biggest loser but somehow, the CSM has to salvage something from it.
When I was asked this question, I spoke about a time where I helped a customer do something I wasn’t supposed to, resulting in the appearance of my name in my customer’s signed documents. I emphasised that I did so only because I cared so much about helping the customer submit the document on time and that since then, I learnt to control my emotions better. I answered this question in the last stage of an interview and it resulted in me getting an offer.
What do you rate your last manager out of 10/what would your last manager rate you out of 10? Why?
This last question is really two questions. Two for the price of one! Aren’t you lucky? I was asked this also in the last stage of an interview. It was for a particular type of interview called a Top Grade.
I was asked this question for all of my past roles. It’s meant to weed out candidates who aren’t quite telling the truth and some interviewers will go through every single company to find a reference that corroborates the candidates assessment to these questions.
That’s resource-intensive and unnecessary in my opinion, but it does give you one important piece of information: the management style that your candidate prefers and consequently, whether it’s something that works with you and your company.
Hope these seven questions give you some food for thought when considering what to ask your CSM candidate. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s as much giving them a chance to share their experience with you as it is for you to “feel” them out and get a sense of whether they’re the right fit for you and your organisation or not.