Customer success is a proactive sales strategy that aims to help customers achieve greater success and retention. In the software as a service (SaaS) industry, customer success specialists act as consultants and experts. They address the main concerns and challenges that clients face, helping them get more out of the software.
Unfortunately, breaking into customer success is not always easy, even for those with existing experience in sales or consulting. Here is a closer look at what it takes to get your first customer success job.
What Is Customer Success?
You should first understand the expectations of customer success specialists and customer success managers. The primary duty of a customer success employee is to make customers more successful.
Customer success is closely related to sales and customer support roles. When you work in this field, you try to make customers happy so that they continue to do business with your company. In a customer service job, you react to customer inquiries and concerns. In customer success, you look for solutions to problems before they arise. Customer success specialists ensure that customers understand how to use all the features and advantages of the service or software that a company offers.
The process of training or instructing new customers is called “onboarding.” Customer service specialists also work with existing customers to keep them engaged and successful. Becoming successful in this role requires specific skills, knowledge, and education.
Meet the Educational Requirements for the Job
The educational requirements vary from employer to employer. However, many employers prefer to hire candidates that hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Your educational background also becomes more important in areas with heavy competition for professional jobs. In smaller regions, you may be able to substitute higher education with work experience.
Common degrees for customer success employees include business administration, engineering, computer science, management information systems, and information technology. A technical field of study may be required in specific industries. For example, working for a company that sells IT software may require an IT background.
While many employers prefer to hire individuals with bachelor’s degrees, some positions may require a master’s degree. Master’s degrees are sometimes necessary for senior positions such as customer success manager, but usually are not required. College also typically provides the opportunity for internships and work placement programs. You can gain more practical experience while completing your education.
Increase Your Knowledge of the Industry and Products
Customer success specialists must possess a deep understanding of the industry that they serve and the products that they sell. The typical software salesperson needs general knowledge of the products that they sell. However, they may not fully understand all the technical details of the software package. When you work in customer success, you need to be an expert in the products that you sell. You need to know how to operate the software and troubleshoot problems.
You may not be able to interact with the specific software or products that you may work with after getting a job in this field. However, you can learn more about the industry and the problems that your future customers may face. Explore the various products used to overcome challenges that customers deal with.
Gain Sales Experience in Related Fields
The most direct paths to getting into customer success involve working in sales or customer service. Successful sales representatives may transition to the role of customer success specialist. Working as a customer success specialist also requires strong customer service skills.
You may need experience in a role that relies heavily on customer service, such as an account executive. Many customer service managers start as account executives before becoming account managers or customer operations directors.
Most software companies do not hire candidates for customer success roles who are straight out of college. Usually spending time as an SDR/BDR, Account Executive, Customer Support, or another role is critical before going into a Customer Success role.
Develop Necessary Traits for Customer Success
Customer success relies on experience and knowledge. However, you may also benefit from specific traits and skills, such as:
- Proactive problem-solving
- Ability to focus on the big picture
- Interpersonal skills
- Empathy for customers
Customer success revolves around proactive solutions instead of the reactive approach used in customer service. Customer success employees must think ahead to try to determine what customers need before they do. You must focus on the bigger picture by offering advice to help customers get more use out of the product or service.
Working in this field also requires strong interpersonal skills. As with a sales position, you need to be comfortable talking to people, especially over the phone. If you are naturally an introvert, consider working in sales to break out of your shell.
Working in sales or customer service can help you develop these skills and traits. Try to exceed the expectations of the customers that you work with and seek new job opportunities that bring you closer to the goal of breaking into customer success.
Build a Network of Professional Contacts
As with many professional careers, getting into the customer success field is easier when you have the right connections. Look for networking opportunities to grow your contact list. Network with people who already work in customer success and related fields.
You should also try to gain more insight into the job when talking with customer success specialists. Interview them about their jobs or consider shadowing one to explore their work duties and responsibilities.
Consider Gaining Professional Certifications
Professional certifications are available in almost every industry, including customer success. Obtaining one or two certifications allows you to demonstrate your skills and knowledge, which can help improve your resume.
Customer success is a relatively young field. However, several professional associations offer certification courses related specifically to this career. Certifications are also helpful for those who are worried that their educational background may not quite meet the minimal requirements of the job. For example, if you have an associate’s degree, obtaining certifications may help close the gap between you and candidates with bachelor’s degrees.
Along with certifications, consider looking for professional courses and lectures related to customer success. You can find courses on engaging your customers, listening to customers, and managing customer feedback.
Look for Work at Companies with Customer Success Positions
If you believe that you have the skills and experience needed for customer success, start looking for available positions at companies in your area or the region where you want to work. You may need to update your resume before applying for jobs. When reviewing your resume, try to find past experiences that translate to customer success. For example, if you previously held a job that involved working directly with customers, make sure that you elaborate on your duties.
Keep in mind that you may need to start in a smaller role. An account executive is a common position on the path to becoming a customer success specialist. Many organizations also lack a “customer success” position. The responsibilities of the customer success specialists may go to account executives, program managers, and onboarding specialists.
Last Thoughts on Finding a Job in Customer Success
In the end, getting into the field of customer success is not too different from finding jobs in other areas of sales. You typically need a college degree and work experience. Previous experience in sales, particularly SaaS sales, can help increase your job prospects. Networking and certifications may also improve your employability in this field.
If you meet the requirements and fail to land a job, do not give up. Continue to apply for customer success positions while gaining more experience through related jobs, such as sales representative.