How to survive as the first Customer Success hire in your start-up

Hi world, this is Evi and that’s is my first post. I’d like to introduce myself to you as the first CS hire in my company, an early stage B2B tech start-up based in London. I’ve been working in this company ever since the time we had neither clients nor salespeople. My first actual role there was to undertake implementation and support for our beta testers and today, two and a half years later, I have managed directly more than 80 clients in 3 continents, have build-up a small CS organization within the company and I am managing a team of 2.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure is how to thrive (better have I said, survive) being your company’s first CS hire. Sharing below six lessons I got either the easy or the hard way throughout this journey. Hope you enjoy!

1. Love the product for what it is but offer the level of support the best SaaS offers out there

You need to love your product even more than what the founders or the Product Managers do. Know why? Simply because you are the one that will need to defend it in front of your clients’ most frustrating moments. It’s neither the Product Manager nor your boss that will pick up the phone when you’ll have an outage or when your client encounters a bug. And even if you acknowledge your product’s weaknesses better than anyone, thus you need to offer a high-quality support level that justifies a top-tier software company. When you are in the “battle” field you shall leave everything aside and perform like you are working for the best and most expensive enterprise solution out there.

2. Don’t let them see the struggle

You are the front face of your company. Whatever clients see in you is reflecting the level of professionalism, ability, experience, knowledge and the kind of work being done in your entire organization. When you are a relatively new company, it’s hard to earn trust in the market because you don’t have the years of experience to back you up. Clients need to trust both you and the product through you. And even if you’ll have to try out many things and experiment around to understand what works better, clients need to feel secure and certain that whatever you are doing is the best option. They need to feel that you know what you are talking about because you’ve worked on it, you’ve seen it performing against other alternatives and ultimately because this is your field of expertise. Of course, if this is far away from reality it will backfire and this is why lesson no3 is super important.

3. Be prepared to get your hands dirty

At the early days, your product will not work perfectly. It might be too complicated for clients to understand. They might not be able to get self-served. You will not have an army of people to support you nor the tools to do the dirty work for you. It’s fine! You need to dive in, devote time, test, understand, observe and eventually do the job. Your primary goal is to have your product used by your clients. If it’s too complicated for them or they are too busy, you have to do it for them. Also, don’t take “I don’t know how to do it” for an answer. We live at the age of information. Search online, ask around, read books or articles, listen to podcasts, enroll in courses. Don’t expect to have the answers delivered to you and ultimately don’t expect ready-made solutions by anyone else in your company cause simply this is why they hired you for. You need to find your way around.

4. Build strong interpersonal relationships with your first clients

Investing in building great interpersonal relationships with your first clients might be one of the most important things you will do as the first CSM of your company. Why you should do it. You will get deeper insights on how your clients really feel about your product and you this way you can better predict their behavior since you’ll be aware of their intentions early on. Ultimately, you can create a positive feeling about your product because, in their minds, they are linking it directly with you and how they feel about you. And eventually, this is going to make it a bit harder for them to say goodbye. How can you do it? Choose to call them once in a while instead of sending that impersonal email, care about their big milestones (either personal; i.e. ask them about their recent leave time which you found out through their auto-respond email, or company ones; i.e. ask about this new product launch or their plans for the new year). Surprise them. Last Christmas we created handwritten personalized cards for all our clients. It took us a bit of time to write them all but it was totally worth it. Also, try to engage more with their business. For example, our clientele is mainly e-commerce, so I make sure that I place some orders from clients’ e-shops every now and then.

5. Make sure you communicate client achievements back to the team

In the early days of a start-up, CS job might be performed by the founders, salespeople or product managers, so it is more of a collective effort. When you jump in, clients become your field of expertise. Make sure you don’t work in a silo. The biggest shock for me in my current company was when one of our clients got awarded for outstanding performance in email marketing by using our product and when I announced it to the team many people didn’t take me seriously. I became so focused on managing my stuff, plus I was daily exposed to the results our customers were achieving as part of my job, that I was sure it was common knowledge. Apparently, other people couldn’t have guessed, so make sure you showcase these internally both for the team’s motivation, plus this will definitely help you build your positioning inside the team.

6. Grasp useful client feedback and redirect it back to the team

Since you are the person interacting on a day-to-day basis with clients through various channels (phone, emails, live chat, meetings, etc), you possess a large amount of information, requests, feedback and even different uses of your product you might haven’t thought about. Those things are super crucial especially early on. Make sure you create an internal record system and you keep track of the requests per client, plus rank them based on popularity. This way you can provide valuable feedback towards the Product and Engineering teams, plus a better way to prioritize based on the most requested features.

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