Managing a powerhouse Customer Success team requires a delicate balance of grit and empathy that most employees (and, honestly, most people) lack. We take for granted CSMs ability to bond with customers while pushing forward a sale. In the SaaS world, we’re so focused on tools and workflows that we often fail to see how mindset, confidence, and awareness impact the team.
We hosted a panel on Customer Success and Motherhood last month. It opened my eyes to some of the more intangible pain points managers face. I keep coming back to my notes from that day, coming up with new ideas to help working parents balance their workload as CSMs.
Today, I’m thinking about the CSMs themselves—focusing less on the management or structure of the whole team—but how individuals can successfully shift their mindset to balance work and caregiving in this position.
Our panelists, Maranda Ann Dziekonski, Kristi Faltorusso, and Emilia D’Anzica, all hold leadership positions. But they were quick to point out tips for individual CSMs, including things they wish they knew when they were rising up the ranks.
Here’s their advice on how to survive and thrive as working parents, with quotes direct from the source.
Set boundaries on work time vs. home time
Thanks to the internet and smartphones, we’re all accessible 24/7. Especially this past year, even the physical boundaries between work and home were completely erased. This makes it crucial to establish your own mental boundaries.
Many CSMs assume they need to bend to their manager’s (or client’s) will. You have more control than you think. Your boss may choose to email you on a Saturday, but you can choose to respond right away or not.
Many employees admit they feel powerless, though. They work in an environment where they have to pick up the phone or they’ll get fired. Thankfully, it’s a candidate's market right now, so it might be worth looking for other job situations that are more conducive to your lifestyle.
Maranda adds to this point, “We're at a really awesome time where Customer Success is hot. So if you are good at what you do, there is most definitely another opportunity out there for you. And it will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.”
Be clear with teammates and managers about your situation
As customer success managers, you know the power of communication. When you fully understand your client’s problems, you can suggest more effective remedies.
In that same vein, providing your colleagues with more context about your parenting situation can both alleviate your own anxieties and enable your team to better understand your needs.
Kristi encourages CSMs to use their communication skills to advocate for themselves: “In customer success, we should be solutions oriented. So that's probably a skill you already have. You just need to come prepared to have that conversation. You've got to be able to advocate for yourself. You've got to come first, your family's got to come first.”
We’re often taught that authority is the enemy. We assume co-workers won’t have our backs, or that our managers don’t want to hear about our personal life. It’s an old school mentality that, in 2021, doesn’t need to be the case.
The tech world in particular has proven that less restrictive and more welcoming work environments lead to happier (and more productive!) employees, which in turn leads to more revenue for the business at large.
Think of your manager and colleagues as all part of one system. When the system is healthy and high-functioning, you’ll all have each others’ backs. If one of you needs some reasonable accommodations, the others will step up. Your team members should be happy to help, without making you feel guilty about it—just like you’d do for them.
Focus on outcomes not hours
Our panel of Customer Success Leaders encourages you to speak in terms of outcomes rather than hours when discussing your day.
Emilia recalled a moment when she had to stand up for herself and her time: “A director called me out on leaving at five o'clock. At this point, I had three children. I said, well, let's sit down and draw what you do all day at work, and what I do all day at work. The number of coffee breaks, chit chats, and everything else, brought him to seven o'clock. I can't say he was more productive than I was or that I was more productive than him. We chose to spend eight to five very differently. As parents, we're forced to really focus and concentrate between certain hours, because we have children waiting for us. So you shouldn't feel bad that you're not in the office till seven o'clock. You may be having fewer coffees or beers in the office, but you're just as productive. So own your time and be proud of it.”
The proof of your productivity lies in the work you get done. Be proactive and post updates or wrap-ups before heading out for the day.
Many managers who seem preoccupied with the hours you work are really just searching for a way to measure your productivity and success on the job. Provide them with a tangible list of your accomplishments to satisfy both their needs and your own.
Don’t apologize for unavoidable disruptions
One of the first things you learn in a customer-facing role is to rephrase negative phrases to positives ones when speaking with clients. So instead of “I’m sorry for being late.” You say, “Thank you for waiting.”
Our panelists had similar advice for dealing with teammates. When unavoidable disruptions happen, say thank you, be human, and show that you’re getting your work done anyway. Simply embracing this mentality will help you feel more confident.
Again, the idea is to strip away fear-based thinking in the workplace. When working parents own their situation, they can start to open up more dialogues about work-life balance to benefit the entire workforce.
Emilia reiterates, “I encourage all of you to speak up, don't hide who you are, or that you have children, because we're in an age where we can do that. And the more we speak up, the more we're helping future generations of customer success, female leaders, or just caretakers.”
Carve out time to care for yourself
Maranda takes a direct approach when it comes to self-care and the workplace: “I don't want people to think they have to have something to do to take the day off. I'll post it in a very public way in our Slack channel saying: Hey, I’m taking a mental health day tomorrow. I have nothing planned, just going to invest in me."
As a leader, it’s easier to make these statements. But CSMs should feel empowered to take breaks too, and be clear about it, so other team members know it’s an option. It really is a team sport.
You spend all day caring for your clients and thinking about other people. Add Zoom calls and back-to-back meetings to the mix—it’s extremely draining. Carve out time to eat, exercise, or simply do nothing to make the job more sustainable.
Form partnerships with other caregivers and friends
Do not underestimate the power of community.
Kristi praises the Customer Success community in particular: “The extended Customer Success community has been really valuable to me. Finding like minded individuals who aren't part of your core group can be easier to talk to. The friendships that I've made, virtually, have almost served me even better than the real life relationships I have with friends and family.”
From this panel alone, I felt such a sense of community listening to all of these women share and build upon each other’s stories and offer guidance. It’s really a powerful thing.
They all encourage asking for help. Whether you rely on a friend to pick up your kids from school or just need to vent about Zoom school on a message board, forming partnerships with like-minded working parents can give you a much needed sense of sanity.
Speak up in your own workplace too. Let others know they’re not alone and start building your own community within the organization. But if you’re the only one at your company with kids, know that there are many outside communities where you can find advice and support.
Parenting and Customer Success: How can I help?
Over 2.5 million women have already been forced out of their careers during the pandemic—by an overwhelming and imbalanced burden of care, a lack of support from their companies and communities, and sheer burnout.
In researching the normal CSM workday, I found that CSMs parenting small children face an even steeper uphill battle than peers in non-customer-facing roles.
Endless Zoom calls with customers who may or may not be sympathetic to a toddler in the room. Long lists of tasks and to-do’s that bleed into evenings and precious alone time (if there’s any at all). Put that together with a societal failure to balance the load sustainably, and burnout is right around the corner.
UpdateAI’s mission is to make meetings better so you can do better things. We are building out our platform (www.update.ai) for CSMs just like you. I’m collecting stories, suggestions, and pain points to help me shape the product and I’d be grateful to hear yours.