Time To Competency for a new CSM?

When your company hires a new Customer Success Manager, there first is the process of onboarding the new employee.  This includes getting them set up with their access to the computer, all of the HR stuff (setting up the payroll, access to benefits) and so on.  Over time, onboarding new people becomes a standard activity of known duration.  However, there is another, far more important issue that Customer Success executive team leaders should consider in their planning: how long does it take that new CSM to become proficient in the role?  Obviously, they need to learn the product thoroughly so that they can comfortably advise customers on how best to take advantage of its power.  They also need to learn about the customer base.  Then there is the need to learn about the company itself and its competitors.  Gaining a satisfactory level of knowledge, to become competent, in all of these things doesn’t happen overnight.  What is the average Time To Competency (TTC) for a new CSM in your company?  And the cost?

Image of a woman lost in thoughtDefinition: Competency

The ability to do a job effectively by yourself, able to locate and use tools and resources to accomplish the goals and objectives of the role.

In a Customer Support department, it often takes 8 months to a year to bring a new rep to full competency in the role. We used to define competency in Support as being able to handle 75% of the cases that came your way without having to ask anyone else for advice or assistance.  The TTC for a Support agent will naturally vary, sometimes considerably, depending upon the complexity of the product.   Acquiring a basic level of competency in a product is the goal of the company’s training programs and resources that they offer to their customers, and therefore the company will likely have a fair sense of how long this process takes.  However, both Support agents and CSMs need more than just a basic knowledge of the product, so their training time will necessarily be longer.

Product knowledge for a CSM involves more than just knowing the functions and features of the product.  To be effective, a CSM must also know how to use those features and functions so that the customer gains their desired productivity and profitability benefits.  The CSM must also be able to communicate that advice in such a way that the customers take it seriously and put it to use.  The communication factor is at the heart of attaining the goal of every CSM, to be considered as a “trusted advisor” by the customers.  Acquiring that level of domain expertise will take years of experience in the industry.  Can the CSM perform in the role without it?  That will depend upon how the company defines the role.  In the meantime, the time to competency question has a facet of vital importance: what are the hidden costs that are involved?

The Hidden Costs

Man in shadows holding up a finger to his lips to indicate silence or secretsWhile the new CSM is being trained in the product and gaining knowledge about the company and its customers, their effectiveness in their role is limited,  Along with this reduced level of productivity, there are some hidden costs in the form of reduced effectiveness of other employees.  It’s natural that a new employee is going to ask questions of colleagues, taking their time away from their own work.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s one of the most effective ways of learning, and can have benefits for the coaches as well as the coached. (I’ve long been aware that in answering questions, I frequently surprise myself with knowledge that I didn’t realize that I had.) But there is a cost for that lost productivity of colleagues that is seldom recognized.  What percentage of the salary being paid to the new CSM should you write off during this time frame? What are the costs of the lowered effectiveness of their teammates? Is it possible that some churn has its source in the inexperience of the new CSM?

If the new CSM leaves at the end of the year, or before you recoup the investment in learning you’ve made in them, that investment is now a loss to be written off. Worse, you have to do it all over again with their replacement.  Is this an argument against providing the training?  No.  If you hire more qualified people, those who already have built their domain expertise to the level where they can immediately serve as consultants for the customers, you’ll likely have to offer higher salaries to attract and to retain them.  Either way, it’s an investment that should be recognized as such.

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