“Handoff” in Customer Management typically refers to the CS team taking over accounts from Sales. CS then leads the engagement with the new customer using playbooks and adoption strategies.
But, there is another key type of handoff, the CSM to CSM handoff.
Accounts can change CSMs for the following reasons:
But here’s the challenge.
Changing CSMs is like replacing the lead actor on the theater stage. The audience expects the “show to go on” (as advertised) with no less than flawless performance. Yet, CS professionals tend to “skip” or speed through this handoff without a plan.
This, in turn, leads to frustrated and angry customers.
So how can CSMs complete this handoff as quickly as possible without affecting the customers - keeping them in "business-as-usual" mode with minimal disruption?
Here’s my step-by-step guide to ensure you plan for success with CSM-to-CSM handoffs.
In order to avoid confusion and mixed messages, both CSMs and their CS lead should align on their message to the customer. Don't go into too much detail, just enough to make the why behind the transition clear.
How you communicate this transition is crucial so give the space and time for this to happen.
The knowledge transfer process between the CSMs should focus on reviewing the following:
It is easier if these things are stored in a centrally managed knowledge management or Customer Success platform. If not, you can use Google Docs or Notion.
The new CSM must understand the customer's business environment, challenges, and main priorities in addition to their engagement history. In other words, these shouldn’t be explained to the new CSM by the customer.
The customer has already invested time and effort in learning and implementing the product, they don't need to go back in time to hold the hand of their new CSM.
This is also true for future customer commitments like:
The new CSM should have these details down before going into their first customer meeting.
Run through the customer’s main stakeholders before the official meeting takes place. If the information doesn’t exist, use meeting summaries, notes added to the CRM, and any other references.
Capture the following for each stakeholder:
CSM are trained to identify risks proactively and come up with plans of action. As such, during the handoff, the new CSM should start handling and managing these risks in advance. Then he or she will be in a better position to keep the show going as expected when they are in the spotlight, in front of the customer.
Failing to identify risks can result in priceless missed opportunities, a drop in the customer experience, and slowed momentum. The show must go on, so the understudy should be ready to jump in at a moment's notice.
Plan the transition first, then communicate it to the customer. A good transition plan includes milestones and timelines. The plan can be more complex depending on the product, size of the business, and the number of stakeholders involved. No matter the complexity, the more visible and clear the plan, the more comfortable the customer will be.
If the customer is high value / high touch, the CS leader should include a shadowing process into the plan which will make the handoff much smoother.
Now, after we checked the list of internal preparations, it's time to move to the next stage. We are in a good position to perform the switch between CSMs while maintaining our customers’ peace of mind.
Let's dive into the customer-facing side of the process.
The rule of thumb is not to surprise stakeholders and be transparent about the change. It is a good practice to have the departing CSM send a short email to the stakeholders involved. This formal message should include the reason for the change and the expected timeframe for the handoff. This should be sent well in advance if possible.
It is not unusual for the CS leader themselves to update the customer about the transition between the CSMs via email. This is more applicable for high-value customers with executive relationships. These engagements are more sensitive, and such a change may destabilize the scope of work and the revenue at stake.
Customers would like to know they're in the “good hands” of a capable CSM. No need to be shy about the strengths and experience of the new CSM. It is in fact the right time for him or her to shine. Thus, the introduction to the customer should refer to the CSM's credentials and relevant experience.
At the same time, I encourage both the stakeholders and the new CSM to get to know each other as early in the process as possible. Establishing the relationship before the end of the handoff reduces uncertainty and builds trust from the start.
There are more delicate situations in which customer feedback should be voiced. Think of underperforming CSMs replaced during complicated onboarding. In such critical circumstances, the new CSM should listen carefully to their new customer’s concerns and address them diligently.
Anytime the new CSM is entering a tricky situation (upset or at-risk customers), it’s important to give them a framework to confront customer concerns. Here’s a simple four-step process:
Stakeholders may also utilize the transition to voice their needs or raise new concerns and challenges to catch the attention of the new CSM. Again the new CSM should listen carefully and create a plan to help the customer reach their goals.
CSMs will often try to complete the handoff swiftly, but there are exceptions that require a longer transition.
One example would be an integration taking longer than expected or technical issues that arise. Too many internal customer stakeholders and bureaucracy can add unplanned delays as well. Therefore the transition may span over a few weeks, and customers will appreciate knowing about it in advance.
CSM change will most likely raise concerns among stakeholders worried about a “bumpy” journey. This becomes a bigger risk if the departing CSM already established a trusted advisor position with the customer.
The new CSM, albeit professional and experienced, will need some time to regain the same position their predecessor had established. This reinforces the importance of assessing customer sentiment. CSMs and their leaders should look for signals of discomfort throughout the transition.
Extra tip for CS leaders: Be extra careful to ensure the key stakeholders are comfortable and supportive of the transition. Don't misjudge their silence as a sign of approval.
An important mark for a successful handoff is getting to BAU (Business as usual) as quickly as possible. In addition, if the new CSM is in control and there are no “leftovers” to handle, you are on the right path.
My recommendation for CS leaders is to perform their own monitoring from time to time. They should ensure the new CSM handles customer engagement firmly and stays on top of all their customer needs.
There are many circumstances that can result in a CSM handoff. Remember – the show MUST GO ON. CSMs prepare the handoff in the background ("behind the scenes"). Then, completing the transition with the smallest effect on customers is the number one priority of the CS team.
By doing so, we completed our job professionally while customers resumed their journey with the new CSM in charge.
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