What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do as a CSM

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do as a CSM

As a Customer Success Manager (CSM), you're the frontline hero for your customers, facing challenges daily.

But let's be real: it's impossible to know everything. And that's perfectly fine.

The trick isn't about having all the right answers; it's about how you handle the questions you can't answer right away.

This article isn't just a pep talk. It's your practical guide for those "What now?" moments. We'll explore real, actionable strategies to navigate your role's complexities confidently. It's about embracing the unknown, staying curious, and turning every customer challenge into an opportunity for growth.

That's the secret sauce for being an exceptional CSM. Let's dive in and discover how you can master this art.

1. Acknowledge Your Limits

Let's face it: nobody knows everything, especially in a job like customer success, where things change constantly. Admitting you don't have all the answers isn't showing weakness; it's just being honest and real.

This honesty helps build trust with your clients because they know you're not just making stuff up. It's also a smart move for you. When you're clear about what you do and don't know, you highlight precisely where you can learn more and improve your job.

How to acknowledge your limits:

  • Be Straightforward: If a question or issue is out of your league, just say it. Something like, "I'm not sure about that, let me find out for you," works great.
  • Keep Your Word: If you say you're going to dig into something, really do it. Following up shows you're reliable.
  • Turn Gaps into Goals: Whenever you bump into something you don't know, jot it down. These are perfect clues about what you can learn next.
  • Manage Expectations Early: When you're kicking things off with a customer, be clear about what you're good at and where you might need to bring in extra help.
  • Learn from Experience: Regularly think back to times you had to say, "I don't know." How did you handle it? How could it be better next time?

Using these steps helps you create a habit of continuous learning and genuine integrity in your work. It's not just about improving yourself; it also strengthens your team and builds real client trust.

2. Utilize Your Co-Workers

Remember, you're not alone in your job. There's a whole network of people around you, on your team, and across your company, with loads of knowledge and experience. Reaching out to them is always a good step in the right direction.

But here's the secret: Knowing who to ask and how their brainpower can help you is just as important as knowing how to ask. Think of it like tapping into a super resource whenever you're stuck or need a fresh perspective. This isn't just about getting answers; it's about building relationships and learning from others' experiences.

How to utilize your co-workers:

  • Set Up Knowledge-Sharing Sessions: Organize regular times when experts in your company can share their knowledge. Call it something like "Expert Office Hours."
  • Get Involved Across Departments: Jump into meetings or discussions outside your immediate team. This can give you insights you wouldn't get otherwise.
  • Keep a Go-To Expert List: Make a list of people in different areas you can contact. Knowing who to call when you're in a pinch can save time.
  • Don’t Be Shy; Just Ask. If you're unsure about something, just ask someone. Most folks are happy to help or share what they know.
  • Make It a Two-Way Street: Be ready to share your knowledge, too. Networking is about giving and taking. You have valuable insights that others can benefit from.

Building and utilizing your internal network effectively turns those "I don't know" moments into opportunities for collaboration and learning. It's about making the most of the collective knowledge around you and constantly expanding your understanding of different areas.

3. Create a Learning Plan

Staying sharp and keeping up with new stuff in your field means you've got to be intentional about learning. It's like developing a personal roadmap for new skills or knowledge. This isn't about sitting through boring lectures but finding cool and relevant ways to learn what you need for your job.

Think of it as customizing your skill-building journey. It helps you stay ahead of the curve, and let's be honest, it feels pretty good to keep getting better at what you do.

How to create a learning plan:

  • Identify Your Learning Goals: Determine what you need to learn to be more effective at your job. This might involve understanding new software, improving your communication skills, or anything else relevant.
  • Find Resources That Work for You: There are a lot of CS resources, such as courses, webinars, podcasts, and books, to help you in your CS journey. Pick what suits your style and schedule, but don’t limit yourself to just CS topics. Expand to include soft skills like project management, digital marketing, relationship building, negotiation, and data analytics.
  • Set Aside Regular Learning Time: Block out time in your calendar for learning. Even 30 minutes a day or a few hours a week can make a big difference.
  • Apply What You Learn: Try to use your new skills or knowledge in your work. This helps you remember what you've learned and see how it makes a difference.
  • Review and Adjust Regularly: Review your learning plan once in a while. Remove what's not working and add new things as your role or interests change.

By following these steps, you're not just waiting around to get better at your job magically. You're actively working on it, which is a surefire way to grow in your role and become more confident in handling all kinds of situations. Plus, it's pretty satisfying to see yourself making progress.

4. Ask Clarifying Questions

When you're not sure about something, turning the situation into a Q&A can be really helpful. Asking questions does a couple of cool things: it gives you more info, helps you understand the problem better, and shows the customer you're actively working to get them what they need.

It's like being a detective in your own job – the more questions you ask, the closer you get to solving the mystery. Plus, it gives you time to think or find the right answer.

How to ask good clarifying questions:

  • Prepare Your Question Arsenal: Have a list of go-to questions to help you explore any problem more deeply. These questions can be open-ended and encourage detailed responses.
  • Listen Actively: When you ask, really listen to the answers. Sometimes, the customer gives you more than you expect, which can be super helpful.
  • Paraphrase for Clarity: Repeat what you've heard in your own words. This checks that you've understood correctly and shows the customer you're paying attention.
  • Take Notes: Jot down the key points. This helps you remember and gives you something to refer back to later.
  • Ask Follow-Up Questions: Based on what you learn, ask more questions. Each answer can lead you closer to understanding the whole picture.

By asking the right questions, you're not just passively admitting you don't know something. Instead, you're actively working towards finding the answer. This proactive approach keeps you engaged in the conversation and focused on finding solutions.

5. Cultivate Curiosity

Staying curious is like keeping your brain in adventure mode. It's about looking at every "I don't know" moment as a chance to learn something new. This isn't just about formal learning; it's about being interested in everything around your job and beyond.

Ask questions, dig into topics that aren't directly related to your work, and see where they lead you. You might be surprised at how often random bits of knowledge come in handy. Curiosity makes your job more interesting and makes you a more well-rounded professional.

How to cultivate curiosity:

  • Explore Widely: Don't limit yourself to just your immediate job area. Read about different industries, technologies, and methodologies.
  • Ask 'Why' a Lot: Whenever you come across something new or interesting, dig deeper. Ask why things are the way they are, how they work, and what impact they have.
  • Join Discussions and Forums: Join online groups or forums related to your field. The more viewpoints you see, the broader your understanding will become.
  • Set Aside Time for Exploration: Regularly schedule time to explore new ideas or areas you're curious about. Make this part of your weekly routine.
  • Share What You Learn: Share with your team when you learn something interesting. This can spark new ideas and discussions and foster a culture of learning.

By nurturing your curiosity, you're not just collecting random pieces of information. You're building a broader perspective that can help you approach your work in new and creative ways. This not only benefits you professionally but also makes your job a lot more fun.

6. Foster a Supportive Network Among Peers

As a Customer Success Manager, you might not have the power to change the whole workplace culture, but you can definitely contribute to a supportive network among your peers. This means creating a space where you and your colleagues feel comfortable sharing what you don't know and asking for help.

It's about building a team dynamic where everyone backs each other up and sees challenges as a shared learning opportunity. When you know your peers have your back, admitting you don't know something becomes a lot less scary. It turns the team into a collective brain trust, where everyone's knowledge and experience are pooled together for mutual benefit.

How to foster a supportive network:

  • Start a Peer Support Group: Set up regular meetings or a chat group where you and your colleagues can share challenges and ask for advice.
  • Share Your Experiences: Be bold and talk about times you didn't have all the answers. Sharing your experiences can encourage others to do the same.
  • Seek Advice and Offer Help: Actively seek advice from your peers when you're stuck, and be just as ready to offer help when they need it.
  • Organize Informal Knowledge Sharing: Arrange casual meet-ups or coffee chats where you and your peers can discuss different aspects of your work and share insights.
  • Celebrate Each Other's Wins: When someone figures out a tough problem or learns something new, celebrate it together. This reinforces the value of learning and supporting each other.

By fostering this kind of supportive network among your peers, you're not just helping yourself. You're contributing to an environment where everyone is encouraged to grow and learn from each other's experiences. It strengthens the whole team and turns everyday challenges into opportunities for collective growth.

7. Prioritize and Organize Your Time & Effort

Feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start can amplify any challenge. Effective prioritization and organization are crucial in these moments. The key is identifying which tasks need immediate attention and which can be deferred. This approach goes beyond simply making lists—it involves a deep understanding of the impact and urgency of your tasks.

By clearly setting your priorities and organizing your activities, you can approach your work logically and reduce stress. Think of it as having a roadmap that helps you navigate through chaos.

How to prioritize and organize your time & effort:

  • Make a To-Do List: Start with writing down everything that needs to be done. Just getting it out of your head and onto paper (or a screen) can be a big relief.
  • Categorize Tasks: Break your list into categories based on urgency and importance. What needs immediate attention? What's important but not urgent? This helps you focus on what matters most.
  • Use Tools to Stay Organized: There are tons of tools out there, like Trello, Notion, Monday, and Asana, that can help keep your tasks organized. Find one that works for you and use it to track your progress.
  • Set Realistic Deadlines: For each task, set a deadline that's achievable. This helps you manage your time better and keeps you on track.
  • Review and Adjust Regularly: Your priorities might change, and that's okay. Regularly review your list and adjust as needed. Flexibility is key.

By prioritizing and organizing your work, you take control of your tasks instead of letting them control you. It helps you stay calm, focused, and ready to tackle each challenge effectively, one step at a time.

8. Reflect on Past Experiences (And Learn From Them)

As a Customer Success Manager, you've likely faced a variety of situations - some that went well and others that were more challenging. Reflecting on these experiences is a goldmine for learning. Think about those times you were in a tough spot or didn't have the answers. What did you do? What could you have done differently?

This kind of reflection isn't about dwelling on the past; it's about learning from it. Every situation, good or bad, teaches you something. By looking back and analyzing these experiences, you equip yourself with better strategies for the future. It's like building your own playbook of do's and don'ts based on real-life scenarios.

How to reflect and learn:

  • Keep a Reflection Journal: After significant interactions or challenges, take a few minutes to jot down what happened, your actions, and the outcomes.
  • Analyze Both Successes and Failures: Look at instances where you succeeded and where things didn't go as planned. Each offers unique insights.
  • Identify Learning Points: In each situation, try to pinpoint what you learned or could learn. This could be about handling clients, managing tasks, or personal development.
  • Discuss with Peers or Mentors: Sometimes talking through past experiences with someone else can offer new perspectives and insights.
  • Apply Lessons to Future Situations: Actively use what you've learned in similar future scenarios. This practical application of lessons is where the real growth happens.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself at the end of the week:

  • What actions really paid off, and what's the takeaway?
  • Where did I slip up, and what went wrong?
  • What do these experiences say about my strengths and where I need to improve?
  • How can I apply these lessons in my daily decisions?

By regularly reflecting on your experiences and actively applying the lessons learned, you're continuously improving and becoming more adept at handling whatever your role as a CSM throws at you. It's about turning every experience, good or bad, into a stepping stone for personal and professional growth.

9. Stay Calm and Take Breaks

Things get hectic as a CSM. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when faced with questions or situations you're unsure about. One of the best ways to deal with this is to stay calm and give yourself regular breaks. It might seem counterintuitive to step back when there's so much to do, but taking short breaks can actually help you think more clearly and work more effectively.

It's about giving your brain a moment to reset and refresh. This doesn't just help with immediate stress; it also helps you maintain your overall well-being, which is crucial for long-term success in any role.

How to stay calm and sane:

  • Practice Breathing or Relaxation Techniques: When you feel stressed, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing exercises. This can help calm your mind and reduce anxiety.
  • Schedule Regular Breaks: Plan short breaks throughout your day, even if it's just a five-minute walk or a moment to step away from your screen. Consistent short breaks can prevent burnout.
  • Find Stress-Relief Activities: Identify activities that help you unwind and incorporate them into your routine, whether it's a hobby, exercise, or just listening to music.
  • Maintain Work-Life Balance: Avoid being constantly on the job. Disconnect from work during your off hours to recharge.
  • Identify Stress Triggers: When you feel overwhelmed, pause and ask yourself, "What specifically about this situation makes me anxious?" Dig deeper by questioning whether it reflects a recurring pattern or a one-off event. Is it the volume of work, the type of task, or perhaps the way interactions are handled? Reflecting on these aspects can reveal deeper issues, such as better time management skills or more supportive communication with colleagues.
  • Seek Support When Needed: If you're feeling constantly, overwhelmed, don't hesitate to talk to a manager, a mentor, or a mental health professional. Sometimes, getting external support can make a big difference.

By staying calm and ensuring you take breaks, you're not just looking after your immediate problem-solving ability; you're also taking care of your long-term mental and physical health. This approach helps you stay sharp and ready to tackle the challenges of your role as a CSM, while also maintaining a healthy balance in your life.

10. Network Outside Your Company

Networking outside your company is a powerful tool for growth and learning as a Customer Success Manager. It involves connecting with professionals in similar roles but in different companies or even different industries. These connections can provide you with a wealth of knowledge and different perspectives that you might not encounter in your immediate work environment.

By building a diverse professional network, you can learn about new approaches, strategies, and tools that others are using to tackle challenges similar to yours. Additionally, this broader network can become a valuable source of support, advice, and even future career opportunities.

It’s about expanding your horizons and stepping out of your company’s bubble to see the bigger picture of customer success across various sectors.

How to network outside your company:

  • Attend Industry Events: Participate in conferences, seminars, and workshops relevant to customer success. These events are great for meeting peers from other organizations.
  • Join Professional Groups: Become a member of professional associations or online groups focused on customer success or related fields.
  • Use Social Media Platforms: Platforms like LinkedIn are excellent for connecting with professionals in your field. Engage in discussions, share content, and reach out to individuals whose work you admire.
  • Set Up Informational Interviews: Reach out to professionals in roles or industries you’re curious about and ask for informational interviews. These can be great learning opportunities.
  • Offer Mutual Value: Networking is a two-way street. Think about what you can offer to your connections, such as sharing your own experiences, insights, or even helping them connect with others.
  • Participate in Online Forums and Discussions: Engage in online communities where professionals discuss the latest trends and challenges in customer success.
  • Volunteer for Industry Events: Offer your time and skills to industry events. This can be a great way to meet people and show your dedication to the field.
  • Regularly Follow Up: Networking isn’t just about making initial contacts; it’s about maintaining those relationships. Regularly check in with your connections, share updates, and be responsive.

By actively networking outside your company, you open doors to a world of insights, advice, and experiences that can significantly enrich your role as a Customer Success Manager. It’s about building a personal learning network that can guide and support you throughout your career.

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