Thrown to the Wolves: Inheriting a Red Account as a New Hire

Thrown to the Wolves: Inheriting a Red Account as a New Hire

I don’t mean to scare you, but your first account as a new Customer Success Manager (CSM) may be a red account, ranging from medium-well to the surface of the sun.

You might think that leadership wouldn’t give you an at-risk customer. Think again. Leadership may not have a choice.

  • Maybe your team is at capacity, and giving the account to a veteran CSM isn’t an option.
  • Maybe their previous CSM didn’t know the account was in trouble.
  • Or maybe leadership wants to challenge and stretch you right off the bat.

Are you still scared? Don’t be.

Let’s walk through how to tackle being thrown to the wolves.

Set the tone

When meeting your at-risk customer for the first time, they’ll likely have a laundry list of complaints and meet you with skepticism.

You may feel that being a new hire sets you at a disadvantage. But positioned strategically, it can be the opposite. If you’re honest and open with the customer about your limited product knowledge, but also show your willingness to set things right, the customer will notice.

Protip: Ask the previous CSM or someone from leadership to send an introduction email to your new account. If anything historic about the customer exists, read through it so you know what you're getting yourself into.

Once the introduction email is sent, follow up and set the tone of your relationship. Here's an example.


Hello (customer first name),

I would like to formally introduce myself as your new dedicated CSM. I come to (company) with a background in (background details). Needless to say, I’m excited to work closely alongside you and learn more about your current needs and requests.

My colleagues have told me about some of the issues you are experiencing. While I am new to the company, I have a world-class team behind me as we work together through your list of top concerns.

I’m still growing my product mastery, so expect times when I don’t have all the answers. Rest assured, If I don’t have an answer, I have the resources to get you one as early as possible.

I am committed to working diligently for you as your advocate and point of contact. You are my number one priority and I hope to prove my commitment.

Thank you so much for your understanding and I look forward to working with you.


(CSM name)


Setting this expectation will gain your customer’s patience since they know that you’re willing to prove yourself and leverage your team.

And using the “I’m New” card internally will afford you patience as you grow your product knowledge and rely on others to answer basic questions. Just be sure to exhaust all documented resources before asking directly.

Make them feel brand new

There’s a good chance there are disconnects stemming from the early stages of the customer journey. You get to correct these by starting over.

"Treat them like a brand new customer. Find out what their goals are and why they purchased your product. See what you can learn from the past. To do this effectively, you have to be prepared to challenge assumptions and offer constructive guidance." - Elizabeth Pittinger, Regional Director of Customer Success, Omada Health

If you can identify where the relationship went sour, you may be able to find the unfinished tasks that could help recover the account. If you can’t find the gap, reset the customer.

By resetting the customer, we can uncover:

  • gaps between what the customer thinks they bought and what the product does
  • gaps in understanding of how to properly use the product
  • renewed willingness to set and attend a cadence of check-in calls

These are areas you can improve upon, and build towards the total recovery of the account.

Don’t assume they are angry

Have you ever seen a customer demand to see a manager just to have the manager repeat the same thing you just said? Some people digest bad news better if it’s coming from someone else.

The same effect can happen when the customer changes to another CSM. I’ve inherited accounts from former CSMs with horror stories about their customers. When I took over the relationship, the customer’s behavior changed immediately, and they became some of my favorite customers.

Use this change of scenery to reset expectations. Treat your customer as if they are brand new. Keep the past in mind while starting fresh.

Show genuine interest

“Find out what they were trying to achieve with your company’s solution in the first place and how the reasons they are red impacted this. Understand from the customer stakeholders why they care, this will give you real insight into what the customer really needs, which may not be the same as what they think they want.” - Simon Smith, Director of Customer Success, Infor

Customer sentiment can change if they see improvement. If you're more attentive, understanding, and knowledgeable, your customer will give you a chance despite their past experiences with your company.

It is important to stay level-headed and in problem-solving mode. There is no better way to recover the account than by showing you are interested and care about their concerns. Once you grow your product and industry knowledge, you can begin to offer solutions and build a mutually-created success plan.

Leverage leadership when needed

This isn’t Sparta, where your team throws you to wolves and wait for you to return with fur on your back. Leadership should coach you and be readily available to assist when needed.

Just be sure to be open and honest about the support you need to be successful with this account.

Seize the opportunity

Understand this. You're playing with house money. So if you fail, you probably weren't expected to recover the account.

Use this experience as a learning moment. Seek feedback to figure out what to do differently next time. Try new things, learn new tricks, and get acquainted with how the process works in your new company.

On the flip side, if you succeed, you now have some bragging rights.

Either way, learn from this moment. Seize the opportunity and reap the rewards, pass or fail.

Good luck to you!

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