Customer Experience

The journey to becoming a Customer Success Professional – By Irit Eizips

Oct 28, 2020

9 mins read

Manisha Khandelwal


Irit Eizips is the Chief Customer Officer & CEO at CSM Practice. Being pivotal in shaping Customer Success’ best practices, she has been nominated as a top Customer Success strategist and influencer, year after year, since 2013. She was recently named one of the Top 150 Global Customer Experience Thought Leaders and Influencers of 2020 and is often featured as a speaker at conferences and Customer Success publications. 

This week, in the SurveySensum CX Thought Leader Series, we had an insightful discussion with her about her Customer Success Journey. She talked about her struggles, challenges, and the learnings that accumulated to her journey of being the CEO of the first customer success strategy consulting firm in the world – CSM Practice. Later the conversation shifted much deeper into Customer Success and how can someone become one!

Here’s how it goes.

1. Why did you choose Customer Success and what was your background?

A decade ago, when I just started in Customer Success, it was merely perceived as a glorified title for customer support or account management. That all started to change around 2013 when Gainsight began the movement of Customer Success and invested heavily in defining best practices and educating the business world about the true potential and meaning of customer success. At that time, I was the head of solutions consulting at Gainsight. During my time there, I worked closely with Dan Steinman and Nick Mehta on this initiative. We must have interviewed close to 200 executives from various companies to better understand what processes and tools were effective in reducing churn, increasing solution adoption, and growing upsell and cross-sells revenues. 

In 2014, I started the first customer success consulting firm, CSM Practice. The company accelerates the profitable growth of both SaaS and on-premise software companies through the design and adoption of best in class customer success strategies, policies, and processes. We place a great emphasis on organization-wide execution of customer-centric strategy to ensure maximum impact in implementing our recommendations. Insofar, we’ve helped over 100 companies transform the way they do business with their existing customer base, among which are companies such as New Relic, Accent Technologies, and Veriforce. transform the way they do business with their existing customer base, leveraging our expertise in working with software teams.

2. How was your journey to Customer Success Head and opening your own company?

Back in 2014, the Customer Success landscape was much different than what it was today. Back in those early days, anyone actively taking part in the Customer Success movement was primarily focused on educating the business community. Customer Success organizations would “retire” constantly due to insufficient budgets or a seat at the board of director meetings. Additionally, most early Customer Success teams were not clear on how to prove the value of their own teams to their customers as well as their management team. 

This resulted in low to no budget for consulting work. Remember, I launched CSM Practice fairly early, so initially, my projects were mainly focused on merely establishing the function. Nowadays, we have already established and proved the direct ties between Customer Success and profitability, and my projects with customers have changed drastically from light training sessions for customer success teams to comprehensive strategy work that encompasses the complete transformation of the entire organization. 

3. When you started CSM Practice, what challenges did you face, and over time how did they change?

Today, the Customer Success landscape has changed. Customer Success is well established in many companies and, for those who need to mature their practices, investing in bringing outside expertise to accelerate change means millions of dollars in additional revenue and a faster trajectory to profitable growth. As such, it is much more common to see the board of directors or venture capital firms applying pressure to scale and optimize the Customer Success operations in order to achieve a higher growth and profitability rate for their portfolio of companies.

This pressure is applied because boards and investors know that the success of existing customers is the key to sustainable profitability. This is a focus for me and my team, and it requires a desire to consistently examine what works and what doesn’t, both for my clients as well as my own firm. 

Profitability has become a key factor in many Customer Success strategy decisions alongside employee satisfaction. I constantly hold myself and my firm up to the same standards as I hold my customers. I constantly stretch our ability to prove the value of recommended playbooks and strategies by trying them out with our own clients. 

4. What are the most important metrics for Customer Success? How do you build a relationship and calculate health scores?

When a Customer Success organization is committed to delivering profit to the bottom line, a proactive, value-driven approach is essential. I recently worked with a mid-market client to develop two types of proactive customer health indexes – one for their management team and the other one for the customer success managers. These scores are built to reflect the achievement of key performance indicators within the organization.

Churn Risk Indicator: This type of health score is designed to help predict renewals at a high level of accuracy (1-2%).

Customer Maturity Score: This health score was designed to help the customer success managers become proactive and design their annual success plan for each client to help them become best in class. 

By developing these two metrics separately, companies avoid a common mistake I see Customer Success teams make is designing a single customer health score that’s supposed to accomplish both goals. It would often include reactive metrics, like an escalation in support tickets, NPS scores, etc. A single customer health score may suggest that a specific customer needs attention, but it often produces two negative results: a reactive team constantly focused on red accounts. It also produces far too many false negatives/false-positive results, rendering the score unreliable.

5. How did you start creating the playbooks?

Like customer health scores, playbooks have also evolved since I first started in Customer Success (2013). The first playbook I created, was based on interviews with early adopters of Customer Success on how to deflect churn risks. The playbook was a simple step-by-step document, clarifying the task owner, due dates, as well as priorities of each of those steps. Back in 2013, most of the customer success leaders focused on churn, upsell, and lifecycle management. Nowadays we have a whole category of playbooks focused on promoting value for clients, which includes not only client business reviews, but the incorporations of value discussions, and measures and steps we need to take to prove value to clients.

6. What according to you are the most important professional traits of a successful CS professional?

Constant curiosity, a learner’s mentality, and a desire to grow are the key professional traits of a successful Customer Success professional. A stellar CSM will develop a trusted advisor relationship with their client, resulting in a proactive, consultative approach. This approach can be trained or developed along a CSM career path.

I had the pleasure of talking about this topic with Maranda Dziekonski, Vice President of Customer Success and People Operations at Swiftly. She shared her list of skills and attitudes needed to be successful in a proactive CSM role. I think it’s a must-watch video for anyone looking to hire or develop their career as a customer success professional.  

The bottom line, if you’re going to make it in customer success you need to have strong customer empathy, rapport building, and listening skills. I believe that the possession and utilization of these skills allow a customer success manager to shift from the mindset of delivering reactive customer service to excelling at relationship building, being proactive, and delivering value to customers. There is a place for reactive measures in the handling of support tickets and other customer outreach. However, the entirety of the Customer Experience is enhanced when the organization centers around its customers’ ability to be successful. 

7. Who should own retention and upselling – Customer Success or Customer Experience?

Sales and Customer Success are often ‘dance’ partners when it comes to financial transactions with existing customers. Although sales might land from the standpoint of new business, it is the job of the Customer Success team to guide the ongoing customer relationship to assure the landing sticks. As companies grow, the retention and upselling processes would often have their own dedicated teams to allow for quick hiring and scalability of operations. The bottom line, who should own the renewals highly depends on the business model the company has. 

8. Which communities, books, slack channels, or podcasts you would recommend CS professionals to join?

I have my Top 10 Must-read Customer Success Books for CSMs compiled and constantly updated because it is so important that Customer Success professionals should read to become best in class and thrive in this ever-evolving profession. I’d like to recommend a couple of books that most people reading this blog might not hear of yet or have not had the chance to read:

“The Customer Success Pioneer: The First 12 Months of Your Journey Into Growth” by Kellie Lucas is specifically targeted for those who had been recently hired as Customer Success Executives and trying to figure out what they should be focused on to build or optimize their team.

Another book that we highly recommend for CSMs to read is “Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn” by Anne H. Janzer. The book guides us through creative marketing strategies in nurturing customers and building good customer relationships for those who are focused on investing in a low touch highly scalable customer engagement model.

About CSM Practice

CSM Practice is the first customer success strategy consulting firm in the world. The firm helps companies accelerate profitable growth through the design and implementation of customer retention and expansion selling methodologies. CSM Practice offers a unique customer-centric methodology encompassing the entire customer life-cycle including on-boarding, adoption, upsells, cross-sells, and renewals. Irit had been leading the success of her firm through the development of methodologies for customer success programs and is continuously producing thought leadership content for the Customer Success community. 

If you have an inspiring CX story to share, you may propose your session here:

Manisha Khandelwal

Senior Content Marketer at SurveySensum

How much did you enjoy this article?