What Exactly is a CSM?
I often get asked this question. As someone with a computer science degree (soon to be 2), it doesn’t sound like a good fit. Isn’t a CSM like an account manager? Don’t you need a business degree for that? Do you have to sell things?? Let’s break it down:
My full title is “Data and AI Customer Success Manager.” Before that it was “Technical Customer Sucess Manager.” Before that it was “Client Success Manager.” Or maybe that was in between the two? Who knows. The point is, that I have gone through a few iterations of being a CSM. When I introduce myself to customers, I usually say, “Hi I’m Morgan Carroll, and I’m a Data and AI Customer Success Manager and Software Developer.” That still doesn’t answer the question… what exactly is a CSM? I’ll rewind even a bit further to get to that.
I started at IBM as a software developer on an internal tooling team. We built a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) app for the predecessor to the CSMs, Cloud Adoption Leaders. So back then my full title was “Cloud Adoption Leader Developer” or “CALDev.” After an infamous “re-org,” I was offered the opportunity to become a Cloud Adoption Leader or continue down the pure software devlopment path that I was on. It was perfect timing for me because I was actually growing tired of coding all day. I craved some kind of social interaction, and I was becoming quite burnt out as a developer after just 9 months of doing it. I think computer science undergrad majors think we are introverts, but when it comes down to it many of us do enjoy interacting with people and not just clacking away at the keyboad all day. Don’t get me wrong, I love coding. I could do nothing but code for a few days straight, but after that I need to get back to other people.
Back to the story, after this re-org I decided that I would give being a Cloud Adoption Leader a try. Around that time, one of our executives, Rob, scheduled 1-on-1’s with each of us to talk about the role and his thoughts for the future. After a scheduling mishap, we ended up at a coffee shop on Parmer Ln in Austin where he ordered some kind of funky tea that I’m still not sure about. I do remember that he very much enjoyed the tea, and it seems like a strange thing to focus on. I bring it up because his passion for this tea reflected his passion for our organization. He was very excited about the future of Cloud Adoption Leaders, and that made me excited as well. He said that one day he hopes all Cloud Adoption Leaders will be software developers first, then CAL’s second. That was the moment I decided to give this career path 100% of my effort. Though he is no longer in my chain of management, I’ll always appreciate the support that he gave me and other CSMs along the way. When I asked if I could participate in IBM’s tuition assistance program, he ecstaticly approved without hesitation. Maybe this story should be its own post, but I want to make sure that I illustrate the passion that CSMs have for our profession. If there is something that can be done to improve the customer experience, it is always encouraged. In my case, I wanted to begin working on my Master’s degree in computer science. We’re a tech company; obviously this was a good move. But I digress.
So that’s how I got here as a CSM. I could copy and paste the “official” job description, but I don’t think that does justice to what we do. We build relationships, we build apps, we build POCs, we advocate for our clients, we help resolve billing errors, we teach them how to use Watson. I don’t particularly like the phrase, but I think it’s appropriate to say “the buck stops here.” When a client is experiencing an issue that may or may not be in our realm of expertise, we don’t simply pass off the problem to another group. That would be too easy. We advocate for them internally and make sure that they are getting the attention and effort that they deserve. One of my previous customers annointed me the title, “Customer Success Engineer.” He said, “You’re not managing. You’re engineering!” To provide that level of service to my customers while also doing something that I love brings me a lot of joy.
In conclusion, CSMs are experts in their field who use their skills to engineer solutions for clients. That’s my take, anyways. I’d love to hear any comments, questions, or feedback!