Customer Success Trial Project

Struggle with interviewing customer success candidates? Then this article is for you. We'll show you how to set up a trial project to successfully assess and hire your next customer success specialist!

Customer Success Trial Project

Customer Success is one of the most important hires you can make. They are the voice of the customer in your company.

In this article we'll cover (in a step by step guide) how to set up a successful trial project for customer success candidates.

You're going to learn:

Before we dive in

This post focused on how to evaluate the skills through a trial project. At this stage, you and the candidate should both have interacted earlier in the process to ensure there are no deal breakers and the candidate is a good cultural fit.

What is a trial project?

A trial projects (or case project) is a step in the interview process with the goal of assessing the skills of a candidate. You typically want to not only see the skills level but also how a candidate solves problems and works together with the team

The typical coding test

For developers it's pretty standard to have them do a coding test. Formats, lengths, and language can all wary but in general you want to understand the candidates coding knowledge, communication skills, problem solving ability, and how they get along with the team.

Trial Project for other Roles

For other roles the process is (yet) not as standardized. It's crazy to think about it since clearly you want to hire people who know their craft!

So how do you test for skills in other roles?

First off all, we need to define what the responsibility of customer success are.

What is the responsibility customer success?

The responsibilities for customer success differs from company to company. In some companies they will fly out and meet customers while at others everything is done over email πŸ“§

However, the responsibilities are always around taking care of your current customers (while sales is responsible to bring in new customers).

Customer Success responsibilities

  • Onboarding your new customers.
  • Ensure your current customers are successful.
  • Educate customers on the product and recommend to upgrade plan or add seats when suitable.

The voice of your customer

Your customer success people should be the voice of your customer internally. Since they will be the closest it's important they continuously give feedback back to your product team regarding problems your customers run into and suggested features to solve them.

Example Responsibilities of Customer Success

From writing up the job description it should be clearer what you want to test for. In the example below you can note the candidate should be able to own the end-to-end customer journey, do live meetings and webinars, and give product feedback internally.

🀐 Leaving you out of a few of the details here.

What to test for in a customer success trial project?

By the time of the trial you should have already checked for any deal breakers, tested soft skills and interviewed for cultural fit.

Now, what to consider when writing up the trial project?

Communication skills

How do you typically talk to your customers? Over text, phone, or perhaps video? You want to make the trial project as similar to the way you normally work as possible.

If you normally only work over email with customers try to make the trial project text based!

Also, if you tend to work over text internally but over video with customers try to replicate that dynamic as well.

You want to give the candidate a chance to show of their communication skills during the trial and get a feel for how you work.

Product Expertise

Your Customer Success people need to know your product inside and out. They are your customers go to expert and need to give your customers confidence in the company and product.

Most candidates won't have this expertise to start with but it helps if they worked in a adjacent industry or similar product.

Try to set up the trial to include your product. You will see how quickly they pick up and learn about it, which will be a good indicator how fast they'll be effective in the role.

Customer Empathy

You need people who can emphasize with your customers.

Can the candidate actively listen and drill down into customer problems?

Consider including some type of exercise where the candidate need to interact or emphasize with your customers.

Trusted Advisor

Customer Success will in the end be a trusted advisor to your customers. This includes to come across as trustworthy, solve problems, and suggest solutions.

Sometimes it's about answering a complex questions or letting a customer know a feature in the product is (currently) not supported. By building long term trust the customers will also take your advice when it comes to consider an upgrade to a plan with more features or adding more seats to their plan.

Hopefully that's helpful! Now on to the practical steps of actually settting up a trial!

How to set up a customer success trial

It's not easy to set up a trial project but we'll give you our best tips!

We'll walk you through each step and what to watch out for.

  1. Define the trial project
  2. Technical setup of trial project
  3. Conducting the trial
  4. Wrapping up the trial

Define the Trial Project

Where to you start when defining the trial project? My ambition is to give you an overview of the areas to cover and give an example trial project. Hopefully you will save time (and headache) from this!

Time to Complete Trial

A great place to start is to define how many hours you think is reasonable for a candidate to invest into the trial.

Keep in mind most folks already have a full time job and other obligations. That means a 10 hour trial might take some folks 2 weeks or more to complete! Also, somewhere after the 5–10 hour mark you might want to consider paying (at least a token amount) for the time the candidate put into the trial.

Final Outcome

The trial should lead up to a clear goal. There's nothing worse for candidates than unclear trials. Even for senior hires it's extremely hard to perform in a trial with an unclear outcome.

For a customer success role you should try to simulate a real interactions. A few ideas for outcomes of the project are:

  • Help customer solve problem X over email. Final deliverable should be a well crafted email (or a phone call) solving the problem.
  • Onboard a new customer over video.
  • Present suggested improvements in customer on-boarding flow.

Try to make it clear in scope. If you're looking for real rockstars you could consider simulating an upsell situation but beware it will probably feel forced. Natural upsells takes time and trust (which is not possible to naturally replicate in a trial).

Make sure to specify in what medium (text, phone call, Power Point presentation etc.) the final presentation should be in. Remember to make it similar to how the role will work once they start full time.

Teammates involved

Clearly write out who they will interact with during the trial and how to interact. If you usually work over Slack invite them to a Slack channel with all the key folks and make them feel welcome πŸŽ‰πŸ€—.

Also let them know how you usually communicate, if you usually give each other calls over Slack – let them know that's okay!

Available Information

Write and link to all information available to the candidate. Give as much transparency as needed but keep in mind information overflow is a real issue.

Share the key documents and try to filed all the other questions through the team as needed. There will always be more questions than answers anyway! πŸ€“

Technical Setup of Trial Project

This should be a pretty straight forward step of the process. You want to keep a few things in mind. We work in Slack so we'll give the example for Slack here.

  1. Start a new Slack Channel for the trial.
  2. Link to the details of the trial project in the channel description.
  3. Write a pinned post containing all the key information. Don't forget to link to any documents the candidate might need.
  4. Encourage everyone to introduce themselves.
  5. Don't forget to invite everyone to the channel and ensure the candidate has access to all the documents needed.

Conducing the Trial

Now you are off the races! With everything already set up, is there anything you need to focus on to ensure the trial runs smoothly?

With the proper setup this should be a fairly smooth process. Them main thing to keep in mind is to have someone be a clear owner of the trial project. This person should

  • Check in with candidate to see if any questions.
  • Be the go to person for the candidate with any questions they have.
  • Be the go to person internally to ask how the trial is coming along.
  • Help with scheduling and keep everything on track as candidate might not have access to all calendars.

Wrapping up the Trial Project

Now you had the final presentation and time to score the candidate… easier said than done, right? Specially since it was such a short time working together and each team member might only have interacted with the candidate for 15–30 minutes.

I've tried many different ways to do this and learned (the hard way) what to be aware off.

It's easy to o all out on asking for feedback across many different dimensions but it becomes a chore ☠️ instead of a joy 😍

En easy framework that's worked is to ask each participant to simply rate the candidate on a scale from 1 to 4 (1 Strong Not Hire, 2 Not Hire, 3 Hire, 4 Strong Hire) and give a 1-2 sentence rationale for the score.

It goes without saying this is not too much to ask from folks.

Now, the secret here is for the trial owner to reach out to everyone separately (that way you get independent reviews). The owner is then responsible to summaries the feedback (anonymously) and share back with the folks in charge of taking a decision on progressing the candidate or not.

Here's an example I summarized for one of the roles we hired for. You might need something less formal depending on the size of the organization.