Myth: CS conversations need to focus on renewals

With Mike Merit, Chief Customer Officer at Planet

In Episode 5 of this series, we are excited to have Mike Merit,  a CS Leader with a focus on customer-centricity and product innovation. Mike’s career has been focused on enhancing customer experiences and driving product development.  

In this conversation, Mike busts some CS myths, while sharing his learnings, advice for CS practitioners, his vision for the future of CS, and more.

1. What is a myth about Customer Success that needs to be busted?

That CS conversations need to be about renewals.

While renewals are important, conversations focused purely on retention numbers are deeply reductionist.  

CS is the learning engine for the company. It has the potential to shape the entire strategy of the company. 

Conversation with CS teams needs to be about much more – like customer value, accelerating time to value, customer feedback, customer trends, and more. It’s these conversations that impact retention in the long term.

2. How did you find your way to Customer Success?

I started on the product side as leading Product at a startup. I found myself always engaging with our customers and they started calling me directly.  That’s when I realized that I enjoyed interacting with customers and helping them.

My next role as a Program Manager was initially focused on enterprise software deployments. However, it quickly evolved into ensuring customer success and value. 

Then, a former CEO offered me an opportunity – it didn't have a name then – we just knew we needed someone to make customers happy and retain them.  They called it the “Mike Merit” role, and that's when I stepped into my first Head of Customer Success role.

3. What advice do you have for CSMs early in their careers?

First things first – empathy and curiosity are non-negotiable. If you don't genuinely feel deeply empathetic or curiosity about customers, CS might not be for you. 

Before you settle on a path in CS, try your hand at both large, mature customer success setups and smaller, emerging teams. These paths are wildly different but equally exciting.

An important piece of advice: Don't shy away from saying no or delivering tough news to customers. Those honest, direct conversations build trust in the long run and are ultimately better for the customer.

Lastly, focus on your story. Think about the narrative arc that you want to build – in your current role and your career.  Document your achievements, where you've been, and where you're headed. 
This focus on building your story can set you up for success in your current role,  the next interview,  and beyond.

4. What would be your advice for someone looking to grow into a CS leader?

Set people up to be their best selves.

Guide them through the narrative they want to build for themselves. For my team, we do this through an exercise where we hand out blank notebooks and tell them to fill them with their story.

It's all about encouraging each team member to articulate their journey and goals – to foster a culture where everyone's narrative is valued and shared.

5. As someone who headed the CS function at multiple companies, take us through the leadership’s thinking about investing in CS. What drives them?

The thinking has evolved. 

Back in the day, CS was seen as the execution team – almost an extension of customer service – focused on provisioning, reporting, and bridging product gaps. 

Today, we have a focus on driving improvements in net retention and cultivating customer advocates.

It's about understanding the value customers derive from our solution and finding ways to boost that value for expansion. It's not just about stickiness; it's about navigating the product roadmap, expanding across teams, and exploring new use cases.

6. What is top of mind for you in CS in 2024 for CS? What trends are you excited about?

Last year, net retention was a challenge across the board – given the economic instability and tech industry transitions. 

The focus for this year is stabilization, especially in the backdrop of flat budgets and headcounts in the CS industry. It's going to be about doing more with less.

This is where AI steps up from being an experiment to becoming operationalized.

The low-hanging fruit is using AI for technical support documentation, making it easily searchable and accessible. Another area is enhancing customer communication, tailoring it based on specific

personas – without the need for massive system overhauls.

The big one is conversational intelligence AI. The idea is to use AI to make customer insights a regular part of organizational conversations so we understand what the customer heartbeat is, what the customer insights are, etc. 

7. What’s your vision for the future of CS? 

I see a future where a significant part of CS is automated. Customers crave automation and self-service, and that's where the industry is headed. 

However, CS will always bring a consultative mindset to the table. 

The discussions will shift towards the future – exploring maturity models, envisioning what lies ahead, and helping customers navigate the road ahead. 

8. With the increased focus on automation in CS, is there an opportunity to put humans back at the center of the customer value loop?

While customers appreciate self-service, it can't be the sole approach. It’s about those strategic conversations, where the human touch truly matters. 

Currently, CS teams spend too much time on tactical and basic tasks, like compiling reports and usage data. We need to have CSMs managing more customers and higher ACVs – but being better prepared and informed for every conversation.

The goal is to get to a place where CSMs have more time for meaningful discussions, and to offer the right perspective and leadership.

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