Myth: High adoption rate means low churn

With Jim Mercer, Global CS leader, and ex-Global Head of CS, Zoom

With over 20 years of experience in customer advocacy, Jim has been recognized as a Top 100 Customer Success Strategist. He has led global customer-facing teams at Zoom, working directly with customers to ensure mutual success. 

Jim is also deeply passionate about supporting emerging professionals and startups in the customer success industry. He serves as an advisor and investor to various companies, helping to shape the next generation of customer success leaders. We are privileged to have Jim as an advisor at Statisfy.

In this episode, Jim discusses a long-standing myth in customer success, shares insights from his journey, and offers his perspective on the future of customer success, particularly the role of AI in making customer success teams more purposeful and successful.

Let’s get right to it. 

What's a common myth about Customer Success?

That a great adoption rate means that customers won’t churn.

Traditional health scoring relies on various weighted factors like adoption relative to the product stack or what your company is selling. But CS needs is about more than just driving adoption – it’s about being laser-focused on the value your products or services provide. 

With the current economic climate, inflation, and tighter budgets, customers are scrutinizing the value of every piece of their technology stack. CS should drive value—not just for what customers bought, but in the context of their entire tech environment. 

We need to ask ourselves if what we're doing is directly tied to retaining and growing our customer base in a quantifiable way. Can we clearly measure our CS team's impact on revenue and accurately forecast renewals quarter over quarter, just like we do with top-line sales?

How did you find your way into the world of Customer Success?

After graduating college in the late nineties, I stumbled into a local startup near Santa Barbara. A part-time job in my last semester turned into a full-time role. This company was behind the technology for GoToMeeting and GoToMyPC, which were some of the early software-as-a-service (SaaS) products.

Back then, customer success wasn’t a term yet. For example, Salesforce was relatively new in SaaS, and the concept of providing ongoing value to customers through subscription-based models was just taking off. We learned how to proactively engage customers to ensure they were getting the most out of our products, which was crucial for healthy renewals. 

My journey in customer success took off when Citrix acquired us in 2003. I remember when it was common to offer a CSM as a perk for larger contracts as a part of the sales cycle - a practice that lacked strategy and often resulted in misunderstood customer expectations.

When I joined Zoom in 2015, one of my main goals was to scale customer success to the masses. I wanted to ensure all our customers, not just the top 10%, received proactive engagement. We did this through automation and thoughtful digital strategies, reducing the need for constant human intervention. I’ve been particularly focused on tying in product-led insights and awareness, ensuring that our customer success strategies were directly informed by product usage and feedback

What advice would you give somebody starting in Customer Success right now?

Align yourself with those companies that you genuinely believe in. When you work for a company that provides real value and has a mission you support, it makes even the toughest days worthwhile.  In addition, try to work for companies with leaders who are all-in on customer happiness and customer-centricity. Throughout my career, I've been lucky to work for companies with CEOs who are laser-focused on this, and it makes a huge difference.

Don't get discouraged – you need resilience and perseverance to be successful here in CS. I've seen a lot of ups and downs, both in the industry and in people's careers. 

The last piece of advice is to leverage the community around you. Even if you're part of an exciting company, it's easy to get stuck in your own bubble. Make an effort to come up for air, get feedback from peers, and understand what's happening outside your immediate environment. Some of my best learnings have come from these interactions, and I wish I'd done more of it earlier in my career.

Why does your organization invest in Customer Success as a function? How do they define and measure the success of the CS function?

Eric,  the founder and CEO at Zoom, and other leaders I worked with before were incredibly focused on delivering happiness to customers. We were all in on customer success. It wasn't an afterthought, it was more about proactively engaging customers to not only ensure they had everything they needed but to also better align with future business needs from a product roadmap or service perspective. A true trusted advisor.

At Zoom, Eric was so dedicated to customer delivery post-sale that he wanted to stay as close to it as possible—not to control, but to maintain a direct line of communication. 

For example, when the prior CRO stepped away from Zoom, there was a distinct and unique organizational shift. Considering the size and impact of our customer base on our overall business, we had the new leader, a chief sales officer, focus completely on top-line revenue. My focus was 100% on retention and renewals, protecting and helping grow the base. And we both directly reported to Eric. 

But to that end, “happiness” for customers can be subjective. It goes back to understanding the true value that your products/services provide. 

What do you think is the future of CS? Where does AI fit into it?

AI is probably the most used term in technology over the past few years, and that’s extended to the customer success world. Recently, I’ve had several conversations with C-suite executives and presidents about an AI-first approach to CS. The idea is to use AI as a first step to customer interactions, beyond traditional support through chatbots.

Companies in the CRM or customer engagement space have a unique opportunity to redefine what good looks like for their customer-facing teams. 

AI shouldn’t be seen as a threat to these roles. Instead, it can enhance the customer experience and uplevel CS roles to make them more efficient and the job itself more strategic and fulfilling to the employee.

Many CS teams, especially in startups, wear multiple hats and often feel overwhelmed. By providing better data and enabling more strategic conversations, AI can help CSMs focus on what truly matters—delivering value to customers.

AI shouldn't be scary.  It can help provide a better customer experience and allow CS professionals to be more focused in their roles. It will enable them to have more focus, better data, and have more strategic conversations with customers based on the inputs that AI provides.

With this emphasis on automation, do you think there’s a way to put humans back at the center of value delivery?

Yes, AI has enormous potential, but no, it’s not just an easy button to solve the day-to-day of all customer engagement.

Although AI has been one of the most talked-about terms, what does it really mean for customer success? 

Automating at scale isn't new—I saw this first-hand in my journey at Citrix and Zoom. 

Years ago, customer success was typically reserved for higher-spend customers and automation was primarily for other segments. However, I believe that properly implemented AI can benefit the management of customers across all segments –  including your largest high-touch accounts. 

For me, a key focus is how companies prioritize AI within their products to deliver value. It’s not just a CS play; AI should be a core part of the go-to-market strategy, impacting customer success, sales, marketing, product development, and support. Think about text summarization, enterprise knowledge management, and customer service or support.  It's about integrating AI tools, like chatbots AI tools, like chatbots, LLMs and generative AI as a whole, to provide better value. 

Companies need to "drink their own champagne" by leveraging AI both in their products and in customer management. 

However, there are also nuances to consider – implementing AI comes with challenges, particularly around security and privacy, especially in sectors like government and education. Balancing these factors is crucial.

This post is for subscribers only

Subscribe Now
Already have an account? Sign in

You might also like...

Here are some other posts from us you may enjoy reading
Myth: CS teams don’t need sales skills

With Nadav Shem-Tov, Founder & CEO, NST Success Consulting, ex-Senior Director - Customer Success at Gainsight

Subscribe For Free