Mike Sasaki, VP Global Head of Success and Support at Mitek Systems

November 11, 2021
20 min

Escalations, angry customers, and mistakes, oh my! If you’re a CSM, customer success or CX leader, these words may elevate your heart rate.

Mike Sasaki, VP of Customer Success and Support at Mitek Systems, has good news. These ‘bad things’ don’t actually have to be. Bumps in the road can lead to opportunities to improve, build trust, and grow retention in the long run.

For Mike, zooming out to see the bigger picture requires us to look at everything from our metrics, our approach, and how we think about customer success as a whole.

Listen in for Mike’s counterintuitive advice that will bring you and your customers long-term success.


- Customer success is more important than customer happiness.

- Define success with your customers and measure it clearly.

- Great CSMs need domain knowledge, not just product knowledge.

Things to Listen For:

[02:30] Mike’s CX pet peeves

[04:30] Clarifying responsibilities

[06:00] Leading your company into a customer-centric culture

[08:00] Including other groups early in the customer lifecycle

[09:00] Making data-driven decisions

[10:30] Recognizing self-service as a good customer experience

[13:00] Evaluating CX with multiple metrics

[15:00] Measuring engagement with response rate

[17:00] Other ways of understanding engagement

[20:00] Onboarding customers

[21:00] Providing content at the right time and in the easiest way

[22:30] Busting CX myths

[24:45] Defining customer success

[25:45] Proving your ability to be a trusted advisor

[28:00] Mike’s CX advice to business leaders

Mike Sasaki
VP Global Head of Customer Success & Support
Mitek Systems

Mike: Happiness could be important. I think success is more important. Is the customer successful? I've had customers that weren't very happy with me, as a CSM, because I told them the truth, not happy with our company, but they were successful.

Flourish CX. The only show helping CX leaders do one thing: empower their customers. Each episode democratizes best practices while leaving you feeling both inspired and equipped to take action. Let's get to it.

Alon: What's more important, making your customers happy or successful? I'm Alon Waks, your host for this episode of Flourish CX and the answer to this question is what we're exploring. To help us is Mike Sasaki. He is currently the VP and Global Head of Customer Success and Support at Mitek Systems: a digital identity verification solution. In our conversation, he unpacks the key metrics for tracking customer experience and why the most helpful data isn't actually data. Sound confusing? Maybe, but I promise it makes sense. 

But before we get into it, what annoys him in the world of CX. Let's talk.

Mike: I watched a lot of the executives at the companies I was at, and if someone wasn't going to do something, they would do it themselves. Their department would take it on and say, “okay, this needs to be done. You're not doing it. We'll just do it ourselves.”

And so that really left an impression on me that if there's a job that needs to be done, sometimes you got to get out of what your responsibility is and get the job done on behalf of the customer or whoever that is. So the expression that that's not my job, that is the one thing that really gets to me.

And I could talk all day about that. You know, luckily right now I don't hear that at other jobs and I think that's something that a lot of listeners can relate to is you hear that and it just leaves this huge gap and then the customer is the one that is affected negatively.

Alon: So do you believe that the people that go and opt in and continue with customer facing roles, mostly owning customer success/support - we can talk about that later, are in their blood, in their DNA. It's about if it's not my job, does it matter? That's never going to happen. They're going to be like, I'm going to make sure that this happens because it's in the interest of my customer.

Mike: Yeah, the good ones do. That's also dangerous and leads to burnout as well if the leader does not address that. But you know, I think there's plenty of opportunities and times where a customer facing individual will have to take a step outside of what's the normal responsibility on behalf of the customer and that's okay. It can't happen all the time, but saying “not my job” just leaves these gaps and then the customer's affected negatively.

Alon: Which then at the end, that's not what we want. So this is the obvious question about what is CX? Who owns customer experience? And is it eventually a team sport or is it usually the customer organization owns it and then everybody just supports.

Mike: You know, that's an interesting question, right? Because CX is so broad and your company needs to be customer centric.

And I know that's what we're all trying to achieve. And in customer success, we say it's not a job, not a function, it's a company culture, right? Same with CX, it’s a company culture. So it depends on which touch point you're talking about with CX, like who owns it. But the clarity of it is super important. You need to be clear on, you know, if the customer touchpoint is this or the channel is this. Who owns it? What does that mean?

How do we support the customer? So I would say, yes, it's a team sport, but within any certain touch point, in one organization, can own it. So if that makes sense. It's more like football than basketball. If that makes sense. You know, you have a role and you do it. Whereas basketball, you kind of have these different roles that bleed together.

Alon: Yeah, from a team sport perspective, it's about you go to work with defense, offense, and then their strategy and their support system. But how do you ensure that everybody's in sync and aligned and that CX is a priority in the company? For example, what is your mantra with other leaders in the company that you work with?

Mike: It's up to the customer facing team to influence the management team. So just one example of what we do at Mitek is once a week we host a customer meeting. It's an hour long and we run through from top to bottom, you know, aggregate how the customer is doing. We drill into the details. And we communicate out the wins, the areas we need help.

It's just very open and honest. And it started with probably 10, 15 of us. We've been doing it for, coming up on, five years now. And there are 50 people that joined including the C-suite. So this is a must attend meeting. And that's how you start to lead your company into a customer-centric type of culture.

One thing we do though, is we go beyond the customer-facing. I invited anyone, finance, people ops is there. I don't think they can do their job unless they have the context of, who are our customers? How do they use our product? What are the challenges? What are the successes they're seeing? And to limit it to a small group, you'll never get to be a customer-centric company. But if you open it up to everyone, now that cuts both ways.

But if you open it up to everyone, you have no excuse for anyone at the company not knowing what's going on with the customers. 

Alon: Do you feel like companies today that involve other people, myself, like a CMO to make sure that the experience starts from any touch point ahead of time before they're a customer? Or is it still CX is seen as post acquisition?

Mike: I think it's the latter, but transitioning and just the natural evolution of a company, I think. Where you're starting to see involving more people in the pre-sales, if that's the question, leads to more sales. And so as long as that's the case, as long as that keeps happening, you'll see more involvement earlier on.

And so one thing that we like to do during onboarding is to involve the other groups. Involve marketing. They're going to be some marketing asks. But it's hard to have those marketing asks when you need them. Because, when you need them, it's too late. So you got to give marketing a chance to actually, you know, get what they need to in order for them to do their job. But you need to lay the foundation earlier on.

Alon: Did you feel like, not just marketing, but obviously operations and data and analytics, is there in the mature level to help you to understand high touch, low touch, there's different terms you can use, but really how to enable you to define every customer's path and journey and give them what they need to succeed?

Mike: We're getting there, you know, just like any customer-facing organization, when you start. You just want to manually and through heroics, if you can, actually make a customer successful. And then you start, start thinking about scaling, and then you start thinking about efficiency gains and looking at the data, and then you're not making the decisions off the top of your head.

You're actually making data-driven decisions. So we are on a journey, just like many other companies, customer facing organizations and data is becoming more and more important. And in fact, we have a data analyst on my team and you're starting to see more and more of that. It's not a borrowed resource. It's a resource for the customer-facing team.

Alon: And one of the things we talk about a lot in our community is about the aspect of digitization and enabling people like in the B2C world, you know, all of us go to Netflix and Amazon and so forth and trying to bridge that to the B2B. What is your take on that?

And driving and striving towards enabling people, empowering them to do everything that they could and should do on their own? And then, how do you manifest that across operations?

Mike: Digitization has accelerated during the pandemic in all ways and in our business, Mitek, we've seen it with our customers.

I think the key is really to understand what is the customer's expectations? What is the appropriate interaction that they want with you? And things like Amazon, Netflix, et cetera, have changed the customer's expectations. And that's in B2B as well. So, if you want to buy something, the bar is now Amazon, right?

How much friction there should be. So, and how I can do it myself. I don't have to talk to a human. And so the very similarly self-service, it's a great time for self-service. There it is a great time for self service to deliver a great customer experience. And I think that's the myth. The myth used to be self-service is a bad customer experience.

And for a while now, that's not been true. But more recently, there's an understanding that that's not true. So self service delivers a great customer experience because that is what the customer wants in their experience.

Alon: Tell me if I got this right - self service done, right - content leading to product adoption, leading to not having a supporting inquiry, but rather giving the person the path that they're looking for, what they need versus telling them to ask what they want is what you believe is good customer experience.

But years ago it was, oh, you want to go to experience, just hire a customer success manager per user, per customer. And it shifted to much more of the let them do things on their own because that's the expectation, is that what you’re seeing?

Mike: And that's right. And it's very rare in business that you can accomplish two things.

One: create a better customer experience, but also do it in a way that is, how do I say this? Economically or financially motivating for the company. And I think we lean on the ladder too often where we say, okay, self-service great. Then that'll cut costs. Right. Well, number one thing is it drives the best customer experience.

Secondarily: yeah, it will help you with your costs. And so, but you can do both with one action. And so who doesn't like that, right? You should get cross-functional support all day for something like that. 

Alon: Do you feel like there's still a friction of the customer support mainly, but also success starting with support traditionally, oh, we are a cost center.

We need to scale, but not increase the cost of support, the cost to serve, and all of the lovely metrics that we all feel upon. Is that still a leading metric that a lot of boards and CEOs look at? How much it’s costing us to serve a customer? Or, is customer experience, like how good is your experience? And then, some are connecting to lifetime value becoming the metric du jour.

Mike: I don't think it's the metric, the only metric anymore. I think it's a part of a lot of metrics. And it's really up to the customer facing team to advocate for these other metrics. You know, you could even just look at in the SaaS world, you could look at retention rates, you can look at net revenue retention, you can look at NPS and then you can also look at, you know, support costs and things like that.

But all of those together are really what you need to look at together. It used to be just looking at the cost of supporting the customer. And we do have that. What's the breakeven point - all of that. Those are important things, but in our NPS, those tell you a lot as well.

Alon: Talking about measurements, which is really important because we are trying to be analytics based.

As you mentioned, you have a data scientist, you want to try trends, you understand the signals that are missing or any signal that can tell you, oh, I need to do this for the customer. Ideally digitized and not manual. But is there a metric that, or like a KPI, not even a metric that is coming about, or is it missing, that really says how healthy or how great an experience or happy are my customers, or is it still missing? It's still a soup of different metrics.

Mike: In my world, it's still a soup. We've tried really hard to come up with one number that tells us everything, right. Even if it’s a formula that includes a lot of numbers and that's where we're heading, right.

There will be a score that you can assign and it'll be data-driven and not subjective. And we will get there. But right now, at least in my world, it's still a soup of metrics that we look at. But it does give us a complete picture. So that's really important. NPS is much, much, much hated on cause it's been around forever.

But it works for us. And that's the thing, is that NPS may not work for another company, it works for us. But more importantly, the NPS response rate matters to me more than the score. The score will be the score. We could look at the trends. That's important. The response rate is super important to me.

Are they engaged? If they're engaged, we can improve them. If they're not engaged and not filling out a simple NPS survey, we're in trouble.

Alon: Talk about engagement, is there anything that you guys look at or something that you recommend to think about to understand how engaged the customer is. Of course, product usage is one element of it. And that's of course a great one, but is there any way apart from product usage which is, of course, a very strong signal that you can understand if somebody is actually engaging with your brand, engaging with your customer success, data, content, whatever? Anything else that you guys usually look at?

Mike: NPS is the big one for response rate and engagement. We host business reviews as well. One thing about business reviews, and the way I think about them, is I don't necessarily think we have to have them quarterly. I think pushing a quarterly meeting on a customer is not always in your best interest. But we have events as well.

And so events are a very good indicator of who's engaged from a customer standpoint. And we use a customer success tool as well to kind of track our activity with customers and also our inactivity with customers. And so we can get a pretty good sense of who we're active with and who we're not based on that as well.

Alon: Talking a little bit about your engagement and we talked a little bit about self-service and good self-service. How are you able to understand if that is something that is actually working in your company? Is it something like self-service success rate, customer effort score? Do you think these are coming more and more to the B2B space today?

Mike: I do, because those two worlds are kind of combining. The B2C and B2B because we're an individual. And so my experience with Amazon needs to be my experience with mitek, to some degree. Customer effort score is important. And just the idea of how much effort is it. I've seen some talk of... that's the question you should ask.

How hard is it to work with mitek? Rate that. It's really hard to work with Mitek.Then that's a problem, even if they're successful or happy. That is a problem right there. And that is a good signal. We look at transactions. So we're transaction-based. For one of our customers to send us a transaction, a lot has to happen.

A lot of trust has to be there. And so, that one transaction represents a lot. So if we’re looking at one score to see how successful or how, I hate the word happy, but how happy a customer is with mitek. Then we can look at the transactions and are they growing or not? And so we pay a lot of attention to that.

Alon: And that's regarding adoption and about health and you understand...

And we know that from digitalization and self service, you can also give them more content and you understand where the gaps are and you can do that. You're seeing that something that's going to be pretty much de facto and every company will do it. Look at, especially in SaaS, we'll look at the journey of customers and say, they should be doing this next.

If they haven't done it, we raise a flag either to a CSM or to some automation, do you think that's gonna be the norm?

Mike: Yeah. So you said a lot of things that are all coming together. So focus on onboarding is really important right now in SaaS. And so we're doing the same thing. There's going to be a phase, maybe there's seven phases of onboarding, and then you hit a certain transaction level and you're successful.

And then you're handed off to the next CSM. So in programmatizing that whole journey as well, from a customer standpoint. So we have onboarding phases within each onboarding phase. There's going to be a need for self service. Documentation, product documentation, knowledge based articles, dev portal, all videos, right?

All of that needs to be inline with each onboarding phase. And so all of this is coming together and what that's going to do is give us a lot of data and we're going to understand how long and what should they be looking at in each phase. And are they? So the reporting is going to be super important.

The data is going to be very important and we're going to know the ideal flow and how long they should spend in each phase in order to be successful and what documentation they should be looking at.

Alon: What do you think is like something people focus on way too much? It's like a misleading metric or KPI that nobody should care about because it's a secondary or like a misconception - everybody,

‘oh, we should do that. But actually, no, we shouldn't do it.’ Is there anything like that?

Mike: Yeah, there's a lot of short term thinking. I think that that bothers me the most. The idea that the customer needs to be happy. There's something that bothers me as well. I think happiness could be important. I think success is more important. Is the customer successful?

I've had customers that weren't very happy with me as a CSM because I told them the truth and not happy with our company. But there were successful and successful companies renew. Successful customers grow. Another thing is escalations. Escalations can be a big distraction at a company, especially a smaller company.

It's all hands on deck. And that actually scares me the idea of all hands on deck. Escalations I view as an opportunity and an opportunity to engage, an opportunity to improve, an opportunity to win the customer over. We've all seen those stats - that you had a problem with this company, I went to their customer service, they treated me great. They fixed the issue. I am even more loyal to them. It's a human thing. And so very similarly, I see escalations as opportunities for us to get better because probably we made a mistake, also for us to engage at a higher level or a different broader level with our customer and then also to make things right.

And then ultimately, long-term, we do drive that loyalty through that. 

Alon: What it is you’re saying is it's an opportunity to actually go deeper, broader on the account and to be able to say, honestly listen, we might've messed up. Or, sorry for that. Oh, you know what, let me educate you how to do that better next time.

It's a very fair point. It's very human. Success has to be well-defined though. Right? What is a successful customer, as you said, and what are the signals or data points that lead to that?

Mike: We have done a lot of work during the pre-sales side of things, finding out what is success. And not just, hey, we want a better experience, hey, we wanna, you know... It's metrics-driven and sometimes you can't get it because the customer doesn't know, but you can start the conversation there. And then as you work with them during onboarding, you get more dialed in and then you can actually set expectations. You can agree on what success looks like

with the customer. And then you can drive towards it and measure it. So that is super important is understanding what is success. Everyone says, yeah, when we work with customers, we determine what success was going to be, what the success metrics are, then you look at the success metrics and they're super vague or unrealistic.

Alon: Before we wrap things up. I asked Mike this question, if you could magically cause every executive CEO or founder to understand one thing about CX, what would it be? Here's his answer:

Mike: A lot of times you need to have a long-term view of things. And as much as, the C-suite CEOs, founders, say that, they don't actually act like that.

So that is super important. I would say hiring the right people is important. So if I have a superpower, I'd be able to hire people that are not only great fits, but are diverse. I have a diverse team, diverse in thought, diverse in every way possible. That creates a very balanced team.

I've seen organizations that are always backfilling. It's really hard to run an organization in the company when you're always backfilling. You can never get that traction. So what would I tell a C-suite person? An unhappy customer is okay. An escalation is okay. Let's have that long-term vision, let's get better and it will lead us to high retention rates and high growth rates as we get better.

Alon: I love it. I think the whole idea around transparency and being there for your customer, not just saying, oh no, they have an issue.

And everybody scrambles, everybody runs to this direction. It's like my seven-year-old soccer team two years ago, they all run to the ball here or run to the ball there. It's like, let's all relax. Let's understand. Let's think for two minutes and get them. And we have, we trust our product. We trust our data.

We trust our customers and we can have a conversation and get them towards being successful and happy.

Mike: And we trust our people, right? We trust our people. So if I'm bringing the product and engineering team into an escalation, they're not doing what they need to be doing at that point. And that hurts us. That's going to hurt us long-term for sure.

Alon: Thank you for listening to this episode of Flourish CX. To learn more, head over to zoominsoftware.com/podcasts and follow along wherever you get your audio.

recent episodes