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Q&A with Mercer Smith: “Don’t assume that what you’ve done before will work again”

Customer service7 MIN READSep 15, 2023

Mercer Smith


Mercer Smith
is VP, CX Insights & Community at PartnerHero, and in the past has lead customer service teams at companies like Wistia, Atlassian, and Trello.

She has recently pioneered an AI-driven tool that helps your team escape burnout, and is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

What one invention would make your work life easier?

If there was a person that could go through all of my LinkedIn DMs and courteously but sternly tell people I do not want demos, that would be lifechanging. I don’t want to be mean or ignore people but dang there is so much spam.

Honestly, anything that I think of already exists. I have Motion to automatically schedule blocked time. I have TL;DV for when I don’t have time to watch meetings, but still want to know what happened.

Maybe something that could aggregate a bunch of data and then summarize for me the best decision that I could make and path forward? I’m sure that there’s some kind of AI model that could do that, but not one that has been brought to market. I would love that.

If there were no holds barred, what change would you make to customer service?

 I would change how disempowered customer service people often feel. There’s like this engrained thing where people feel like they need to scrimp and deprioritize themselves and it makes me feel so sad. There are so many super powers that CX and service folks have, and I wish more people recognized that within themselves.

I would give every single person that interacted with customers a superhero cape and a little dose of self-confidence. I’d give them a pep talk every morning and tell them how important and valuable the work that they are doing is. I would be there for them when they were feeling abused or disempowered, either by their company or by a customer, and help them identify ways to move forward, rather than letting themselves get bogged down.

If AI is going to change the customer service industry monumentally, who do you think stands to benefit most, and why?

I mean, I would HOPE that the customer stands to benefit the most, right? If it’s going to “change the customer service industry” I think we can assume that’s for the positive–and if customer service is being changed for the better, then (hopefully) we can assume that things will be better for the customers.

After all, “better” isn’t a direct translation to  “cheaper for the business to run” or “easier for customer service teams to maintain.” While both of those certainly could make the end experience “better” all that “better customer service” really translates to is “an improved experience for the customer.”

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when nurturing a team?

That everyone is a human, and everyone has their own needs. There is no “one size fits all” for taking care of people and organizations. Every one will be different and will require different tactics. So, don’t assume that what you’ve done before will work again.

What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned recently?

This is such a tricky question. I set it aside to come back to and think about more, but after thinking about it…I still can’t think of anything? I feel like it’s because I learn something new every day.

I don’t think this is new, but I’m learning more and more that it’s so important to rely on others. We cannot exist in a vacuum. We cannot exist alone. We cannot do everything ourselves. For some reason, I’m wanting to mention “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel which is such an important fictional representation about how important humans are to other humans.

The other day I was talking about someone that I don’t like very much and said “Eh, I just don’t have the energy to care about them anymore.” And my six year old said “You don’t have the energy to care? But they are other human beings. If you don’t have the energy for that, what do you have the energy for?”

So, there’s that.

What makes you really proud of your team?

Hosam Hassan and Craig Stoss are the people on my team, so, damn, talk about some power players. I am so proud of all of the work that we are doing to continue making great CX accessible for everyone. Those two have really done a great job of considering how to elevate the entire CX industry– some real “rising tide floats all ships” mentality there.

Our team, CX Transformation, was just a sparkle in the eye back in March, and since then we’ve launched a ton of amazing products and services and it’s really down to their diligent work understanding the market and what people need.

Which book, podcast, or newsletter are you enjoying right now?

 I recently read Laziness Does Not Exist and honestly I just cannot recommend it enough to everyone. It changed my perspective as a chronic historical #hustleboss, and has had a huge impact on the quality of life both at work and at home.

What part of your day do you look forward to most?

This isssss very personal, but every morning I snuggle with my two boys in bed before we get up for school and work. I set my alarm early just to ensure that I have the extra time to do it. I tell them how much I love them, and how important they are, and touch their little fingers and noses and ears, and it just grounds me so much in the current moment and reminds me why life is worth living and how connected we all are.

If you want something less squishy, I thought I could provide an answer, but it turns out I can’t. That’s it, that’s my favorite part.

What’s your most memorable experience as a customer?

 I think it’s really hard to separate out the love of a brand versus the love of an experience. Whenever I am asked this question, I struggle with “well, did I love the experience, or did I love the product that I got at the end?”

I’ve had really good experiences with Prose, who creates custom hair care and skin care. The product is fine, but the experience is kind of next level. After you’ve received a new product from them, they automatically send a survey to ask how it’s been performing, and then use that information to reformulate their next shipment. That’s pretty good proactive experience.Otherwise, ByHeart is a formula that I used when my son was younger. At one point they had issues with the quality of their product, and were unable to send two months of shipments. In place of just an apology and cancellation, they sent me a gift card to use with other formula, and even told me which formulas were most similar to their own for an easier transition.

Lastly, there’s a service called Milkify, which takes frozen chest milk, freeze-dries it and makes it shelf stable for three years. Not only is that just an amazing product for parents, however, their shipping process and customer communication is on point. Obviously, if something were to go wrong with chest milk, it would be devastating for the customer. So, when Milkify sends out their box for collection of milk, there are instructions ALL OVER the box and internal shipping materials to ensure that NOTHING could be missed or go wrong. It is obvious that they understand that shipping can be confusing, that parents can be stressed and busy and miss things, and that losing out on ANY chest milk, let along 50+ ounces of it would be a huge blow at an integral time in peoples’ lives.

Who is your favorite cat?

I have three hairless cats: Jennyanydots, Rumpleteazer and Pouncival. So, I have three favorite cats.

(Are they listening? If they aren’t listening, my favorite is Pouncival, but don’t tell the others.)

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