Monday Guest Kate Neal

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Get to know Kate Neal

By: Mohammed Alqaq   |  March 06, 2023

My name is Kate Neal and I’m currently serving as Director of Customer Success at Staircase AI. I’ve been practicing customer success since before it was cool (2011) and am a startup extraordinaire. When I’m not slaying it behind the screen, I’m riding my Peloton, obsessing over my house plants, and vacuuming sand out of my Jeep.

I’m a Customer Success expert still learning new things every day. Lover of SaaS startups. Remote work extraordinaire. Keeper of uncompromising ethics.

Up-leveling Customer Success one Staircase at a time


We asked Kate to take us through a journey telling us about her career path, how she spends her workday, what advice she can share with someone starting as a customer success manager, and many other questions.

Enjoy reading this interview  

Tell us about your career path?

It’s been an unexpected one. In college, I majored in creative writing and theater arts (yes, nerdy). Before, during, and after college, I worked in landscaping. After many, many years of hard labor, I realized my body felt 80 years old even though I was only in my late 20s. I knew I needed a change but I wasn’t sure what.

One evening, while I was out and about in Portland, OR (shout out to Roadside Attraction!), I ran into an acquaintance who mentioned her cool tech startup was hiring in their customer success department (it wasn’t called CS back then but that’s what it was). So, I applied, they hired me, and the rest is history!

Since that day in 2011, I’ve worked for a variety of different tech startups and made my way from an individual contributor (IC) to management and leadership – focusing on customer success all the while.

How did you join Customer Success?

By complete accident! See my career path story above. But I’ve stayed in customer success because it is challenging, rewarding, and ever-evolving – which keeps things exciting.

How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?

There are a lot of qualities that I look for when hiring my team of CSMs. If I had to pick a top 3, I’d say:

  • Emotional intelligence,
  • A bias for action, and
  • A knack for problem-solving.

Ultimately, I want to know my team will go the extra mile to build customer relationships effectively and that they will be fiercely committed to delivering customer outcomes.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?

Start from the end goal and work backward. A lot of times, CSMs can be put in a position of being a ‘catch all’ role. Spending way too much time and energy on tasks that don’t actually move the needle for your business or your customers.

Every CSM should stay very focused on providing accelerating customer outcomes as that is what leads to renewals and expansions.

So, if you are able to define your end goal, you can work backward to identify the activities and tasks that push toward that goal. Prioritize those efforts relentlessly and at the expense of the ones that don’t make a difference.

Start from the end goal and work backward. if you are able to define your end goal, you can work backward to identify the activities and tasks that push toward that goal.

Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?

Like most CS professionals, a lot of my day is owned by meetings and emails. It’s unavoidable.

I live by my calendar so if something doesn’t make it on there, it’s not likely to happen. One trick I use to ensure I get actual work done is to time block a few hours each week for strategic work.

This is the time where I don’t schedule meetings, pick up the phone, or check emails/Slack. I highly recommend this practice because if you don’t own your calendar, everyone else will!

What makes you feel inspired or motivated?

Helping others. Be it clients, coworkers, peers on LinkedIn, etc. I feel a sense of purpose when I’m helping other people learn and grow – both personally and professionally.

What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?


That I’m a singer. I was in a band for about a decade and, looking back, I’d say those were some of the best years of my life so far. People are even more surprised to learn that before I started singing, I was a rapper. And I can still drop some bars.

Who do you look up to the most?

Everyone because I am short. 😊

But in seriousness, I am super lucky in life to have so many long-term, beautiful friendships that have all played a part in helping shape the person I am today. If I’m going to pick one person, I’d say, my aunt, Amy. She taught me what it means to love unconditionally, how to be true to myself despite adversity, and, most importantly, how to have fun and stay young at heart. Love you, Amy! ❤️

What are your top 3 priorities now?

Personally – I’m starting to build on my property in Costa Rica this year, a longtime dream finally becoming a reality. I’m really focused on my health and fitness. And, because I live allllllll the way across the country from my friends and family and am somewhat socially isolated, I’m making an effort to pick up the phone and call the people I love more often.

Professionally – we’re over here building a startup! So, I’m focused on creating a CS program, building a team, and developing the best product we can. Oh, and, of course, talking to as many CS leaders as possible!

What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?

I think it goes back to starting from the end goal and working from there.

  • Where do you see yourself growing in your career?
  • Do you want to move from IC to management?
  • Do you want to be at a startup or an established company?

Figure out where you want to go and then find people who have had a similar journey and follow them. Reach out to them. Ask for mentorship. But above all, take ownership, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, no one else is going to advance your career for you.

What’s your favorite book, and why?

Oh no. It’s too hard to pick just one! I’ve been book obsessed since I was tiny (thanks, Amy!). One of my favorites in the past few years was ‘When’ by Daniel H. Pink. He’s one of my favorites and this book dives into the science of timing and really opened my eyes to so many different things. I definitely changed a lot of behaviors and how I make decisions after reading and re-reading this book. Highly recommend it.

» Check out the 10 Books a CSM should read to advance and improve their skills.

Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?

The first time someone reached out to me and asked me to mentor them definitely made me feel like I had come full circle. Of course, I’m always learning and growing, but it was cool to feel like I had something of value to share with others. 😊

What should I have asked you but didn’t? 

Great question! CSMs, take note!

One thing that comes to mind is the next evolution of CS unfolding today. I think we’re moving beyond NPS, QBRs, playbooks, etc. to a more dynamic, strategic, real-time, and proactive approach and I’m super excited to be at the forefront of these changes. Things like NLP and Generative AI will truly change the game for us CS professionals.

Where can people go to find out more about you?

I’d be thrilled to connect and engage with people. I’m on LinkedIn and would love to chat with anyone interested in connecting. 

Thank you, Kate, for sharing your knowledge and for the opportunity to know you more.

Do you have a Customer Success Leader, Expert, or Influencer you would like to know more about?