Customer Support vs Customer Success: What’s the Difference?


There’s plenty of jargon used to describe relations and communication between business people and the customers they serve. 

Business development and salespeople are usually the initial line of communication with prospects and leads. After they seal the deal, they’re followed by an entire host of customer-focused teams: customer support, customer success, customer relations, customer service, customer experience – the list goes on and on. 

While companies may apply different terms to their customer-connected teams, these groups usually fall into a couple of categories – the employees who keep things running, and the employees who keep people happy. 

So, what’s the difference between customer success and customer support? They sound like the same thing, but there are distinct differences between the two, and both play critical roles within the customer relationship cycle and overall experience. 

What Is Customer Support? 

Customer support is a business function that helps customers to correctly and efficiently use a product. 

Customer support teams focus on increasing a customer’s overall satisfaction with the product. 

Customer support teams are often the people you call to troubleshoot a product, or the team that walks you through an installation or an upgrade. 

What Is Customer Success? 

Customer success teams also want to ensure you use a product correctly; however, their focus is on making sure you receive the maximum value from the product or service you’ve purchased. 

A customer success team focuses on generating increased lifetime value by strengthening and deepening client relationships, and by encouraging increased use of and interaction between the customer and the product/service. 

How Are Customer Success and Customer Support Different? 

If you think of the difference between these groups from a sports analogy perspective, baseball might be a logical comparison. The customer support team is the coach that teaches you the mechanics of the sport; they make sure you understand the rules of the game and that your form and execution follow appropriate, time-tested guidelines. 

The customer success team, on the other hand, is the coach who teaches you how to think and manage the game – when to throw a curve ball or how to decide whether to pick off that base runner taking a too-generous lead off. 

Their focus isn’t necessarily just on playing by the rules (although that’s still critical); it’s on understanding the intangibles of the game, the interactions and the opportunities to win.

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The comparisons below may help you to describe the differences in these teams, and to determine whether your organization could use additional support to make the most of these business functions. 

#1 – Customer Support Is Reactive, While Customer Success Is Proactive

A key value of a good customer support team is measured based on their responsiveness. Their purpose is to be available when customers reach out to them and to be able to resolve problems quickly and effectively. 

A customer success team, on the other hand, may bring up topics that their customers have never considered before, encouraging them to consider potential new use cases and perspectives. 

The job of the customer success team is to view their customer holistically and figure out ways to help them improve; specifically, to help them improve through the use of their business’s products and services. 

#2 – Customer Support Is Short-Term. Customer Success Is Long-Term 

This statement may sound a bit drastic, and customer support teams won’t appreciate the thought that their efforts are “short-term.” However, it’s not a reflection on their value, but rather on their ability to be measured. 

When it comes to customer support, relevant metrics include things like response time, tickets or issues handled/resolved, and customer satisfaction (CSAT) score. You should be able to take a glance at a data sheet and get an idea of how useful and effective a customer support team has been for the day. 

Customer success, on the other hand, can be more difficult to track on a daily basis, although measures like Net Promoter Score can aid in quantifying their value. 

Instead of waiting for a customer to reach out with a concern, customer success teams are experts at exploring untapped opportunities and helping their clients to make the most of their product’s features and benefits. 

The goal for a customer success team is to think long-term, to use their knowledge and envision ways to more fully integrate products/services into the customer’s business processes, and to thereby help the customer attain greater success. 

#3 – You Can Have Customer Support Without Having Customer Success. You Can’t Have Customer Success Without Having Customer Support

Whether you have a customer success team or not, you’ll still need customer support to handle issues and make sure your clients keep their services up and running. You still need people answering the phones, installing the updates, and keeping things running smoothly from a technical perspective. 

Your customer success team is necessary in a different way, yet it cannot exist without good customer support. A big part of customer success is customer experience – the way your clients interact with your product. 

You can offer the best ideas for maximizing product use or making upgrades, but if you don’t have someone standing by to ensure customers’ bugs and issues are worked out, the experience won’t be as good, and the customers won’t be as pleased. 

Does that mean that you should choose to invest in only one? 

Definitely not. If you’re a SaaS company in particular, you can’t thrive and grow without building lifetime customer value (retaining customers long-term and increasing the value of products and services they secure through you)

An outsourced customer success team can provide a solution if you’re concerned about budget constraints, by giving you access to knowledgeable, experienced customer success experts at a fraction of the cost of maintaining a full in-house team.

#4 – Customer Support’s Typical Emotional Challenge: Anger. Customer Success’s Typical Emotional Challenge: Disillusionment

Customer support is intended to do one big thing – make the customer’s problems disappear. The customer support team is often the group that is subjected to the first dose of attitude or anger from a disgruntled customer. 

However, a lot of power – sticking power – comes with that responsibility. 

Research shows that churn can be reduced by two-thirds if customer issues are resolved with the first contact. Therefore, investing in good customer support can pay off by reducing the costs associated with prospecting, selling, and onboarding new clients continually. 

Customer success teams, on the other hand, may not deal directly with customers who are angry or frustrated. Their emotional radar should be set to pick up on a customer’s disillusionment or disengagement with a product or service. 

Your customer success team should be experienced and practiced in connecting with clients and getting “real-enough-time visibility into customer health.” Their goal isn’t just to decrease churn but to fight disillusionment and keep customers plugged in to the product. 

What Do Customer Success and Customer Support Have in Common? 

While each team has its own specific role to play within an organization, these two groups also share a lot of common ground.

Their most important shared factor? A commitment to customer experience. 

Research from Forrester shows that customer experience is a key driver and predictor of revenue. 

And it’s not just derived from making unhappy customers happier (customer support’s job); even the already-happy customers are expected to spend more and become more committed and valued (which is where customer success comes in) when they enjoy a positive customer experience. 

Customer support may sound like all nuts and bolts, while customer success may sound like all cheerleading and smiley faces. However, both of them require hard work from knowledgeable, experienced professionals who are committed to a customer-focused culture and philosophy. 

Are you more comfortable working with customer success or customer support? Where do you see opportunities within your organization to increase your commitment to your customers? Let us know in the comments below: 

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