Customer Success vs. Customer Support: What's the Difference?

Jacob Thomas

The customer success vs. customer support debate is as old as… Well, let's just say it's been around a while!

But the funny thing is, many people still don't fully understand the distinction between customer success and customer support roles within an organization.

So with this blog post, my goal is to help clear up the confusion. Keep reading to learn about what goes into customer success and support, how they differ, and how they can be aligned to achieve your business goals.


What is Customer Support?

Most people are familiar with customer support, also known as customer service. These are the folks you go to with questions or call when the thing you bought isn’t working the way it should.

Just about every company has a customer support department, but companies with high customer satisfaction levels generally employ representatives who truly understand their companies products, have high emotional intelligence, and care about their customers.

These traits allow them to successfully help customers in a timely manner and boost their satisfaction, which, more often than not, leads to greater organizational success.

What is Customer Success?

Customer Success teams have one main goal: help customers achieve (preferably long term) success with their companies’ products and/or services. To accomplish this, customer success representatives must be proactive and develop deeper relationships with their company's audience.

This proactive approach enables customer success departments to understand their customers’ needs and help them implement their offerings in the most effective ways.

While customer support/service has been around for centuries, customer success is a newer function that has recently become more popular. It's not surprising that customer success as an org statistically boosts retention, loyalty, and profitability for the brands that prioritize it.


Customer Success Engagement Models


As mentioned above, customer success is a proactive company function. For success teams to achieve their goals, representatives must engage customers. Fortunately, there are proven engagement models you can follow to accomplish this.

Here's a look at four of them:

1. High-Touch Onboarding

High-touch onboarding is very hands-on. As such, it's best for companies that sell complex solutions to customers with multiple decision-makers who take part in the buying process.

Once a sale is made, customer success teams use a high-touch onboarding engagement model to walk the buyer through every stage of the implementation process. By the end, customers should know exactly how to use the solution they just purchased.

Because this engagement model requires so much effort on behalf of the client success team, it's only recommended for companies who sell expensive products that drive a lot of revenue.

2. Low-Touch Onboarding

Low-touch onboarding is the opposite of high-touch and is the best engagement model for brands that sell easy-to-use products. For example, software applications like Dropbox and Slack. Neither of these tools take a degree in rocket science to operate effectively.

Instead of working directly with a customer success representative, customers get funneled into a low-touch onboarding model and are typically given dedicated resources such as articles and videos to teach them how to operate the tool they just purchased themselves.

3. High-Touch Post-Onboarding

Customer success doesn't end after the onboarding process. This means that customer success teams need to choose a post-onboarding engagement model as well.

The high-touch post-onboarding model pairs customers with a specific team member who they can reach out to if and when they have a product question. The team member is tasked with helping the customer achieve success with their new product on an ongoing and potentially long term basis.

This engagement model is generally best for companies that sell high-cost products.

4. Low-Touch Post Onboarding

Low-touch post onboarding is less hands-on than its high-touch counterpart.

For the most part, customer success reps that choose this engagement model interact with customers via digital channels like email or a communication app. They typically use automation as well to encourage product usage on autopilot.

As you've probably guessed, the low-touch post onboarding engagement model is recommended for brands that sell low-cost products, or products with small margins.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

Customer success vs. customer support comes down to five main differences: purpose, timeframe, metrics, skill sets, and impact.

Let's take a closer look at each:

Purpose

Customer support is reactive. It's purpose is to assist customers when they experience product or service related problems in a timely manner, so as to boost customer satisfaction. 

Customer success, on the other hand, is proactive. It's purpose is to guide customers to success by teaching them how to use company products in the most efficient and effective ways possible. It's a partnership; they buy from you, you help them accomplish their goals.

Timeframe

Customer support interactions have a distinct beginning and end. A customer contacts a company's support department, a qualified representative helps them solve a pressing issue, and then the customer hangs up and everybody moves on.

Customer success has a distinct beginning, too, which happens when a purchase is made. But there's no clear ending. Reps engage customers for as long as they remain customers.

Metrics

Customer support metrics are all about quality and speed of service. They don't usually extend to downstream business impact like customer success metrics do.

Customer success metrics focus on things like customer retention, customer lifetime value, and other long-term business goals that are essential to company sustainability and growth. We'll talk more about metrics in a later section of this article.

Skill Sets

Customer support reps need specific skills to do their jobs effectively. These skills include patience, empathy, perseverance, and product knowledge.

It doesn't hurt for customer success reps to be patient, empathetic, etc. But they also need to have in-depth industry knowledge so that they can work alongside customers to plan product implementation and usage strategies that have a high likelihood of success for the long haul.

Impact

Lastly, customer support is mandatory. Who else will your patrons call when they have questions or concerns about your company's products and services?

Customer success, while valuable, isn't essential to the everyday operation of your business. Things won't grind to a halt if your entire success team goes on vacation, but customer success has enormous potential to boost revenue and expansion opportunities.


How to Align Customer Success and Customer Support

As we've seen, customer success and customer support are different, but they are not mutually exclusive. The key is to align these two departments so that they work together to satisfy customers, increase retention, and, ultimately, improve your business.

Here are four tips you can use to align customer success and customer support:

Define Each For Your Company

Start by defining the specific roles and objectives of your customer success and customer support teams. Who will handle which aspect of the customer experience?

In general, customer support teams deal with product-related issues. Customers call them because the gadget they bought won't turn on, or the software they purchased keeps sending them error messages, or their login information doesn't work.

One of customer success's biggest concerns is product adoption. They typically work with customers to ensure they actually use the stuff they buy and get the most value out of it.

Your company will probably define roles and responsibilities in a similar way to what we've just described. If so, make sure both departments understand these distinctions. If you define customer success and customer support in a different way, that's fine. Again, just make sure that there isn't any confusion within your ranks.

Understand Your Department's Metrics

Once the roles and responsibilities of each department have been established, you can assign metrics. What figures should customer success focus on? How about customer support? Separating metrics will help further distinguish these two departments.

Here are a couple of important customer support metrics:

  • Speed: How long does it take your support reps to get to tickets? How long do your customers have to wait on the phone when they call your company? And how can you reduce these wait times without affecting the customer experience?
  • Quality: Are your reps providing good service? You can measure this using the Customer Effort Score (CES), which tracks the amount of effort customers must spend to resolve their issues. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) are popular metrics for support teams as well.

Here are a couple of important customer success metrics:

  • Retention Rate: Customer success teams focus on customer retention. So it makes sense to track this for your company. In case you're not familiar with the term, retention rate measures the percentage of current customers your company retains over time.
  • Lifetime Value: What does retaining customers actually do for your company? Hopefully produce more revenue, but you'll need to track lifetime value to make sure. Lifetime value measures the total value your company expects to receive over the course of its relationship with a customer, from beginning to end.

Commit to Clear Communication

Customer success and customer support teams have different roles within their respective organizations. But both work with customers on a daily basis. Because of this, Success and support reps should be in constant communication with each other to avoid confusion.

For example, a support rep might answer a customer's question, then introduce them to their personal success representative who will work with them to ensure product success. Likewise, a success rep might open a support case on behalf of a specific customer.

The only way to ensure smooth transitions between teams and a unified, enjoyable customer experience is to commit to communication between support and success departments.

Analyze and Improve Your Processes

Finally, understand that the line between support and success teams might not be perfectly clear at first. You probably need to optimize your processes to find a workflow that truly serves your company and customers' best interests. That's perfectly okay!

Commit to analyzing your approach for both customer support and customer success. Then do what you have to do to improve both departments simultaneously.

We suggest hosting quarterly reviews, at minimum, to ensure your teams are aligned.


Build a Better Company

The wider customer support vs. customer success debate will rage on. But we hope we've cleared things up for you a bit with this post.

Just remember, both are important, they just have different purposes and goals. Customer support deals with customer problems and aims to improve satisfaction ratings. Success focuses on product adoption with the goal of boosting customer retention metrics.

Whether you work in your company's customer support or success department, CloudApp can help. Our visual communication tool makes communicating with customers quick, easy, and fun by combining screen recording, GIF creation, and screenshot features into one app.

Give CloudApp a try for free today.

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