The Differences Between Customer Success and Customer Support

Review some of the key differences between customer support and customer success teams and how they can work together.

Shareil Nariman

November 16, 2021

9 minutes

Businesses offering high-touch onboarding for complex products and services can benefit from having both customer success and customer support teams. Even though both teams share some high-level goals, it’s crucial to understand that these two teams aren’t redundant, and their tasks don’t depend on exactly the same skill sets.

Below, you’ll learn:

  • The primary differences between customer success and customer support/customer service
  • What these groups have in common
  • The significance of proactive and reactive approaches to your customer relationships
  • The essential skills and traits for each group
  • How customer success and customer support teams can work together and find synergy

What Is Customer Success?

Customer success is a strategic approach that makes sure your customers quickly see the value you provide and continue to see it over time, ultimately growing your bottom line. It’s about building and strengthening relationships with your customers.

Customer success departments work to train and onboard your customers, support their growth, and create an environment that results in higher customer retention. Customer success team members stay connected with specific customers throughout the customer journey, seeking to meet their needs proactively.

What Is Customer Support or Customer Service?

Customer support or customer service is different from customer success. Customer service is much more reactive in nature. Support members generally solve customer problems when they occur — and only if the customer brings that problem to them.

On the customer end, customer support often looks like calling a main phone line or tech help desk, or sending in a support ticket with a question. In most cases, customers don’t get a dedicated representative who already knows their situation or account. They get whoever is next in the queue. Also, customer support responses often aren’t immediate, and they tend to rely heavily on templated responses or links to knowledge base articles.

Success and Support Are Both About Customer Satisfaction

At the highest level, these two departments are both solving customer issues, helping to reduce churn and increase customer satisfaction. Each team has a role to play, and although their functions sound similar, they aren’t competing or at odds with one another. They work toward the same general goals, there are just some key differences in how they go about it.

Comparison: Customer Success vs. Customer Support

It’s crucial to understand which approach is best suited for your business (or if you should implement a mix of both customer success and support). Below, we’ll walk through a few of the most significant differences in approach.

Customer Success Is More Proactive and Customer Support Is More Reactive

First, customer success focuses on a proactive approach to meeting customer needs. By focusing on success rather than problem-solving, a customer success manager (CSM) often answers customer questions and concerns before those issues ever crop up for the customer.

In a top-notch customer success strategy, your team teaches customers both the how and the why, driving home the value of your offerings in the process. By meeting customer needs before they turn into pain points and frustrations, CSMs help reduce churn risks and make their customers more, well, successful.

Customer support or service teams, on the other hand, tend to be reactive to customer requests. Once the initial sale or setup is complete, customer support waits for the customer to reach out with a problem.

The difference between these two teams is less in the tasks being done than in the scope and approach. Customer success gets ahead of problems and keeps driving value for customers. Customer support steps in only when the customer requests it.

Customer Success Is Relationship-Focused, Customer Support Is Ticket-Focused

Another important difference is in the day-to-day activities and key objectives. It’s relationship-building versus a focus on ticket completion.

Customer success teams focus on onboarding new customers, getting those customers up to speed with your services, and driving ongoing value through deeper adoption and even upselling. Customer success focuses on long-term customer satisfaction throughout the entire customer lifecycle with an eye toward the lifetime value.

Customer support reps, on the other hand, are all about promptly solving a problem or question. Sometimes these issues can get technical, beyond the reach of what success teams could solve.

This approach is also more transactional in nature. You can see just how transactional support/service can be by looking at the typical customer support survey sent out after a ticket is closed. These surveys tend to analyze a singular interaction (the ticket) and determine whether the encounter was satisfactory. They measure this in terms of whether the customer got the answer they needed and how quickly they received that answer.

Transactional isn’t a bad thing. In fact, these business touchpoints can make or break the customer relationship. Support/service is the front line when customers are angry and frustrated and maybe even at risk of churning.

These Teams Have Similar Goals But Different KPIs and Metrics

Once again, both departments and approaches are absolutely about providing and creating customer satisfaction. The ultimate end goals are very similar, but the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics used by each group look pretty different. We’ll explore this below:

Customer Support

Customer support typically deals in singular interactions, and the primary question is whether an interaction is deemed as satisfactory or not in the client’s eyes.

Customer support surveys often ask questions that boil down to whether the customer’s question was answered and how quickly their problem was resolved.

Customer support metrics and KPIs often include items like these:

  • Number of Resolved Tickets
  • Time to First Response
  • Average Resolution Time
  • Average Handle Time

By the metrics themselves, you can see the issue resolution focus: How quickly and how successfully can support teams punch tickets and clear up the queue?

Customer Success

In customer success, performance metrics tend to look more at a customer’s long-term satisfaction as well as the revenue and growth that come from that account. Customer success managers can’t be measured in terms of ticket resolution because they don’t use tickets in the first place.

Job responsibilities look much more varied, including onboarding calls, business reviews, renewal conversations, sending contracts for expanding product or services adoption (through upsells and cross-sells), webinars, tutorials and demos, and more.

The metrics that measure the success of customer success can include metrics like these:

Rather than just issue resolution, the focus is also on customer growth and success.

Different Skill Sets and Characteristics To Hire For

Given what we’ve talked about so far, it’s no surprise that customer success and customer support team members aren’t always interchangeable. These departments each emphasize certain skill sets and characteristics, and savvy organizations consider these when staffing for success and support.

Customer success is all about relationship building and detailed, long-term encounters. Ideal customer success managers should have superior long-range planning skills, including the ability to execute over long horizons and stay clear on where each customer is in the customer journey. There’s a greater level of strategy involved on the success side, and often less of a focus on deep technical knowledge or troubleshooting.

Support, on the other hand, focuses much more narrowly on quickly solving specific customer issues. These issues may be complex and may require deeper technical knowledge, but it’s rare to need much high-level strategy here. Customer support reps must be able to follow detailed processes and keep a solutions-oriented mindset. Ideal candidates for this role type are motivated by task completion more than more nebulous goals.

Customer Success and Support Teams Should Be Working Together

Organizations that have both customer success and customer support teams (as is the case with many SaaS companies) can benefit when these teams work together and share information. Here are a few ways that could materialize for your organization.

  1. Cross-department communication: Both departments end up with insights that would benefit the other, but this requires intentional cross-department communication. For example, if customer support keeps getting the same question over and over in tickets, this could turn into a piece of content that customer success provides and walks through with customers during onboarding.
  2. Customer feedback: If customers are consistently giving similar product feedback in support interactions or in success calls, work to answer that particular concern proactively during onboarding.
  3. Learn as you go: Every customer interaction is a chance to learn (and to teach others in your organization). For example, if your support team gets rave reviews in certain interactions, what did they do? What did they say? Identify what was successful, then repeat it in customer support and/or try to build it in earlier in the customer success process.
  4. Grow a body of knowledge: If your success teams notice that a particular comment or approach resonates and sticks with customers, they should share that insight with the support side, who could then create response templates to include that knowledge for future ticket resolution.

Great Customer Success Teams Use Great Onboarding Software

Great customer success teams can make a massive impact on customer retention, reducing churn and increasing lifetime customer value. A big part of the value of customer success is in having a dedicated team to manage the onboarding process. But even the best teams can’t reach their goals without the right tools.

Arrows is a centralized hub that high-touch SaaS companies use to create powerful, intuitive onboarding workflows. High-touch onboarding workflows can quickly get out of hand when tracked manually or using inferior tools, but we’ve made it easy to manage personalized plans, progress tracking, automated reminders, and more.

If you’re looking for a better onboarding software solution, Arrows is worth your time. See what Arrows can do to enhance your customer success teams through better onboarding tools.

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