Customer Success vs. Customer Support: Understanding the differences

An exploration of how customer success contrasts with customer support that provides a deeper and more nuanced understanding.

What is Customer Support?

To understand how these two strategies contrast one another, it is important first to understand what constitutes customer support. The customer support field has been in existence for nearly three decades. In comparison, customer success is relatively young at a little over ten years in practice. Customer support provided a foundational platform to develop the philosophy and practice of customer success. The practice of customer support was the first step in an evolution towards customer success.

What is Customer Support (vs Customer Success)?

Customer support can be understood as providing the service of responding to a customer's questions or complaints about a product. This support process is maintained from the beginning to the end of a customer relationship, including initial groundwork and application to ongoing continuity and enhancements. Traditionally limited to being executed by call centers, customer support now has a diversity of avenues. Support is now delivered via social media, instant messaging, email, chatbots, phone, and others. Regardless of the digital avenue, customer support primarily exists to create sustainable businesses and dedicated customers by resolving individual customer needs and making certain products or services are functioning as intended.

As this section explores, customer success teams contrast customer support efforts to the effect of being a more robust and enterprising manner of responding to customer goals and needs.

What are the primary differences between customer success and customer support?

  • Customer support is a reaction. Customer success is an active strategy.
  • Customer support focuses on a resolution. Customer success focuses on achievements.
  • Customer support is a temporary scope. Customer success is a long-term scope.

Reaction vs. Active Strategy

Though both customer support and customer success are critical to the functions of a business and its relationships to customers, the role of the customer support team has historically not involved itself in the development of a company's business strategy. Conversely, while fulfilling important transactions with customers, success management teams also impact the overall business strategy. The impact includes influence for various departments within a given company, where customer success teams produce experience and information that can become relevant but not limited to product developers, marketing teams, and sales departments.

The primary function of customer support teams is a reaction to a customer's needs or inquiries. A customer support team member responds to very particular needs from a customer, remaining in communication only until the individual and specific transaction is completed. In contrast, a customer success team seeks to be proactive about solutions and strategies. Customer success strategies seek to understand and anticipate a customer's entire experience through the customer journey from onboarding to advocacy. Rather than the limited and temporary approach in customer support, customer success teams remain in regular contact with customers, guiding them towards desired targets and avoiding issues before they arise. Although customer inquiries and complaints are a part of this process, it is not the chief role of the customer success department. Accomplishing such achievements supplies positive outcomes for the customer, which in turn leads to sustainable and productive results for a healthy business.

Resolutions vs. Achievements

Resolutions Vs. Achievements Customer Support vs. customer success

As an extension or conclusion to customer support's reactionary nature, another way of perceiving this function is to understand that the goal is merely to provide a resolution. A customer contacts support with a challenge or inquiry. Once this challenge or inquiry is managed or satisfied, the target for customer support has been achieved.

Customer success strategies engage the variation on this approach. Instead of focusing on resolving individual issues, one at a time, the success process aims to accomplish the same conclusion with a more proactive and robust approach. Focusing on positive achievements is at the center of the customer success philosophy. Success teams initiate communication with a customer long before challenges arise, developing a dynamic and ongoing relationship. This relationship allows the success teams management to anticipate and plan for positive achievements rather than simply resolving problems as they manifest.

Temporary Scope vs. Long-term Scope

Customer support seeks to provide a temporary interaction for resolving issues. A customer makes contact with an inquiry or a complaint, and customer support intends to engage the transaction to its completion. In contrast, customer success is oriented toward a more open-ended function. Success strategies are positioned to influence a relationship with the customer over a long-term relationship. To this end, the customer success modality stands to impact a business's broader strategy, whereas customer support traditionally limits itself to dealing with immediate issues that materialize. Customer success strategies aim to mitigate or eliminate challenges before they occur, mostly achieving such ends by having a more expansive perspective and the timeline for execution. The results of this process increase customer retention and renewals while contributing to the growth of a business.

Challenges and Solutions

Because customer success strategies take a more vigorous and dynamic approach to servicing its clients, there are challenges to managing and analyzing the process that is not as pronounced in customer support. Due to its decades of practice and a more streamlined approach, customer support is better understood by industry professionals, and its modalities for metrics are better established. Customer success practices present unique challenges to management and analysis. As a result, the relationship with SaaS (Software as a Service) has flourished. In many ways, attempts at implementing and maintaining customer success programs would be difficult without this relationship. There are many services available to help manage and analyze customer success programs—each with individualized approaches tailored to the needs of a particular business.

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