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Perhaps the most obvious difference is that customer success is proactive and customer support is reactive.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is that customer success is proactive and customer support is reactive.

Customer success vs. customer support - What's the difference?


By Mary Barkley - Aug 22nd 2017, 16:29

Back in the day, things seemed a lot simpler. There were the customer service, accounting, and sales departments. No one could dispute the difference between these departments. But with the emergence of new SaaS and software companies, customer success was born. One could make the logical deduction by looking at their wording that delivering great customer service will achieve customer success.  

That would mean that they’re the same thing, right? While they may share similar names and overlap in some ways, it’s important to understand that there are clear differences between the two.

Proactive vs Reactive

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that customer success is proactive and customer support is reactive.

Customer support is all about fixing issues that a customer is having with a product or service, whether it’s a bug, erroneous charges etc. Because customer support reps are providing solutions as they arise, this function focuses on short-term solutions, which is absolutely necessary for a business. No matter how good a product or service is, things will malfunction and break eventually – businesses need this problem-solving department to save the day when that happens.

Customer success, on the other hand, focuses on the long-term success of customers by building relationships with them and helping them realize the full potential of the product or service. Ensuring customer success is about looking at it from a strategic perspective and tackling the bigger picture. That’s why this is a cross-functional effort, not just the responsibility of a single department. This means customer success falls on the shoulders of customer support, sales, marketing, design, accounting, etc. Some outcomes of achieving customer success include increasing customer retention, reducing churn and upselling. In other words, customer success is about adding value to the company’s existing offerings.

Cost Center vs Revenue Center

Customer support isn’t designed to bring in revenue for a company; it acts as a cost center. To illustrate, let’s say you’re a business that sells software which is supposed to allow for easy employee scheduling. An irate customer calls in and expresses their frustration at glitches in the system which is preventing them from putting certain employees on the schedule. The customer support representative on the line will listen to get an understanding of what the problem is and how they can fix it. This action is not generating any new revenue for the business; they are simply trying to keep the customer happy and prevent them from discontinuing the use of their product.

Customer success focuses on growth, not just retaining existing customers. It acts as a revenue center. While efforts are still about preventing churn, there’s a greater focus on expanding business and bringing in new revenue by upselling, cross selling and getting referrals.

For example, look at what a Customer Success Manager (CSM) does at a SaaS company. A big part of his or her job is to understand the goals the customer wants to achieve from using the company’s software and help them reach those goals. But it’s not only about a ensuring a fruitful experience using the product or service, the CSM has to make sure that the customer’s experience with the entire company is a positive one. Some of the daily responsibilities of a CSM include:

On-going support
Consultative calls
Strategic planning
Collect feedback
Customer outreach
Account support

How They Work Together

As you can see, both customer success and customer support are crucial to your organisation. Furthermore, they must remain separate and everyone in the company must understand the differences that exist between them. That being said, it’s imperative that they work together in harmony.

For example, if a customer support rep keeps hearing about the same glitch in the system from different customers, he or she should communicate this with the development team so that they can prevent this from happening in the future. Another example would be a CSM helping sales teams streamline their processes using a CRM like HubSpot. Again, customer success should be the mission of every individual in every department.

If there is a misalignment between customer support and customer success, it could be very costly and time consuming for the company. With that miscommunication, outcomes like unresolved issues with the product and lost revenue are likely to occur.

Given that customer, success is a relatively new concept and there’s overlap between the two, it’s understandable why there is still some confusion about how both fit within an organisation. As long as your company invests in training your employees about their differences and what it means to achieve customer success across the entire organisation, you’re that much closer to a happy customer who will keep coming back for more.
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