SaaS Customer Success Blog

What's the difference between customer success and customer support?

Industry folk use both terms. Sometimes they interchange them freely or equivocate withoutrealizing it. Sometimes they draw sharp divisions between these two functions of a business.

The two are linked but different disciplines -- and require different mindsets and playbooks to win.

I had the real pleasure of talking about this topic with George Szundi, of Natero, a customer success platform for B2B companies. You can read the full write-up here on Natero's blog, or read the cliff's notes below for how success and support differ on in a few key areas.

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Differentiating Customer Support and Customer Success

Key areas where the two differ are in their focus, the duration of interaction, how to measure them, the hiring profile, ROI, and org structure.

Here's the short version:

  • Focus: Support is about reactive fulfillment of customer needs; a customer needs something, so let's give them that. Success focuses on proactive guidance of customer goals; a customer has goals, and we're going to, arm in arm, get there, together.
  • Duration: Support interactions are transactional; they have a beginning and an end. Success also can have transactional interactions, but success has no terminal point; the relationship continues as long as the customer is a customer.
  • Metrics: Support metrics aim to measure quality and speed of the support interaction itself (SLA, CES, NPS, CSAT); support metrics don't usually measure what comes before or after. Success metrics are all about downstream business impact! Retention, repeat purchase, TLV, or some critical long-term business metric.
  • Maturity: Support is a 25+ year old field, and is there is a mountain of knowledge on how to do it right. Success is at best a little over a 10 year old field, and is not yet a "right" way to do success for every business; we don't yet have a definitive, convergent view on how to do success right.
  • Hiring profile: Because support is a mature field, the job function is well understood and customer service skills are a category unto themselves. Success is a newer, more diverse field, and the skills range from customer service, to subject matter expertise, to sales.
  • ROI: Support can be viewed as an operational cost of doing business or a key experience function; either way, support is a necessary cost, is obvious when it breaks, and generally well-understood by finance organizations. Success is more controversial among CFOs, and always trying to prove its ROI...usually by illustrating would happen if the whole success organization vanished!
  • Organization: At scale, support can get lumped into engineering or ops and run as a pure cost center; this isn't so bad as to be non-functional, but really limits how big an impact support can have on the business. Companies get more out of support teams when they organize them with success and other more revenue-centric, as opposed to operations-centric, functions. Success teams often get grouped in under sales, which is fine when starting them up, but companies get more out of success teams when treating them as their own discipline, grouping them with other customer experience-centric teams like support; this enables a focus on end-to-end experience which leads to a better tuned operation over time.

You definitely need to Check out the full narrative on Natero's blog!

It's also worth noting that, as companies grow, the lines often blur between support and success. So if you're reading this and work for, say, a 50 person SaaS company, you probably have people that you'd place in both categories above. That's natural, and a good sign that you're growing and figuring it out. In time, the organization will rationalize and the line between the two will become clearer, if you want it to.

Thanks to Natero

I do a lot of interviews, and generally work with a lot of marketers. George at Natero was particularly thoughtful and lovely to work with.

George meticulously arranged pre-work, reshot sections of the video interview that weren't up to his standard, and took a level of care in our work together that I really appreciated.

In a world where every marketer wants to carpet the Internet in as much content as they can, I really appreciated the mindset with which Natero and George approached our conversation. Nice work -- and great content!

Topics: customer support customer success