a person talking on their cell phone discussing the differences between customer support and customer success.
Customer Experience Management

Customer Success vs Customer Support: What’s The Difference?

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“If you have any questions, please contact our customer support team.” 

Or is that customer success? Or customer service? 

In the customer experience world today, there’s so many different terms and labels for customer-facing teams that it can be difficult to discern what the difference is—if there is one—between the terms. 

  • Is there a difference between customer success vs. customer support? 
  • Are both necessary? 
  • What are the strategies of each? 

In short: customer support and customer success have subtle, yet important, differences—and understanding the differences between them is essential for structuring your team and ensuring your customers get the support they need to be successful.   

Our team has 40+ years of customer service experience—in this article, we’ll explain the differences and similarities between customer success and customer support, and how to use both together to improve your customer experience and strengthen customer loyalty. 

What is Customer Support?

Customer support is closely related to customer service—answering customer questions, solving customer problems or issues, and providing technical troubleshooting. 

This is the team that responds to inbound customer communications, proves help desk support and takes care of customer issues throughout the entire customer journey. Depending on your industry, customer support may encompass solving issues for customers not just surrounding the product, but also throughout the buying process, questions around shipping and returns, help with their account, product recommendations and so on. 

Generally, customer support teams carry out the following responsibilities: 

  • Strengthening customer relationships through one-off questions and support 
  • Listening to specific customer issues and problems and finding direct solutions for them 
  • Collecting customer feedback and/or informing product and other teams about common issues, bugs, etc. 
  • Providing help desk support, knowledge base communications and other technical product support to customers 

So, with all of these tasks falling under customer support, what is customer success? 

What is Customer Success?

Customer success, in short, is the team that helps your customers get the most value out of your product or service. 

Rather than answering customer questions and solving problems directly, customer success teams work proactively with your audience to help them find more value with your product, using it to achieve and support their goals, and thereby enabling the customer to feel supported by your organization or brand as well. 

In return, customers generally find more success with your product and become more loyal to your brand, which increases lifetime value and customer retention. After all, the more value customers get out of your tool, the more likely they are to stay loyal to your brand and spend more money with your company. 

Customer success teams generally carry out the following responsibilities: 

  • Developing or strengthening ongoing relationships with customers and accounts 
  • Learning customer’s internal goals, KPIs and needs from your product 
  • Helping customers onboard your product in their teams and integrate your product with their current tech stack 
  • Thinking holistically about your customer’s goals and helping your customers achieve them using your product 

The question now is: which is most important for your team, or does every team need both? Understanding some of the key differences and similarities will help determine which is most essential for your brand’s goals. 

Customer Success vs Customer Support: 4 Key Differences

Obviously, there are some clear differences between customer support and customer success—but there are four key differences to keep in mind. 

Reactive vs. Proactive

Customer support is reactive; customer success is proactive. 

Customer support is the team a customer reaches when they have a question about their order, or when they are running into a technical error and need help troubleshooting. 

Customer success, on the other hand, reaches out first. They’re the team that emails important accounts or valuable customers and says, “We noticed you haven’t [used the product/completed some important action] lately, did you know you could use the product to do [important benefit]? They send out a video tool or a knowledge base feature to help customers get more value out of the product. 

One-off vs. Ongoing.

Customer support is one-off, customer success is ongoing. 

The length of the relationship differs greatly between these two departments. Customer support agents are obviously contributing to a—hopefully!—long-term relationship between your brand and the consumer, but their direct contribution is generally quick, answering a one-off question or concern. 

For customer success, the relationship is ongoing and more relational in nature. There’s no definite “endpoint,” and larger accounts may be assigned a dedicated customer success representative to help them onboard and get the most value from the product. 

While customer support focuses on helping customers overcome issues or answer questions about the product or brand, customer success aims to help customers beyond just when they have a pressing issue. Instead, customer success provides ongoing support to customers that’s targeted to their goals and needs. 

Short-term vs. long-term satisfaction

Customer support aims to deliver customer satisfaction in a single moment or interaction; while customer success aims to help achieve customer satisfaction over time. 

Discussed as metrics, you could say that customer support is CSAT, while customer success is NPS. With customer support, you’re aiming to help the customer with a single problem or inquiry, delivering a satisfactory solution and interaction. It’s one-and-done, and the effects are mostly short-term (but contribute to a long-term relationship). 

With customer success, it’s the opposite: your individual interactions may not mean much to the customer on their own, but over time, this team helps customers succeed and delivers long-term customer satisfaction, strengthening brand loyalty and affinity. 

Ownership vs. collaboration

Customer support is generally owned by a single team; customer success often happens as the result of a cross-team collaboration. 

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be collaboration within customer service and support—there absolutely should be. (In fact, more than 70% of customers expect internal teams to “collaborate on their behalf” when they have a customer service need.)

But the actual approach and actions of the customer support team are generally handled within that department—the customer service, answering customer queries and so on. On the other hand, with customer success, while there may be an actual customer success team, this team usually collaborates quite closely with sales, marketing, and product teams to manage their internal tasks and outcomes. 

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For all their differences, customer success and customer support work well together and have many key similarities as well—and understanding their overlap can help organizations gain the most value from each of these teams. 

Customer Success vs Customer Support: 5 Key Similarities

Customer success and customer support both have many things in common—namely, the goal of supporting the customer throughout the customer journey. Here are five key similarities to keep in mind as you develop these teams at your organization: 

Both are focused on customer experience.

Customer success and customer support are both focused on customer experience. While one typically focuses on immediate, short-term problem solving and solutions, and the other on long-term relationship building and success, both are working together to ensure the customer has a good experience and gets the most value from your products or services. 

They should work together for the largest impact.

Customer success and customer support are really two sides of the same coin—in order to get the most value out of them, you should use both. Of course, not all organizations will have the headcount or the budget to staff a full service and success team, but having both can help improve customer loyalty, retention, lifetime value, satisfaction and more. This is why more and more companies are turning to outsourcing to develop excellent, full-scale service and success teams while minimizing costs. 

Both teams measure similar metrics. 

When used together, the metrics from customer support and customer service teams can provide enhanced, more holistic data and stronger business insights. Customer support teams generally measure more operational metrics, such as average hold time, first contact response and so on. Customer success teams generally measure more qualitative, long-term metrics, such as customer lifetime value, NPS and so on. 

Looking at all of this data collectively can create a more holistic view of your customer experience and where to improve, which is just another reason why these two teams work so well in tandem. 

Both teams should use multi-channel approaches.

Finding the right software for customer engagement and support is essential—and when done well, both customer support and customer success should adopt a multi-channel approach that meets customers wherever they are. 

Just as customer service shouldn’t just be via the phone, customer success shouldn’t just be about emails or meetings. Video calls, recorded videos, knowledge base articles, Slack groups or communities, working sessions, social media posts, tutorials and more can all play a role in customer success. 

Understanding the larger customer journey is crucial.

Finally, both customer success and customer support should understand the larger customer journey. 

While customer support may handle requests from customers at any point in their journey—from general awareness and research to post-purchase support, customer success generally takes place mostly post-purchase. Regardless, both teams should have a clear understanding of the concerns, goals, needs and desires of the customer at each stage in the process, so clear and consistent support can be delivered by both teams, every time. 

So which one do you need for your brand—or are both necessary? 

Using Customer Success and Customer Support Strategies Together

The decision on which teams to use—or both—ultimately comes down to your business needs and goals.

For the vast majority of businesses, having a customer service team is unavoidable. At some point, customers will have questions, concerns or need help—and you need to have a support team in place to provide assistance. 

Customer success, on the other hand, may be less essential—but when paired with customer support, undoubtedly valuable. For organizations who have corporate customers, long-term accounts and ongoing subscriptions, a customer success team is an excellent way of improving retention and customer satisfaction. 

The true magic comes when these two teams are working together. Using customer success and customer support strategies in tandem—rather than thinking of them as two separate functions—can supercharge your results. For example: 

  • A dedicated customer success team can reduce ticket volume and overall inquiry load for your support team through proactive customer outreach. 
  • Customer support teams can share insights on common problems or issues with a success team for better targeted outreach and customer success tutorials. 
  • Customer success teams can follow up with clients after they contact customer support for further guidance and help achieving their goals. 
  • The responsibility for customer metrics (CSAT, CLV, etc.) can be shared across both teams, creating a more holistic picture of your customer experience while deepening internal collaboration. 

In addition, with an omnichannel support strategy, you can ensure both teams have a complete picture and history of your customers, ensuring consistent, strategic support across all stages of the customer journey. The result? You create an end-to-end experience that avoids isolated touchpoints and serves the customer better. With that, you get better customer experiences, stronger customer engagement, increased brand loyalty, reduced churn and more. 

Each team has a unique role to fill—and once you understand the differences and goals of customer success and customer support, you can analyze your current team structure to ensure you focus on highest-value efforts first, fill in any gaps, and ensure your team is structured in a way that best supports your audience. 

oFor teams who need support managing, strategizing or executing on customer support or customer success, an outsourced provider like Global Response can partner with you to bring decades of experience and expertise to your customer experiences. With proven success improving customer satisfaction, our team of experts can provide holistic analyses of your team and execute on your strategy and vision to achieve your goals.

Connect with a Global Response expert today to implement the customer support and success your brand needs. 

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