In understanding what customer success is, it’s also important to understand what it is not. Customer success is often confused or conflated with both key account management (KAM) and customer support. In a previous post we wrote about the differences between KAM and customer success. This post will show the major differences between customer success and customer support.
Customer Success as a Function and a Department
Customer success is a key function within any company dependent on renewal revenue, but it is also often the name of a specific department within the organizational structure. The primary role of a customer success team is to increase customer loyalty, especially in key accounts. Key accounts include not only your large clients that invest heavily in your products, but also smaller clients that have a great deal of potential for future investment in your products and solutions.
Customer support is also a key function in a technology company. In many cases it is a part of the customer success department. This arrangement typically works well, because both success and support have a symbiotic relationship. However, as noted above, these functions are separate and distinct from each other.
“Why” vs “How”
One of the ways to differentiate success and support is by thinking about the types of questions they answer. Customer success tends to answer “why” questions for customers, while support focuses on the “how” questions.
The “why” questions addressed by customer success all get back to solving one question for the customer: “Why should I continue to invest in this solution?” It is incumbent on customer success to share their product’s value proposition with the customer, and to explain how a solution solves the customer’s business problems.
“Why” questions focus more on how product features, user adoption data and industry best practices affect the user experience and deliver value to the customer. Customer success must be well versed in all these areas and be able to keep both challenging and inspiring the customer to draw more value.
“How” questions, on the other hand, relate to the day-to-day use of your company’s product or solution. The typical questions answered by customer support are about usage of specific features, education on new features and workarounds or solutions for product defects.
Strategic vs tactical customer relationship management
Customer success teams should ideally focus on a strategic plan that is unique for each customer. A key responsibility of customer success is to continually demonstrate the value that customers receive from your products and solutions. Doing this requires a deep understanding of the customer’s business needs and ROI. It is also incumbent on customer success to drive a customer toward specific outcomes - whether it be an annual renewal, cross- or up-sell opportunities, or becoming a reference.
Customer support, on the other hand, tends to deal with more tactical needs and questions. In the typical support model, your support agents work in a transactional mode - that is, they deal with many different customers in a day or a week on a variety of different questions. Although your customers may get to know certain analysts on your support team (depending on its size), the analysts don’t necessarily learn the context or business objectives of a specific customer. Their primary focus is on solving the problem or question that is immediately in front of them.
Relationship building vs problem solving
Ideally, customer support and customer success teams have skills in both relationship building as well as problem solving. It really comes down to a question of which skill is emphasized most by which group.
Customer success needs to rely heavily on relationship building skills with a customer. This is especially important for cross- and up-selling as well as making customers referenceable. Of course, customers buy a product or service from you - but they also buy into a relationship with the people of your company. Once the initial sale is completed, the customer success manager (CSM) is your primary representative with that customer. To ensure that your customer continues to do business with you over the long haul, the customer success manager has to build a trusted advisor relationship with the customer. The CSM also needs to be skilled at reading body language, understanding business and interpersonal relationships and at interpreting voice and email communication to be able to uncover any hidden challenges or obstacles.
Customer support, however, is primarily concerned with problem solving. When a customer contacts your support team, their issue almost always boils down to a single question: “Can you solve this problem I’m facing so that I can get back to using your product?” Sometimes the solution is straightforward - the customer hasn’t read the documentation or the documentation isn’t clear. In other cases, however, the support analyst needs to do research and troubleshooting to recreate and understand the customer’s problem. In some cases, the problem may be a bug that will not be addressed immediately. In these cases, the analyst must use their problem solving skills to come up with a workaround or an alternative for the customer.
In an ideal scenario, your customer success and customer support teams should work closely together and share information on your key accounts. Members of each team must be well rounded and must possess similar skills - the differences really come down to a question of which set of skills one team emphasizes over another.
Both groups, though, are very necessary for your company to grow and thrive. The most effective way to ensure renewals and up sells within your customer base is to remind your customers of the value you provide now and will provide in the future. This is most effectively handled by your customer success team. Your customers also have day-to-day tactical questions and issues that they need to get resolved in order to realize the full value your solution brings. This is why customer support teams exist.
For your company and your customers to be successful, you should cultivate a strong working relationship between the two teams. Support and success can unite to successfully resolve all of a customer’s post-sales challenges and to make the customers successful.