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Customer Success Vs. Customer Support: A Detailed Explanation
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10,000 teams use Hiver to delight customers

Customer Success Vs. Customer Support: A Detailed Explanation

Nov 08, 2023
8 min read
Hiver HQ

Table of contents

Customer relationships matter the most in the business world. The way you engage, listen and make them feel valued shapes their faith in your business. 

And when we talk about customer relationships, two departments that play an integral part are customer success and customer service. Though they may sound similar, they play a distinct role. 

Grasping these differences isn’t just important—it’s essential for every business. 

This article will give you a detailed understanding of Customer success vs. customer support and ways to implement them in your business.

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What is Customer Success?

Customer success is the proactive effort of a company to help its customers achieve their goals and desired outcomes by using the company’s product or service. A customer success team focuses on building long-term relationships, ensuring customers derive continuous value from the company’s offerings.

For instance, consider a company that is looking for a help desk ticketing system. They want advice on streamlining their customer queries without compromising their team productivity. That’s the realm of customer success. It’s about guiding the best practices and ensuring the customers get the most out of the service.

What is Customer Support?

Customer Support is a service provided by a company to assist its users or clients facing issues with the company’s product or service. A dedicated team -the customer support team helps their customers by resolving these issues and queries within a short time span. The team aims to ensure users can effectively use, understand, and derive value from the product or service.

For example, let’s say a customer buys a smartphone from a company. They find out that the phone’s camera isn’t functioning properly. That’s when they reach out to the brand’s customer support team through a helpline number. A customer support representative will guide the customer through some troubleshooting steps. And in case the issue isn’t resolved, the team will arrange for a replacement or repair under the product’s warranty. This is how a customer support team functions.

Customer Success Vs. Customer Service – Key Differences

Customer support and customer success – both play a major role in businesses’ growth journey. Although both teams shape customer experience with the brand, they can be very different from each other in terms of how they function.

ParameterCustomer SuccessCustomer Support
ApproachMore proactiveMore reactive
Scope of interactionLong-term engagement with customers, focused on understanding their overall interests and goalsBrief interaction – just to solve specific customer issues
Key objectivesEnsuring customers achieve the desired outcome from the company’s offeringsFocuses on issue resolution and prevention
Depth of customer relationshipLong-term service; strategic partnershipShort-term service; issue-based interaction
Feedback mechanismDependent on feedback loops and regular check-ins (bimonthly or quarterly with the customer),relationship checksDepended on post-interaction surveys
Tools usedCRM software to manage end-to-end customer journeysTicketing systems to manage queries
Customer Success vs. Customer Support

1. Proactive vs. Reactive Approach

Customer success (Proactive) – Being proactive means staying ahead of potential challenges. It’s about predicting possible hiccups or identifying areas where the customer could benefit more from the product or service. 
This approach aims to strengthen customer relationships, ensuring customers continuously see value and benefit from the product or service.

For example, imagine a company that provides cloud storage solutions. A customer success manager from the company notices that a client is nearing their storage limit. Before the client even realizes it, the representative reaches out, offering options—maybe an upgrade or optimization tips—to ensure the business doesn’t experience any disruption. This is a part of a customer success team’s scope of work.

Customer service (Reactive) – A customer service team specializes in addressing customer issues after they arise. That’s why it’s more of a reactive approach. Customer support is about ensuring you respond to customers quickly and solve their problems within a reasonable time frame. While it might sound passive, it’s crucial for addressing immediate and unexpected challenges. It’s about quick turnarounds and efficient problem-solving to ensure minimal disruption to the customer’s operations.

To clearly explain this, let’s continue with the cloud storage company example. Suppose a customer encounters an unexpected error while trying to upload essential data. They would immediately contact customer support. The support team’s job is to address the issue promptly, ensuring the client can resume their data upload without any further glitches. This is customer support. 

While customer success focuses on fostering growth and preventing future issues, customer support ensures that when problems do arise, they’re tackled head-on.

2. Scope of Customer Interaction

The difference between customer success and customer support becomes apparent when we dive into their scope of interaction with the customer.

In customer success, interactions go beyond immediate problem-solving. It’s about understanding the customer needs, long-term goals, their industry challenges and then tailoring guidance accordingly. The engagement is ongoing, ensuring that the customer is always aligned with the maximum potential of the product or service.

For example, consider a business analytics platform. A customer success representative from the company might arrange quarterly reviews with a client. In these sessions, they’d discuss trends, offer insights on new features, or even give tailored advice on how the business can better leverage data.

On the other hand, the customer support team interacts with customers when there’s a clear and defined need – like troubleshooting technical issues. While the interaction might seem transactional, its impact is deep, ensuring smooth day-to-day operations for clients.

For instance, in the same business analytics platform example, if a client struggles with generating a specific report or faces a software bug, they’d get in touch with a customer support agent. The goal here is to address the immediate need, ensuring the client can swiftly get back to analyzing data in the way they want to.

Recommended read:Understanding customer support and customer service

3. Key objectives

The interactions that customer support and customer success teams have with customers have completely different end objectives.

Customer Success: The end goal here is to ensure that customers flourish using the product or service. It’s not just about addressing current needs but also about laying the groundwork for future growth. Upselling, cross-selling, and securing renewals are key indicators in such cases. 

For example, take a company offering an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The customer success team might identify that a client isn’t using certain modules that could be beneficial. They’d initiate a conversation, provide training, and even offer personalized configurations. As a result, the client sees greater value in the service and renews their subscription for another year.

Customer Support: The primary objective here is resolution. It’s about addressing the immediate challenges customers face and ensuring they can effectively utilize the product without hindrance.

Sticking with the ERP scenario, if a business faced issues during a software update or had trouble integrating a third-party tool, they’d turn to customer support. The goal here is to swiftly address the hiccup, ensure compatibility, and help the business get back to its operations seamlessly.

4. Duration and Depth of Relationship

The way both teams interact with their customers can help in understanding the difference between customer success and customer support.

Customer success: Your customers’ relationship with the customer success team is akin to a long-term partnership. The relationship starts right from onboarding the customer, grows deeper with time, and is continuously nurtured. Customer success teams need to think long-term and take a proactive approach to handling customer relationships. They need to really put themselves in the shoes of the customer and ask: What are some improvements customers want with the current product? Are they close to churning? If yes, why? 

For example, consider a company specializing in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. A customer success representative would be involved from the beginning – understanding the client’s sales process and suggesting optimal workflows. As the client’s business grows, the customer success team will revisit their business goals, helping them scale or adapt the software based on new needs or market changes.

Customer support: With customer support, the relationship is typically episodic. It’s born out of an immediate necessity in order to address the issue at hand. Once the issue is resolved, the support team doesn’t have the need to interact with them again. So, the relationship is mostly based on issue-based interaction. But his short-term interaction becomes vital for businesses. In moments of crisis or confusion, this team becomes the anchor between the business and the customer.

Going back to the CRM software scenario, if the client’s sales team suddenly can’t access their lead database, they’d immediately reach out to the vendor’s customer support team. This team will dive in, identify the problem, and fix it.

Recommended read:Seven Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses

5. Feedback Mechanisms

Feedback provides a pulse on what customers feel about your company and highlights areas of improvement. But how feedback is collected, interpreted, and acted upon varies between customer success and customer support.

A customer success team is instrumental in gathering holistic customer feedback. They’re not just looking for immediate reactions but insights that can shape product evolution, future strategies, and long-term relationships. Their feedback mechanisms are often comprehensive, involving detailed surveys, regular check-ins, and even strategic discussions.

For instance, consider a company that offers project management software. The customer success team could organize bi-annual strategy sessions with their clients. Here, they’d discuss not only how the product is serving the customer’s current needs but also potential new features, integrations, or even market trends. This feedback shapes the roadmap, ensuring the product remains relevant and aligned with the client’s aspirations.

But, feedback for a customer support team is usually immediate and issue-specific. What usually happens is that after a specific issue is resolved, the support team triggers a quick survey to the customer – to seek insights on the quality of the interactions, and the efficiency of the resolution process.

For example, For example, let’s say a user of a project management software reaches out to their support team about a specific issue. Once the issue is resolved, the support team would most likely send a quick feedback survey. Questions would  revolve around efficiency of support, clarity of communication, and overall satisfaction with the resolution.

6. Tools and Technology Used

Customer success and customer support teams used markedly different tools and strategies on a daily basis.

The customer success toolkit is built to monitor, analyze, and engage with customers. These teams use tools like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, data analytics platforms, and other engagement tools. Their tech stack helps track customer journeys, spot engagement patterns, and enable proactive outreach.

Let’s say a business offers a SaaS solution for digital marketing automation. Their customer success team might use analytics tools to monitor client usage patterns. If a particular module remains untouched, they could proactively reach out with tutorials or webinars. This ensures that clients are fully leveraging the software.

Customer support teams, on the other hand, use helpdesk software, ticketing systems, and knowledge bases. The goal is clear: facilitate swift customer communication, streamline issues efficiently, and provide accessible self-help resources.

For example, if a client of the same digital automation company encounters a glitch while setting up an email campaign, they’d contact customer support. The support team, utilizing a ticketing system, can ensure the issue is promptly assigned to an agent and addressed on time. Meanwhile, an integrated knowledge base allows users to find quick solutions to common challenges through self-service.

Recommended read:How to Create a Knowledge Base

Customer Success and Customer Service: Implementing Both in Your Business

When considering the intricacies of customer success vs. customer support, both customer success and customer support are equally critical for strong organizational growth and success. What matters, however, is ensuring both these teams complement each other and are empowered to do their jobs efficiently. 

 Here’s how you can do it:

  • Balancing Customer Success and Customer Support Teams: Achieving equilibrium between these teams is crucial. While the customer success team focuses on long-term growth and relationship-building, the support team deals with immediate resolutions. Businesses must allocate resources keeping in mind the scale and needs of their customer base.
  • Training and Skill Development: Since the responsibilities of customer support and customer success teams are different, the set of skills needed to be part of either team also vary. Customer success personnel need training in strategic relationship management, understanding business landscapes, and even consultative selling. Conversely, customer support requires proficiency in problem-solving, product knowledge, and empathetic communication.
  • Measuring Success through Different KPIs: It’s essential to recognize that the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for both teams will vary. For customer success, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV),Net Promoter Score (NPS),and product adoption rates are important success metrics. On the other side, customer support teams would focus on First Response Time (FRT),Ticket Resolution Time, and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT).

Customer support serves as a company’s front line, addressing immediate challenges and ensuring every hiccup in the user experience is promptly addressed. On the other hand, customer success is more about ensuring long-term customer engagement and guiding users toward optimal product usage.

While investing in tools for customer success and customer service, it is essential to integrate both sets of tools/software so that you get a complete picture of your customer journey and interactions. 

One such tool is Hiver. It helps you with your support operations and also allows integration with other software – including various service management tools like Salesforce and Okta. And the best part about Hiver is that you can do everything from your Gmail inbox. 

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A B2B marketer, Madhuporna is passionate about breaking down complex concepts into easy-to-digest nuggets with a stroke of her pen (read keyboard). Her expertise lies in crafting research-driven content around customer service, customer experience, IT and HR. When off the clock, you'll find her binge-watching suspense thrillers or basking in nature.

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