Customer support vs. customer success: what’s the difference?
We all rise with better experiences.
When New York Times’ best-selling author and consultantJoseph Michelli came to improve luxury car leader Mercedes-Benz’s customer service culture, this was his core value.
“For me, it is all about helping every single person improve the quality of experiences they provide to consumers because we all rise with better experiences. This means less stress. We don’t have to work so hard to get our needs met…”
Michelli joined the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, Stephen Cannon to ignite a dynamic service reinvention for the company.
They set a new standard: every encounter with the brand must be as extraordinary as the machine itself. Every customer experience must deliver joy. As outsourced customer support specialists, we’ve found that – no matter the company – most of the teams dedicated to customer joy are classed specifically as either “customer support” or “customer success.” But what’s the difference? And why does it matter?
With the help of expert Kirsty Traill of Hootsuite, we’re breaking it down: the definition of customer support vs. customer success, the key differences, and why it’s important for you and your company to know.
What is customer support?
Both customer support and customer success teams work toward the same overarching goals: to deliver exceptional experiences and to help customers.
Depending upon your company’s services, the definition of just what a customer support team does may vary — and those needs continue to grow as customer expectations get higher, too!
Kirsty explains, “Customer support is reactive, so it’s the muscle that flexes when something comes into the business and we need to react to it with a shorter-term focus. It’s centered on resolving product issues and making sure that customers are satisfied with those resolutions.
Customer support is reactive, so it’s the muscle that flexes when something comes into the business and we need to react to it with a shorter-term focus.
It’s the ownership of troubleshooting break fixes, bugs, feature requests, working with a product to fix issues, and then delivering things like the knowledge base and frequently asked questions so that the customers can self-serve.”
In a nutshell, the qualities of great customer support include:
- Prompt, empathetic help in direct response to customer questions or problems
- Responsive, efficient customer interaction based on particular customer needs
- Deep understanding of a company’s product or service
- Concern for the customer first, always
Great customer support teams collect data to help design products better or improve services and provide customers with tools to find answers and solve problems. Basecamp’s Chase Clemons even defines customer support as a critical feature of a product; it makes the difference between you and a competitor, and it can’t be duplicated when done right.
What is customer success?
If customer support focuses on fixing problems, customer success hones in on fostering high-quality relationships.
Customer success is about ensuring that customers see the value that they came to derive from your product.
While it may seem easy to tie customer success services into sales or even product development, these teams stand alone in building relationships and ensuring customer value.
As Kirsty states, “Customer success is about ensuring that customers see the value that they came to derive from your product. It’s proactive, it’s long-term focused, and it’s typically revenue-generating. Customer success owns launch and onboarding customer engagement, ongoing success, and up-and cross-sell.”
The key qualities of customer success include:
- Proactive, thoughtful help without a specific endpoint or conclusion in mind
- Agents with a variety of skills and complex insights into customer needs
- Sophisticated, actively evolving metrics and analytics
- A focus on customer happiness beyond making a sale or executing a fix
- An eye to downstream impacts: retention, repeat business, and lifetime value
Differences between customer support and customer success
While customer support and customer success teamsshare skill sets, responsibilities, and overarching goals, they tend to operate with distinctly different strategies and approaches.
Customer support teams tend to be reactive: they resolve issues related to a product or service or offer additional instruction or education when needed.
Customer success, on the other hand, plays for keeps with a proactive strategy: it can best be managed by numbers tied to longevity of satisfaction, such as return customers and repeat business or sustained customer retention.
At Hootsuite, Kirsty found that there’s a certain – and essential – difference. “I think there’s actually quite a distinction, but a lot of customer success managers, for example, end up working on support issues and don’t focus enough on customer engagement, success, and up-sell, which is why I think you really need to draw that line.
More mature companies have customer support and customer success as two distinct functions, which allows them to focus on deriving or delivering customer value, particularly where they want growth to come from their existing customers.
More mature companies have customer support and customer success as two distinct functions, which allows them to focus on deriving or delivering customer value, particularly where they want growth to come from their existing customers.”
How do customer support and customer success complement each other?
Combining proactive and reactive strategies together creates a much stronger holistic customer experience. It also saves time. If you’re able to anticipate what a customer might need or any dilemmas they might face, you save time, money, and other valuable resources on customer support. It’s all about optimizing your business for the overall best experience for your customers and the highest growth for your metrics. Marrying customer support and customer success together is an excellent way to achieve that.
Why is it essential to have good customer support and customer success?
Both of these are crucial for growing a successful business. They work hand-in-hand to give your customers a better experience. Naturally, this increases retention and loyalty to your brand. If your business has a thorough customer support and success structure, a customer will choose you any day over competitors who do not.
Why should you define customer support and customer success?
It’s easy — and tempting — to just lump support and success teams together without distinction. After all, they’re both aiming at the same target: customer happiness.
A carefully strategized, two-pronged approach to customer happiness — as Kirsty so clearly breaks out — is a very real necessity, and should be defined with clear roles and responsibilities for the best impact.
You should be able to break out the key components of both customer support and success in relation to the capacity of your company’s business — or its goals — and each will stand alone.
They’re a classic team – like peanut butter and jelly – and the two together make for the perfect recipe for customer happiness.
Outsourcing customer support
We get it, there are so many aspects of running and growing your business. There are so many people shouting in your direction about what you should do and how you should do it. We’re here to help. Influx can offer you round-the-clock customer support from an experienced team of experts who are trained in your brand’s voice and tone. Our services range from eCommerce support, live chat support, voice support, and more to give you the customer assistance you need to prioritize other responsibilities and continue scaling your business. Set up a call today with Influx to see how we can help!