9 min read
Newcomers to the B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) space can confuse customer success and customer support. It’s common to hear them used interchangeably. However, they are distinct business functions with unique objectives, responsibilities, and roles to fill.
There is certainly an overlap between customer success and support. For example, both focus on fulfilling customer needs and addressing their challenges. At the same time, key differences set them apart as distinct business functions. Also, we at Planhat truly believe that for Customer Success departments to truly become the growth engine it can (and should!) be in any software business, it needs to move from being a reactive support-like function, to become a proactive driver of new and extended business opportunities.
To make that shift even easier, below we dive into a detailed comparison of customer success vs. customer support. However, let’s first ensure we start with a shared understanding of what each term means.
Customer success is a proactive, strategic approach to helping customers meet their goals, solve their challenges, and realize new ways to gain a competitive edge.
Customer Success managers are—in theory—trusted advisors that advocate for customers’ needs. They uncover new, innovative ways to generate value through the use of a product or service.
They form growth strategies tailored to each customer’s distinct goals and needs. This requires Customer Success managers to develop an intimate understanding of each customer’s industry, use case, business objectives, challenges, etc.
Forming close relationships with customers and maintaining deep, accurate insight into what customers want is central to the client success function. That insight is a primary driver of customer loyalty and brand advocacy.
Additionally, Customer Success teams provide ideas and strategic guidance that empower customers to improve performance results. In short, a Customer Success manager aims to facilitate increased customer profitability and, by doing so, generate revenue for their own company. They achieve this by driving higher levels of feature adoption and product usage, and therefore subscription renewal rates and reliable recurring revenue.
Customer support is reactive and operational by nature. Support teams respond to requests for assistance in solving technical challenges customers encounter. They are product experts and understand every feature, function, and benefit of their products.
Support reps are more tactical than strategic. They work with customers in one-off interactions initiated by the customer. Maintaining a solid customer support presence is a necessary operating expense. Customer support plays a crucial role in identifying and preventing customer churn.
The function is often referred to as a “cost center,” whereas customer success is increasingly considered a “profit center.” Regardless, both teams drive a business’s profitability, whether directly or indirectly, by impacting the customer experience.
Let’s address a widespread misunderstanding about customer support and customer service. To put it bluntly, they are not the same thing. Many people and businesses use the two terms interchangeably, leading to considerable confusion.
In the simplest, most basic sense, customer service refers to every interaction in which a company serves its customers. Sounds simple right? Well, it is. Consider these examples:
A sales rep serves the customer when answering a question about product pricing
A customer support rep serves the customer when solving a technical support issue
A receptionist serves the customer service when picking up the phone to answer a random question
A customer success rep serves the customer by proactively providing strategic advice or guidance
In each scenario above, someone from the company serves (assists/helps) the customer. Therefore, the scenarios above are examples of customer service—the end goal of which is to improve the customer experience (CX).
Customer support and customer success each play a central role in determining the quality of the CX a company delivers. Why is this worth noting? Human interaction is precisely where customer support reps and customer success managers excel. These two functions will continue to increase in importance and will be powerful brand differentiators for the foreseeable future. Their role in influencing the customer experience is essential because a great CX leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty, which generates brand advocacy. Brand advocates promote your company to friends and colleagues, expanding brand awareness and improving your brand reputation.
Brand advocacy is a powerful revenue driver, and customer success and support teams play vital roles in generating loyal customers. Consider the following statistics:
94% of US consumers will recommend a brand that provides “very good” customer service, but a mere 14% would recommend a brand that delivers “very poor” customer service, according to Qualtrics XM Institute insight report “ROI of Customer Experience, 2020”.
Each brand advocate (also known as brand evangelists) you generate will bring you, on average, three new customers, according to software company Upland.
As these numbers sink in, it becomes clear that customer success and customer support play indispensable roles in driving revenue and business growth. It’s easier to see how customer success drives revenue. And although support isn’t technically a profit center, the loyalty best-in-class support teams generate can lead to serious profitability.
Customer success and support professionals work to remove obstacles in customers’ paths and help them achieve their goals.
B2B Customer Success teams are directly responsible for reducing customer churn and maximizing customer retention. Meanwhile, customer support is not, yet their work significantly impacts both metrics.
Moreover, in the most general sense, both teams’ objective is to help customers be more successful using the software solutions you sell.
Because of this overlap, it’s easy to confuse the two. However, their respective methodologies are distinct.
Proactivly identify ways to empower and drive customer growth
Long-term focus on customers´s future success
Efficacy of long-term strategy more important than speed
Drive value for customers
Direct contribute to revenue growth
Is an organizationwide effort and mindset (as business function)
Captures and shares insight into customer needs and goals
Work with customers from pre-sale through entire customer lifetime
Reactively resolve customers technical challenges
Speed of resolution is highly important
Drive customer satisfaction
Indirectly impacts profitability
Is a siloed, single function within a business
Captures and share insights around product defects and needed enhancements
Work with customers in one-off interactions to solve individual issues
Gather feedback that informs product development
Contribute to the overall customer experience
Significantly influence a brands reputation in the market
Directly impact customer loyalty
Must have strong interpersonal communication skills
Are product experts and understand every feature or capability
Must maintain a customer-centric mindset to be successful
Interact with customers through multiple communication channels
Contribute to the overall quality of customer service customers receive
It’s best to view these two functions as complementary elements of a great customer experience, not separate functions that operate in silos. When the two teams relay customer-informed insights to the rest of the company, everyone wins.
Customer success managers often realize that multiple customers experience the same challenges and can’t resolve them. When this happens, they can inform product management. If enough customers share this challenge, product management will likely incorporate it into their product development roadmap for a future update.
The same is the case for customer support. If enough customers open support tickets around the same issue and a pattern forms, product management hears about it. Once again, valuable insight from the customer’s perspective enhances the roadmap.
When success and support proactively share this customer-informed insight with the product team, product managers’ lives become exponentially easier. Plus, their performance (i.e., the efficacy of the product) improves significantly.
When sales become aware that multiple customers are experiencing a particular challenge, they can prepare to answer questions related to that challenge. The insight provided by support and customer success helps salespeople dodge bullets and tailor prospect conversations in a way that takes that insight into account.
Moreover, if the insight passed to sales indicates that specific features are game-changers for customers, they can incorporate talking points around the benefits of that feature into their pre-sales call preparation. This should naturally lead to higher win rates and fewer lost opportunities.
Marketing teams benefit enormously from the insight provided by support and Customer Success teams. That feature that’s a massive hit with many customers can become the subject of marketing materials like how-to guides, best practices blogs, etc.
With proper segmentation, support, and success, teams can aggregate insights and organize them based on audience characteristics. For example, let’s imagine support or customer success informs marketing that prospects in Industry X commonly face Problem Y. Assuming marketing knows the product resolves Problem Y, they instantly have the foundation for a powerful brand story. The result? Marketing will generate and qualify more leads in that industry.
Customer success and customer support play equally vital roles in any given business. When the two teams work in tandem, the company enjoys remarkable benefits.
One team (customer support) plays defense, leveraging a reactive approach to resolving incoming customer issues. The other (customer success) is on offense, proactively looking for ways to deliver more value to customers. This two-pronged approach is the skeleton key that unlocks the door to maximize customer lifetime value.
Marketing and sales receive praise for producing better results thanks to the insight provided by support and customer success. Product managers create highly informed product development roadmaps that address the validated customer challenges, which positions them as heroes.
When you add all this up, you get a stronger, financially stable business that will thrive and maintain a competitive edge. So, while customer success and customer support are distinct business functions, each respective one is invaluable to business success.
Customer support alone equals one. Customer success alone equals one. However, you combine them, one and one doesn’t become two—it becomes eleven.
Planhat connects all the customer data, gets actionable insights and drives customer actions to manage renewals, reduce churn and boost expansion. Planhat provides a unified view of your customers all in one place, identifies risks and opportunities, creates clear, repeatable processes through the customer lifecycle and offers multi-channel communication as well as customized inboxes for teams.
Put simply, Planhat is a Customer Success platform focused on making Customer Success simple.
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