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

Customers and companies confuse Customer Support and Customer Success all the time. Why is that?

Jan Young | April 06, 2022 | 5 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 30, 2023

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

Does this sound familiar?

A customer calls or sends an email and asks the Customer Success Manager for help with something simple, like resetting a password. You’ve received that email before, right? And to be nice, we go ahead and help them with it. But should we?

Customers– and companies– confuse Customer Support and Customer Success all the time. Why is that?

The question is simple. The answer is complex.

A Brief History of Customer Success

The Customer Success profession is still relatively new in the business landscape. It was first introduced ~25 years ago and has more recently become the norm for SaaS companies using subscription models.

When established companies create Customer Success teams, they often transition an existing team into the new role. This requires retraining and education of the team, the company, and the customer and it’s easy to miss a step or a person, or not fully identify the difference between the teams.

A Brief History of Customer Support

Early-stage startups often set up their Customer Support team just after the first sale is made. Often the team starts as a catch-all, helping the customer with everything from onboarding to technical help long after launch.

Where the Confusion Lies

As the startup and customer base grows, and the company introduces specialized team member roles for Onboarding, Customer Success, and Customer Support teams, this requires retraining and education of the team, the company, and the customer. These teams often evolve over time, so the definitions and changes aren’t always communicated.

Basically, if a company and the individuals within it do not define and reinforce the difference between Customer Support and Customer Success, it’s natural that the customer will also be confused!

What’s the harm in that?

Let’s imagine if the customer called the CEO every time they wanted to reset a password. That sounds ridiculous, right? The CEO would never get any work done.

Similarly, every time a CSM stops to do a Customer Support activity it takes away time from strategically helping the customer meet their success objectives. Furthermore, when the CSM takes the work away from the Customer Support team, it prevents the Support team from correctly tracking the issues and questions that customers have so that they can build more effective Support tools and provide the usability insights to Product that they need.

Oh. Maybe it’s not so harmless after all.

The Real Differences Between Customer Support & Customer Success

Now that we’ve established that there’s confusion between Customer Support and Customer Success, and it’s not constructive to let the confusion continue, let’s do something about it. We’ll start with some simple definitions.

  1. Customer Support provides help to customers who have trouble with a company’s products or services.
  2. Customer Success ensures customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service. The by-product of the customer achieving their success outcomes is that the company typically also reduces customer churn and increases up-sell opportunities and renewals.

Another simple definition:

  • Customer Support = Reactive
  • Customer Success = Proactive

I don’t love that definition so much.

Most people would agree that Customer Success needs to be proactive and strategic to ensure that the customer reaches their success outcomes. I argue that a Customer Support team that follows best practices is also proactive and strategic.

Responsibilities of Customer Support

A Customer Support team following best practices regularly analyzes not just their response and resolution times, but the types of issues, when they occur, and where. The team proactively creates guides, videos, and articles to share in-app, via chat, and email to meet the needs of their customers as the issue or question occurs. The customer should feel like their needs were anticipated.

This also frees up the Customer Support team to handle more complex customer issues and troubleshoot with Product & Engineering to resolve and prevent these complex issues from reoccurring. A chart analyzing Customer Support team metrics would ideally show average response times going down, and resolution times going up and down.

You may ask “Why wouldn’t both charts show a downward trend?”

If the Support team has proactively created tools to answer simple questions, and it’s primarily complex customer issues that are handled by the Support team, ideally those are new and different complex issues that come up over time. For each complex issue, the Support team works with the Product and Engineering teams to address not just the single issue/ event, but the Support team also investigates underlying issues proactively so that future customers do not bring up the same complex issue again and again.

Alternatively, if the complex issue is not going to be resolved, the Customer Support team identifies when the issue arises and for which part of the customer base, and then can proactively build education tools and guides in-app or to have ready for customers when they reach out. Either way, the resolution time is decreased for the complex customer issue while new complex issues pop up as product development and new releases create new issues.

While the Customer Support team ensures that customer needs are proactively addressed, the Customer Success team that is following best practices is working with entirely different customer objectives.

Responsibilities of Customer Success

The Customer Success team is responsible for the Customer achieving their desired outcomes while using your product or services. To do that, the Success team needs to understand their customer base and identify the Segments that have similar goals.

The key is that–because these Customer Segments have different goals–they have distinct Customer Journeys. These distinct Customer Journeys will have different metrics for successful behaviors, and the Segment’s Customer Health score reflects these different behaviors and metrics.

The Customer Success team that follows best practices utilizes data to analyze customer behavior along with automated scalable products to manage the customer relationship and ensure their success.

For high touch teams, these tools inform the CSM when to reach out as well as opportunities for upselling. For lower touch teams, these tools help the CS team to plan webinars, office hour topics, and upselling campaigns that meet the needs of their customer segments.


Now, reading these descriptions, side-by-side, do you think you’ll confuse Customer Support and Customer Success in the future? Can you see what you’re missing out on when you don’t allow each team to develop their programs to meet your customers needs?

Customer Support and Customer Success are each unique teams serving the customer. Together, they help your customer in different, yet absolutely necessary and complimentary ways.

Don’t be shy.

Connect with Jan on LinkedIn here.

Jan Young is a Senior Consultant for The Success League, a Board Member for Gain Grow Retain, a Top 50 CS Influencer, a Top 50 Women Leaders in CS and Top 100 Customer Success Strategist.

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