Stop Saying Customer Success vs Support

…you would even mention customer support and customer success in the same sentence. While customer support and customer success are different teams with different purposes, they are very much partners….

Emily Garza | April 19, 2022 | 6 min read time

Article Last Updated: October 06, 2023

Stop Saying Customer Success vs Support

I’ve seen many articles recently talking about how customer success is not customer support.

From the eye-catching titles, I picture the author with an offended look on his/her face, horrified you would even mention customer support and customer success in the same sentence. 

While customer support and customer success are different teams with different purposes, they are very much partners.

When you try to distance these two teams, I think it underscores the importance of collaboration between them. 

For definition purposes, when I say ‘customer support’, I’m talking about a reactionary team, often one that handles customer tickets or maybe inbound calls. ‘Customer success’ is proactive and value-focused through an engagement model. 

If you only had a customer support team, you would be able to handle break/fix type questions, but not drive your customer’s adoption, success metrics results, and full value realization.

If you only had a customer success team, you would de-focus various teams (from customer success, to product, to engineering) who would have to respond to ongoing questions and tickets.

As you can see – it isn’t an either/or. Both functions are needed for the best employee and customer experience. 

When these teams operate in silos, it negatively impacts the customer, but there are steps you can take to actively move towards collaboration and an improved customer journey.


How Customer Success Can Help Customer Support 

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are tasked with creating relationships with contacts within their assigned book of business. As they learn about these individuals and companies, they gain insight that may not always be captured within a CRM or other tooling. This could be as simple as who to contact for different types of communication as well as communication medium preferences, current account sentiment, or account history. 

When a ticket is sent into customer support, there are many times where this additional context could be extremely helpful.

  • Knowing who (and how) to contact or loop in for follow up questions may speed up ticket resolution.
  • Sharing insight into customer sentiment may help indicate how to approach the ticket.
  • Providing historical background on the account – a reminder on a customized feature being used, for example – can aim debugging efforts.

For example, is the customer extra sensitive at the moment because they are about to do a new product release or marketing campaign? That information could help give context to the person handling the ticket in order to be aware of the heightened impact.

While the majority of customer support’s efforts are reactionary and inbound, there may be times when outbound campaigns are held, such as alerts or notifications. Though many are informational only, some may require customer confirmation or acknowledgement. If sent via a mass mailer, these items could get lost in the shuffle, or treated as typical informational only communications, limiting responses. Customer success can assist in either a proactive or more reactive way. Proactively, the customer success team can be the ones who directly send these messages (manually, or via a tool leveraging their email address). This increases the likelihood of email opens and action, if the message comes from a specific name already recognized by the contacts. In a more reactive mode, customer success teams can assist customer support by following up on these campaigns with customers who have not yet responded. This could happen via direct email or on the next touchpoint with the customer. 


How Customer Support Can Help Customer Success 

It is relatively easy to understand how knowing specifics on the customer helps provide context to create a better customer experience. But how can customer support help customer success, when they are reactionary?

While there are different severities of tickets, they are almost always opened because something is wrong: the user isn’t able to accomplish the functionality needed from the tool, reporting is down, a tab is missing or the data seems incorrect. Given that this is a ‘negative’ experience, there could be emotions and stress that come along with the issue.

As the customer support person works with the customer to address the issue, they gain insight into the customer sentiment. While companies strive for the best experience, bugs and outages are a normal course of running a SaaS business. For a less urgent item that is fixed within a reasonable timeline with clear communication, there may be nothing to report back. For a ticket that extends beyond typical timeframes or exchange counts, there may be an increase in frustration. In this instance, customer support should engage customer success as a partner. Customer success should be given insight into the situation and sentiment and together with support, devise a plan around communication. While the customer support agent may continue to run the ticket debugging and customer communication, the customer success manager will know not to reach out with an advocacy ask at this time. 

In an ideal world, a customer success manager is reviewing any recent or open tickets before jumping on the phone with a customer to ensure they have current context, but in reality, that doesn’t always happen. By communicating potential sentiment impacts, the customer support agent ensures that the CSM is not caught off guard during a customer meeting. 

Depending on your company’s structure, support hours may extend beyond traditional working hours. In this case, the customer support team provides a wider coverage for customer questions than a CSM alone could do. While someone in customer support may not be able to answer extremely customer specific questions, they can acknowledge the customer and ensure the question is addressed upon the CSMs return to the office. Even supplying this baseline acknowledgement and response to inquiries can improve the customer experience. 


How Customer Support and Customer Success Can Partner

When teams align on initiatives, their voice becomes even more powerful. One area that customer success and customer support can partner on is around product and feature releases. In young companies, each of these teams may be acting in silos – the product team may hear customer feedback from the CSM, then will go build and deploy the update. The challenge here is that without ongoing communication and partnership, this approach leads to lower adoption and a negative customer experience. 

If CSMs are not aware of a feature being released, they aren’t able to talk about it with their customers where it may be impactful. This in itself lowers adoption, while also lowering the CSMs credibility with the customer. Think about it from the customer’s perspective: If the CSM is supposed to know the customer’s use case and goals and a feature comes out that can support this, but the customer has to learn about this on their own (or learns about it much later), it can be credibility killing. 

From a customer support perspective, if a feature is launched, but the team doesn’t know the coding framework behind it or how it interacts with existing features, determining how to answer questions that come up or debug new challenges related to it will take longer. 

Together, the customer success and customer support organization can ask for a place in the product release process. Speaking on behalf of the customer experience, they can advocate for communication and training to be best equipped to support new releases. 

While I don’t think we’ve heard the end of the customer success vs customer support battlecry, I do think that it should change to customer success and customer support.

Together, we can do great things! 

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