Customer Support & Customer Success: One and the Same?

Customer support and customer success both focus on driving customer satisfaction and loyalty, just in different ways. But will they be different for long?


Jana Barrett

August 8, 2017

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Customer care has seen a lot innovation in recent years, in large part because companies now recognize it as the profit-driver it really is. Support teams have traditionally struggled to get the budget they need, and money went to marketing and sales before trickling down. But as the customer experience conversation has picked up more and more steam, some of the largest brands in the world have joined the conversation, and customer support teams are finally getting more attention.

It shows too. We see B2B brands around the world giving more thought to the quality of service they deliver throughout the customer journey. They’re looking ahead at tomorrow’s customer experiences instead of checking the rear-view mirror. And since the hallmark of B2B success is customer success, much of the conversation has revolved around the role support plays in making customers successful. Ultimately, both teams focus on driving loyalty, reducing churn, and growing the value of their customer base year over year.

In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at what customer support and customer success really are, and how they’re gradually merging into one.

The Evolving Landscape of Customer Care

As the marketplace gets more crowded, many brands now see customer experience (CX) as their top competitive differentiator. And with that change in perspective has come a whole bunch of progress.

Technology has advanced.

Thanks to new software that automates key pieces of the customer experience, people can now contact companies for help practically wherever and whenever they want. That includes advanced self-service resources and personalized, on-demand support that comes at precisely the right moment—and through the right channel.

Service is a top priority.

Customer support may just be one piece of the customer experience picture, but it’s the most impactful—in good ways and bad ways. According to New Voice Media, U.S. companies lose about $62 billon a year because of poor customer service. On the other hand, 70% of customers who have a positive service experience actually become more loyal because of it.

Omnichannel service is omni-important.

When you think about all the devices we use on a daily basis—and how quickly a poor experience sends us packing—it’s not surprising that brands are scrambling to master the omnichannel experience. It’s all about connectivity and cohesion. We expect great experiences across every device, channel, and time zone. From smartphones to brick-and-mortar stores, brands want to create seamless customer experiences that keep people coming back.

Customer feedback informs everything.

When customers have a voice, brands can better serve them. Customer feedback has gradually gained importance in this hyper-transparent era, where one nightmare can become a brand disaster overnight. (Just look at United.) Companies know they have to listen to customers more closely and act on their feedback before they make that feedback public. Plus, customer feedback is gold when it comes to product enhancements, service issues, and everything in between.

Customer support isn’t an obligation, it’s an opportunity.

Less tangible, but just as relevant—customer support isn’t seen as a necessarily evil. There’s cool support technology. The biggest, most respected companies are championing it. And it ties directly to customer success and, more generally, customer experience in a way that other functions just don’t. Companies are starting to regard support as a place where they can compete and build the foundations of healthy recurring revenue. In turn, they’re investing more and getting more out of their support teams.

So… what’s the real difference between the two?

Customer Support vs. Customer Success

Customer success is kind of like the proactive counterpart to customer support. It’s more about building relationships and promoting advocacy than it is about putting out fires. It also has more dollar signs attached to it, since customer success teams measure themselves on metrics like customer churn rate and expansion revenue. Because of this, customer success efforts often start before a sale is even made, and they continue long after the purchase is over.

But until the last several years, you didn’t really hear the term “customer success” outside the tech-ier circles.

Why did customer success programs grow so quickly?

Google Trends shows that interest in “customer success” has grown steadily since 2012.

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Software as a service (SaaS) has a lot to do with that. In a business model where companies live or die on renewals, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty become critical goals. If customers are happy, they’re more likely to repurchase and refer new business. If they’re unhappy, they can quickly find another company that better meets their needs. And that’s where churn can become a major issue.

B2B companies are adopting a similar mindset. By prioritizing customer success, they can focus on selling into their existing customers, who are easier to support because their needs and painpoints are already documented. At the same time, these efforts increase retention because customers get more personalized care and support, which in turn boosts loyalty.

How do support and success work together?

So, to summarize: Customer support is typically more transactional and reactive, while customer success is more constant and proactive. But it seems likely that the two organizations will eventually align. Why? Because businesses are trending toward renewal models, customers are getting used to personalized care, and people generally prefer to help themselves when they can. Add to that all the new technology aiming to automate basic customer care, and it’s pretty clear that support and success are becoming more synonymous. Both are driven by customer satisfaction and loyalty, and both are innovating at faster rates than ever.


Will either department get phased out in the coming years? Not likely. Both customer support and customer success are pillars of the customer experience. But we should all expect to see greater alignment between the two, and a general push for success-based activities on both sides. As customer support teams earn a bigger seat at the table, they’ll influence companies in bigger ways. We’re excited to see it happen.

Ready to invest in customer success? You can start simple. Customer feedback gives companies invaluable insights into the customer experience, and it’s just a survey away. Contact us to learn more.

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