Drawing the Line between Customer Success and Support

How do you draw the line between Customer Success and Customer Support?

This seems like a logical question until you understand the reality behind operationalizing Customer Success Management.

Let’s dig in…

For context, on Friday, May 5, 2017, I did a Customer Success Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Facebook live. It was awesome. The video (audio only… sorry) is embedded below and below that is the transcript (edited for better readability) that answers the question.

Drawing the Line between Customer Success and Support

Nick has asked, “How does customer success overlap with support in regards to onboarding? How do you draw the line? Also, how do you effectively draw the line between sales and customer success?

When I’m drawing a line, I like to use a ruler.

Customer success is this overarching thing.

Customer success management is the operationalization of customer success. Customer success management needs to be proactive.

Customer Success is not support!

Support is a different thing. Support should be thought of as a part of customer success in some ways. We need to know whether or not our customers are being taken care of. We need to know whether or not they’re actually … When they have questions and when they reach

Support is a different thing. Support should be thought of as a part of customer success in some ways. We need to know whether or not our customers are being taken care of. We need to know whether or not they’re actually … When they have questions and when they reach

Support should be thought of as a part of customer success in some ways. We need to know whether or not our customers are being taken care of. We need to know whether or not they’re actually … When they have questions and when they reach out when they open tickets that they’re being taken care of.

How do we know if a customer is successful? One of the things is that they’re doing the things that are necessary to be successful. Probably that has a lot to do with using our product if we’re in the technology world. If they’re having issues with the use of the product, that is probably an indication that they’re not doing the things necessary to be successful. If they’re having problems, but they’re resolving those

One of the things is that they’re doing the things that are necessary to be successful. Probably that has a lot to do with using our product if we’re in the technology world. If they’re having issues with the use of the product, that is probably an indication that they’re not doing the things necessary to be successful. If they’re having problems, but they’re resolving those

If they’re having issues with the use of the product, that is probably an indication that they’re not doing the things necessary to be successful. If they’re having problems, but they’re resolving those quickly if they’re opening a lot of support tickets, but they’re resolving those quickly, that’s cool.

That means they’re actually trying stuff. They’re pushing the envelope. They’re maybe trying things that the product can’t do or whatever. That’s okay. They’re pushing it. As long as those things are being resolved quickly, we’re good. If those things are not being resolved quickly or at all

They’re maybe trying things that the product can’t do or whatever. That’s okay. They’re pushing it. As long as those things are being resolved quickly, we’re good. If those things are not being resolved quickly or at all favorable for the customer, then we know that they’re not actually doing what’s necessary to be successful. They’re very important, customer success and customer support or the service or however we want to look at that. They’re two different things.

The line is very simple. If you have a break-fix type of situation, “I can’t use the product, we’re having a technical issue,” then I contact support. If I have a, “How do I do this kind of question?” … Maybe there’s a success gap there I can … I’m not having any problem with the functional use of the product. I’m having a problem with actually achieving my desired outcome. The actually required outcome of my use of the product, the goal that I have and not being able to achieve that, that’s going to be a problem. That’s a customer success thing.

The required outcome of my use of the product, the goal that I have and not being able to achieve that, that’s going to be a problem. That’s a customer success thing.

The idea is in Customer Success that we get ahead of that.

We don’t let our customers get to a point where they’re asking, “How do I do this?” We’ve orchestrated a process to help them get along the success milestones and make the progress that they need to make. If they’re doing that and we’re proactively guiding them, they run into something, a technical issue. Then they reach out to support.

Right now, if you have a customer success organization or if you are the customer success organization and you are doing support as well, you need to stop right now and split that up. Even if it’s still you doing support, we need to get people thinking, get our customers thinking about the fact that support is different than success.

They’re both very important, but I’m going to do my customer success stuff and I’m going to move you proactively. When you have a support issue that you need to … You need to open a ticket or something, you go here. You go to this website. You send an email here, whatever it is.

Again, behind the scenes, I may still be the person answering those, but we start separating those functionally within the company and then that starts setting everybody up for later on when we need to scale. If all you’re doing … If you call yourself a customer success person, but all you’re doing is answering support tickets and that’s how your customers think of you, then you’re never going to be able to get ahead of the customer to be able to get to that proactive stage.

Separate that right now, dedicate some time to answering support issues. Dedicate some time to being that proactive customer success person. That’s going to be your best bet. In larger companies, this is usually already done, but what isn’t done is this orchestration of it, letting customers know from the very start, “This is who you go to when you have an issue. This is who you go to when you have this other kind of issue.”

Separating this during onboarding is actually even easier when you have a customer success person that should run point or take over with the customer as soon as they become a customer. As soon as sales closes the deal, we have a customer success practitioner that should own the relationship with the customer.

Then from there, they can bring in the various subject matter experts. One of those subject matter experts may be an onboarding person, but the onboarding person is really dedicated to that.

The customer success person is there to set up the relationship, to kick off the relationship with the customer, to let them know, “This is who you’re going to be working with or someone like me for the next few years. Within the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be talking to this person over in our onboarding department. They will take care of you. I, as your customer success practitioner, I will monitor whether or not they’re doing what they need to do for you. If they aren’t, I will intervene on your behalf.

Of course, if for whatever reason you ever run into an issue, you can always reach out to me and I’ll make sure that you’re good. Then once they’re done with onboarding, then they come back to the customer success manager or practitioner. Whether that is a one-to-one really high-touch relationship or whether that’s a full customer success resource doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get caught up in the details on that. Let’s think about how to actually look at this the right way first. Then we can dig in.

Drawing the line is relatively simple when you understand that they’re two different things.

They’re both very important. We have to have support, but we also have to have customer success. They are two different things.

Hopefully, that’s either clearer or a lot more confusing.

About Lincoln Murphy

I am a Customer Success Consultant focused on Customer Success-driven Growth. I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help applying Customer Success-driven Growth principles in your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

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