Customer Success September 18, 2015 3 min read by Alex

The Real Difference Between Customer Support and Customer Success

The Real Difference Between Customer Support and Customer Success

There’s something strange happening in the world of SaaS-based companies. With new firms popping up every day, there’s (understandably) a little confusion about how to manage interactions with customers.

For many companies, the entire conversation takes place under the umbrella of Customer Support or Technical Support. Some companies have separated these functions further and appointed specialized groups for On-boarding, Implementation, and Customer Education. But there’s still one area that’s neglected all too often… Customer Success.

As SaaS companies spring up, the essential Customer Success role is being rolled into Customer Service. It seems many of these new companies are struggling to define what Customer Success means, and how its agents (Customer Success Managers) should operate.

Bringing clarity to the Customer Success Manager role

The Customer Success Manager (CSM) is not a passive role. Unlike a traditional Customer Support scenario (where the customer calls for help and advice), a CSM’s goal is long-term success for their customers. CSMs must be actively seeking ways to help their customers make the most of a company’s SaaS offering. This is very different to the much more reactive position of a customer support representative.

What Customer Support actually means

Customer support is more of a problem-solving department than a long-term success strategy. In this role, support reps primarily respond to two scenarios:

  1. Technical Support
    Often, this doesn’t mean solving all technical issues with a SaaS product. In many cases, a rep will escalate an issue if they are out of their depth. However, it’s important to understand that Customer Support is the first responder to all technical issues. They respond to technical questions as they come in.
  2. Customer Service Support
    The second (and perhaps most important) function of the Customer Support representative is to solve customer issues. This could be a question about a purchase, billing, account options, and complaints.
Customer Success
Difference between Customer Support and Customer Success

So why all the confusion?

Admittedly, both roles are related. They both deal with a customer’s interaction with a SaaS product. Both roles are also externally-facing, in some cases, they may be the only employees a customer meets in a SaaS company. But that’s where the similarities should end, and here’s why…

Why the two departments must remain separate

By keeping the two departments interchangeable, many organizations are finding themselves stuck fighting fires instead of building a long-term vision. Here’s what typically happens:

A company will bring on a new customer and solve their issues through their Customer Support department. As time goes on, the SaaS company will dedicate more resources to this customer and eventually assign a dedicated representative. The danger, is in naming this representative a CSM.

As a CSM, the goal is to help a customer realize the full potential of a company’s SaaS product. But by lumping in the Customer Success role with that of Customer Service, representatives are stuck solving problems as they happen. There’s never an opportunity to help customers with the future, as they’re too busy fighting fires in the present!

Where it begins to cost money

The problem of merging both departments can actually impact a firm’s bottom line. In most large SaaS companies, their clients are offered an option to access premium support. This is a dedicated support rep that comes with an hourly or monthly price tag.

Charging for a dedicated rep makes sense, because these employees are solving problems reactively— the client is coming to them and asking for a solution. However, when companies assign a CSM they are often considered a value-add for new customers. And indeed, they should be. Ideally, a CSM is there to work proactively and suggest new ideas or approaches.

But when a firm aligns the role of a CSM with that of a Customer Support rep, they’re performing the same work… for free! This means thousands of dollars in missed revenue every time this is allowed to happen.

So what’s the solution?

The Customer Success department is still a new one for many companies. As such, it’s understandable that many firms are still struggling to define what the role entails. But solving this problem quickly is essential to building a strong SaaS business.

Working correctly, a CSM offers massive value to your clients by suggesting better ways to use your SaaS product. By separating them from the break-fix cycle they’re often forced to assume, you allow them to make these suggestions and stop fighting fires.

The answer lies in distinguishing each department as a separate division. In this way you can provide a solution to customers’ immediate issues (Support) while still offering value-add advice and long-term vision (Success).

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