Customer Success and Support aren’t the same thing

customer success and support

Routing incoming messages to the appropriate team

Pop quiz: a customer reaches out with a question about how to use a feature- which team does their message get routed to?

If their question warrants a quick and relatively straight forward explanation, they will likely chat with the Support team. What if they want to dive a bit deeper into their planned use case and discuss best practices? Loop in their Customer Success Manager (CSM). But if they don’t meet your company’s predefined minimum MRR to be assigned to a CSM? Back to Support. Do the rules of engagement change if they’re a big-name brand that could expand their usage over the long term? Might need to override that MRR minimum and send them to a CSM regardless. As you can see, what comes off as a simple inquiry should be evaluated within the context of a higher-level routing hierarchy like the one above. Many customer-facing teams don’t start a discussion around how they expect to collaborate until it has become a source of tension. Leadership teams should outline what responsibilities fall under each team and as a key part of this process clearly outline that the focus and impact of a Customer Success team differs from that of a Support team.


Support teams have traditionally gotten a bad rap. Calling the Comcast support line threatens to ruin your entire afternoon. You will inevitably be on hold for 30+ minutes and speak to someone who doesn’t seem to understand or care about your issue. Tech companies have been working hard to shake this stigma towards Support and to rebuild trust with their customers. In fact, some companies have gone so far as to write books extolling their focus on “customer happiness”. I think you would be hard pressed to find a consumer who would argue that they have not felt this shift and that it has had anything other than a positive impact on how they interact with companies. Higher expectations and the rise in bottoms-up sales (ie. the end user is more empowered to make software buying decisions) has resulted in Support teams becoming even more critical to a business’ potential growth. A great Customer Support Representative (CSR) is not only furthering their company’s relationship with an individual customer, they’re also contributing to the likelihood that this user will become an evangelist who brings them more business.


Customer Success also became more of a focus during this transition towards bottoms-up sales and a focus on recurring revenue. This team is tasked with demonstrating value to customers, mitigating churn, and growing revenue. And no, Customer Success is not just another name for Account Management. This simple definition of Customer Success overlooks the more complex dynamic behind SaaS pricing models that include a freemium version of the company’s products or services. Freemium and a bottoms-up sales model has expanded the grey area of responsibilities between Customer Success and Support for a few key reasons:

  1. You suddenly have a high volume of low value customers that Customer Success teams cannot dedicate a lot of personalized resources towards
  2. Customers that started off with a low MRR can grow large enough that they eventually warrant being assigned to a CSM

When Customer Success and Support are properly aligned and in sync, they can tackle these issues and reinforce each other’s work to help further the company’s bottom line.

Customer Success and Support teams should see each other as a valuable resource to perform their job more efficiently and to better aid their customers.

What is Customer Success?

Customer Success should be focused on proactively delivering value to customers. This starts by working with an account to determine their goals and objectives and mapping these goals back to your product. From there, a CSM should get buy in from the customer on strategies that will help them reach their desired outcome. The focus then shifts towards implementing these strategies through user onboarding and training. Few SaaS products exist in a silo and getting your product installed and integrated into a client’s existing processes and systems is key to long-term success. Training and materials can help ensure their team feels comfortable and empowered to use your product. Finally, CSMs own the customer’s ongoing success and happiness. This requires them to have a constant pulse on their customer base and to act as the voice of the customer internally. Being the customer’s advocate allows them to bring insights to ongoing analyses aimed at developing a deep and holistic understanding of the customer journey and in identifying key success measurements across the customer lifecycle.

What is Customer Support?

Customer Support is more often than not the everyday face of your company. They are standing by to handle inbound inquiries from your customers when they ask for help. Support is able to patiently troubleshoot an issue to a resolution while demonstrating empathy and attentiveness towards your customers. At a high level they remove barriers customers come up against that are preventing them from finding value in your product.


customer success and support

How do Customer Success and Support differ?

While both teams focus on building a userbase full of happy customers, Customer Success is concentrated on helping a customer be successful in a broader sense- not just in the course of a single conversation. Support focuses on finding a resolution to one specific question or concern at a time. As a result, CSRs are usually measured on metrics such as response time, conversation duration, and number of cases handled. The metrics Customer Success teams are measured on are more long-tail such as product adoption, account retention and upsells or expansion.

How can Customer Success and Support work together?

Customer Success and Support teams should see each other as a valuable resource to perform their job more efficiently and to better aid their customers. Support is often the first team a user speaks to, and it can be appropriate for them to pass a conversation off to a CSM when the topic is out of their core competency (see chart above for examples). Meanwhile, CSMs are likely running in and out of meetings throughout the day and are unable to be on standby to answer questions; this makes Support a great initial resource for those customers. Because the two teams often have shared experiences on issues like major bugs or common feature requests, they can also collaborate on messaging around these issues and lobby for shared resources.


Customer Success and Support are both important resources to ensure your customers are getting value out of your products. By introducing ambiguity in how their responsibilities differ your company runs the risk of diminishing the impact and effectiveness of both teams.