Is Customer Success the same thing as Customer Support? - Glide Consulting
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Is Customer Success the same thing as Customer Support?

There’s a common misconception that Customer Success is just a more advanced version of Customer Support for SaaS companies.

The core logic looks something like this:

  1. When customers aren’t happy, you throw Support at them until they’re happy.
  2. Happy customers = successful customers = renewals.
  3. Ergo, Support orgs that drive happiness = Customer Success orgs.

If this is how Customer Success works at your company, then you don’t actually have a real Customer Success (CS) org – you have a Support org with a trendy name.

The distinction we must make here is that success does not equate to happiness. This has to do with the fickle nature of how we perceive happiness.

What’s the difference between Customer Success and Customer Support?

Nobel laureate Dan Kahneman exposed that our perception of happiness is inconsistent and relative. For example, something which causes momentary happiness may very well be remembered later on as something which caused us great unhappiness. Happiness is an extremely difficult outcome to control for, and it rarely correlates to the things we think it does.

Success is a more robust, objective outcome. We can achieve success (or not) by applying a systematic approach to solving a well-defined problem. From the customer’s perspective, the question shifts from the subjective “are you happy with our response to your problem?” to a more objective “how close did we help you get to a successful outcome?”.

Which question do you think has more utility over time?

In last week’s post, we touched on how beginner customers use more support resources and churn more frequently than any other cohort. I witnessed this firsthand as Director of CS at a startup that grew from $1,300 MRR to $150,000 MRR in about 18 months.

After reading many hundreds of account cancellation requests, I distilled the most common ones into a couple of scripts. They looked something like this:

Script 1: “Hey guys, thanks for all the support with getting set up, but the tool doesn’t do [use-case] as well as [competing product], so I’m sticking with them.”

These were very happy customers, but they wanted features we were never going to build, and couldn’t use our product to achieve their version of success.

Script 2: “Hey guys, I really love your humorous support responses, but the product is too advanced for where I’m at. Can you please cancel my account?”

In both cancellation scripts, the answer to the question “are you happy with our response to your problem?” was “hell yeah, you guys make me LOL!”, while the answer to “how close did we help you get to a successful outcome?” was “not close enough”.

I quickly learned that providing excellent support to keep customers happy is only one of several variables in the Customer Success equation.

If ‘keep the customers happy’ is your Customer Success strategy, you’re doing it wrong.” – Click to share this quote on LinkedIn.

So if Customer Support is just one piece of Customer Success, and a customer’s happiness isn’t correlated to their future success, then what KPIs do we use to measure “success”?

We’ll get to that, but first we need to accept an important premise:

“Customer Happiness” is a preposterous KPI to base a Customer Success organization on.

What KPIs are a more accurate measure of a CS team’s effectiveness, then?

First, let’s craft a practical definition of what your Customer Success team is from a product standpoint.

Your Customer Success team is a machine designed to scope, implement, and provide ongoing support for critical use-cases which solve urgent/pervasive problems for the customer.

There are several processes a CS team has at their disposal to accomplish this, and they can generally be broken down into the following components:

  1. Onboarding/implementation
  2. Customer support
  3. Customer education
  4. Interdepartmental leadership

Excellent onboarding is the cornerstone of Customer Success.

Onboarding is a process designed to help customers get their first, most critical use-case implemented in the shortest possible time. The most elite CS teams invest a significant amount of time and resources into the ongoing improvement of their user/customer onboarding and implementation processes.

If a company has excellent onboarding, the time between deal-signing and the moment the customer begins deriving value from the product diminishes over time. A great way to measure the effectiveness of a CS organization is to measure onboarding efficiency over time.

Customer support is a critical, but expensive retention mechanism. Use it wisely.

No matter how amazing your product and onboarding is, stuff is still going to break sometimes. Elite Customer Support teams know how to quickly handle and escalate the inevitable, happenstance issues that arise from complex products and customers. They are the firefighters, and the best support people can handle the most absurd escalations with grace and tact.

The metrics which matter most to effective support teams are response times (RT) and times to resolution (TTR). If TTR goes down over time, that means your customer support team is becoming more efficient. RT is a less reliable metric for efficiency, but has a very positive effect on how your organization is perceived. People love quick replies.

Keep in mind that your support team isn’t designed to generate new revenue. Rather, it’s a lifeline to keep critical use-cases up-and-running for customers. Great customer support teams are value drivers because they have a massively positive effect on customer retention.

A great way to measure the effectiveness of a Customer Success org is to measure Customer Support efficiency over time.

Well-timed customer education and thorough documentation increases onboarding and support efficiency.

Education is one of the most powerful tools a CS professional can leverage. As a standalone process, it helps customers self-serve, gain confidence, and resolve issues more quickly. Elite Customer Success organizations block out weekly, monthly, and quarterly documentation sprints. There are even some education-focused CS orgs that have weekly customer webinars to review use-cases and the latest bugs.

A great way to measure the effectiveness of a CS organization is to measure how quickly/thoroughly customers can use documentation/education resources to solve their own problems.

Your CS team can see the big picture better than anybody else in your company. Use that to your advantage.

Product, sales, and marketing benefit greatly when there’s an open dialogue with the Customer Success organization. CS input brings focus, clarity, and expectation alignment to the sales, marketing, and product lifecycle. For example, I’ve seen product managers include Director/VP of CS in sprint planning to help prioritize user-stories with the most leverage.

Empower your CS team to speak up and be a voice of leadership. A great way to measure the effectiveness of a Customer Success organization is to measure the efficiency with which their experience in the trenches translates to improvements in product, marketing, and sales processes.

Questions you can ask yourself for this one:

  1. How much time does it take for customer feedback and bug reports to turn into a user story?
  2. Is our marketing collateral filling up with real use-cases over time?
  3. Are sales processes becoming more efficient at acquiring customers who are a great fit for the product over time?

Customer Success isn’t about customer happiness, it’s about organizational efficiency.

If your CS team:

  1. executes superb onboarding/implementation
  2. expertly leverages the Customer Support team
  3. educates customers with the right information at the right time
  4. and empowers the rest of the company with their knowledge of customer behavior…

…you will have a deeply unfair marketplace advantage, as a team which is usually a cost-center will be one of the most significant value drivers in your org over time.

The inevitable results of a well oiled Customer Success machine are improved renewal rates and increased account expansion. You might even make some people happy 🙂

Customer Support isn’t Customer Success – but it’s a damn important part of the CS machine.


One of the highest leverage things you can do is to invest in improving your onboarding/implementation processes.

Unfortunately, most companies simply neglect onboarding, as it’s an expensive, time-consuming process to nail down.

Here’s the main excuse I’ve heard from from founders, CS leaders, and CSMs about ineffective onboarding:

“We know what’s wrong with our onboarding, we just don’t have the time to fix it.”

If you “don’t have time to improve onboarding”, you’re shooting yourself (and your customers) in the foot.

Want more Customer Success Manager insights? Keep reading…


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