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Customer Success is NOT Customer Support

With the great success and growth of recurring revenue SaaS models, vendors are presented with the challenge of how to maximize solution adoption as rapidly as possible, while ensuring their customers are successful along the customer journey. Because of this, Customer Success departments are growing rapidly (or coming into existence, and struggling to find a successful framework to operate from). Most SaaS vendors have their rendition of Customer Service, Technical Support, Education, On-boarding, Implementation services, etc. And yet, how they define the Customer Success Manager (CSM) role varies widely. Often times, organizations combine Customer Success with Customer/Technical Support, which can be a potentially destructive situation.

What is a CSM?

The role of a Customer Success Manager should be primarily if not entirely, proactive. The CSM should be solely focused on the health and ‘success’ of the customer instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day break fix mentality. Ideally, the CSM owns the relationship with the customer. The CSM is the advocate within the company to coordinate resources and/or plans, ensuring that the customer is working well with, and is happy with the basic services the company provides

What is Customer Support?

Customer Support should serve two purposes:

1.) Technical Purpose: to handle all technical problems related to the product such as deep product usage issues, configuration or trouble-shooting.

2.) Customer Service Purpose: to deal with any other customer issues, such as questions or product issues.


How are they related?

Customer Support and Customer Success relate to each other in that the Customer Success role should be an overlay to essential services with the focus of helping your customers properly consume your solution. But the overlap should stop there.

The downfall of not separating Customer Success & Customer Service …

For many organizations, when the need arises for a higher-touch, dedicated resource version of the services they provide, they allocate a resource and call this person a “Customer Success Manager”, or CSM. In the past, this person used to be called a Technical Account Manager, or TAM. While higher-touch, relationship based versions of a “basic” services model have many advantages for the more strategic, high paying customers, there is danger in calling this person a CSM. When a support or implementation person is given a CSM title, they are way too often stuck in a tactical, break-fix mode of work. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for organizations to escape the gravity of day-to-day services work in order to be more proactive with their customer base. Additionally, premium support or dedicated service individuals (or a portion thereof) is often a paid-for service. Given that a CSM is considered a proactive value-added resource and NOT a paid-for resource, changing models is yet another reason why simply changing a title from TAM to CSM doesn’t work.

This issue became very clear as I was attempting to form a proactive Customer Success organization in a growing SaaS organization. The company needed a better solution when it came to Customer Support vs. Customer Success. The company had not yet deployed a true Customer Success department outside of Customer Support. Instead, the customer service department had two kinds of support: basic support and a premium level support. Premium Support meant that the customer was assigned to a specific (not full time) TAM to handle all technical problems and cases. Premium Support was not well funded as it was often used as a sales negotiation “give away” and was only sold to a handful of large, strategic customers. Because of this, TAMs were over capacity and spent most of their time handling support cases that could have easily been taken care of by the support team.

If you think about customer support, it’s simple: customers want problems solved quickly and accurately. They don’t always require a single, named resource to resolve every issue. Because of this, I worked on getting the TAMs out of support by creating a Customer Success team. We were successful in modifying and enhancing support to develop reactive break/fix so that we could move TAMs out of case management and into the role of a CSM. But in the end, the resources were not available to make that infrastructure work. It was too difficult to move away from the break-fix services of the TAM model and fund, proactive, value-added resources in the new CSM model.

Where do we go from here?

Customer Success is a fast and evolving role and there is not yet a clear and consistent way in how and why companies deploy their various service elements. Organizations are now experiencing a learning curve as it relates to Customer Success, and how they integrate the CSM role into their service elements. Without a thoughtful approach to the role, the mode of work, and the business model, establishing a scalable Customer Success organization can be a painful path. Done well, your organization gets out of break-fix mode and leverages strategic resources to proactively help you achieve truly healthy and satisfied customers. This is done most effectively when Customer Support and Customer Success are managed as separate entities.

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Mark Pecoraro

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