A Fair Question

Just a few days ago I was talking with my recently-retired uncle about the notion of servicing customers and how it’s changed since he was at the height of his career in the 80's and 90's. We whole-heartedly agreed with and appreciated the fundamental shift in the perception of customer service from a cost center to a revenue source. However, I could see skepticism on his face creeping in as I began to introduce the concepts of Customer Success, Customer Service, and Customer Support.

“Aren't they all pretty much just the same thing?”, he asked.
“Well… No.”, I answered.


In spirit, yes, they are similar in that each aims to help a customer in one way or another. In practice however, their purpose and execution vary significantly depending on industry and business model.

Let’s look at Customer Success first…

The fundamental proposition of Customer Success is to ensure that the customer is as successful as possible in using your product. Or, to put it more frankly: to help the customer extract the maximum value from your product so that they will continue to use it (i.e., pay for it.) As such, Customer Success is a core component of recurring revenue business models, especially SaaS.

Enter the Customer Success Manager (CSM) whose job it is to help the customer get more value from your product than they would if left on their own. Naturally then, the more value your customer gets from your product, the longer they will use it; the longer they use it, the closer you get to recouping your cost to acquire that customer (CAC).

This arrangement is actually a win/win and in all likelihood will result a much healthier relationship between the customer and company. In the days of heavy installations and planned obsolescence, a customer may only hear from their ‘rep’ once or twice before the months leading up to the renewal. In a SaaS world, your success is directly correlated with your customers’ success, so a CSM must be proactive and focus on building that relationship early. The sooner a customer gets a ‘W’ on their side, the more likely they’ll continue to engage with your product — not because they have to, but because they want to. And so the virtuous cycle begins.

Now on to Customer Support and Customer Service. They’re a good bit different from Customer Success. As I told my uncle, think of Customer Support as “What problem can I solve for you?” and Customer Service as “What can I help you with today?” For example, if you have a problem with your Internet router or tax prep software, you’ll likely find it’s Support you’ll be contacting; much more tactical and focused on getting you back on your way as quickly and easily as possible. On the other hand, if you buy something online or even have a general question about a product or service, it’ll be a Service agent who answers your call or email.

Support and Service do however share with Success the goal of engendering repeat business. Customer Service has the edge here though over Support because the customer may or may not have a problem. In fact, they may not have even made their first purchase yet. In all cases, the Customer Service Representative (CSR) will be there to help however he or she can. As such, the front-line service team has tremendous potential to drive conversion and loyalty and to even turn customers into evangelists.


“I see.” said my uncle. “Makes sense.”

“It doesn’t end there.”, I replied. “There’s a lot of great energy and resources these days being dedicated to Customer Experience and Customer Engagement. Did you know that now customers even have Advocates??”.

He grinned and muttered “Seems like a good time to buy something...”

- Nick