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Explaining the differences between customer support vs. customer success

Customer success vs. customer support: while both play crucial roles in customer service departments, their focus differs in a few important ways. Customer success ensures clients thrive throughout the lifespan of their relationship with your business, while customer support addresses more immediate, short-term issues.

Customer success works to provide value over the long term by optimizing account growth and maximizing potential. According to Forrester’s 2020 report, The Business Case For Customer Success Management, using a well-designed approach, a customer success initiative can yield a 91% return on investment (ROI) within just three years.¹ 

Customer support, meanwhile, is more focused on temporary obstacles and sources of frustration that could disrupt service and usage,  or even compel a customer to eventually walk away from your company if the issues continue to go unresolved. 

Hiver's Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers in 2020 found that 60% of consumers – a substantial figure by most any measure – would switch to a competing brand after just two or three negative experiences with support.²

In this article, you’ll learn the key differences between customer success and customer support, and a few best practices that will help your team keep both functions in ideal alignment.

What is customer success?

Customer success is all about partnering with customers to understand how products and services can empower them to achieve their goals. Further, it aims to go beyond their expectations by anticipating their needs and taking proactive measures to meet them.

The main objective of customer success is to figure out what success looks like for each customer and collaborate with them to make the achievement of specific goals and objectives a  reality throughout their journey with a company.

What is customer support?

The primary objective of customer support is to be available for customers whenever they have questions or run into problems. Customer support seeks to quickly and helpfully respond to customers' inquiries – whether by helping them through signing up for products and services, troubleshooting any technical issues, or making sure customers transition smoothly to new offerings.

Customer success vs. customer support: 6 key differences

Customer success and customer support may both be focused on helping customers, but they play distinct (though complementary) roles. At their cores, customer support works to optimize operations, while customer success is dedicated to customer growth.

Together, they form a united front of care – while one may invest resources in alleviating specific “symptoms,” the other digs deeper to treat the root cause and prevent future issues.

Let's explore some of the fundamental differences between customer success and customer support in more detail.

Proactive vs. reactive approach

  • Customer success distinguishes itself through its proactivity. Rather than just reacting to customers and their specific issues, customer success aims to anticipate needs and prevent issues. 

    • For example, a software company's success team may conduct training on new features before they launch. This equips users with the knowledge necessary for them to navigate independently and with minimal risk of experiencing major issues.

  • Customer support traditionally takes a more reactive stance – these teams are triggered into action when customers contact them directly with issues or questions. 

    • The goal for customer support is fulfillment: if a user lacks understanding or faces a problem they can’t overcome on their own, support steps in to resolve it as quickly as possible.

In this context, although support is typically seen as reactive, at Intercom, we consider proactive support to be a cornerstone of excellent customer assistance.

Strategic vs. supportive objectives

  • Customer success focuses on broader strategic goals and long-term value. Success teams partner with customers to help maximize outcomes over the lifetime of the relationship. They identify ways clients can leverage solutions more effectively to meet their objectives. 

    • For instance, a success manager might offer training on advanced features to help a customer streamline workflows. The goal, in this case and others, is to ensure customers thrive with solutions in place so they can continue growing alongside the organization.

  • The key objective of customer support is to assist customers with issues and provide immediate resolutions that are more focused on speed and efficiency than addressing root causes or more fundamental patterns. In these cases, representatives address particular problems customers encounter with products or services. 

    • For example, a customer may contact support about difficulties placing an order online. The support agent would work to understand the problem, find a solution – say, refreshing the web browser – and confirm the order was completed successfully.

Customer success vs. customer support metrics

  • Customer success metrics look beyond the individual interaction to assess the overall impact on the business over time. They help understand how likely customers are to continue using the product, the chances they will purchase additional services, and, ultimately, how much revenue they generate.

  • Support metrics focus on direct customer interaction. These include how quickly an issue is resolved, and whether the customer's needs were met during the interaction. Some examples of support metrics are average wait time, first call resolution rate, and customer satisfaction with the support received.

We'll explore specific metrics for customer success vs. customer support in more detail shortly. For now, let's continue examining some of the most notable differences between the two terms.

Continuous relationship-building vs. transactional interactions

  • Customer success is an ongoing process. Rather than having a distinct endpoint, relationships in the context of customer success continue to evolve as long as the customer keeps using the company's products or services. The focus remains on consistently enhancing the customer's experience and strengthening the bond between the customer and the company over the long run.

  • Customer support interactions are transactional. That is, they have a clear beginning and a clear end. A support interaction initiates when a customer reaches out with a request, such as asking a question or reporting an issue. It concludes once that request has been resolved. 

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that even transactional interactions don't merely stand alone; they’re also contributing to the longer-term project of relationship-building. Exceptional support, in other words, plays a crucial role in enhancing the overall customer experience.

Concrete skills vs. broader disciplines 

  • Customer success professionals take a broader, more consultative approach than their customer support counterparts. These professionals help customers succeed with products and services through relationship building, needs assessment, training, and adoption strategies. They draw on a combination of customer service and strategic thinking to ensure customers derive ongoing value from solutions. 

    • A customer success manager at a SaaS startup might provide best practice recommendations, usage analytics, and product training to help larger enterprise clients get the most out of the platform.

  • Customer support professionals handle day-to-day issues and requests. They possess troubleshooting and problem-solving skills to resolve technical problems or address customer concerns. 

    • For example, a customer support representative for an online retailer could assist customers experiencing payment or delivery issues on the company's website and apps.

The business impact of customer success vs. customer support

  • Customer success, as a business function, is geared toward long-term growth and expansion, impacting efforts to maximize adoption and outcomes over time. Customer success teams ensure that customers extract the maximum value from solutions, accelerating ROI and expanding usage across their organizations.

  • Customer support is a critical aspect of running any modern business, especially those operating primarily or exclusively online. Support handles day-to-day questions, issues, and troubleshooting, which, taken collectively, keep the business operational.

Read more: Is there a difference between customer service and customer support?

Examples of customer success and customer support metrics

As we’ve mentioned, there are respective sets of metrics for both customer success and customer support. Let's explore these metrics and their importance.

Customer success metrics

  • Retention rate:​​ This metric measures the percentage of customers that renew their subscriptions or continue purchasing other products or services. A higher retention rate indicates that an effective customer success strategy is keeping customers loyal and engaged over time.

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): CLV calculates the total revenue generated from a customer during the entire span of their relationship with the company. Tracking increases in CLV helps optimize customer success initiatives.

  • Upsell rate: This shows the revenue generated from selling additional products or services to existing customers. Monitoring the upsell/cross-sell rate provides insights into how successfully customer needs are being addressed through expanding on their initial purchase.

  • Churn rate: Churn rate tracks the loss of customers or revenue over a specific period of time. Analyzing trends in the churn rate helps companies pinpoint areas of the customer success strategy that can be improved to increase overall retention and maintain the business of at-risk customers.

  • Customer satisfaction: This metric gathers regular, ongoing feedback to provide a direct perspective on customer sentiment. Addressing areas of dissatisfaction as they’re materializing for the first time helps keep the customer experience positive and lowers the likelihood of churn.

Customer support metrics

  • First response time (FRT): FRT measures how quickly customer support initially responds to questions or issues. Shorter first response times almost always improve the customer experience.

  • Customer effort score: These surveys gauge the effort required for customers to get issues resolved. Lower effort scores signal simpler, more seamless support interactions.

  • Resolution Rate: A company’s resolution rate tracks closed support tickets versus open ones over time. This metric helps set targets and identify process and training improvements that can boost reps’ effectiveness.

  • First contact resolution rate: Also known as FCR, this measures how often a single interaction is sufficient to achieve resolution. High rates reflect streamlined support that saves time for both agents and customers by eliminating the need for repeat contacts.

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): NPS calculates customer satisfaction and loyalty through a standardized survey. It may also provide insights to enhance support and drive recommendations.

Prepare your support team for the AI-driven future of customer service: Download our guide How Customer Service Metrics Are Evolving in the Age of AI to discover the key areas and emerging metrics shaped by AI. Adapt your core metrics and gain a true measure of success in this transformative era of customer service.

How to align customer success and customer support operations

Although they have some important differences, customer success and customer support go hand in hand. To provide the best possible customer experience, these teams need to work closely together.

By sharing insights from frontline customer conversations, support teams can help success professionals identify themes in the customer journey. If a particular issue keeps cropping up, success uses that intelligence to collaborate cross-functionally. Their goal is resolving pain points before they impact renewal chances.

Similarly, the success team may uncover opportunities the support team could help with, including providing better self-service options. By sharing insights across departments, companies can head off frustrations and continually improve the customer experience.

Consider the following tips when aligning your customer success and customer support operations:

1. Establish a unified customer-centric vision

To truly align support and success, companies need a clear vision that every team can rally behind – and in almost all cases, that should be the customer. Define what outstanding customer experience means for your business and make it the North Star all your work is aligned to.

Both customer support and success teams must understand how their efforts drive the bigger picture of customer retention and advocacy, and what larger, overarching goals can be achieved over years of collaborative partnership.

When all of a company’s roles are anchored to the same principle of putting the customer first, barriers break down. Teams will instinctively seek out collaboration instead of acting in silos. Issues get resolved at the source instead of being repeatedly flagged to support.

2. Create seamless collaboration between departments

The best customer experience demands seamless inter-departmental collaboration. To reach this high level of cooperation, it’s crucial to define clear protocols so customer success and customer support professionals can join forces productively.

Dedicated meetings and communication channels lay the groundwork, but true partnership requires bringing down logistical and technological walls. Leverage features in your tooling – for example, a shared inbox with internal notes, mentions, and other features.

With the ideal help desk platform, you can share customer insights freely so reps everywhere grasp each case's full context and are thus capable of getting the right person, with the right expertise, on the job.

3. Prioritize data-driven decision-making

Access to timely, relevant customer data should be a given for customer success and customer support teams looking to truly align. Regularly comparing notes on trends uncovered in analytics tools provides comprehensive insight into the customer experience.

With holistic data at their fingertips, reps can have informed discussions on why certain issues persist or what scenarios cause satisfaction to waver. They can create solutions backed by evidence rather than hunches.

4. Leverage technology and tools

With the right technology and tools, such as customer service platforms, customer success and customer support both get streamlined. Access to data, for just one example, brings consistency to teams across departments. 

However, tech also empowers each team individually with specialized functionality. For support reps facing high query volumes, AI chatbots and self-service options deftly handle routine interactions. 

Meanwhile, success managers gain a powerful ally in proactively guiding customer relationships – features like product tours, automated surveys, and outbound messages assist users and anticipate potential sources of disruption.

Ensure your technology improves customer success and customer support efficiency through unified systems while also enhancing specific jobs.

With Intercom, you can unlock the full potential of exceptional customer service software for all of these benefits, and much more. 

Experience how a comprehensive tool can impact your customer success and support teams firsthand – start your free trial today or request a demo.


1. Forrest, The Business Case For Customer Success Management.

2. Hiver, Customer Support Through The Eyes of Consumers in 2020. Hiver surveyed 1000 respondents in the US. We asked them about their preferences, expectations, likes, and dislikes when interacting with customer support teams.