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

18 min read
What’s the difference between Customer Success and Customer Support?
Angela Murphy
October 26th, 2018

Each day at Airtame our Customer Success team go beyond offering short-term customer support to fostering long-term successful relationships. Here’s how…

Try making a mental list of all the companies that you keep going back to time and time again. Why is it that you keep returning? In addition to liking their product, the reason is probably linked to your experience when interacting with the company.

At Airtame, we focus on delivering experiences through strong customer support and customer success. Airtame has experienced tremendous growth since getting started back in 2014, and for this to continue it’s vital to attract competent partners who will expect both support and success from us as we mature further.

But what do these terms mean? In a nutshell, customer support involves helping people to install and use a product in the correct way and solving any issues that come up in the process. And then there’s customer success, which has to do with managing the relationship between a company and the people who use its product and services. Providing customer support is a precursor for delivering customer success, and both should be considered indispensable.

It’s a mistake to use these terms interchangeably, but it’s also incorrect to consider them as independent of each other. Many of the goals of customer support and customer success overlap: achieving customer retention and loyalty, brand differentiation, increased customer lifetime value (CLV), return on investment (ROI), and reduced customer churn. In other words, you should care about these areas of your business.

The purpose of this article is to share about how we’ve learned to incorporate and prioritize both support and success, as well as manage the exchanges between them.

The motivation for writing about this topic is twofold. First, we want to communicate how we handle relationships with leads and customers. Second, we want to offer inspiration for other fledgling B2B companies who are at a crossroads in understanding how to implement support and success to keep advancing in a meaningful way.

Before sharing our journey and how things look at Airtame today, it’s first necessary to understand the differences between support and success.

Making the distinction
Back in the day: The evolution of support and success at Airtame
How we do customer support today
Transitioning from support to success
How we do customer success today
Looking to the future

Making the distinction

The purpose of making the distinction is to be able to grasp how the needed processes, skills and mindsets can vary between customer support and customer success.

Having the right people in place is a good point of departure. When selecting candidates for support, hiring managers would do well to look for someone who is a natural problem solver, a great listener, patient, and tech-savvy. Playing a part in support requires the skills to communicate with and between product developers and end users.

When it comes to success, you’d likely want someone with strong presentation and interpersonal skills, and experience with relationship management. They’d need to comprehend technology from a customer’s point of view, to act as a consultant when advising on the best use case for a prospective client.

It’s important to keep in mind that these characteristics are by no means mutually exclusive. They instead reflect the particular demands of support and success. This can be further understood when looking into the nature of the processes and perspectives that are common to support and success:

Customer Support is:

  • Reactive
  • Focused on solving problems
  • Focused on customer satisfaction
  • Focused on the short-term
  • About answering questions
  • Focused on being efficient
  • Often done independently
  • Often viewed as an expense
  • Rigid

Customer Success is:

  • Proactive
  • Focused on achieving goals
  • Focused on customer value
  • Focused on the long-term
  • About customer lifetime value (CLV)  and retention
  • Focused on being human
  • Often done collectively
  • Often viewed as generating revenue
  • Flexible

It’s once again relevant to note that these dichotomies don’t have to contradict each other. They rather represent two sides to a balanced approach. An example is how our team has guidelines for how quickly we should get back to customers via live chat, and how long it should take to solve an issue.

While markers are in place, there is some wiggle room regarding how much time to spend with a given customer. It’s much better to take an extra few minutes to introduce yourself in the beginning and be 100% sure that all is well by the end of the conversation.

We don’t want to risk sacrificing social etiquette and quality support for the sake of speed.  At the same time, it’s good to have at least an average response time to shoot for.

In the case of Airtame, both support and success are encompassed in the Customer Success team. The choice of name reflects our emphasis on long-lasting partnerships with the businesses and schools that partner with us.  That said, we do not undervalue the vital role that support plays.

We believe that success will never actually be possible if it’s divorced from support. It’s taken us some time to develop our approach and manage the complexities of giving separate attention to both, as well as managing the interactions between them.

Back in the day: The evolution of support and success at Airtame

Airtame started production back in early 2014 upon the success of an exciting Indiegogo campaign that raised over 1,500,000 USD. In the beginning, what was originally called the Customer Support team focused on communicating with backers who had funded us on Indiegogo.

Once Airtame was launched, most support issues concerned shipping delays. The team worked in a reactive mode most of the time, concentrating on solving logistical and technical problems. Work became more effective when Zendesk was introduced, as we could create macros such as saved replies to send in response to FAQs.

The focus was on increased efficiency, but this soon developed to emphasize a more proactive approach. We switched from Zendesk to Intercom, as the later offered a more extensive range of tools, including the possibility to create onboarding flows.

Asking for feedback

The team began reaching out to users to ask them for individual feedback on their experiences, while also getting the message out that there were ways to make Airtame more advantageous by updating its software. This assisted in growing customer retention, as many people dusted their Airtames off once they got wind of the latest progress.

In addition to providing email contact, we got live chat up and running on our website, and started calling customers to get a more personal feel for their use case and pain points. A big step was to input customer information into Pipedrive, which has since served as an excellent tool for keeping track of potential and existing customers and their use cases and preferences.

The team collectively worked on comprehensive documentation to be used for training new hires as well as onboarding new users.

Involving people from different departments, including sales and marketing, resulted in valuable ideas for growth. In fact, it was someone from our sales team who pushed the fact that Airtame was well suited to serve educational institutions as well as businesses (our primary target at the time).

The first-ever follow-up message was developed in collaboration with someone from our marketing team. We wanted to increase the number of onboarded and active users. Product improvements were pivotal to achieving this, but so was expanding the scope of how we interacted with users.

Follow-up and onboarding communications fostered a lot of feedback, which was then fed back into the pipeline when molding how we did support and success, as well as marketing and product development.

Keeping customers satisfied

Although many of our pioneering initiatives were time-consuming, they were necessary to learning what to pursue in the future.

In the beginning, these projects helped to improve support metrics such as customer satisfaction, which came into effect started responding faster and with more concise answers based on streamlining information. We never ceased to abandon support efforts. The impact over time was rather that the team grew in size and maturity, and so they broadened their priorities to cover success metrics.

Regarding success, we started asking people how likely they’d be to recommend us so we could assess our Net Promoter Score (NPS). The data this generated was both quantitative (in the form of a numerical score), as well as qualitative (in the form of explanations that customers would provide for the ratings they chose).

Incorporating this level of insight opened up new possibilities for understanding customer value, as well as how we could improve functionality and onboarding instructions.

At this point in our journey, we had gotten on the right track to a long-term success strategy. A decision that was symbolic of this transition was when we changed the name of the team from Customer Support to Customer Success.

How we do customer support today

Support continues to be a critical part of the Customer Success team’s responsibilities today. Delivering high-quality support contributes to maintaining a unique reputation, as our target audience will opt for those who offer the best experience.

Assisting our customers in using Airtame, and solving any issues they encounter, takes place in both our Copenhagen and New York City offices.

In both locations, we work in an open space office, to make support run smoother. We can easily and quickly assist each other if a question or issue come up that is outside of our expertise. At the same time, there are extra rooms outside of our primary workspace, so that we can sit somewhere quiet to concentrate fully on a given call.

All team members in charge of support strive to ensure that any technical issues that arise will not discourage our customers, but conversely, offer an opportunity for our partners to feel even more comfortable in doing business with us.

customer success emoji scale


A group of customers giving feedback to the customer success team by using the customer satisfaction score
A woman wearing a headset from the Customer Success Team is answering questions from different customers

Transitioning from support to success

Things move from one-on-one support to success as soon as people start collaborating and applying a situation to more than the immediate problem or request. There is a multitude of instances where support converts to success.

For example, if we notice numbers going up a lot for set-up calls, we take into account whether this is to do with selling a significant amount of Airtames within a particular period. We might also consider whether an increase in set up calls is due to unclear instructions within the onboarding email flow. This is done by tracking relevant data on common issues and bugs (a part of support), to collaborating with developers on how to improve the product and user experience (a part of success).

We also receive feedback on each help article, giving users three options to rate whether or not the content answered their question.

These transitions exemplify how assistance and education are meant to feed into nurturing, activation, and upselling further along in customer success initiatives. These will have the more long-term aims such as ensuring optimized email flow tailored to different user profiles and sharing use cases and best practices.

How we do customer success today

Aside from offering ongoing support, the spotlight is now on finding meaningful ways to generate revenue and provide value through customer success management. To achieve this, we engage in a variety of projects and initiatives:

Different users receiving personalized emails from the Customer Success Team

Looking to the future

Going forward, we want to boost both support and success. As the Airtame family grows, we want to improve availability regarding time zone coverage and phone support. We have teams based in Copenhagen and New York who provide support to people all around the globe, but in some cases getting to talk to someone directly requires some serious maneuvering.

We also want to grow our team and competences, especially concerning network expertise, as this is a significant need for customers in large bureaucratic institutions.

We want to increase collaboration with our developers, as this will provide a deeper level of intuition when it comes to troubleshooting technical issues. It’s critical that this is a bilateral exchange, as developers also need to gain insights on the end user experiences that they don’t receive directly.  A part of this is to be able to expand and optimize both internal and external testing of any new features.

Collaboration needs to be done wisely, as the aim is to share knowledge while not interrupting workflow.

A person from the Customer Success Team looking through a telescope into the world

A work in progress

In addition to enhancing support, our vision for the future involves a continuous assessment and revamping of how we do customer success. Our efforts will continue to include optimizing email campaigns and finding meaningful ways to follow up with new and ongoing customers. The way we report feedback is also changing, with more interviews and case studies.

Customer support and customer success are more than functions. Without both, we’d be left with a handy piece of technology, and no one would know about it or how to use it. Creating value for people, and getting it out there, has to be at the forefront of our strategy.

Interested in getting to know our Customer Success team better? Give us a call.

Interested? Let’s talk.

Angela Murphy
I translate technical features into benefits that everyone can understand.

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