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Why it’s a mistake to separate Customer Support from Customer Success

CS Leadership
#successvssupport

The story goes like this: The first Customer Success hire at a SaaS company does it all. They’re in charge of every customer touchpoint, from onboarding to resolving complaints to QBRs and renewals.

As sales take off, that CSM hits their capacity and asks for help. Conventional wisdom says you should hire a Customer Support Specialist to handle customer tickets and one-off questions. On the surface, that makes sense—Success and Support are two different jobs.

But is this hyper-growth phase of your business the right time to decouple Success and Support?

If you separate the two functions as you grow from 100 to 1,000 customers, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to train your CSMs at a critical point in your company’s growth. Not to mention putting the customer experience at risk for those all-important, new customers.

Why do many make the mistake of separating Customer Support and Customer Success?

There are fundamental differences between the interactions customers have with Support and Success. Customer Support interactions are reactive, transactional, and measured on speed of resolution. Customer Success, on the other hand, is proactive, forward-thinking, and measured on long-term business outcomes. Because of those differences, some people believe that CSMs shouldn’t handle Support requests.

Customer Success is all about maintaining relationships

The thought is that CSMs will be distracted by the immediacy of Customer Support requests. They’ll be overwhelmed by calls to fix things or find information and put the jobs of product adoption and relationship-building on the back burner.

That’s not the reality for most SaaS companies. Unless one account has 1,000 people using your product (and the weekly support tickets to match), a CSM can easily handle doing Customer Support as well as Customer Success. Having a separate person for a handful of tickets is overkill.

Why Customer Success should handle Customer Support

Customer Success Managers should handle Support requests for two important reasons.

Reason #1: There’s a lot your Customer Success team can learn from Support requests

Customer Success should handle support during your hyper-growth phase because the more interactions your growing CS team has with customers, the more they’ll learn. Why not keep them plugged into a valuable source of customer insight, i.e. Support requests.

Your Head of Customer Success is writing the book on how Success is done at your evolving business. New products and new customers mean new use cases and playbooks. Customer Support requests provide a peek behind the curtain of the organizations using your product. Those insights will guide your Head of CS as they create the processes their team will follow for years to come.

Support requests are also an irreplaceable source of training for your CSMs. Every time a CSM answers a support query, they learn something about the barriers customers face in getting value from your product. They can then take those learnings and proactively knock down those same barriers for other customers. Example: If a customer calls in because they can’t figure out how to set up an integration, your Customer Success Manager will know to proactively educate future customers on that step before it’s a problem.

Customer Support Agents are paid for speed, not for recognizing trends and empowering customers to get the most value out of your product over the long haul. Leave your Customer Success team in charge of Support so the insights that come from those interactions don’t get lost at the end of the call.

Reason #2: Customers will have a more consistent experience

The more people a customer has to interact with in your company, the less consistent their experience will be. Your CSMs are masters at building a relationship with your customers. Why risk that by adding new points of contact every time a customer has a support question?

Also, customers hate when they have to explain things over and over again. They say it’s the most annoying aspect of getting help from the companies they buy from. Your CSMs already know the background of their customers. When CSMs are in charge of Support, the burden of explaining the context is taken off of your customers.

There’s also a cognitive load when a customer has to ask themselves, Who should I call for this question? It's not their job to decide if they need to contact a CSM or go through a Support channel. Having a single point of contact for everything eliminates that friction.

If you’re growing fast enough to need more Customer Success help, then you’re adding a lot of new customers. This is not the time to jeopardize those new relationships. You can keep the experience consistent for these new customers by giving them just one point of contact for Success and Support.

Don’t split Customer Support from Customer Success: Automate instead

There is a breaking point where you have to add resources to your CS team. But there are ways to do that beyond pulling the support tasks from them or simply hiring more CSMs.

Create a comprehensive self-help center

A self-help center, or external knowledge base, is a repository of information customers need to use your product. Create a self-help center to take the burden of answering repetitive questions off of your CSMs.

Chatbots are a great addition to your self-help center. These virtual assistants walk customers through their self-help journey, reducing the strain on your CSMs. Customers even say they prefer using a chatbot to find answers over speaking with a live agent.

Learn more about the integrated Customer Success tech stack >>

Automate repetitive Success functions

How many welcome, onboarding, and QBR invite emails do your CSMs send? Automate those actions in your Customer Success Platform (CSP) so your CSMs don’t have to do them over and over.

Automate repetitive tasks so your CSMs can focus on relationships

Vitally makes it easy to create automated playbooks that send personalized emails, assign tasks and more

You should also automate data collection and analysis in your CSP. That will save your CS team hours of combing through spreadsheets or digging through your CRM, allowing them more time to interact with and learn from your customers.

What tasks can you take off your CSM’s hands?

As your business grows, your Swiss Army-knife CSMs will begin to specialize. The question you should always ask when deciding how to specialize is, “Will this help or hurt the CSM/customer relationship?”

With that in mind, there is one job you can pull from your Success team: the commercial aspects of renewals and upsells. Meaning, take the job of price negotiations and closing sales off of your CSMs. Why? Because the CSM/customer relationship is built on trust. That trust gets damaged when CSMs start talking about price increases and chasing down expansion deals.

Jamie Davidson
Jamie DavidsonCEO @Vitally

Jamie Davidson is the CEO and founder of Vitally. Formally CTO and Chief Customer Officer @Pathgather, he often treads the line between Product and Customer Success, leveraging one to enhance the other.