Customer Success vs. Customer Support: An Insider's Guide

Customer Success vs Customer Support

Michael Redbord knows a thing or two about helping customers succeed with B2B software. Over the last decade, Michael has helped shape Support, Services, and Customer Success at HubSpot, a SaaS pioneer on a mission to make the world more inbound.

We sat down with Michael to talk about the roles that Customer Success and Customer Support play in today's subscription-based organizations.

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

Michael Redbord, HubSpot

At one point in time, my title was VP of Support & Success, which underscores the fact that most businesses tend to think of these as two different things. Ideally, you should group the two functions together because they're all about the service to your customer, and your customer's ability to get value from you, your business, and your product.

But the motions are different.

Customer Success differs from Customer Support in two fundamental ways: 1) there's no end to it, and 2) it's as much driven by the Customer Success Manager (CSM) as it is by the customer.

At its core, Support is a reactive motion — it's initiated by the customer and it's transactional. It’s an open-and-shut type of event, and it has a terminal point.

Customer Success on the other hand is structured differently. It's first and foremost about the long-arc. There's no terminal point for success.

Instead, you're working hand-in-hand with your customer over time to create value that your customer wouldn't have seen on their own.

Customer Success and Support have lots of connective tissue between them, but I think their DNA is wired a little bit differently.

What are the metrics for evaluating Support and Success? How are they different?

Michael Redbord, HubSpot

Support is a field that's extremely well understood because it's been around for decades. Essentially, Support aims to fulfill customer requests.

The support metrics that tend to rise to the top are usually about speed and quality.

To measure speed, you can look at the amount of time it takes to get to a ticket, average response times, or average wait-times for example.

To measure quality, I'm a big fan of the Customer Effort Score (CES), which measures how much effort it took for a customer to resolve their issue. As the Support function grows you can also start tracking things like Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), agent satisfaction, and so on.

On the Customer Success side it's a little bit different.

The goal here is to measure value over time, both in terms of value delivery and value expansion. In SaaS, you most often see these quantified as retention.

Businesses with a recurring revenue component will often measure customer retention in terms of 'net revenue.' In other words, did you renew the customer, and what else did they buy from you?

Other businesses might keep things even simpler: "you started the year with X customers, and you ended the year with Y customers."

How do you model growth for Customer Success?

Michael Redbord, HubSpot

Start by tightly defining your CSM responsibilities.

Customer Success Management is a real job. It has components to it that you should be able to understand and itemize, and you should be able to back into a capacity model based on the work your CSM(s) are delivering.

For instance, as a CSM — what are your responsibilities?

Are you responsible for X number of accounts? Are you responsible for Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR) for every account?

Well, that's X pieces of work.

How long does each QBR take? Perhaps an hour to prep, an hour to present, and an hour of follow up?

So that's 3 hours times X accounts, which might be a significant chunk of work.

As you think about each component of work, think about the value that it's creating for your customers and your business. If you're able to define the work, define the value, and even loosely track your ROI, you'll be doing much better than many Customer Success organizations.

The alternative approach I've seen is when an organization says: "we know Customer Success is valuable... we're just not quite sure what it is because we can't itemize or operationalize it. But we do know that each CSM is managing around 100 customers right now, so let's just try giving them the 101st, and the 102nd..."

This method can sort of work for a while, but you don't know what you'll end up squeezing. At some point, this model will break, and you don't want breakage at scale.

Plus, you want to be able to know what CSMs are actually up to, what value they're delivering — not just their capacity. Ideally, you want to follow the bottoms up version (the amount of work) and not the top down approach (the number of customers).

You mentioned that at one point in your career Support and Success rolled up to you. Is that a good organizational model to follow?

Michael Redbord, HubSpot

I see a lot of companies, especially smaller ones, where Support is treated as an operational function and grouped in with Engineering or Operations.

In a small business, this isn't a big issue because everyone typically has a connection to the customer. But as you grow, you'll want to group Support in with everything else that's Customer Success oriented.

Ideally, what you want to end up with is one leader, perhaps 'VP of Customer Success', who owns a revenue number but also has operational responsibility for the execution of a good Support team.

Why is this important?

If Support stays as an Ops function then it tends to be run quite thin — often squeezed by the finance team. It also won’t have that connective tissue to long-arc retention, Lifetime Value, repeat purchase rate, or whatever your long-term focus.

You'll end up with better outcomes when you pair the Support function together with Customer Success.

About Michael

Michael Redbord is Vice President and General Manager of Customer Hub at HubSpot. Previously, he held roles as the VP of Services and Support and VP of Customer Support and Implementation, managing HubSpot's industry-leading support and success teams during some of its fastest periods of growth.

Read Michael's latest thoughts on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @redbord.

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