Customer Success vs. Tech Support: What’s the difference?

Companies have had technical support departments for a long time. In ancient days (think pre-telephone) it was done by paper and pencil. As Information Technology (IT) became popular, so did technical support or customer support. In 1989, the Help Desk Institute was founded.  Then in the 1990’s, call centers became a popular method for tech support. Later in the 2000’s, as companies became bogged down in too many support calls, they looked for ways to minimize calls. They adopted Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), created online forums, and relied on crowdsourcing to help solve user problems. They tried anything to not have to talk to their users.

 

Then came subscriptions.

The big difference between traditional business and subscription business: traditional businesses care that you buy it now, subscription businesses care that you buy it now and you buy it again every month from now on. Traditional businesses can get you to buy based on marketing and sales efforts. You almost expect to be disappointed when you start to implement traditional services. That may be a little harsh, but they certainly don’t have same incentive to keep you happy that subscription businesses do. Subscription businesses need you to use and like their product for you to keep buying it.

 

Let me repeat that sentence:  Subscription businesses need you to use and like their product for you to keep buying it.  

 

Customer Success vs Technical Support

Technical support in traditional business was really only implemented to keep the complaints down. The real goal was to get you off the phone and stop wasting their time. They didn’t really care if you were super successful with their product.

 

Customer success is the opposite: it’s proactive. It monitors who is using and not using certain features. They create  outreach plans to help users get more value from their product. They want customers to be successful.

 

If I were to generalize, I’d say technical support is reactive, while customer success is proactive.  Technical support answers questions.  Customer success drives usage. Technical support fixes user problems. Customer success creates value for the customer.

 

That is the key difference. Customer success departments purposefully create incremental value for their customers. Pricing is creating, communicating and capturing value. Customer success creates real value that we can capture now in retention revenue and some day in expansion revenue.

 

The Lesson

The lesson is, don’t treat customer success like tech support. Customer success must proactively drive usage. Usage drives value, which drives happier customers which drives more revenue.

 

**Note: Mark Stiving has an active LinkedIn community, where he participates in conversations and answers questions. Each week, he creates a blog post for the top question. If you have a question, head over to LinkedIn to communicate directly with Mark.

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