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The business world is notorious for an obsession with getting more customers in the door while paying less attention to keeping them. To retain customers and increase customer lifetime value, you not only must provide customer support, but you must also build long-term relationships that result in customer success.

While customer success and customer support initiatives may seem similar, there are some key differences between them. While customer success and customer support go hand in hand, customer success focuses on the long-term relationship between your company and your customers. Customer support is reactive, whereas customer success is more proactive.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the critical distinctions between customer success and customer support functions and examples of how to implement both in your business. 

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The Ultimate Guide to Customer Success: presented by Thinkific Plus: Download Now

The Difference Between Customer Support and Customer Success

Though customer success and customer service have the same end goal (happy customers) there are some critical differences: 

Customer SupportCustomer Success
  • Responds to issues that arise with a company’s products or services
  • Reactively helps customers troubleshoot problems
  • Strategically focuses on keeping customers happy to prevent churn and increase LTV
  • Customer Success proactively focuses on helping customers achieve their goals.
  • Focuses on solving problems quickly and efficiently
  • Is measured on the quality of the support customers experience
  • Builds relationships with customers. 
  • Is often measured in relation to revenue
  • Aims to deeply understand customer needs to provide them with the best possible experience
  • Has formally structured processes and procedures focused on mitigating complaints and dissatisfaction.
  • Typically has more technical expertise 
  • Has more autonomy in terms of how they interact with customers
  • Has a consultative empathetic approach that’s focused on building the relationship


As you can see in the table above, customer success is proactive, focusing on the long-term experience customers have with your products and services. On the flip side, customer service is reactive, responding to problems as they come up.

Take a look at your current customer experience to evaluate which initiative is a priority for your business or organization at the moment. 

What is Customer Success?

Customer Success (CS) teams are responsible for creating and maintaining positive experiences throughout their customer lifecycle. CS provides support tailored to customers’ needs at each stage in their lifecycle. This extra layer of personalized support is critical in the hyper-competitive, churn-heavy market. 

Customer success guides your customers toward success with your product by focusing on the entire relationship, not just the point of sale. CS is a philosophy, not just a department. By continuing to provide value beyond the initial sale, CS ensures customers get maximum ROI. 

CS prevents churn by taking a holistic customer success approach that helps customers quickly realize value. CS is valuable as a separate function because it helps create a culture around the customer’s success versus your company’s sales and marketing metrics. 

While CS can be a standalone strategy, it’s often an element of other revenue strategies such as:

  1. Onboarding and activation 

Customer success teams help customers learn the product. In addition to guiding them on best practices, they explain how to apply them in their unique business environment. For example, your CS team may help your customer integrate your product with their existing tech stack.

When onboarding and activation go well, your customers will see results and experience wins, which is measured as time to value (TTV). To create a lasting impression on customers, quick time-to-value and little frustration are essential.

  1. Engagement

After your customer has successfully used your product, the next Customer Success initiative is to keep them using it continuously. By keeping customers engaged with your product or service, customer success teams can help reduce churn and increase customer satisfaction. 

B2B customer success teams can keep customers engaged by hosting webinars or Q&A sessions that answer questions about the product or service. In addition, they can create educational content like tutorials or how-to videos available on demand.

  1. Retention

It costs your company more to acquire new customers versus retaining your existing base. Customer retention is critical to keeping customer acquisition costs (CAC) down. By understanding customer needs, providing personalized support, and fostering strong relationships, CS reduces customer churn. 

Examples of ways customer success teams can retain customers and reduce churn or “customer loss” include:   

  1. Proactively reaching out to customers to understand their needs and provide tailored solutions.   
  1. Developing loyalty programs that reward customers for their on-going business
  1. Providing ongoing training, education, and resources that help customers stay up-to-date on the latest features and best practices  
  1. Systematically collecting customer feedback and using it to improve product features or services as needed
  1. Creating a community of users where customers can share ideas, ask questions, and provide support to each other
  1. Expansion 

Task your customer success team with upselling existing customers and expanding accounts. Customer Success team members expand accounts by offering personalized services, such as one-to-one product demos or creating custom packages for clients.

One of the most effective ways to upsell existing customers is to proactively identify areas of improvement and opportunities for growth. For example, your CS team could provide data-driven insights into how to get the most out of their product or service, helping them understand the competitive landscape and trends in their industry and suggesting new features that could benefit their business.

  1. Referrals

Finally, when your company has successfully retained customers for an extended period, you can start encouraging them to refer new potential customers to the company. Affiliate programs are a great way to incentivize customers to spread the word about your brand and share their positive experiences publicly.

Example of customer success: Later

Most tech companies struggle to convince their users to fully adopt the platform instead of the 2-3 components they are most familiar with. Not Later —they created an online course to educate new customers about the best way to utilize all their platform’s features, ultimately increasing TTV.

Desiree Evanshen, Later’s Customer Success Manager shares that ​​“it’s important to show customers the value as quickly as possible, within the first week. For the majority of people, that’s when they’ll convert to being an active customer.”

Their goal is for users to truly understand the product, so they created an online course to deliver the information quickly. They repackaged one of their most successful webinars into an online course and saw 320% increase in retention and a 467% increase in feature adoption.

When sharing how to create high quality customer education materials, Desiree suggests to “make it about how your customer is going to be successful within whatever industry they’re working in…sometimes that doesn’t even mean talking about your product. Sometimes you’re just educating your customers about what’s going on in the industry and how they can be better at whatever it is they’re doing.” 

The Ultimate Guide to Customer Success: presented by Thinkific Plus: Download Now

What is Customer Support?

Whereas customer success is focused on quality interactions that build long-term relationships, customer support is focused on solving customer issues quickly and efficiently. Customer support initiatives include troubleshooting technical problems, responding to customer inquiries, or providing product information. 

For B2B companies, good customer support is crucial since it’s one of the primary buying criteria. Customer retention is a customer success initiative, but not receiving adequate customer support ultimately leads to churn. 

Example of Customer Support: Buffer

Buffer, a social media scheduling company known for its personality-driven customer support, separates customer service and customer success into proactive and reactive roles. Instead of treating customer support staff as second-class employees, Buffer elevated them, giving their support team members titles such as Happiness Heros and Weekend Warriors. Customer experience is highly valued within the organization.

Ready to improve the customer experience in your organization? 

Thinkific Plus helps businesses build sustainable and scalable online customer education programs that can provide customer support and drive success. In fact, that’s how Later increased customer retention by 320%. 

Learn more about how Later uses Thinkific Plus to educate thousands of customers – or book a call with our team today

The Ultimate Guide to Customer Success: presented by Thinkific Plus: Download Now
The Ultimate Guide for Thinkific Plus: Educate At Scale : Download Now