It's time we rethink how we talk about Customer Support and Customer Success.
We've all heard and seen the same old "us vs. them” language.
Although these distinctions are important, both teams are instrumental in delivering a great customer experience. 👈
And let’s face it, our customers don’t care about these internal differences. They just want the product to work as expected and help when they need it. Period.
So instead of getting bogged down by the usual debates, this article is about how Support and Customer Success can work together to become a powerhouse.
CS and Support often share important similarities.
Here are six areas where Support and CS can collaborate more effectively because of these shared characteristics.
On the one hand, Support handles more technical (“lower level”) inquiries within a pre-defined service-level agreement (SLA). On the other hand, CSMs equip users with best practices and drive practical usage of the product.
While these differences are apparent, the teams share a standard skill set. Both are expected to have a solid understanding of the product and best practices. Furthermore, they both impact the satisfaction of customers, who appreciate the expertise offered by customer-facing teams.
Using knowledge management processes and tools, these groups should pool their shared knowledge and insights into an up-to-date internal knowledge repository, which in turn will help others get up to speed faster and avoid common mistakes.
For example, I used to run monthly team meetings with support engineers and CSMs to share customer highlights and lessons learned. Overall, it was an effective peer-learning tool that helped us capture insights into our knowledge management tools for future reference.
A simple process like this can significantly affect how fast your client-facing teams learn.
A service-level agreement is a commitment between a company and its customer about the level of service they can expect. It's written down and sets the standards for customer support. This includes how good the service will be, how often it will be available, and how quickly they will receive help. SLAs are often found in bigger agreements between a company and its customers.
With that being said, there are a few cases where the SLA and tickets involve both teams.
SLA violations are usually reported by the customer and often require an additional explanation of the root cause of the breach. It is not a pure support team issue if we consider the latter part of the overall customer experience. In that regard, CSMs are expected to understand the details, address customers' concerns, and help to stabilize the relationship if needed. It is a classic example where support and CS should operate in close tandem. Having one source of truth that both teams rely on is mandatory for the smooth and fast resolution of SLA violations. In addition, customers expect their CSM to be knowledgeable and proactive regardless of the circumstances.
Many organizations incorporate ticket statistics into their customer health model. The performance of the support team and the ability to resolve technical issues have a direct impact on customer satisfaction. CSM then evaluate the overall health status taking into consideration quantitative and qualitative metrics such as sentiment and the overall "heartbeat" of their customers.
This primarily applies to enterprise customers who are familiar with the support process. These customers have high demands from their vendors and expect promptly resolved tickets. Their lack of satisfaction on this front will likely trigger escalations and complaints.
In a low-touch model, CSM does not know the stakeholders intimately, and support tickets may provide insights into customer challenges, which would not be visible otherwise. Understanding the issues that customers raise via support tickets reveals potential reasons for churn and new growth opportunities.
CSM should involve themselves in resolving escalations. CSM stepping into the "fire" must understand the incident timeline and the associated activities to rectify it. While support team members and managers are naturally involved, the CS team will orchestrate the inbound and outbound communication. Enterprise customers expect the vendor teams to be synchronized, knowledgeable, and proactively pursue appropriate solutions. This delicate activity can be successfully resolved as support and CS teams closely engage with each other.
I mentioned earlier the benefits of maintaining an internal knowledge base. The same applies to the external resources guiding the customers to operate the product. In many companies, the support team works closely with the technical writers (usually part of the Product team) to build and improve the customer’s knowledge base. Articles, user guides, FAQs, and videos are created based on the experience of the people who have handled customer inquiries and resolved various customer challenges.
Having managed both teams in parallel, support engineers and CMSs can massively contribute to the documentation shared with customers. They have extensive knowledge of the use cases and end-user needs. Their collective wisdom and experience will positively influence the quality of the collateral shared with the end users.
Products can be challenging to deploy and often need integrated across technology. Mature vendors will have, at this stage, a separate implementation/onboarding team (under CS) taking care of deployment and fixing technical issues that CMSs may not be able to resolve.
The situation is different in smaller (less mature) start-ups that have yet to scale. CS/support boundaries are less distinctive. In such circumstances, I recruited CSEs – Customer Success Engineers. They had a solid technical background in managing customer deployments.
In practice, we had one team - CSEs responsible for onboarding and acting as part-time support engineers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this model. The positive aspects lead to more efficiencies within the team and the ability to handle parallel onboarding and ongoing support issues. On the other hand, it is not a sustainable model for the long run and is likely to change with scale and growth.
The “Customer first” mindset and “Customer centricity” approach all focus on improving the customer experience. This responsibility extends beyond the sphere of Customer Success teams as other teams must rise to the occasion. As such, support teams significantly contribute to their customers achieving their desired outcomes. On the face of it, the teams assist customers differently.
The Support team’s perceived value.
The Customer Success perceived value:
A combination of the above is essential for a positive customer experience. Solid ongoing support and issue resolution will allow customers to be attentive and receptive to added-value discussions. Customers are likely only to attend monthly calls and QBRs when they experience continuous challenges with your product. As such, they will ask you to sort out the burning issues before presenting value and suggesting new initiatives.
In other words, the overall value is gradually built from onboarding into adoption & engagement, where both teams complement each to create the perfect customer experience.
Constant communication between the teams may reveal previously unknown information to the Customer Success teams. I thanked my support counterparts on numerous occasions as they shared Important updates, which proved helpful in identifying new growth opportunities and renewal discussions.
A few examples are listed below:
The flow of information works both ways. CSMs can provide more “coloring” and context on specific challenges, allowing the support team to be better tuned and alerted to customer needs.
A few examples are listed below:
The "PPT" framework – people, processes, and technology- is deeply rooted in the synergies between these two teams. Each one of them reveals additional value when they join forces.
People. Support experts inherently have good customer communication skills and product knowledge. With solid soft skills, they are naturally good candidates to become the new CSM in the team.
Processes. Knowledge sharing and internal /external knowledge management systems assist the teams in addressing customer inquiries and unifying the customer experience.
Tools. The teams use different tools. However, integrating a ticketing system into a customer management solution provides a consolidated view of customers and one reliable source of truth.
Customer Success is renowned for driving internal collaboration across the organization. We often hear the importance of collaborating with Sales, Marketing, and Product as the key to the success of our customers. A seamless customer journey also relies on joining forces with Support, as both handle customers' requirements and issues. This joined experience and knowledge should be leveraged internally and externally regardless of team structures. This is even easier to achieve with the same manager responsible for the two groups.
Both teams' knowledge and experience are core assets for any organization. We only need to leverage them wisely.
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