Jun 25, 2021

Read Time 4 min

Customer Success vs. Customer Support vs. Account Management vs. Professional Services: What’s the Difference?


While those of us in Customer Success are intimately familiar with its ins and outs, the field is still relatively foreign to many. As a Customer Success professional, I’m constantly asked, “Well, what does that mean? What do you actually do?” If you’re in Customer Success, I’m willing to bet you’ve been asked something similar.

Typically, I respond with something along the lines of “I help customers understand the solution they purchased and ensure they achieve their goals.” The rest of the conversation typically goes like this:

THEM: “Oh, got it. So, customers reach out to you when they have a problem and need your help, and you walk them through the solution?”

ME: “Well, sort of. But that’s more of a Customer Support function. Customer Success professionals use their subject matter expertise to serve and consult their customers.”

THEM: “OK, so like Professional Services?”

ME: “Not exactly…”

Customer Success is an emerging industry, and so it’s understandable that there’s some confusion around how it differs from the longer-standing functions of Customer Support, Account Management, and Professional Services.

To add another layer of complexity, Customer Success roles come in all shapes and sizes. There are Customer Success Associates, Customer Managers, Directors, and so on. The exact responsibilities of a Customer Success professional will vary by company and departmental synergies.

But regardless of their differences, Customer Success professionals share one common mission: to ensure customers see success with the solution they purchased. Now, let’s dig even deeper than that to understand what Customer Success is and how it’s unique from its other customer-facing counterparts.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support

Customer Success and Customer Support share a common goal in that they want to ensure customers are satisfied and comfortable with a solution. However, there are significant distinctions in the daily operations of these functions.

One key difference lies in the customer management model.

Within Customer Success, Customer Success Managers usually own a book of business that’s comprised of a specific group of customers they serve. Customer Success Managers know their book of business inside and out and serve as the main point of contact for the customer’s lifecycle. Whether it’s a quick question via email, a routine consulting call, or a formal business review, the same Customer Success Manager will serve that same customer.

Conversely, Customer Support reps typically serve all customers who use the solution. They work out of a support queue and assign cases using a round-robin style to ensure speedy and efficient responses. Customers aren’t appointed a set point of contact for support interactions. Instead, the next available support member assists the customer in need.

Another key difference between these two functions is their response model.

Customer Success teams use a proactive approach. Customer Success Managers work to understand their assigned customers’ goals early on, and ensure they use the solution in an effective way to achieve their goals. Customer Success Managers accomplish this through continuous consultative touchpoints to drive adoption and expand overall product use.

On the other hand, Customer Support teams use a reactive approach. Customer Support reps are the first line of defense when a customer reaches out with a problem. Typically, these teams monitor, manage, and reply to all inbound support tickets, support chats, and support cases. They’re responsible for troubleshooting, and their responses are instructional in nature.

In summary: Customer Success is proactive and assigned. Customer Support is reactive and round-robin.

Customer Success vs. Account Management

While Customer Success and Account Management both act as a trusted advisor to the customer, they consult on different customer needs at different stages in the lifecycle.

Account Managers practice inbound, reactive coaching by responding to specific inquiries when a customer reaches out. Their only outbound communication occurs at time of renewal to discuss pricing with customers and secure a contract. As a product-based function, Account Managers have an in-depth understanding of product features, packages, and upgrades.

Customer Success acts as a proactive coach to the customer. They engage customers with constant outbound communications year-round, not just during the renewal timeframe. They provide the customer with consultative feedback and best practices tailored to the customer’s context. As a goals-based function, Customer Success understands customers’ business objectives and configures the product to meet their customers’ needs.

In summary: Account Management focuses on the solution and sale whereas Customer Success focuses on the ongoing strategy and goals.

Customer Success vs. Professional Services

Both Customer Success and Professional Services act as subject matter experts who help customers implement best practices. The main difference between these two functions is in the onus of application.

Professional Services takes the action needed to accomplish the end goal. For example, Professional Services builds a dashboard or configures a feature on behalf of a customer.

While Customer Success gives the customer the tools they need to accomplish the end goal themselves. For example, Customer Success instructs and consults customers on the best way to build a dashboard or configure a feature.

You can think of the difference through the lens of the old saying: give a man a fish or teach a man to fish. Professional Services is the white-glove doer and Customer Success is the tactical teacher.

In summary: Both functions serve to ensure the customer achieves their business goals; they just go about getting there a bit differently.

Customer Success vs. Customer Support vs. Account Management vs. Professional Services

Comparing the differences between all four of these customer-facing roles:

Customer Support Account Management Professional Services
Activity Type Proactive Reactive Reactive and Scheduled Scheduled
Engagement Type Ongoing Inbound and Transactional Inbound and Outbound and Transactional Outbound and Billable
Overall Goal Drive Business Outcomes Quality and Speed of Resolution Generate Sales Deliver Business Outcomes


Customer Success Defined

What makes Customer Success unique? Customer Success teams work to obtain a deep understanding of their customer’s overall business objectives. Then, they take their customers’ product usage to the next level by incorporating specific use cases to achieve those goals. Customer Success professionals are highly proactive individuals who continuously look for ways to improve solution adoption and usage. Customer Success is an ongoing engagement throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Their job is never truly finished as both the customer’s goals and the vendor’s solution mature and grow over time.

In summary: Customer Success ensures logo and revenue retention, all the while making customers smile and realize success.


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