The Growth-Killing Mistake of Making Customers Happy

You need to properly separate customer success and customer support.

Written by Joe Procopio
Published on Dec. 15, 2021
The Growth-Killing Mistake of Making Customers Happy
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From new startups to established large companies, I often see teams make the same growth-crippling mistake when it comes to customer satisfaction. It happens when the customer success role is charged with supporting the customer, and the customer support role is made responsible for customer success. 

But wait! Customer support leads to customer success, right? They go hand in hand along the path of customer satisfaction, and that drives customer growth!

Well, sure — for a while.

I just spent three months advising a team that developed their customer support and customer success roles properly from the get-go. Not only did the proper division of duties pay dividends immediately, but it made their product launch and each additional feature rollout quicker, easier and more accepted by a larger portion of their customer base.

On top of that, it also put the company in a better position for customer growth. 


When Customer Satisfaction Kills Growth

In any environment where organizational roles are combined and people wear a lot of hats, merging customer success and customer support seems like a good place to begin. In the short term, charging your customer support team with responsibility for customer success (or vice versa) creates a couple of quick benefits:

  1. Your customer support/success team becomes a handy two-way conduit between the happiness of the customer and the profitability of the company. 

  2. That team is right on the front lines, working with customers every day to make sure they are getting the most out of the product and are happy with what they're getting.

Early on, everyone involved is chock-full of satisfaction — your customer, your support/success team and your company's bottom line. But long term, you're setting yourself up for trouble, and eventually you wind up hitting a wall of limitations.

3 Problems That Arise When You Mix Up Customer Success and Support

  1. Customers are no longer happy with the limitations of your product. 
  2. Customer support/success can no longer make customers happy within the limitations of your business model. 
  3. Your product stagnates in a sort of “comfort zone” of mediocrity, one that congeals from too much complacency for too long. 

When customers get frustrated, they churn. When customer support/success representatives get frustrated, they churn. The product gets stale, and competition overtakes you. Growth plummets.

It's a sad and scary picture. But it doesn't need to happen. 


Divide the Roles and Conquer the Customer's Problems

Customer success isn't about making the customer happy. It's about making the customer more successful with your product. This means solving old problems in a new way, and helping — sometimes forcing — the customer to adopt new processes and methods to become more efficient, accurate and productive. 

Customer success leads the customer to the optimal path, not the easy or familiar path. This requires the customer to learn a new system as quickly and efficiently as possible: maximizing results and minimizing waste. 

Customer success is rooted in change. And as we all know, change sucks. Customer success is painful for the customer, but it’s better for them over the long term.

Similarly, customer support isn't about making the product more valuable. Customer support needs total authority to make the customer happy, regardless of how that customer defines happiness or what it costs the company. 

Customer support is painful for the company, but you guessed it: It’s better over the long term.

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Promote the Differences, Avoid the Mistakes

If you're familiar with the basics of customer success, you've probably seen a comparison chart before. If you haven't, let's walk through the major differences between customer success and customer support and address those differences with preventative measures. 


Mission and Approach

Customer support is a reactive function. It benefits the short term, and it needs almost complete authority to resolve customer issues and problems.

Customer success is a proactive function, with results that are only apparent in the long term. The team’s responsibility is to the growth of the overall customer base, not the individual customer.

Preventative measure: Support should catch patterns in issues, problems and usage and report those patterns to success. And while success should frequently interact with individual customers, their recommendations and decisions about the product should only be made based on the aggregate instead of on the needs of a single customer — regardless of that customer's size or importance.


Tasks and Metrics

Customer support resolves all the customers’ problems quickly and with a high satisfaction rate. 

Customer success prevents and reduces problems, increases product value and creates more opportunities for higher customer satisfaction to happen. 

Preventative measure: Support should be the feedback mechanism for success’s initiatives and experiments. Success and support should work together before and during the implementation of new features to look for potential issues. They should also come together after launch to understand how the customers are locating and tapping additional value.



Customer support is responsible for the current customer. They are the voice of the current customer. They fight for the current customer. They fix the problems.

Customer success is responsible for the next customer. They are the voice of the next customer. They win the next customer. They find the opportunities. 

Preventative measure: While the first two measures require the two roles to work together, this is where a firm wall between the two starts to form, so it’s where you need to separate these roles before that wall becomes big enough for growth to crash against. 


The Takeaway

A single person or team can’t serve both the current customer and the next customer, so split them up and clearly define who each one is responsible for. 

You want them fighting for that customer, even if they have to fight each other. But you don't want them fighting themselves. 

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