What Customer Success IS and IS NOT

Despite clear distinctions about the Customer Success discipline, there's still much confusion about what it is and why it exists. Let's clear that up.


Joseph Loria

6/15/20242 min read

I hear debates all the time about what Customer Success is and is not, so let’s take a moment to clear up any confusion and bring some clarity.

To do that, let’s just forget "Customer Success" for a moment and simply discuss what happens when a customer purchases a software subscription.

Professional Services
Once a new customer is kicked off, there are many tactical, and often technical, things that need to occur so the customer can get some value out of the platform:
  • Creating an instance

  • Configuring and setting up this instance

  • Converting and importing data

  • Creating any custom items like workflows or reporting

  • Educating users

These things are the domain of Professional Services, which is the work that we do on behalf of the customer so that they are able to use and receive value from the platform. With services complete, the customer can begin to use and experience value.

Because of the nature of its work, Professional Services resources are typically deeply technical and highly knowledgeable of product function.


Once customers are using the platform, two things are likely to happen:

  • The customer will have questions on how to do things;

  • The customer will run into technical issues.

These two needs are the realm of support. Support exists to respond well to these two needs:

  • Answer how-to questions, and direct customers to appropriate resources;

  • Troubleshoot and solve technical issues.

Here, the nature of the work is again technical and steeped in product knowledge, though we've also add problem-solving skills to Support personnel.

Account Management
If a customer is using the platform, seeing value, getting questions answered, and getting problems solved, eventually they will need to purchase more products or services, or eventually renew their subscription. This is the work of account management, a sales function focused on existing customers.

The primary skills here are sales skills: qualifying opportunities, running a sales process, and closing business.

What’s Missing?
So far, we’ve described a process that is the delivery of services, support, and sales.

But who’s accountable for ensuring the customer sees value from this process?

  • Not services – they’re accountable for the effective and efficient delivery of the service.

  • Not support – they’re accountable for the efficient resolution of questions and problems.

  • Not account management – they’re there to close opportunity and hit retention targets.

Customer Success
Now we enter the realm of customer success. And its purpose? We stated it just above.

Customer Success exists to ensure the customer sees value from the subscription.

How does it do that? Well, for one, using the resources at its disposal, namely services, support, and account management. But also, customer success needs to have its own methodology that mitigates risk and drives toward measurable success. That’s for another article, but for now here’s the simple view of how all of these pieces fit together.

So remember, Customer Success:

  • IS NOT Onboarding

  • IS NOT Consulting

  • IS NOT Development

  • IS NOT Training

  • IS NOT Answering how-to questions

  • IS NOT Solving technical issues

  • IS NOT Renewing subscriptions

  • IS NOT Upselling or expanding subscriptions