Success vs. Support: how does client know which to contact?

Mark Carlebach
Mark Carlebach Member Posts: 1 Navigator
edited August 2023 in CS Org Conversations

We are in planning phase for new Customer Success function (at B2B SaaS company).  We believe the new Customer Success function should be separate from our traditional, reactive support team.  We wonder, however, how these two teams are kept separate from the perspective of users of the app.   Specifically, in practice, how do successful B2B SaaS companies do the following:

1)  What messaging / "instructions" (so to speak) are given to the client when to contact reactive support vs. their new CSM contact? 

2)  How does the SaaS provider avoid the client contacting CSM with support calls?

3)  We assume all users of the app know how to contact traditional, reactive support  But, which users / contacts at the client have an assigned CSM with email / phone for the CSM?  All end users?   Just users identified as influential?   Does the strategy for identifying the subset of users to have CSM contact info differ depending on client tier?

I hope the above is clear and would love feedback from anyone who has successfully managed Client Success and has insight how to guide the client on when to contact CSMs vs. traditional support.

Thank you!


  • Eric Cheshier
    Eric Cheshier Member Posts: 4 Navigator
    First Anniversary Photogenic First Comment
    edited August 2021

    When introducing the CS model, the first thing that we did was an outreach campaign to our customers.  The CSM called to introduce the change to our culture, and when doing so the requirements were to provide a self-help portal demo and to provide a contact sheet.  This laid out the different groups for support scenarios.  Then, when the customer inevitably calls the CSM for support, a warm transfer to someone in the correct group with a handoff of the follow-up is the process.  It is a learning curve, for sure.
  • Andrew Marks
    Andrew Marks Member Posts: 54 Expert
    Office Hours Host 2022 5 Likes First Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited August 2021
    1) You should be setting this expectation with your customers right from the start, potentially during the pre-sales phase depending on when you introduce the concept of your customer success team. Clearly explain to your customers what should go to support.

    2) If customers contact CS for support-related issues, which many will do or continue to do, your CSM's need to educate and redirect. If they are contacting CS because it's an issue of critical nature or high importance (whether the reality or just their opinion), then the CSM should direct the customer to customer support to file the ticket and forward the CSM the ticket ID so the CSM can "keep an eye on it."

    3) That's up for you to decide. We typically have the customer assign a designated point person or two that have access to their assigned CSM and any asks or requests should go through those assigned customer contacts. Ideally, those individuals are people that are "power users" whom you over-indexed on training and supporting so that they can actually triage those incomings and only pass on the ones that really warrant getting a CSM involved. 

    Hope that helps.
  • Richard Jeffreys
    Richard Jeffreys Member Posts: 4 Navigator
    Office Hours Host 2022
    edited August 2021
    Hi Mark,

    I agree with all that's been said, however, the reality is that your customers will contact whoever they believe can best help them. If your customer support function doesn't meet customer expectations (you mention it being reactive), then a) your customers will probably contact your CSMs and b) you shouldn't (can't) tell them not to! I know this is an overused phrase but it really is a journey as you design and mature a Customer Success model (both the model and the organisational model and culture within your company). Perhaps the first part of that journey is for your CSMs to show their value by being a point of escalation (or you delay its implementation whilst you build up support). Not ideal but it will be difficult to engage customers in value-based strategic discussions if they feel they have fires burning. I hope this isn't the case for you. 

    That said, remember that it is a journey as you mature the model and it's often not possible to reach nirvana state in your first stage. To move from no model to 'customers being our advocates' requires a few iterations and your focus, goals, needs and skills will change as you move through these. 

    All the best in your journey. I hope this helps a little and am happy to talk to you if you feel that will help.


  • Scott Hair
    Scott Hair Member Posts: 9 Seeker
    First Anniversary Photogenic Name Dropper First Comment
    edited August 2021

    Unfortunately this will undoubtebly occur.  Everyone attempts to map out the best prescriptive message to inform clients of change, however it's unavoidable that clients will contact whomever they view to provide the most value to them.  At a baseline level, you may want to consider a client facing landing page of sorts that provides a description of who to contact if when & what is needed.  This way the same message gets communicated by support and vice versa from CS - this could be added in email signatures as well.  Again this won't stop them from outreach but can be sent as a reinforcement/reminder.  Another idea to consider is the timing associated to when you're introducing the CSM.  I just picked up Donna Weber's "Onboarding Matters" and she provides some interesting perspectives to consider.  

    As far as who has access to the CSM, In my experience, typically the account owner (Financial Decision maker) and/or training POC/Business process owner, not the end users of the product.  Access to a CSM would also depend upon whether the CSM function is a value added service that will be provided to all and if so, to what extent or will it be a paid-for service offering that has defined deliverables.    

    Hope this helps!

  • Carl Hoffmann
    Carl Hoffmann Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Comment First Anniversary
    edited August 2021
    Hi Mark,

    I've had my share of calls with customers in the B2B space who get confused between the 2 functions and it's great that you're planning for that separation as you start the CS function.  I've found that the proactive/reactive definition can be easily visualized by 2 words:  Break/Fix.  If something is broken that is stopping the functionality of their environment and needs to be fixed, then they generally should reach out to support.  If they need to add functionality (ex. more users or greater capacity, etc), then contact your friendly neighborhood CSM, who can advise how to do that (and likely has been planning for it).

    Some Break/Fix cases can sometimes turn into a non-Break/Fix (ex. you're server is crashing because you don't have enough capacity). That's when your tight relationship with the Support team comes in handy.  So, make sure you work with your Support team to review use cases and iron out processes so everyone's on the same page.
  • Paul Duffett
    Paul Duffett Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited August 2021
    Hi Mark,

    Just wanted to add some additional thoughts / my $0.02.

    1)  What messaging / "instructions" (so to speak) are given to the client when to contact reactive support vs. their new CSM contact? 
    There should be clear guidance and messaging in every step of the process, from pre-sales through to post-sales engagement. I speak with our customers in a pre-sales capacity and map out the roles of Support and Customer Success.
    I like to frame the Support capability as providing solutions to break/fix scenarios. The important message you will want to convey here is in the form of a very powerful acronym: SLA.
    As someone who operates in the CS space, I don't offer any SLAs on "break/fix" issues. If I get an email I'll ask the customer to raise a ticket because it will be audited, it will be tracked and it will provide them with an SLA guarantee depending on the severity of the issue. It's a very powerful message and it's powerful because it's true.
    Try to create a narrative around the role of the CSM. The messaging should be around someone who will act as a Trusted Advisor and will work with the customer in a more strategic manner. I always use the Change Management narrative in these calls where I talk about People, Process and Technology as three distinct swim-lanes - Technology being our Product Roadmap vs What the customer needs - and I create timelines and milestones. The People swim-lane is where the CSM will be driving enablement and Process can be mapped to a customer use-case or an internal initiative. I'll likely use words such as "Success Plan / Mutual Success Plan" to paint a picture of how a CSM is more strategic in nature, will work with the customer on each element of the success plan and steer the customer towards a successful outcome.

    2)  How does the SaaS provider avoid the client contacting CSM with support calls?
    Provide the client with a method of reaching out to support, ideally via a URL / Portal, and make it effective and simple.
    Make sure the CSM team are onboard with the narrative (see above; point 1). Most, if not all, members of CS will be customer obsessed and they will want to do the right thing by the customer and start to dig into the issue, but sometimes trying to do the right thing is the wrong thing to do. Defer/refer the customer to the Support Team. These folk are the experts and they have access to resources that the CSM team may not. They'll also likely have an access route into the customer infrastructure to undertake RCA that will likely be legislated for or certainly documented in the contractual agreement - another very important factor.

    So it's not a case of avoidance, it's one of education and not just of the customer but of your organisation too.

    3)  We assume all users of the app know how to contact traditional, reactive support  But, which users / contacts at the client have an assigned CSM with email / phone for the CSM?  All end users?   Just users identified as influential?   Does the strategy for identifying the subset of users to have CSM contact info differ depending on client tier?
    This is an "it depends" type answer. If you are in the early stages with your organisation then you'll likely want to engage with all of your customers. Every bit of feedback at this stage is gold.
    As your organisation matures and you start to build out strategy and roadmap, you'll likely need to start thinking about your CS op model and in my experience, your "strategic" customers are the ones that will not only benefit from a named CSM but your org will also benefit from this partnership.
    As for which of the contacts within those strategic organisations should have access - it's a bandwidth challenge and the CSM will have to make the call on whether or not they try and create a single-thread via a Champion or whether they engage across the customer community. There are pros and cons for both. The single-thread option does help with the CSM bandwidth issue but this introduces risk - if the champion exits the org then you're left scrambling around for a new champion.
    The multi-thread option means you are mitigating the risk of losing a champion but this can be intensive on the CSM. In this instance it might be worth thinking about supporting communities within a customer organisation if the demand is there. I've seen this happen and it's incredibly powerful. You could sponsor such a community and then provide an "Office Hours" 1:M style engagement to proactively nurture a wider user base. You might then only need to have a more narrow-thread engagement with a select team of "Power Users".

    Bit of a ramble and I hope there is something in there that is useful. Either way, feel free to reach out if you want to explore.