How I Transitioned from Customer Support to Customer Success

Without having any prior CS experience, I transitioned from a career in Customer Support to CS. Here's how I did it.
Diana De Jesus
November 30, 2020

After nearly 2 years of building a technical support team at a growing startup, I started having feelings for another career path. I had taken an immersive course on retention and engagement that painted churn as the enemy. After that—all I wanted to do was focus on retaining customers.

Working on a team that solely focused on onboarding only solidified my desire to move into a more proactive role in retention. After researching future roles, I landed on Customer Marketing or Customer Success. 

The problem: the career opportunity didn’t currently exist at my company and I didn’t have traditional Customer Success experience.

Growing Your Customer Success Experience

At first, I applied, applied, and applied and got back the same answer: "NO."

I chatted with my friend who’s a Marketer about my problem and they said: “If you don’t have the experience, make it.” That is so "marketing" of them but they were absolutely right. It was hard for me to get my foot in the door when I didn’t speak the language of Customer Success. 

That’s when I created my own blog, Keep The Customer, and I started becoming more active on LinkedIn. In my blog, I recapped podcast episodes and webinars from CS leaders, which helped me do 2 things: 

  1. Learn about CS 
  2. Share what I learned about CS with the rest of the world

As I was building this blog out, I kept having more interviews and I started documenting why I was getting the big “NO.” I didn’t know some terms, I didn’t fully understand the CS motion (i.e., handoffs, reviews, renewal conversations with Account Executives), so I found podcast episodes about these things, recapped them, learned, and then shared what I learned. 

In the interviews that came after, I was able to speak to those points and with each interview, while my self-esteem was serving as a punching bag, I learned a lot.

Finally, I saw a job ad posted by someone I knew, I sent a message and I locked in an interview. I used my very scattered Customer Success experience from my past role and the knowledge I gained from my blog to get the job! 

Customer Support vs. Customer Success… Learn the Difference!

If you’re in Support and you’re thinking about making your move to CS, you should have a strong understanding of how these roles are different, and how they're similar.

Here are some of the key ones that stand out to me: 

Similarities

  • In both roles, you need to have the following skills: empathy, problem-solving, communication, time management, team player. 
  • While you’re out of the “queue”, you’ll still be in your emails. This includes follow-ups, one-off emails, and the occasional support question. 
  • Both roles require you to work cross-functionality. There’s a lot of communication between CS, Product, Marketing, and Sales. 

Differences

  • Customer Success is proactive. You reach out to customers when there’s a problem/opportunity. Support is reactive. Customers reach out to you when they have a problem. 
  • In Success, you’ll have more face-to-face customer interactions which means you have to be quicker on your feet. In Support, you may have room to create the perfect message or put someone on hold before firing off your final answer. 
  • In Success, you have playbooks as your North Star and in Support, you have troubleshooting guides and saved replies. 

These are just the tip of the iceberg and there is no one book that can teach you everything or one community that has all the answers. However, there are plenty of resources out there to help you build up your knowledge about CS.

Three Ways to Accelerate Your Career Change

Double down on your learning 

My first interview for a Customer Success role was with Segment.io and I bombed it! I did my usual interview prep: research the company, align my experience to the points mentioned in the job description and learn about my interviewer. But here’s the thing… just because I wanted to work in Customer Success and I was “passionate” didn’t mean I knew about Customer Success. Needless to say “fake it til you make it” isn’t a viable strategy in CS. 

That disastrous interview helped realize that I had so much to learn so I turned my notes from the interview into my curriculum. I started listening to CS podcasts constantly (I'd suggest checking out Churn.fm, Gain Grow Retain, and NPS I Love You). They all host CS leaders who share juicy knowledge around the concepts that came up in my interviews (i.e., renewals, expansions, relationship-building, etc.).  

Along with listening to podcasts, I also started reading books like The Startup's Guide to Customer Success: How to Champion the Customer at Your Company and blog posts by Customer Success thought leaders. I used these resources to help me build my foundation of my Customer Success knowledge and then I turned to LinkedIn to learn how people were actually implementing these concepts. 

Join a community 

I know I just mentioned this earlier on but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being part of a community. I’m currently active in two communities, Gain Grow Retain and Customer Success en Español and when I feel lost or have a question, these are the peers I turn to for help. 

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that at first it’s super intimidating to join these communities. We’re talking about being on a call with Customer Success professionals who sometimes forget that not everyone knows what “Long-Tail Customer Success” is. However, you should take this as a sign that you’re growing and if you think back to any time when you were learning something new, there’s always an uncomfortable phase. 

These communities are also jam-packed with CS leaders who are actively hiring, it’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with them to help you get closer to landing a job in CS. I’ve heard several stories of leaders finding talent within these communities! 

Find a mentor 

If I could go back and do things all over again, I would lead with this: find a mentor. 

There were plenty of mistakes I made as I was trying to transition, and a mentor could have helped me see around some of those corners. You need support if you’re going to navigate the uncertain waters of changing careers. There will be a lot of trying times along the journey and you need someone on your side. 

If you’re currently entertaining the idea of transitioning or you’ve been at it for months, check out Catalyst's Coaching Corner, where applicants (players) get paired up with a CS leader who will help you with your journey. 

Where Will Your Path Lead You?

In the end, no two paths are the same. Your journey could lead you down a series of twists and turns while someone else’s journey is straightforward. But I will say this, for me it was all worth it! 

If you’re customer-driven, you care about customers succeeding not just with your product/service but in general, and you want a role that’s challenging, Customer Success is for you.

Better relationships. Less churn.

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