Where Does Support Fit in Your Customers’ Lifecycles? Everywhere!

Support Isn't a Stage in the Customer Lifecycle; It's the Engine That Drives it!

July 29, 2004

Customers need to be supported throughout their entire lifecycle, not just during the post-sales stage. Customer support should be the engine that drives your business process improvements. If you monitor and continuously improve the issues that cause customer support problems, you’ll wind up redesigning your business processes and your products. In fact, you’ll redesign your business from the customer back.


We’ve seen lots of consultants’ and clients’ “customer lifecycle” phases. These are diagrams used to map out the stages that prospects and customers typically go through in their relationships with a company’s products or services. Consultants, business planners, and technology planners often use these customer lifecycle diagrams to organize their thinking, their marketing initiatives, their CRM initiatives, and even their Web sites.

Recently, we came across a customer lifecycle that looked like this:

1. Awareness
2. Consideration
3. Purchase
4. Usage
5. Support
6. Renewal/Upgrade

At first blush, this sequence of steps seems perfectly rational. The prospect or customer becomes aware that they need a solution to a particular problem, they consider alternative solutions, they select one and purchase it, they use it, they support its use, and, if they like it and want to continue, they renew it and/or upgrade it.

The problem that arose in actually using this lifecycle approach for planning and design purposes was that the support phase was easy to misconstrue as representing the point at which the supplier’s own customer support activities would come into play. The misinterpretation of this customer lifecycle diagram was particularly problematic because it placed support at a particular stage in the customer experience journey. Many people in this firm actually thought of support as primarily a post-sales activity--helping customers get their products to work or helping customers administer their products.

Yet, as we all know, customer support isn’t just one stage in the customer’s lifecycle. Customer support should be the engine that drives every stage in the customer lifecycle. For example, customers who are buying and using software typically need support when they are trying to get something handled, fixed, or resolved in any of the following stages:

  • planning, scoping, and budgeting projects
  • exploring and learning about options
  • selecting and evaluating products; designing and configuring solutions
  • negotiating and purchasing products; receiving the correct products and/or changing their minds
  • learning to install, test, and use products; customizing, integrating, and deploying products
  • maintaining solutions
  • replenishing, upgrading, renewing, or replacing products

At each of these steps in a customer’s relationship with your products, services, and company, she expects you to provide proactive support. (See Illustration 1.)

The Customer’s Lifecycle for Software Solutions

The Customer’s Lifecycle for Software Solutions

Illustration 1. Here we show a typical customer lifecycle for software solutions. These are the stages that a software buyer (corporate, small business, or even consumer) typically goes through in the acquisition and usage of software products. We believe that customers need proactive customer support at each stage in this lifecycle.


Phone support is costly. Online chat support is expensive, too. Email support can be automated, but it may not yield prompt or satisfactory results. Knowledgebases and FAQs are only really useful when the particular answer the customer needs is the first one he or she finds.

You Can’t Afford Not To

Yet, unless you give customers the answers they need when they need them, they’ll be out of your life forever. The cost-effective and customer-friendly solution is not to skimp on support, but to integrate support tightly into every phase of your business, from product design and development, through product merchandising, to fulfillment, usage, upgrading, and even retirement or replacement.

You Need a Continuum of Support Options at Each Phase of the Customer Lifecycle

There’s a continuum of support options available to you. Listed in the order of the least expensive to the most expensive to provide, they are...

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