Customer Service vs Customer Success

Last verified May 24, 2021

To create best-in-class support, you have to start with an established understanding of the evolving industry terminology and nuanced differences between customer service, success, and experience. Of course, all these facets work together and roll up to a common goal: a satisfied customer who will continue coming back for more. Still, understanding how these areas are specialized while simultaneously working together will strengthen your support teams at large and help them identify the different facets of their work. 

At a very elementary level, here’s how you can understand it: 

Customer Service (aka Customer Support) + Customer Success = The Customer Experience


What is the customer experience and why is it important? 

The customer experience is the entirety of a customer’s journey with your brand. That’s everything from the first ad they see, to the research they do around it, through to the purchasing and post-purchase experiences. Decide how you want this customer experience to look and feel and build from there. This should be  jumping off point for planning your support systems as this term encompasses the entire customer lifecycle and accounts for all touch points that they have with your customer-facing teams. 

What is Customer Service?

  •  Reactive:  Customer service responds to the needs of customers. They provide one-off support actions (i.e. providing technical product assistance). 

  •  Short-term:  Customer service is transactional by nature. These teams focus on resolving individual concerns quickly and efficiently

  • Satisfaction-focused:  Customer service’s KPI is in the immediate satisfaction of customers to seamlessly solve their issues. 

  • Tools to measure impact:  Because service is rooted in short-term supportive actions, using tools like Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS) will help you gauge the effectiveness of your support teams. 

What is Customer Success?

  • Proactive:  Customer success teams are specialized in anticipating the needs and goals of customers and providing guidance through the entirety of the process.  

  •  Long-term:  Nurturing the success of your customer through each stage of the customer experience. Good customer success hones their efforts in on the broader relationship that customers have with your brand. 

  •  Scaling-focused:  Especially in the SaaS space, customer success must ensure not only the successful implementation of your tool, but also effective usage and scaling down the line. 

  •  Measure value over-time:  The KPI for success is longer term in its nature. They focus on ensuring that customers gain ongoing value from your product. 

  • Tools to measure impact:  Since Customer Success is higher level, it can be difficult to find a way to track its impact. Focus your tracking efforts here on customer retention and expansion to prove long-term scaling and success. 

While Customer Service is a more established field that has been around for 25+ years the concept of Customer Success and Experience is newer to enter the scene. And although getting buy-in from the C-Suite can be challenging with these more nuanced disciplines, they've surfaced for a reason. Consumers in the modern buying economy have heightened expectations of the customer support they'll receive.  Their experience, in all its parts, can make or break the credibility of your brand as a whole

Knowing your terminology will help pinpoint the work of your support teams and cultivate a cohesive understanding of what you want the Customer Experience to look like. Starting there, remember that under the umbrella of the experience; Customer Service provides the quick-fixes with a personal touch, while Customer Success nurtures the long-term relationship and provides ongoing value to the customer.