Customer Success vs. Customer Service (Plus Definitions)

Updated February 3, 2023

Customer success and customer service each play their own role in a company's success. Some may use these terms interchangeably, but understanding their differences may help you better serve your customers and encourage loyalty. 

In this article, we show you what both customer success versus customer service are and discuss the key differences between the two.

What is customer success?

Customer success is a concept that focuses on the long-term relationship a business develops with its customers. This can include learning more about the customer's expectations for the business and its products or services or establishing a more personal relationship with customers and making them feel valued. Customer success depends on several factors, including:

  • Communication: Customer success relies on transparent, consistent communication. Good communication between the customer and the business allows each to understand the other's needs and pursue common goals.

  • Value: Bringing value to the customer through your goods and services helps facilitate long-term relationships. Value exceeds the simple monetary worth of an item and may include elements like quality or customer appreciation.

  • Feedback: Customer success efforts typically involve soliciting feedback from customers. Customer feedback throughout a business relationship helps the company better understand customer needs, how the business is meeting expectations and where customers want to see changes or improvements in the future.

Related: What Is a Customer Success Manager?

What is customer service?

Customer service is similar to customer success, but it focuses more on the short-term transaction than the long-term relationship. Customer service helps users navigate challenges with the brand or its products and services, such as troubleshooting technical issues, fixing pricing disputes or answering questions. Rather than fostering the long-term relationship between the company and the customer, customer service focuses on resolving issues and helping users take advantage of the product they purchased. Good customer service practices may help businesses retain customers.

Customer service also operates on several fundamental principles, including:

  • Communication and feedback: Like in customer success, feedback and communication are equally important in customer service. Addressing issues quickly, making customer service options accessible, focusing on a customer-facing company culture and requesting feedback after interactions are all hallmarks of excellent customer service.

  • Contingency plans: Effective customer service can include helping the customer in whatever way possible. Many businesses have contingency plans in place for alternative methods to best meet customer needs or expectations. These can include actions like waving the cost of shipping or delivery or discounting future purchases.

  • Respect: Good customer service can depend on the business' and customers' mutual respect for one another. This mutual respect helps strengthen the business client relationship through efforts such as communicating civilly, practicing empathy and being patient during the customer service process.

Related: 20 Customer Service Tips

8 differences between customer success vs. customer service

Customer success and customer service diverge at key points within the mutual relationship, including:

1. Customer success vs. customer service timelines

The overall timeline throughout each process is a key difference between customer success and customer service. Customer success focuses more on the long-term relationship with clients and maintaining their loyalty over an extended period, so employees working in this area may have lasting relationships with these clients. Customer service focuses on serving clients in the short-term by solving problems or answering questions to improve their immediate experience and view of the brand. Customer service professionals may have a brief interaction with the customers they serve via phone, email or chat, and they typically aim to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Related: Definitive Guide to Average Resolution Time

2. Proactive and reactive experiences

Customer success is a proactive response to customer goals and long-term satisfaction. This means it typically involves actions the company takes to prevent issues before they occur. Identifying customer goals and expectations and expanding the business to meet those requirements motivates customer-success-oriented businesses. In contrast, customer service is more reactive to an arising need, providing a short-term solution for customers and engaging them at the point of sale.

Related: 9 Tips for Onboarding Customers

3. Revenue and cost-cutting

Both customer success and service have the mutual goal of increasing revenue, but each one does so differently. Customer success creates long-term, sustainable revenue by encouraging customer loyalty through value and support. This may encourage customers to return for goods and services over time or even recommend them to other potential users. Customer service may address issues using methods that help cut costs or save money, such as offering discounts for future purchases rather than accepting returns.

Related: Cost Cutting: Definition and How To Plan a Strategy

4. Collaboration and focused efforts

To achieve customer success, the entire organization often takes part in widespread collaborative efforts. In contrast, customer service can depend on a focused effort from one or two areas of the business. For example, a designated customer service team may operate a help desk or telephone line to address customers’ issues. Contrastingly, a customer success-oriented organization usually creates a company-wide customer service-focused culture in which many teams participate

Related: Why Is Collaboration Important? (Plus Tips)

5. Quality and value

Customer service focuses on the immediate quality of a product or service individually. Providing a customer support team, return policy and other customer service tools shows a customer the quality of a brand and its products. Alternatively, supporting long-term customer success shows the customer the brand's commitment to value, which extends beyond the initial transaction and monetary value of a product.

Related: 4 Levels of Customer Service: Definitions and Tips

6. Initial impressions

An organization or department’s focus on either customer success or customer service can influence their initial interactions with new customers. Great customer service during the initial interaction can impress a customer and make them feel confident about their first purchases or experiences. Customer success, alternatively, extends that connection by focusing on long-term customer retention. For example, a professional focused on customer success may send a follow-up email after meeting a client offering to provide more information or offer lasting value to them.

Related: How To Fix a Bad First Impression (With Tips and Strategies)

7. Metrics

Organizations may measure customer success and service with different metrics. To measure customer success they may review factors, such as:

  • Customer retention: How the business keeps customers returning to the brand

  • Expansion: How the business increases its offerings and its overall value for the customer

  • Lifetime value: How the company provides extended value to customers through products and services

Companies may measure customer service through:

  • Service quality: How the interaction aligns with the organization’s quality standards 

  • Resolution time: How long it takes the business to meet or settle a customer's issue

  • Customer satisfaction rate: How pleased the customer was with the resolution offered and the interactions they had with representatives of the company

Read more: 21 Customer Service Metrics: Plus How To Use Them

8. Personnel skills

Customer success and customer service specialists share some overlap in their skill sets but diverge when planning and conducting their processes. Customer success personnel typically combine industry expertise with customer service expertise and a thorough understanding of long-term growth and the value of customer relationships. Customer-service-oriented professionals hold some industry expertise, but they focus more on conflict resolution, compassion and communication skills to resolve short-term issues.

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