Customer Success vs Customer Support/Service – What actually is the difference?

A while ago I discovered this really tiny coffee shop in my neighborhood.

I was curious so I walked in and ordered a filter coffee with milk.

When it arrived, I took a sip and noticed it didn’t have milk in it. I asked the barista for help and she started making a new one for me.

As I was waiting, the guy at the counter asked me:

“So, what do you think about our cup sizes? Do you think we need a bigger cup?”

customer success vs customer service support
but of course, I did help him 😁

By the time my coffee was remade, I told him what I thought and walked out with a loyalty card fully stamped. 

I just described to you the difference between customer support and customer success and how they can do wonders when used together.

But hey, let’s dive into it a little more.

what is customer service and customer support

What is Customer Service and Customer Support?

Customer service, as a general term that applies to many sectors and fields of work, means the help and support customers receive before, during, and after a purchase.

This is also true for SaaS businesses.

However, what the service is or when it is offered may vary depending on the product or the service.

Customer service can also work together with different departments of a company, again depending on the product or service.

For example, the customer service team may be in close relations with the sales team for a product with a high subscription fee; or with the marketing team, if the company comes up with new campaigns often.

Customer support, on the other hand, is the reactive, product-based, and problem-oriented part of customer service.

Customer support often takes place after purchase as it revolves around the task of solving customer problems and maintaining customer satisfaction in the short term.

Interestingly, customer support is a term specific to SaaS and eCommerce businesses in general.

And this brings us to our next question.

What is the difference between Customer Support and Customer Service?

Let’s clear up one big misunderstanding.

Customer support and customer service are NOT the same things.

customer service/support vs customer success
no more of this, people 😤

Although we use them interchangeably, customer service is an umbrella term that also covers customer support.

Of course, since customer support is a highly SaaS-related term, we can say that customer support is the most visible part of customer service in SaaS.

Thus, it is only natural that we use customer support to mean customer service.

Still, let’s take a look at some parts where customer support gets more specific than the definition of customer service.


📞💬Customer support…

  • Is focused on product-based problems
  • Deals with post-purchase help
  • Requires soft skills as well as technical skills
  • Is almost always transactional

💻🤝Customer service…

  • Focused on all customer problems
  • Deals with all customer issues on all customer lifecycle
  • Requires mostly soft skills but certain technical skills can be learned
  • Can be transactional and non-transactional

It is beneficial to always keep in mind that customer support is a form of customer service in SaaS.

So, the differences in the definitions and the responsibilities they bring along are not necessarily differences.

Rather, it is the specificity of customer support in relation to the general ways of customer service.

What is Customer Success?

Customer success deals with making the marketing, the sales, the product, and all other aspects of user experience satisfactory and valuable for the customer.

Personally, I define customer success as customer service 2.0.

When they came up with the concept of customer success around a decade ago, what they did was take the very general concept of customer service and turn it into something better.

But let’s define it properly.

Customer success is a strategy that aims to improve customer satisfaction and the value offered by the product or service in order to consequently return value to the company as well. Though it is a relatively new and not yet a fully established term, it is recognized as a company-wide strategy utilizing the sales, marketing, and product teams to reach goals.

See what I mean?

Customer success is essentially a way more improved version of customer service. One that works with the entire company and all customers, before they need support.

And any SaaS business aiming high needs a customer success strategy and team.

Let’s talk about why customer success is important.

why is customer success important

Why is customer success important?

Nope, the customer isn’t always right. But one thing is for sure.

Customer does come first.

One single customer might be the lifeblood or the doom of your company.

So what you do is always and always come up with a better way of acquiring and retaining customers.

And to do this, you need a customer success strategy.

Of course, it is true that a solid customer service team working proactively with the other organs of your company might be good enough for you.

The whole field of SaaS came where it is now without customer success, right?

Wrong.

Customer success is not just a department working with all departments of your company. It is a strategy internalized by the entirety of a business.

If you fail to align all your employees with your customer success strategy, you cannot offer value to your customers.

If you can’t offer value to your customers, they churn.

If they churn, you go down.

As a SaaS company, customer success is the warranty you give your customers that you will satisfy them.

You simply cannot ignore it.

What’s the difference between Customer Success and Customer Support/Service?

So now, we have talked about how customer support is a part of customer service, and how customer success is an improved, all-encompassing version of good old customer service.

But then again, what exactly makes customer success so different from customer service?

customer success vs customer support service

1- Time period and durability

The time period of practice and impact is probably one of the most significant differences between customer service/support and customer success.

Customer service covers the experience of a customer before, during, and after purchase while customer support is focused on the during and after part.

On the other hand, customer success covers the whole customer lifecycle of a customer, the whole lifecycle of the company, and the customer experience throughout this period of time.

So, we can say that customer service works and has an impact on a shorter frame of time while customer success covers the whole frame.

2- Objectives and goals

Although both customer service and customer success seem to have the same objectives at first glance, the comparison is more complex than that.

Customer service objectives are mostly based on customer satisfaction.

Although customer satisfaction is a top priority, it is hard to maintain and easily disturbed.

On the other hand, customer success is focused on value.

By providing the customer with long-term value, the obligation to maintain satisfaction is left to the customer.

The reason for a customer to be loyal turns into a matter of continuous value instead of momentary satisfaction.

3- Nature of work

We now know that customer service is for helping a customer, and customer success is for helping all customers through fixing the pain points some customers face.

Thus, customer service/support has a transactional nature that has customer service representatives get in direct contact with the customers.

With the cases and feedback from the customer service, customer success teams try and pinpoint where the problems originate from and not only fix but improve the customer experience from that point onward.

It is important to keep in mind that customer success is a concept not fully structured into a solid guideline for work.

Thus, the nature of work for customer success teams might be subject to change.

4- Approach 

Customer success and customer service adopt different approaches to reach goals.

Customer service is more problem and solution-oriented since they have to help with the existing problems and avoid future problems.

Meanwhile, customer success is relationship-oriented.

By making sure customers achieve their goals even when faced with problems, customer success teams try to offer value in all contexts and situations.

5- Dependency on other departments

We have discussed that customer service works collaboratively with many departments depending on the product or service the company offers. And for customer success, it is a similar case.

Only better.

Customer service/support tends to lean towards a specific department depending on the company goals.

If there is a revenue goal to catch up, they work closely with sales; if they want to market a new product, they collab with the marketing department.

On the other hand, customer success goes beyond departments to unify the whole company under a specific customer success goal.

Since customer success is not necessarily transactional, they don’t have to work closer to a department at a time.

The departments work closely with the customer success team instead.

Conclusion

So now you know what sets apart customer service/support and customer success.

But let’s sum it up.

Customer service is a reactive, problem-oriented, highly transactional department that values tech and soft skills to personally deal with customers’ problems and achieve customer satisfaction.

Customer success is a proactive, achievement-oriented, and mostly non-transactional strategy that requires soft skills to solve all customer problems by observing data and feedback, and in an attempt to provide customers with long-term value.

Once these mechanisms start working together in harmony, there is no stopping your company.

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Serra Alban

Serra is a Creative Content Writer of UserGuiding specialized in user onboarding and UX design. When she is not writing you can find her playing video games or throwing random movie trivia at uninterested people.

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