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Customer Success vs. Customer Service – What’s the Difference?

Customer Success vs. Customer Service – What’s the Difference?

Customer success is still a relatively new industry, but it’s growing – and fast. LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. Emerging Jobs Report showed a 560% increase in customer success manager (CSM) roles year-over-year, and companies continue to invest more resources into the function. But just because everyone is getting on board with customer success doesn’t mean you have to. Or…do you?

You already have a customer service team to handle issues when they arise. So why do you need to consider customer success as well?

Because these two capabilities actually serve very different purposes within a business.


Evolving to Meet Expectations

Due to recent industry shifts, B2B companies everywhere must now operate with the customer at the center and focus of every single action they take. Customers are the lifeblood of your organization. They’re demanding more of businesses now more than ever before, so you need to be sure you can meet their every need. Plus, the evolution from monolithic multi-year service agreements to more agile annual contracts has made it easier than ever before for customers to switch to another vendor if their expectations aren’t being met, or if they aren’t growing at the rate they want.

Simply put, you can’t rest on your laurels after signing a new deal. Doing so puts the customer relationship at risk and decreases the lifetime revenue you can attain from them. After you’ve likely spent a fair amount of resources to acquire a customer, why wouldn’t you want to maximize the value of their partnership?

Given this reality, it only makes sense that the customer success industry is on the rise. So then, how does this function differ from traditional typical customer service activities?

Broken down to the most simple explanation, customer success takes a more strategic and long-term approach to improving relationships through onboarding, adoption, expansion, and retention. On the other hand, customer service is focused primarily on increasing satisfaction in the moment by solving issues that arise on a case-by-case basis.

Here is a quick overview of notable distinctions between the two functions.


Customer Success Customer Service
Proactive approach to achieve set goals. Reactive approach to fixing problems.
Dedicated CSM who is armed with knowledge of the entire customer relationship to better manage the account. First person to take the call, typically unfamiliar with customer expectations and goals.
Focused on long-term growth and retention. Focused on immediate fixes.
Generates additional revenue for your business. A cost to your business.
Ongoing customer relationship management. Manages customer relationship on a case-by-case basis.
CSMs are required to have a broader and more advanced skillset that often includes selling capabilities. Customer service representatives require more limited skillsets, with immediate problem-solving as the main focus.
Success is measured by metrics such as product adoption and usage rates, customer retention, and account growth. Success is measured by metrics such as customer satisfaction, response time, and quantity of service cases resolved.


It should be noted that there are elements of traditional customer service that must be addressed within a comprehensive customer success strategy. You still need to react quickly to solve customer problems, which is why you should be looking for many of the same personality traits and qualities in a CSM as you do in a customer service rep. However, a well-executed customer success operation takes your relationship a step further by not just offering quick fixes to customer problems, but by working diligently to achieve long-term goals as well.

Leading B2B companies all over the world rely on ServiceSource’s Customer Success solution to improve customer satisfaction, grow revenue, and increase retention rates. Reach out today to learn how we can do the same for your business.

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