Across the internet, and even across this blog, people write about customer service, customer support, and customer success.

And while these different customer-facing disciplines sound interchangeable, they're not -- but they're definitely connected. Each term represents a different way of working with customers that, when combined, can create a remarkable customer experience that will result in greater customer loyalty and customer lifetime value.

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In this post, we'll do a quick breakdown of the difference between each term -- and how to use each to build stronger customer relationships.

Customer Service vs. Customer Support vs. Customer Success: What's the Difference?

These three subsets of the customer-facing world are different -- but they exist on the same spectrum. We'll start with the first area you should focus your team's efforts on -- customer support -- and build up from there.

1. Customer Support

Customer support is reacting to your customers' needs when they tell you, "I have a problem."

It's about being there for customers, whenever they need it, whatever they need help with. At its core, customer support is transactional, and the interaction is begun and ended by the customer. Customer support consists of a business responding reactively to a customer's outreach.

2. Customer Service

Customer service is saying to a customer, "I have something for you" -- instead of a customer saying, "I need something from you."

Customer service is more proactive, and it consists of a business guiding the customer.

If businesses can provide both customer support and customer service by engaging reactively and guiding proactively, they're in great shape.

3. Customer Success

Customer success is saying to a customer, "let's be partners," and working proactively together to achieve their long-term goals.

Customer success is something that's initiated by the business, and it's doing something that a customer might not have even known they wanted or needed. It requires anticipation.

It's also about expanding value, for both the customer and the business, simultaneously. It might involve upselling or cross-selling by suggesting other products or services for customers that work with what they've already purchased. 

Customer success is the culmination of customer support and customer service working together successfully -- and taking it to the next level by working in partnership with customers.

Applying Inbound Customer Service to Your Customers



Engaging with your customers is about being there for your customers when they need it, opening up different channels for your customers to connect with you, and providing reactive customer support.

The "engage" stage aligns most closely with customer support.


Guiding customers comes once you've learned about them by engaging with them when they purchase your product or service. It's about proactively guiding customers in ways you know will help them with education, recommendations, and strategic advice.

The "guide" stage aligns most closely with customer service.


Growth isn't just about your customers -- it's about your business, too. Growing comes once you've been able to provide support and service to help customers be happy and derive value from your product or service. This stage offers a huge opportunity for businesses to grow alongside their customers by taking existing customers and helping them get more value, earn their trust, and get them to start promoting and reviewing you online to refer more customers.

The "grow" stage is about getting to the point where customers have earned so much value from your product and the service you provide that they're actually promoting you and helping you generate new customers. It aligns most closely with customer success.

To learn more, read Shep Hyken's best customer support leadership advice next.

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Originally published May 31, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated June 20 2018


Customer Support