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

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Michael Redbord
Michael Redbord



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.

Think about HubSpot's support team. If you had trouble logging into your HubSpot account, you would call HubSpot Customer Support. Then you would describe your problem to the agent who would undergo various troubleshooting steps. If the support rep can solve your case, they'll reach back out with an update. If not, they'll continue working and follow up via email once they find a solution.  

Customer support solves for immediate customer needs. When people have an issue with your product or service, they call customer support to fix their problem. Speed is key, and customers are expecting you to resolve their issue right away. In fact, 67% of customer churn is avoidable if your support team can solve the problem during the first interaction.

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."

You can observe customer service at almost any business. For example, let's say that call with HubSpot support didn't go so well and the login problem still persists. While you wait for the support rep to look further into your case, you decide to go to HubSpot's knowledge base to investigate yourself. There, you find resourceful self-service articles and FAQ pages outlining potential troubleshooting steps.

After trying these steps, you're still unable to login. So, you return to HubSpot's homepage to find a banner at the top of your browser alerting you to a potential glitch. This banner links to HubSpot's incident report page that explains what the issue is and provides a timeline for when you can expect a fix.

Both of these features demonstrate how customer service can be used to improve customer experience. Customer service is about guiding your customers to success. It's more proactive than customer support and looks to clear roadblocks before users even know they're there.

Like many other companies, HubSpot's support team doubles as our customer service team. While support and service are often viewed as one, there are some distinct differences between the two.

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. That's why it's important to create a customer journey map to locate optimal opportunities for intervention.

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. This way your customer gets one step closer to achieving their goals while you reap the benefits of the purchase or upgrade.

Back to our HubSpot example; Once the log in glitch is cleared (in record time, of course), you find an email from your customer success manager. She says she noticed you've had some trouble logging into your account, and she wants to share with you this new feature called single sign-on which makes logging in easier. You didn't even know this existed, but thanks to your customer success manager, you now have a long-term solution to your problem.  

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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