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


You probably interact with a customer service representative on an almost daily basis. Picking up a coffee on your way to work, shopping at the grocery store, or calling your internet provider when the internet is down are all examples of you receiving service as a customer. It’s much less likely that you interact with a customer success team member that frequently. While these two ideas are similar and have much in common, some distinct differences are important to understand.

A Key Difference: Proactive vs. Reactive

In the examples above, customer service is something the customer seeks out. The interaction starts with the customer, whether it’s a physical visit to a place of business or an email, text, or call to a service phone number.

Customer success is more proactive. Effective customer success agents are proactive, anticipating the needs of their customers and helping them reach their goals. Overall, customer success agents or teams are tasked with helping the customer succeed.

Both customer service and customer success revolve around helping the customer. For this reason, the two are often conflated. Despite the fact that they are distinct departments, many companies treat them as similar. In fact, at HubSpot, these two teams work closely together to help their customers.

What Are the Key Responsibilities of Customer Success Agents?

Customer success teams are often found in business-to-business transactions where more complicated products or services are implemented. Businesses trust these providers to help their bottom line, make their business run smoother, and accomplish many other goals. Here are a few of the most important goals of a customer success agent.

Building Better Downstream Business Outcomes: A business becomes a customer of a service or product provider because it needs to meet a goal to reach. The role of customer success is, to the greatest extent possible, to help the business reach its goals by successfully implementing the product or service. Depending on the business, this may be acquiring more customers, lowering operating costs, or saving time. 

Strengthening Relationships: No one likes to feel like a number or a dollar sign. It’s the role of customer success to build a strong relationship with clients, so they feel heard, understood, and supported.

Helping Customers Reach Their Goals: Every client will have a goal in mind when they sign up for a product or service. If this goal isn’t met or progress isn’t seen, the relationship is likely to sour, resulting in the client looking elsewhere for a solution to their problem. Customer success agents help clients reach their goals, which sets the foundation for a strong, long-lasting business relationship.

Explaining New Features: Especially important in B2B SaaS, keeping clients updated on new features or procedures is an important part of the customer success job. If clients feel they initially didn’t or no longer understand the product or service, they could start looking for something they perceive as easier to understand or simpler to use. Every update is meant to make the user’s life easier in some way, but customers don’t always adapt easily to changes. 

Connect Clients with Customer Service: As a customer success agent works with clients, there may be occasions when a client needs technical assistance to get the product or service working for them. Clients don’t always reach out to customer service when they should, which can lead to feelings of frustration. A good customer success agent will guide clients to the services they need before a molehill becomes a mountain. 

How to Measure the Value of a Customer Success Team

It’s fairly simple to measure the success of a customer service team. There are stats such as the number of customer service tickets closed and phone calls answered. Measuring the success or value of a customer success team is a bit trickier, but here are a few metrics you can use to measure success.

Churn Rate: Customer churn rate is the percentage of customers that stopped using a product or service in a given time frame. Customer churn is a problem for many B2B companies. At its core, the ultimate goal of customer success is to reduce the churn rate by keeping customers happy and successful. A customer success team should lower the churn rate. It will vary monthly, but overall, that figure should trend downward.

Client Satisfaction: Very few businesses can survive without a focus on client satisfaction. Customer success teams can gauge client satisfaction through routine interactions and send out client satisfaction surveys. As customer success agents interact daily with clients to ensure they reach their goals and succeed, client satisfaction should trend upward. 

Both customer service and customer success are essential to maintaining healthy and productive long-term client relationships. It can be not easy to figure out exactly how to help clients remain happy and satisfied, but there are tools and services that can help. GUIDEcx makes it easy to help clients meet important milestones during implementation and ensure nothing gets forgotten or left out during onboarding. A successful start can lead to a long and successful client relationship for years to come.

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