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Customer Service, Support, and Success: Why They Aren't the Same

Crystal Garrett
22 Mar, 2018

There is a lot of confusion around the meaning of customer service, customer support, customer success, customer centricity, and customer experience (CX). Although they all have one thing in common – the customer – be careful not to use these terms interchangeably. They are distinctly different.

So, what's the difference?

For starters, think of customer experience as the umbrella that the others fall under and customer centricity as the foundation they stand on, in an ideal world.

Customer service, support, and success reside between the two with the sole purpose of doing all that’s necessary to keep your customers choosing you over your competitors.

Happy customers

The following definitions should alleviate confusion and clarify what each of these mean to your company.

We’ll start at the top and work our way down.

1. Customer Experience is everything perceived, felt, and remembered by a customer, empathetically related to both their social reality and personal (or professional) needs before, during, and after a purchase. At Worthix, CX is comprised of customer perceptions of quality, social proof, relationship, brand identification, and relative price.  And, as you well know, our experiences weigh heavily on our customer decisions.



Warby Parker is known for delivering an effortless and exceptional customer experience. Their quiz match and home try-on offering allows customers to select from an assortment of frames that fit their personal style and have five pair mailed home to try-before-you-buy for free. This makes each customer feel as if they have Warby's undivided attention. It's memorable. 

2. Customer service is meant to address and resolve customer issues. You know those 800 numbers you call when an order or experience goes awry? This department has been around a long time. It is reactive as in the example below. Simply stated, they spend much of their time putting out fires. 



Harvard Business Review points out that great customer service can lead to more loyal customersIt requires constant interaction with customers and calls for patience and an ability to deal with all personality types amicably. 

3. Customer support teams focus on helping customers fulfill their business goals, including onboarding new customers. Reps will ask to assist you at any time with products/services and at any moment within your journey. It's about supporting the customer. The approach is proactive like this one for Petplan.com.


Customer support reps should be knowledgeable about the products/services you offer, have good customer facing skills, patience, desire to help, and be good at problem solving. Although customer service requires much of the same skill set, the purpose and approach differ.

Kayako brings to our attention how cloud-based companies define customer support. With cloud-based SaaS companies, customer support means IT covers customer support as well. It is on the operations end of things and requires external knowledge of the business.

4. Customer Success is described by the authors of the book Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue as managing the overall health of the customer. The core philosophy of customer success is to maximize the value the customer receives from a company’s products/services to grow loyalty. It is not customer support or service.

Customer success team members will possess some of the same skills as customer support and service, but the book points out that the focus of customer success differs in the following ways:

  • Financially - revenue driven (vs. cost centered) 
  • Action - proactive (vs. reactive)
  • Metrics - success oriented (vs. efficiency/case by case resolution)
  • Model - analytics focused (vs. people intensive)
  • Goal - predictive (vs. responsive)

It also states that customer success uses data to proactively predict and prevent customer challenges and measure retention rates.

5. Customer Centricity is a company culture where individuals are collectively working to effortlessly and seamlessly fulfill customers’ needs and current expectations as their ultimate goal and everyone is aware of the direct and indirect impact their work has on the overall customers’ experience at every point of interaction within the customer journey.

“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”

– Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

customer centric


Zappos is the perfect example of a customer centric culture with the School of Wow philosophy that says to deliver “Wow!” support to every customer.

These customer care departments should not be viewed by companies as a burdensome expense, but an investment opportunity. Meeting your customers where they are at any point in their journey allows you to further prove your value to them and deliver a positive, unforgettable experience. 

In a nutshell, companies need a customer centric foundation and customer support, customer service, and customer success to help consistently deliver exceptional customer experience and make it well worth it for customers to stay.

To access fresh insight on improving customer experience for your company, click below. 

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