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How do customer service and customer success differ?

Tripped up on the difference between customer service and customer success? In short, service is reactive and success is proactive, but both aim to solve problems for the customer.

Quality customer experience is the leading differentiator in how customers select IT vendors, and many industries see improvement of customer service as a critical factor in C-suite planning. However, customer success is still important.

So what's the difference between customer service and customer success? Customer service is reactive, while customer success is proactive.

Customer service includes traditional functions such as facilitating returns or exchanges, or making changes to customer subscriptions. Ultimately, the role of customer service is to continue customer relationships and make sure they have the best possible experience once a product or service is sold. Customer support teams, part of the larger customer service department, focus on technical questions and troubleshooting product issues.

Today, however, the customer service definition has also expanded to include any interaction between the customer and the enterprise that meets a customer's needs, including those that emerge while a business courts a customer. This new interpretation can muddy the waters on the difference between customer service and customer success; however, the functions are very different.

Customer service vs. customer success amounts to this -- the former is reactive, while the latter is proactive.

Customer success is the strategic pursuit of positive customer outcomes -- actions taken by the enterprise to boost the odds of a positive customer response before a problem arises. It encompasses a range of initiatives -- such as building diagnostic models from usage data or contextual journey-mapping -- to achieve real-time visibility into the customer's status at any given point. This means gathering a great deal of data about the customer and each business interaction, with a constant awareness of the "customer's health" at every point in the journey.

Customer success also encompasses the array of tools at a customer's disposal to gain knowledge about the product or service purchased -- including FAQs, community bulletin boards and specialized training.

A consequence of these initiatives is a systemic change in the enterprise itself: Customer success strategy requires an outcomes-based perspective in enterprise operations to be effective. That can require considerable process change, and even an overhaul of company culture. Achieving that perspective could require a number of profound changes. These include training more employees in good customer service and customer success practices, universal customer contact protocols and a broader input into the management and development of new business processes. All of these changes should aim to improve customer outcomes.

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