Help Desk Software | | Published November 02, 2018

Defining Customer Success vs Customer Service vs Help Desk

When it comes to the specifics of working with customers, you’ll see a wide variety of terms thrown around. Phrases such ascustomer care, “customer support”, and “after-sales service” are all frequently used, but there are a few terms that truly stand out in their meaning (despite the confusion surrounding them).

These phrases, “customer service”, “help desk”, and “customer success” are among some of the most commonly used phrases in the industry. Yet, although they all seem like synonyms, they really have different meanings. Let’s evaluate each one and decipher them…

Customer Service – Truly an ageless phrase that has been around forever, the concept of “customer service” is very simple. Basically, you as a company provide one-off service to a customer as needed. The complexity behind the term is solely placed in the hands of the customer. A customer service team often works with simple problems, such as instructing a customer how to access a software feature. However, especially in the B2B (business-to-business) industry, these problems can be extremely complex, sometimes taking multiple experts across different departments to solve. The “customer service” term is popular among more high-touch industries such as luxury products.

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Help Desk – On the surface, “help desk” seems very straight-forward. But it’s really one of the more confusing phrases in customer-focused industries. Why? Because technically there are two types of help desk teams – internal and external. An internal help desk team is not focused on the customer at all and solves issues for employees within an organization, such as installing updates to a work computer. It’s the external help desk team that focuses on customer problems and is more closely aligned with customer support. The “help desk” term in general is usually tied to technical industries because it’s often associated with IT terminology.

Customer Success – Lastly, customer success is just that, focused on doing anything and everything within your power to ensure your customers are successful. The relationship that customers have with your business is managed by this team. The big difference between “customer success” vs customer service or help desk terms we just talked about is that a success team is not the first line of defense for customer problems. You wouldn’t normally contact a success manager and expect the person on the other line to directly fix your issues. Instead, they are a liaison that can work channels internally to leverage a customer service or help desk team. They own the entire relationship and are a knowledgeable advocate for customers to contact so their issues or concerns are accurately conveyed internally.


In short, while “customer service” and “help desk” do share some similarities, they are quite different both in the industries used and how they relate to customers. The term “customer success”, which is being grouped with these terms more often, is not really a synonym and instead takes a step back from directly resolving problems to focus more on the state of the overall business relationship with the customer. While all three terms certainly have their place in customer-focused industries, businesses should take a moment and ensure they are using the correct terms for their employees and departments. Likewise, it's important to know the terms so you can determine which business software solution is appropriate for your needs.