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ServiceNow CSM or ITSM: What’s the difference and which should you choose?

It’s important to choose the right tool for the job if you want to deliver outstanding IT services. But should you choose CSM or ITSM? Do you need both? Let’s compare the two and see which is right for your organisation.

With so many different IT service management products on offer, identifying which one best meets your needs is not always that clear-cut.

Overlapping features and functions – which serve different purposes depending on how or where they’re used – often require some deciphering before a decision can be made.

ServiceNow’s Customer Service Management (CSM) and IT Service Management (ITSM) are good examples of where this crossover can cause confusion.

Now, investing in these products is no small decision, as it will have an enormous impact on how you operate, deliver services, and ensure you’re getting the most out of the Now Platform.

To make your life easier, we’ve done the legwork to compare CSM and ITSM so you understand when and where each should be used, what they’re for, and what you need to consider before deciding which one is right for you.

What’s the difference between ServiceNow CSM and ITSM?

Let’s start with a high-level outline of each product:

  • Customer Service Management (CSM): CSM is focused on managing your services and engagement with external users or customers. It provides a set of tools to help you manage and monitor your customer experience across every channel and interaction.
  • IT Service Management (ITSM): ITSM is focused on the management and delivery of your internal IT services for staff, employees and partners. It’s designed to help you ensure efficiency by giving you the ability to apply ITIL best practices across the planning, support, security and infrastructure of your IT services.

The key difference between these two is that CSM looks outward at your interactions with people outside of your organisation, whereas ITSM is primarily focused on the management and delivery of your internal IT services.

Where the confusion occurs, is that, on paper, they appear to be very similar products in terms of their features and functions.

CSM vs. ITSM – a comparison

As we mentioned at the start, there are some elements of crossover between CSM and ITSM, which can be confusing when trying to decide if you need one or the other, or both.

For example, CSM and ITSM both share the following functionality:

  • Service Portals
  • Knowledge Management
  • Unified experience and integrated chatbots
  • Artificial intelligence enhancements and machine learning
  • Workflow automation
  • User satisfaction surveys
  • Advanced routing and assignment
  • Flow Designer and Integration Hub

But these are just tools in a toolbox, it’s how they’re used that separates whether you need ITSM and/or CSM.

Now, let’s look at some key areas of each product and compare how those uses differ.

Intended use


As the name implies, Customer Service Management is designed to facilitate an excellent standard of digital service to your customers. It provides the means for customers to seek support with an issue or change and quickly reach a resolution.

Available on the Now Platform since the Istanbul release in 2017, CSM was specifically built to give you one place to manage and monitor your customer services – helping you deliver services efficiently, improve performance, and build and maintain that all-important customer loyalty.


If CSM is customer-facing, ITSM looks the other way, towards your staff and employees. It provides the necessary processes and workflows to help manage the internal IT needs of your organisation.

Every day, your internal support team face hundreds of repeated tickets and issues that ITSM can help mitigate or fast-track through advanced automated workflows, saving you time and resources, as well as freeing up your team to focus on bigger, more valuable tasks.



There are several benefits to empowering your customers to take control of the resolution process. On the one hand, it gives them a sense of control and helps them find a solution to their issue on their own.

On the other, if your customers can self-solve a problem, they won’t be taking time away from your support team. This allows you to focus on more complicated customer queries and maintain a higher level of availability, reducing wait times and increasing customer satisfaction.

With CSM, you can provide an externally-facing knowledge base so customers can research existing answers to solve an issue, but also make it easy to contact a live agent when needed.

CSM also includes Field Service Management, allowing your customers to book and manage appointments directly with technicians in an easy-to-use calendar view, giving them control over when and where they use your services.


Those same self-service principles apply in ITSM as well but for your internal staff. As such, the services and resources on offer will differ from those in CSM.

These could be everyday equipment or change requests, as well as the usual incident resolution process for your IT service desk.

The ITSM Service Catalog uses automated workflows to resolve requests and problems quickly. End users are directed to existing knowledge articles and virtual agents first to prevent your internal IT resources from having their time absorbed by repetitive requests and problems.

ServiceNow CSM or ITSM: Which suits you best?

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Knowledge bases


In CSM, the knowledge base is developed and kept separate from any internal ones. This helps prevent any internal data from being exposed to customers.

It also keeps any surfaced articles, answers and suggested actions relevant to the customer’s problem and account information – avoiding any irritation at having to navigate through irrelevant options to find what they need.


Your Service Desk can create a living knowledge base where reports are added to, modified and managed to ensure your organisation is acting on the very latest information.

Having this internal knowledge base allows you to standardise the resolution process, perform root cause analysis and resolve issues much faster with automated workflows and services.

Centralised data


With CSM, you can establish a centralised repository of customer incident data to keep customer and company data separate. This keeps your data secure by only allowing customers to view the data and information that is relevant to them.

Having a clear divide between the two types of information also makes governing it a lot easier. Different rules and controls can be applied depending on data type and location.

It also means that customer information and incident data can be used to enhance the customer experience by ensuring that details and communication history travel with the case.

This brings any resolving agent up to speed much faster and saves your customers from having to repeatedly explain their details or issue. It can also be applied across every channel they engage through, resulting in a much more joined-up and omnichannel experience.


Centralised data in ITSM helps your internal IT support team to track, manage and report on incidents and activities with a greater degree of accuracy.

It also provides rich reporting and improvement opportunities – giving you that big-picture insight into how your IT services are performing and identifying trends that can be corrected or taken advantage of to continuously improve efficiency.

User management


User management is more important in CSM as you’re dealing with customer contacts and information.

CSM features some impressive functionality to help you simplify the process as much as possible without having to sacrifice security or governance over the process.

Customers can self-register their details and automated workflows will handle the approval process, using checks such as reCAPTCHA to ensure validity.

You can also configure for OpenID single sign-on. Once in place, your customers can generate an account and sign in using their Google or other social identity provider credentials.

All users can be administered manually if needed, but ServiceNow’s automation will do much of the legwork for you, so it’s a better experience for customers without any loss of control on your part.


In ITSM, user management is more straightforward as your employee details and profiles will be managed by your identity service or provider, such as Microsoft’s Azure AD.

The connection between your Active Directory and ServiceNow instance just needs to be configured and that user data will flow between the two platforms, with changes in your AD replicated in ServiceNow.



CSM’s licensing is based on two types of roles, Fulfillers and Customers.

Fulfillers are your employees and IT support staff, and Customers are, well, your customers.

A CSM licence covers both your customers and internal users, allowing you to use ITSM’s incident, change and configuration management capabilities.

It used to be that you needed both a CSM AND an ITSM licence, but the CSM licence now covers both as the internal functionality of ITSM and the customer-facing features of CSM are required for services to work smoothly.

CSM is costed per Fulfiller role and customers are free of charge with no limit on how many you can have.


ITSM features two types of users, Fulfillers and End Users. Fulfillers are, again, your internal service desk or IT support staff and End Users are your other employees.

End Users can request items and services from the Service Catalog, report incidents and interact with the knowledge base. End users MUST be 100% in your organisation (so, employees or contractors).

With ITSM, you pay per Fulfiller role with end users free and unlimited in number.

Which is best for your organisation?

As we’ve covered above, it really depends if your requirements are internal or external.

If you’re dealing with customers or external users, you’ll need CSM, if not, ITSM will fulfil all your internal service desk functions with ease.

And if you decide you need CSM, ITSM functionality is included to facilitate the interaction between your customer service agents and your customers.

We would caveat that your actual licensing outcome will vary based on any current ServiceNow licensing in use (i.e. if you already have ITSM), so we’d strongly suggest reaching out to us to find out exactly what it is you need.

Key takeaways

  • Customer Service Management (CSM) is used to provide digital services to external users, such as customers or partners.
  • IT Service Management (ITSM) focuses more on your internal IT services, such as those provided by your Service Desk to your employees.
  • Both share similar functionality but use it differently as the intended end user has different needs.
  • Which suits your organisation best will largely depend on whether your end users are internal or external – and CSM includes licensing and functionality for ITSM as well.

Still unsure on which one is best for you?

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By Ryan Duce
15th May 2023