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

Angela Stringfellow

4min read

You will often hear the terms customer support and customer service used interchangeably to describe a wide variety of activities. Some experts consider customer service to be a subset of support, while others differentiate clearly between the two. Even without a clear industry consensus, we can learn more about quality customer care by taking a look at these terms in more detail.

Perhaps the best way to think about customer service and customer support is that they are equal in value but different in form and function. Both describe work taken to satisfy a customer and keep them engaged with your brand and product offerings. One is no better than the other, but there are a few crucial differences to understand.

What is Customer Support?

Customer support, as the name suggests, is best described as a set of activities undertaken to solve a specific issue that a customer is having with your product or service. It is frequently used in the technology space, especially when referring to IT support help desks. The technical assistance provided to customers can come in many forms, such as support tickets, phone calls, and emails. To summarize, customer support typically involves:

  • Technical support and troubleshooting
  • Support for a specific product or service
  • Reactively responding to a customer issue

Customer support is a prominent function in the SaaS, technology, and e-commerce industries.

What is Customer Service?

Customer service usually refers to all the types of customer-facing activities that support the sale and ongoing use of a product or service. These topics are often non-technical and related to just about any part of the business. For example, customer service may involve resolving billing issues or modifying a shipping arrangement based on a customer request. Customer service is an essential part of the sales process for many products and is directly related to customer experience. We can summarize customer service as:

  • Related to nearly any department in a business
  • Directly connected to customer experience
  • Helping a customer get more value out of the product or service

Customer service is a function present in some form in nearly every industry and every company.

What Are the Differences Between Customer Support and Customer Service?

Based on the descriptions above, there are a few critical differences that begin to emerge. Customer support and customer service activities often have similar goals, which is where much of the confusion lies. As we mentioned earlier, a lot of the subtle differences relate to how the work is done and the type of customer needs the activities address.

Customer Support is Reactive, While Customer Service is Proactive

Effective customer support will be able to solve a customer issue quickly and efficiently. It usually involves being reactive and working diligently to fix a problem once a customer makes the issue known. In some cases, the fix may be as easy as sharing some information, while in others, it may require a unique solution.

On the other hand, customer service requires anticipating customers’ current and future needs and fine-tuning service activities to meet these expectations. Companies can improve the customer experience by expanding opportunities for customers to interact with your brand. Offer additional opportunities for customer engagement by enhancing the communication channels you already have or adding new ways to connect and nurture relationships. More engagement leads to a deeper understanding of your customers, making it easier to anticipate their needs.

Customer Support is Measured by Efficiency, While Customer Service is Measured by Satisfaction

Companies evaluate their customer support processes by focusing on metrics that measure the effectiveness of your help desk and self-service options. Asking customers to complete a brief customer effort score (CES) survey immediately following an interaction can provide valuable insights into customer support performance. Evaluating metrics like time to first response and ticket closure are also useful ways to determine if you are improving over time.

When it comes to understanding the effectiveness of customer service, one of the best metrics is the customer satisfaction score (CSAT). This measurement will give you a high-level picture of how well your customer values the overall experience that you are providing. The CSAT is a valuable metric for customer service since it summarizes feedback related to the entire customer journey.

Customer Support Focuses on Technical Value, While Customer Service is Relationship-Focused

When considering a career path, customer service and customer support job descriptions can differ a great deal. Customer support jobs typically require subject matter expertise and technical skills related to the product or service that the company is selling. As mentioned previously, SaaS companies account for many customer support positions, and customer support representatives who have a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the software are better equipped to handle technical customer issues.

Customer service employees must work to demonstrate value to customers over time. Many customer service jobs are focused on relationship building, fielding customer questions, and directing activities that can help improve the overall experience for the customer.  Some typical job requirements are excellent soft skills and a strong desire to help others.

As integral components of the overall customer experience, customer service and customer support will be forever connected. Most businesses will define their unique customer initiatives and bring in tools, software, and innovative techniques to makes these goals a reality. Perhaps the best advice is to make sure that your employees know how you define customer terms, and what important roles they play in keeping them engaged with your brand.

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