What Is Customer Support vs Customer Service? (Plus Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 28 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Businesses typically use the terms 'customer support' and 'customer service' interchangeably, as they both play a central role in providing customers with a great experience. While both can have an impact on customers, there are differences between the two processes and how they help. Recognising these differences can help you understand how business support teams interact with customers to assist and resolve issues they may have with products or services. In this article, we explain the similarities and differences between customer support vs customer service and provide useful tips for improving these processes.

Customer support vs customer service

To ensure customer satisfaction, it's important to distinguish between customer support vs customer service. The key differences relate to the scope of responsibilities of each team. Customer service includes all interactions that enhance and strengthen a customer's experience and their relationship with the business. It's a collection of customer-facing activities that support the customer, starting with the initial purchase of the product or service and extending to after-purchase assistance. Customer service aims to increase sales and loyalty by ensuring customers feel satisfied with all their interactions with the business.

Customer support is an interaction that falls within the customer service context, where the objective is to solve specific issues concerning a business's products or services. Customer support agents provide quick and accurate solutions to troubleshoot issues as they arise. For example, a customer support representative may help to resolve a problem when a customer reports a malfunctioning product. Additional services, such as following up on a customer's experience or contacting them by email or social media to express appreciation for their purchase, are usually the responsibility of customer service agents.

Related: What Does a Customer Service Representative Do? (With Skills)

Similarities between customer support and customer service

Distinguishing between customer support and customer service can be challenging at times, as they use similar tools to improve customer satisfaction and support organisational goals. Customer service and customer support both:

  • Provide customers with a beneficial and positive experience with an organisation

  • Employ customer-facing employees that exhibit strong soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, empathy and problem-solving ability

  • Affect overall customer perception of the company

  • Aim to improve client retention rates

  • Use similar tools, such as live chats, social media support and customer service training software

Related: What Is Customer Success Management? (With Skills and Duties)

Differences between customer support and customer service

The following are key differences between customer support and customer service:

Proactive vs reactive

Customer service employees are primarily proactive, which means they employ preventative strategies to avoid customer service problems. It's usually internally driven and involves implementing business processes to anticipate buyer needs or issues before they arise, so contacting the business for assistance isn't necessary. For example, a waitress may refill your coffee before your cup is empty, or a business-to-business (B2B) company may contact a customer to advise them of a delay with an order and a revised delivery date. Proactive measures can help a consumer connect with the business they interact with and make them feel valued.

Customer support representatives typically provide a service in reaction to a customer issue. Instead of utilising preventative measures, external factors drive customer support, as it requires a customer to contact and request assistance. An example of reactive customer service is when a client contacts their internet provider to report an internet connection outage, and a customer support agent agrees to examine the issue and contact them with more information. The agent may not be able to immediately offer a precise timeline of when the internet service is likely to resume if they don't fully understand the underlying issue.

Related: 12 Good Customer Service Examples

Technical vs non-technical support

Customer support teams focus on resolving technical issues or problems in the quickest, most cost-effective way possible. These matters are usually actual or perceived deficiencies with a product or service. Support teams can benefit from having strong knowledge of the product and service and the skills to solve customer issues. Knowledgeable agents are typically more competent.

Customer service takes a different approach and focuses on the customer's experience. A customer service role usually involves demonstrating empathy, with the agent considering the situation from the customer's perspective to understand what the client wants. It generally involves listening to recommendations rather than focusing on solving a problem. Strong customer service entails understanding what a client is going through and assisting them in finding a resolution.

Related: What Is Level 1 IT Support? (With Career Information)

Long-term vs short-term processes

Customer service is a long-term process compared to customer support and is a component of a business's overall marketing strategy. It begins when a potential customer shows interest in a product or service and can last long after a purchase. Customer service professionals aim to nurture relationships by informing and guiding customers on how to use a company's products, and this incorporates after-sales assistance, such as warranty services, training, upgrades or repairs.

Alternately, customer support is short-term and reactive. It starts when a customer asks a question or raises a query about a product or service. In these instances, customers want a quick and efficient reply and a specific solution. Customer support representatives typically employ more problem-solving initiatives and use multiple strategies to resolve an issue.

Related: What Is Customer Care? (With Importance and Scenarios)

Transactional vs relationship building

When customers contact a customer support department, the interaction is generally transactional and involves a clear objective. This means that when the representative resolves the issue, the interaction between the customer and support staff ends. Transactional metrics, such as first-contact resolution, average reply time, average handle time or customer satisfaction score, can indicate the success of successful customer support interactions.

Conversely, businesses can employ customer service representatives to develop emotional connections with customers that result in long-term relationships. Strong customer relationships form when there's mutual respect and understanding between both parties that leaves customers with a favourable impression of the business. Other benefits of building positive customer relationships include increased customer lifetime value, reduced customer churn rate and improved customer loyalty.

Related: What Is a Customer Relationship Manager? And How to Become One

Specific vs broad knowledge

Customer support agents tend to have more in-depth knowledge of a company's services and products. They're often tech-savvy professionals or product specialists that customers contact to solve complicated technical or mechanical problems. Conversely, customer service representatives typically have a more holistic understanding of a company's services, products, values and operations. They aim to help customers solve potential issues before they occur and ensure they get the maximum value from their purchases.

All vs some companies

Most companies utilise customer service teams. Organisations in all industries, regardless of size, typically employ customer service professionals to enhance the customer experience. Typically, only companies with complicated products or services require customer support teams, including those specialising in information technology (IT), e-commerce or software services.

Related: Top Customer Service Interview Questions and Sample Answers

Tips for providing positive customer service and support

The following are ways you can provide customer service and support:

Define the process and philosophy

A unified approach to customer service and support is typically effective. It can enable both teams to be consistent and effective throughout the customer experience. Creating a customer service principle and philosophy can ensure teams uphold the company's values with every client interaction by promoting proactive, timely and accessible service and support. You may also decide to create a customer service playbook outlining best practices for both teams.

Give both teams the tools they require

Giving both teams the necessary tools can improve their efficiency when interacting with customers. Quality support tools such as omnichannel customer platforms, which are simple to use, can enhance the productivity of a customer service team and create a professional impression. People in these roles may also benefit from live chat systems, helpdesk applications and a knowledge base.

Emphasise the importance of clear communication

Being clear in your communication with customers is key to great customer service. If a customer is seeking assistance with an IT issue or expressing frustration and requesting a refund, it's important that customer service and support professionals possess the appropriate skills to connect with a client in a reassuring manner. You can communicate with customers effectively by:

  • Using positive language and empathy

  • Providing personalised service during every interaction

  • Creating a positive mood by avoiding negative phrases

  • Giving thorough answers to technical queries

  • Listening attentively before providing solutions

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