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What are the differences between customer service and customer support?

Customer service and customer support are often used interchangeably. While there are subtle, nuanced differences between the two terms, their overarching goal should largely be the same – ensuring that your customers derive the greatest possible value from your product or service.

All companies provide some level of service, but not every business needs support capabilities. Support requirements, that is, vary depending on the product or service being offered. 

Regardless of the industry, however, a sharp focus on high-quality service and support is key. But gauging the quality of a given business’s support performance can be extremely challenging. According to Klaus’s 2023 Customer Service Quality Benchmark Report, 30% of customer service professionals asked about overall challenges said measuring and improving support quality was a pain point.¹

In this article, you will learn the difference between customer service and customer support, why this distinction matters, and a few insights into how to provide excellent service and support.

What is customer service?

Customer service can be understood as the act of assisting customers throughout their entire journey – from initial queries to long-term use of your product or service. It’s a shared responsibility across a company’s teams to deliver an excellent customer service experience, address needs, solve problems, and help consumers get the most value out of their product.

What is customer support?

The goal of customer support is to be there for your customers when they have questions or encounter problems. This includes providing prompt and helpful responses to inquiries, guiding customers through the onboarding process, troubleshooting technical issues, and facilitating smooth and harmonious upgrades to new products or services.

Key differences between customer service and customer support

Customer service is a blanket term that encompasses customer support. A customer support team addresses technical issues in the immediate term, working to resolve problems quickly. Customer service, on the other hand, has a longer-term outlook that’s focused on building true partnerships through quality interactions that enhance the customer experience at every touchpoint.

While customer support is frequently offered by tech companies, the service is certainly not limited to the tech industry. Manufacturers, appliance retailers, and equipment providers all also have teams or departments devoted to assisting customers. Within the tech world, industries like IT, e-commerce, and software as a service (SaaS) are known for having dedicated support teams.

To further clarify this distinction and summarize what we’ve discussed thus far, let's take a look at the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of the differences between customer service vs. customer support.

Who

  • Customer service can be provided by various individuals or teams across an organization, including sales representatives, account managers, customer success managers, and support personnel. All these employees should be working together to provide their customers with comprehensive service and care.

  • Customer support is usually provided by dedicated support teams or specialists who possess technical knowledge and expertise in resolving specific issues.

What

  • Customer service encompasses the broader range of activities – including support – aimed at meeting customers' needs and ensuring their satisfaction.

  • Customer support refers to the assistance provided to customers when they encounter issues or have certain queries related to a product or service.

Where

  • Whether it’s customer service or customer support, services can be delivered through multiple touchpoints such as phone, email, live chat, or dedicated support channels.

When

  • Customer service is needed at every stage of the customer journey, from the initial inquiry and purchase process to ongoing post-sales support and beyond.

  • Customer support is commonly required when customers face specific challenges, encounter problems, or have issues related to a product or service.

Why

  • The primary goal of customer service is to create a positive experience throughout the entire interaction.

  • Customer support's primary purpose is often more narrow, concrete, and specific: to intervene and address issues or concerns promptly, making sure customers’ questions are resolved effectively and efficiently.

How

  • Customer service can be both reactive and proactive. It involves actively engaging with customers, anticipating their needs, and offering assistance and information to enhance their overall experience.

  • Customer support is typically reactive. It involves actively listening to customers, diagnosing problems, and providing personalized solutions or resolutions. However, at Intercom we see proactive support as one of the pillars of great support.

If you want to know what makes great customer service, read this article: 10 key elements of customer service.

Why does the difference between customer support vs. customer service matter?

Companies that understand the distinction between customer service and customer support are better equipped to meet their customers’ needs. Providing an excellent customer experience requires seeing the whole picture of how they interact with and perceive a business.

To better illustrate these differences and why they’re important, let's consider a SaaS company that offers a project management platform.

Imagine a customer is using the platform and encounters a bug that prevents them from accessing certain features. They contact the customer support team, who promptly acknowledges the issue. The support representative listens attentively, gathers relevant information about the problem, and provides a timeline for resolution. 

Customer support works diligently to troubleshoot and fix the bug, ensuring the customers can resume their work quickly and seamlessly. The team focuses on addressing technical matters and providing solutions that allow the software to be repaired and function at optimal levels. 

Now, for comparison, consider another customer exploring the project management platform's features and not quite receiving what they were looking for. In this case, the customer service team is readily available to engage with the customer, understand their individual needs, and provide detailed explanations for how the platform can do a better job of meeting their expectations and fulfilling their requirements. 

In other words, the customer service team goes beyond answering immediate inquiries. They offer guidance on best practices, provide demonstrations of specific features, or might even try to upsell the customer to another product plan that better fits their needs. The customer service team members will also typically follow up with the customer about their experience.

6 tips on how to provide high-quality customer service and customer support

1. Go above and beyond with proactive support

Gone are the days of simply reacting to customer issues. Now, the key to exceptional support lies in being there for customers even before they ask for help. According to Klaus’s Customer Service Quality Benchmark Report, 77% of small teams (1-50 agents) plan to invest more in proactive customer support in 2023.

By leveraging data and deep insights, modern teams preempt questions and roadblocks. They gain a holistic view of typical pain points to develop guidance built directly into the product experience.

Proactive support equips customers for success through intuitive onboarding, contextual tooltips, and timely messaging around known delays or bugs. Whether it's a delivery update or a function tutorial, the information meets users where they engage with seamless, unintrusive solutions.

The right strategy and technical tools empower reps to shift from reaction to prevention. They stay one step ahead, providing customers with the resources to resolve minor roadblocks on their own or avoid them altogether through communicating critical information at just the right moment.

2. Strengthen your team through internal QA and coaching

Delivering great experiences starts from within. Behind any excellent customer service or customer support lies talented, skilled teams with the knowledge, expertise, and power to help customers. 

By strengthening your team internally through quality assurance and tailored coaching, you can develop your representatives' abilities to tackle complex queries and provide the level of service and support that customers truly appreciate.

It's also important to fill openings on specific needs, with candidates who complement your team's existing skills. Hiring for precise customer needs guarantees optimal support that consistently meets and even exceeds expectations.

3. Equip your team with essential tools

Technology plays a crucial role in empowering customer service or support teams, and one tool that stands out is the help desk.

A help desk is designed to connect your inbox, tickets, and help center in one central workspace that maximizes productivity. The tool primarily offers essential technical support or customer service functions, such as password resets. However, the capabilities of a help desk can be tailored to meet the unique needs of each business. 

The best help desks leverage automation and AI to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and reporting. When a request comes in, it’s automatically assigned a help ticket and routed to the appropriate support representative through ticket queues. 

Find out more about help desk automation and why companies are investing in it.

4. Listen to what your customers are really saying

Whether it’s customer support or customer service, the common denominator is, well, the customer. If you strive to deliver exceptional experiences for them, it's vital to listen closely and carefully to what they have to say.

For this, consider the Voice of the Customer (VoC) – which can be broadly defined as all the feedback customers provide about your business, products, services, and the experiences they have with you. Capturing this information through surveys, reviews, and other forms of feedback provides a window into what's really important to them.

By analyzing patterns and trends in the VoC, you can gain a deeper understanding of their goals, expectations, and pain points. These insights will help you develop the experiences your customers truly want and need through adaptive, high-quality support and service.

5. Empower customers to help themselves

When it comes to delivering exceptional customer service or support, empowering your customers to find answers independently can be a highly valuable approach.

One powerful combination for achieving this is an AI-powered chatbot integrated with a knowledge base. Your knowledge base acts as a comprehensive database, housing essential information about your company's products, services, and procedures. The AI chatbot is capable of receiving queries, matching them with relevant information from your knowledge base, and generating accurate responses.

Fin, our conversational AI chatbot, can instantly resolve up to 50% of your support questions.

What sets an AI integration apart is its ability to provide conversational replies, and even seek clarification if needed. And if the knowledge base doesn't have sufficient information to give a reliable answer, the chatbot can seamlessly escalate the query to a human support representative.

6. Provide “Human+AI” customer service

According to Intercom’s report, The State of AI in Customer Service 2023, 69% of support leaders intend to increase their investments in AI-powered solutions over the next year.² In addition, 38% of leaders have already started investing in AI technology.

While chatbots and knowledge bases offer a glimpse of how AI can empower customers to find the answers they’re looking for quickly and with minimal lag time, providing great service requires going beyond just individual efficiencies. When AI is at the core of your service platform, it creates a consistent and unified experience for both teams and customers.

Read more: How you can use AI for customer service to help teams and customers

At Intercom, this is the foundation we’re building upon, leading the way into a new era of AI-powered customer service. Our vision is to bring together human intelligence and artificial intelligence, working in harmony to deliver truly remarkable customer service.

With Intercom, you can unlock AI’s potential for delivering great customer service or customer support. Our platform is designed to harness the power of AI, enabling you to provide exceptional experiences that leave a lasting impact on your customers.

Join us in shaping the future of customer service. Start a free trial today or ask for a demo.

Sources

1. Klaus, Customer Service Quality Benchmark Report 2023. 4,050 people responded to the survey from several industries, and from small to larger team sizes.

2. Intercom, The State of AI in Customer Service 2023. We commissioned an independent market research firm to survey a random sample of 1,013 global support leaders and practitioners. The margin of error for this study is +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence level.