Customer Service or CRM Software: Which Do You Need?

By: on April 28, 2016

“What does my company need: customer service and support (CSS) software or a customer relationship management (CRM) solution that includes customer service?”

This is a good question—and one we frequently help answer. At Software Advice, we assist small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in a wide variety of industries, as they focus their search for CRM and customer service platforms.

Below we share some insights and tips we’ve learned along the way. We’ll discuss:

CSS and CRM: A High-Level Comparison
Current SMB Trends in CRM and CSS
CSS vs. CRM: Important Factors to Consider
A Simple Calculator for Basic Guidance
Conclusions and Next Steps

CSS and CRM: A High-Level Comparison

Companies shopping for a customer service software solution generally have two choices:

  • Opt for a dedicated customer service platform that provides only the most critical applications necessary to run a service department. OR
  • Choose a broader CRM suite that includes CSS among its (often many) other applications.

In addition to central ticketing and case management functionality, dedicated CSS platforms often include some or all of these additional features:


Features of Customer Service Software

Live chat Allows customer service representatives (CSRs) to chat with customers online and automatically capture key content from chats in the ticketing system. Many customers prefer to interact by chat instead of phone.
Customer self service Offers a web-based customer portal where customers can search for answers to common problems. This can take the form of documentation, searchable FAQs, how-to pages and more. If the customer can’t find an answer, web self-service tools allow them to submit a ticket online or start a live chat.
Knowledge management Maintains a database of descriptions to common or previously resolved problems. These resources might be available publicly via a self-service website, or reserved for internal use by CSRs.
Multi-channel management Manages customer interactions received through multiple channels, including phone, web, email, live chat, mobile app, Facebook, Twitter and others. All interactions are stored and routed to appropriate agents for resolution.
Analytics and reporting Enables managers to create custom reports that provide insight on team performance, time to resolution, customer satisfaction and other key indicators.

This table is discussed in more detail in our CSS Buyer’s Guide.

Not all CRM platforms include a CSS application, though many do. They also include a range of applications to help make better use of customer data, automate some aspects of marketing and sales and facilitate the sharing of customer information across a company’s departments.

CRM suites often include some or all of the following applications to manage the data and information associated with customer accounts:


Features of Customer Relationship Management Software

Marketing integration Lead management (including tools for lead generation, scoring and nurturing), email and event marketing, landing pages, web and marketing analytics tools and campaign management.
Sales force automation Contact and opportunity management, workflow automation, territory management, sales forecasting, pipeline analysis and reporting.
Customer service and support Trouble ticketing, knowledge management and knowledge base systems, self-service solutions, case management, live chat and surveys.
Field service management Dispatching, scheduling, invoicing, inventory management and order management.
Call center automation Call routing, recording and monitoring, load balancing, call list management, auto dialing, scripting, computer telephony integration (CTI) and interactive voice response (IVR).
Help desk automation Trouble ticketing, knowledge management, self-service, IT asset management, network management, service level agreement (SLA) management and remote control.
Channel management Lead and contact management, partner portals, partner relationship management and market development funds management.

This table is discussed in more detail in our CRM Buyer’s Guide.

Current SMB Trends in CSS and CRM

In 2015 we analyzed a random selection of 385 interactions we had with CSS buyers. We found a very even split between those opting for dedicated CSS solutions versus those wanting CSS as part of a broader CRM platform.

Buyer Requests for Standalone CSS and CRM

Buyer Requests for Standalone CSS and CRM

Deeper analysis of this data did not support any further generalizations. Even when segmented by company size, industry or annual revenue, this even division remains.

Knowing this may not help with your own decision, but it supports the notion that taking your time on this decision will be time well-spent: There’s no clearly superior choice that works for all businesses.

CSS vs. CRM: Important Factors to Consider

There are however some fundamental factors you can consider, and doing so will help you better define the type of platform you require.

Here are two simple rules of thumb. If either applies to your business case, then you can very quickly narrow down your shortlist of software:

CSS and CRM guidelines

Now is a good time to remind readers: Purchasing software with more functionality than needed can be a detriment to productivity. Software with “all the bells and whistles” often introduces unnecessary steps into an employee’s workflow, killing their efficiency and harming the customer’s experience.

It’s best to choose software that matches and supports existing workflows, without creating excess complexity.

A Simple Calculator for Basic Guidance

Still stuck? We’ve created the following calculator to help prod you in the right direction. This may not have the granularity needed to definitively answer this question for you; it is intended only as a guide.*

Instructions: Use the dropdown menus to select either TRUE or FALSE, depending on how accurately each statement describes your company. The blue bar at the bottom will update and indicate a general recommendation for pure CSS software versus a CRM suite.

*If you’d prefer more personalized assistance, call us at (855) 998-8505 for a free 15-minute consultation.

Conclusions and Next Steps

So, do you need a CSS platform, or would a CRM solution that includes customer service work better for you? The choice is ultimately one of business strategy.

While a CRM system can put sales, marketing and service departments all on the same page, service departments can be more effective and efficient with a focused CSS solution. The only hard and fast rule is that the decision should be carefully weighed and considered.

Fortunately, we can help:

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