Do You Need Customer Service or CRM Software?

By: Collin Couey on January 6, 2020

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 common question that we hear from businesses in a wide variety of industries and help to answer here at Software Advice. Below, we will go into the subtle, but important differences between the two types of software.

A high-level comparison of CSS and CRM software

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.

  • 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:

Common features of customer service software


What it does

Live chat

Allows customer service representatives (CSRs) to chat with customers online and automatically capture key content 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, 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.

Multichannel 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.

Find out more information about these features and more in our CSS Buyers 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:

Common features of CRM software


What it does

Contact management

Stores contact information such as names, addresses, and social media accounts in a searchable database.

Interaction tracking

Add notes, document conversations, and track historical communication with specific contacts.

Lead management

Manage the process of converting prospects into potential customers (leads) by identifying, scoring, and moving leads through the sales pipeline.

Email integration

Integrate with email clients such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.

Document management

Collect, upload, store, and share all documents in a centralized location making it easier for everyone involved to access information.

Quotes/Proposals management

Create and send a quote or a proposal to a customer.

Pipeline management

See an overview of the entire sales pipeline and bucket deals based on stages in the sales funnel.

Workflow automation

Automate repetitive tasks by creating workflows that trigger actions or send follow-up reminders for next actions.

You can get more information about CRM features in our CRM Buyers Guide

Important factors to consider when choosing between CSS or CRM software

These two rules will help you better define the type of platform you require. If either applies to your business case, then you can very quickly narrow down your software shortlist.


It’s important to remember that purchasing software with more functionality than needed can be bad for productivity. Software with all the bells and whistles often introduces unnecessary steps into an employee’s workflow, killing their efficiency, and harming the customer experience.

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

A simple checklist for basic guidance

Still stuck? We’ve created the following checklist to help prod you in the right direction. The more boxes you check, the more likely you are to need a more full-fledged CRM than CSS software.


Use this checklist as a starting point, and add more specific factors from your business if necessary.

Find the right service CRM or CSS to engage your customers

Do you need a CSS platform or would a CRM solution that includes customer service work better for you? The choice ultimately rides on 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: