Customer Service vs Customer Support: What's the Difference?

By: Lauren Spiller on July 1, 2022

When you’re a leader at a growing startup or small business, the idea of hiring dedicated staff to improve your customer experience can be surprisingly complicated. Do you need a customer service representative (CSR) or a customer support agent? What’s the difference, anyway?

While some organizations may use “customer service” and “customer support” interchangeably, it’s key to know the difference as you’re building your team so your job descriptions and training can match expectations. Below, we’ll go over the key differences between service and support so you can determine exactly what you need.

What is customer service, and what is customer support?

Customer service refers to a company’s interactions with customers before, during, and after the purchase of a product or service. It’s provided with the intention of enhancing customer experience and improving the customer’s relationship with the brand.

Customer support falls under the umbrella of customer service, but it more specifically refers to the assistance provided to customers after they have purchased a product or service. This assistance can involve advice on installation, troubleshooting, maintenance, or any other issues a customer might need help with. It can also be referred to as technical support or tech support.

Both terms fall under the larger umbrella of customer experience: the overall experience a customer has with your brand throughout their customer journey.

Graphic of the customer experience relationship

Why are customer service and support important?

Customer service is important because it can enhance overall customer experience and help you build relationships with your clients. Good customer service helps your business by increasing profits and driving conversion rates, to name some benefits.

Customer support is important for the same reasons, but it has the added benefit of enhancing a customer’s use of your product or service, which can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.

For example, if a customer’s phone stops working, and they aren’t able to connect with customer support, they might shop for a new phone from a competitor. But if your customer support team is able to help them resume use of your product, and they don’t have to bear the cost of purchasing a new one, chances are that interaction will result in a loyal customer.

In the next section, we’ll discuss which industries provide customer service and which provide customer support.

Which industries provide customer service, and which provide customer support?

Businesses of all industries provide customer service because all forms of customer interaction count as customer service, whether that’s answering questions, recommending product adoption or upgrades, or processing returns.

Not all businesses provide customer support. Businesses that do provide customer support, or would benefit most from doing so, are often ones that sell a product or service with some level of risk of malfunction or user error that significantly interrupts normal use. Customer support benefits these businesses by getting the customer’s use of the product or service back on track.

Industries that provide customer support include the following:

  • Telecommunications services such as phone and internet services

  • Technology such as computers, tablets, and other personal devices

  • Home appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines

  • Shipping and logistics services such as the mailing and tracking of packages

Industries that don’t have a use case for customer support are those where the use of the product or service is more intuitive, like restaurants or clothing manufacturers. You might get excellent customer service at Old Navy, but they won’t help you troubleshoot an outfit.

These guidelines should give you a good sense of whether your business needs a customer service team, a customer support team, or both, but we’ll walk you through some additional considerations in the next section.

What’s the difference between a customer service team and a customer support team?

A customer service team is composed of representatives who assist customers with a wide range of issues before, during, and after their purchase of your product or service. Customer service training often focuses on soft skills such as active listening and conflict resolution.

Because customer support requires more advanced knowledge of the product or service than customer service, customer support roles involve more thorough and specialized training. Customer support training can be conducted by a leadership team member who has extensive knowledge about the training materials, or it can be outsourced. [1]

Apple’s Genius position [2] is an example of the specialized training that goes into a customer support role. Geniuses attend several weeks of rigorous training focused on diagnostic services and technical skill development as well as customer service before they can begin working in a Genius bar. They are also provided with a student workbook to further develop their skills.

The table below points out the main differences between customer service training and customer support training:

Customer service training

Customer support training

Emphasis on soft skills such as listening and conflict resolution

Emphasis on technical skills and knowledge of individual products and services

Often ongoing, in the form of one-on-one check-ins or group meetings

Can be ongoing in the form of continuing education, but the most intensive training often occurs before the agent begins connecting with customers

Can be reserved for customer service representatives or include all employees

Usually reserved for customer support agents

Can be conducted by any manager or supervisor

Should only be conducted by a qualified manager or supervisor, or else outsourced

Another difference can be found in the way customer service and support teams connect with customers. Customer service representatives connect with customers through several channels, such as live chat, text, phone call, email, or social media.

Customer support specialists can connect with customers through many of these same channels, although options that facilitate synchronous chat and a ticketing system are more conducive to troubleshooting issues a customer may have with a product or service.

What should a job description for a customer service position entail vs. customer support?

A customer service representative needs to be prepared to field questions and complaints from customers about any number of issues. You can provide them with information regarding your company’s operations, policies, and products in training, but necessary customer service skills include:

  • Decision-making

  • Time management

  • Empathy

  • Quick thinking

  • Adaptability

  • Flexibility

  • Effective communication (verbal and written)

The job description of a customer support position should be more specific to your company’s product or service. It should emphasize the candidate’s ability to learn the ins and outs of your product or service. Below are a few examples of what a customer support candidate should bring to the table, in addition to the soft skills listed above:

  • A basic familiarity with your product or service

  • The ability to earn or renew any certifications your business might require

Using Apple as another example, Geniuses are required to earn various Apple certifications[2], which are designed so that Geniuses can help customers with any problem they encounter. These certifications must be renewed each year to remain current.

The intensity of your customer support training will depend on your product or service. Remember though that while customer service representatives should possess at least a surface-level understanding of your business’s operations, policies, and products, a customer support representative should have a more comprehensive knowledge base to help customers troubleshoot and solve problems.

Which tech tools support customer service vs. customer support?

We mentioned earlier that customer support falls under the umbrella of customer service. The same is true for customer service software. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as customer service and support software, or help desk software, though the latter term is more closely associated with customer support and the resolution of information technology (IT) issues.

A good customer service software platform should support both customer service and customer support representatives.

Common features include:

  • Live chat allows agents to connect with customers via instant messaging on a business’s website or mobile app.

  • Customer self service, such as an FAQ page.

  • Knowledge base, or a glossary 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 across all channels, including phone, Web, email, live chat, mobile app, and social media.

  • Analytics and reporting, which helps you create custom reports based on key performance indicators (KPIs).

If you’re not ready to adopt software, check out Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to keep track of customer interactions. However, it’s worth noting that customer service software, or the closely related customer relationship management (CRM) software, is preferable because of the insights it provides and the ability to automate tedious tasks like maintaining customer records.

Why customer service needs to be your top priority

Customer service is crucial to the success of all businesses. It’s also relevant to all of your employees, no matter their role. While you may elect to reserve more focused customer service coaching for your customer service agents, it’s worth reminding all of your employees that they’re representatives of the company and should treat each customer interaction as such.

Customer support should also be a priority if it applies to your business. If so, you’ll need to ensure you can provide your support team with adequate training. But because customer service is an intrinsic part of customer support, customer service needs to be a mainstay of your ongoing employee training no matter what products or services you offer.

We encourage you to review these differences with your leadership team to determine your business’s needs. For more resources on customer service and other forms of employee training, check out the following related articles: