Understanding the difference between customer service and customer support can be a challenge.

At first glance, customer service and customer support seem similar. Both fields involve helping customers. They use similar tools like email, chat and phone to communicate. They employ similar skills like active listening and empathy to increase customer satisfaction. Both customer service and customer support teams are critical to the customer experience delivered by businesses.

While both focus on helping customers, the difference between customer service and customer support is that customer support is a specific type of customer service involving other skills such as documentation, product feedback, and technical problem solving.

The terms aren’t interchangeable, due to the specific differences between customer support and customer service roles. They overlap, but they approach helping customers solve problems from different perspectives.

Ultimately, customer support professionals employ customer service skills alongside other tools and skills to provide added value to a product or service. Customer service is the umbrella, while customer support describes a more specific practice underneath it.

Defining customer support and customer service

Customer support teams support a product. Customer service teams service a customer.

What does that look like in practice?

Consider a customer who walks into a retail store looking for a size medium blue T-shirt. A customer service rep could help locate the T-shirt, ring the customer up, and pack up the shirt for them. They might try to upsell by suggesting a sweater that looks nice with the shirt. The customer has everything they want, but there’s no other feedback or information that goes into the experience. It’s transactional.

By comparison, consider a customer who emails Dropbox about an issue they have sharing a file with colleagues. The customer support agent links the customer to documentation they wrote and walks the customer through the appropriate steps. Afterward, the support rep categorizes the conversation to help give feedback to the Product team about the share function. Later that month, the customer support agent might be involved in a conversation about improving sharing, and they might follow up with the customer about their experience. Their role is more about improving the experience than interacting transactionally with the customer.

Customer support professionals use customer service skills, but that’s only one part of their job. Customer support also includes writing knowledge base documentation, providing product feedback, and conducting usability studies.

Customer support teams are often closely integrated with product teams. They have a seat at the table, where decisions involving the product are made. Compared to customer service teams, support teams are generally more involved with the end-to-end customer experience.

Customer Service vs. Customer Support

Both customer service and customer support are focused on the customer, but they approach providing help from different perspectives.

Customer Service Customer Support
Generally an entry-level job, with little career growth available except in management positions Many different growth opportunities in addition to management
Focuses on efficient, helpful customer transactions Focuses on improving the intersection between customer experience and the product
Tends to measure transactional metrics like CSAT, average handle time, and first contact resolution In addition to transactional metrics, also looks at business-related metrics like net promoter score, customer effort score, and churn
Positions are available in every industry that serves customers — e.g., retail, fast food, banking, hospitality, etc. Positions are most often available in SaaS and ecommerce companies
Connects customers to existing answers and solutions Involves technical problem solving, troubleshooting, and finding new solutions and answers

In comparing customer service to customer support, the most important thing to remember is that customer service is the overarching term given to interacting with customers, while customer support uses customer service skills alongside other tools.

Not every team defines customer support and customer service the same way. If you don’t recognize your job description in this post, don’t worry! At the end of the day, it’s all about providing the best possible experience to your customers and understanding how your role helps your company meet that goal.

Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers

Sarah is a customer service consultant and the founder of Supported Content. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with her adventures.

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