Customer support vs customer service: what’s the difference?

Understanding the nuances between customer support and customer service

Mixing up customer support and customer service seems like a slip of the tongue. They both basically mean the same thing, right?

Wrong! Customer service and customer support are not strictly interchangeable terms. Although, in a lot of cases they are used to mean the same thing, not making a distinction between the two can cost you your business.

How? Your customer experience when people reach out for help will suffer—and that directly affects revenue. To avoid the customer service vs. customer support malapropism, and to put in place correct policies for customer happiness in both areas, look no further.

Breaking them down by definition

Customer service and support are close but not interchangeable.

  • Customer service is about supporting the larger, non-technical concerns of a customer. It might be billing, it might be shipping, it might be calling to check a lost and found. This area of help is about supporting a customer through all phases of their life cycle, ensuring their happiness and encouraging them to take full advantage of your offerings.
  • Customer support is a more narrow subset of customer experience that is about helping customers handle technical concerns. Think “tech support”—except now that so many companies have software integrated into their offerings, or as their offering, that “customer support” is a more helpful phrase.

Think of it like this: they are both triangles: they share some properties—all their angles add up to 180 degrees. If one is a right triangle and the other is an equilateral, they are similar but not the same, and if you try to apply the same principles to each, you will end up with a failure. (Just try the Pythagorean theorem on our friend the equilateral triangle.)

customer support and customer service are similar triangles with different angles_Freshchat


Customer support and customer service both affect the bottom line

There’s a reason why the old saying goes, the customer is always right—it’s because an upset customer always needs to be appeased lest they take their business elsewhere.

For customer service and customer support, a big frustration amongst customers is not getting what they need out of that interaction. If you are mixing up support and service, have no playbook that separates them, you will be negatively impacting your customers’ experience, which directly impacts your revenue.


Bad customer experience means reaching out to customer support

There is a stark effect on customer experience for subscription services, for example. Harvard Business Review found that “a member who rates as having the poorest experience has only 43% chance of being a member a year later.” Compare this to a member who gives one of the top two experience scores—they would have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year.”

Quantifying Customer Experience_Freshchat


Customer experience is more than just how someone likes an app interface, especially if they had problems. A blip in customer experience—say, receiving a damaged package—means that a customer will contact customer service. This will turn into a make-or-break moment for keeping that customer.


Slow service and support responses kill retention

Another element that makes a big difference for customer happiness is the time it takes to get responses. The Northridge Group, in their State of Customer Service Experience 2017 report that “customers want to be met on their channel of choice and have little tolerance for multiple contacts, long hold times, slow responses and ineffective issue resolution.”

In fact, more than 80% of consumers said that poor service would be a determining factor of driving them away from a company. This means that if a customer contacts you for support, and they are met with customer service protocol or vice versa, they will be frustrated.

As the digital era increases options for consumption, even among niche products (like SaaS products), this trend will only continue:

data about unhappy customers abandoning businesses_Freshchat


Good service and support make brand advocates

More generally, customer experience drives word of mouth. People will badmouth your customer service if they have a negative experience, but will be drawn to companies that they hear have good service—even if that means spending more:


What unhappy customers think_Freshchat


You must cater to customer needs

Given the impact of customer experiences on business revenue, including those with service and support, it’s critical that when customers reach out, they get a quick and helpful interaction. If you do not separate customer support and customer service internally, you will not be able to help customers in the way they need.

While all reps should be well-versed in the ins and outs of your company and products, support experts should be able to go above and beyond to solve technical problems. Service experts should be committed to helping customers get the full service of your company and should be prepared to help people navigate account and physical product problems.

Many customer reps can fill both of these roles, especially in small support teams. But because service and support are related but different fields, failing to clearly separate service and support cases as they come in will frustrate customers. Separating what type of help a user is asking for means you will directly cater to their needs.

For example, someone starts a live chat for tech support as they’re having a problem with some team features of your product. If this chat gets flagged as customer service, a rep might end up trying to upsell them to a more team-friendly plan, making the customer feel like their complaint is solely being used to squeeze more money out of them.

Taking that as a support chat means that customers will get their technical problem solved. Then, when the time comes to upsell, they’ll remember their good experience and will be more primed to convert.


Improving customer support with live chat for business

Over 51% of customers prefer live chat for customer support over other means of customer support channels. Our recent user behaviour analysis shows that customers not only prefer live chat widget to interact with agents for sales and support queries but also feel comfortable using live chat support in discovering answers on their own through in-built FAQs.

Your existing customers are also the future customers for your business if you can re-engage with them through a conversational customer support live chat. With an instantaneous, always-on support channel like Freshdesk Messaging, you can drive repeat purchase, increase sales, and grow your business.

Investing in an online chat support software can get you the compound interest on your existing range of support channels that can dramatically improve your customer happiness and retention. In today’s high fidelity business environment, live chat for customer support is necessary for your organization because it acts as a force multiplier to strengthen your core support bandwidth.

Studies show that companies feel they’re doing poorly on support in a majority of channels, including chat and chatbots:

Managing customer experience_Freshchat


In 2018 and beyond, there’s no reason why any company can’t step up their live chat game. Live chat is one of the fastest growing modes of support, and one that will continue to have a big impact on 2019 and beyond:

live chat is growing in popularity


In addition, live chat for business is positioned to solve a number of these poor customer experience channels:

  • Mobile: Give customers an easier mobile experience with live chat in your app, which caters to preferred CX on mobile. This can be especially important for support if a computer program is having trouble; people might want to chat on their phone while running a program on their computer.
  • Online chat: Add canned responses to help your agents funnel people through service or support as appropriate. Canned responses can build an easy blueprint for reps to separate service and support cases.
  • Self-service: Enable a help bot in your live chat that pulls up self-service documents and helps customers navigate your help library. Oftentimes, your team has built up resources that customers might not know about or might not be able to navigate as quickly as they want an answer, but giving them quick access is a huge CX boost.


FAQs are a great way to boost CX_Freshchat

  • Chat automation: Basic automation at the start of a live chat can: a) automate away small problems that allow reps to focus more on bigger problems, and b) provide a quick, personal channel for those with FAQs.

According to a recent Forrester research, setting up a live chat for customer support is 17-30% cheaper than a phone call. Live chat also has the highest level of customer satisfaction ratings, pegged at 73%, when compared to email and phone support, which stand at 61% and 44% respectively.


Chat support is better than phone support

Phone calls used to be a great way to reach out to customers when customer support was nothing more than solving issues and closing tickets. As customer support branched out to become the most important factor in determining customer retention, customer satisfaction and customer engagement, live chat started making heads turn.

Customers love live chat for customer support over phone because of many reasons. To start with, customer care over live chat can be proactive, whereas phone support is always reactive. For example, you can set-up messages asking customers to perform a certain action—such as starting a product tour after you’ve made major revamp to your website UI—when they revisit your site.

Whether you want customers to know about your updated privacy policy or announce an upcoming server downtime, you can proactively engage with your customers instead of waiting for them to discover surprises on their own. With phone support, you don’t have this luxury of calling all your customers; it’s always the customers dialing up support teams to get answers to unexpected problems.

Additionally, customers hate going through the long and winding phone tree options on the IVR or being kept on hold. Many times, when customers call up a business to get their problems resolved, they wait endlessly on the phone line only to be hung up abruptly without getting a chance to talk to a support representative.

Live chat can help businesses mitigate bad customer experience because it helps support team set the right expectations at the very beginning of the interaction. If your support team works within certain business hours, you can be upfront about putting that information on the chat window for customers to notice. Or, you can automate present messages as channels for customers to discover answers to their questions with self-service content like help articles, video tutorials, and so on during your offline business hours.

Support via email is obsolete

Customer support over emails might not be dead yet, but live chat is helping it age fast and push it to obscurity.

When it comes to customer support, emails are obsolete and inefficient. It is the least preferred channel of support because of how impersonal and slow it is. On an average, support teams take 10–12 hours of time to respond to customer queries. The resolution time for emails is even longer because they often lead to multiple back and forth correspondence. B2B companies can run into a host of problems like SLA breach when they can’t keep up with the customer demands for timely support.

Once perceived as the white knight for companies who wanted to be more productive, emails have now become the new snail mail of the business world. In today’s age of attention economy, emails don’t hold the same charm as instant messaging and live chat because they are asynchronous and sluggish.

Live chat is instant, accessible, and super responsive. The waiting time is shorter for customers because the conversation ratio for live chat support reps is always more than 1:1. Sending emails to a customer support team is like sending them a telegram, whereas initiating a live chat conversation on a website is like tapping on their shoulder for a quick discussion. Customers who use live chat also have the freedom to do other things in between their chat conversations with a support rep.

Live chat conversations, by design, are short and to-the-point. Emails, on the other hand, can become new commitments for users on both sides. They can also feel dry and lack human touch because of their outdated user interface. It’s hard for customer support executives to read people’s emotions over emails. In contrast, live chat conversations are friendlier, more conversational, and more engaging.

Live chat is a great way to boost your users’ experience while making that all-important intake easier. When customers get where they need to go, they’ll have a fully satisfying help experience. And that will return again and again to your bottom line.


Discover the future of engagement through unified Customer Service and Support at the Freshworks Experience Roadshow; October 1st – 31st in 11 European capital cities. With talks and discussions on how to build delightful customer experiences at scale. Register for your tickets today.


(Cover illustration by Karthikeyan Ganesh)