The difference between customer service and customer support

There is a difference between customer support and customer service. It helps to think of customer support as the how, such as the nuts and bolts of troubleshooting an issue, and customer service as the why—why it’s recommended to set up your cloud account in a certain way or why today’s issue could balloon into a bigger issue in time if certain steps aren’t taken.

A customer support team can fix a technical issue in the short term, but providing good customer service helps build relationships and establish a true partnership in the long term. Adding the “why” into the support process improves the experience for customers, and it helps agents grow.

This may sound like a lot more than you thought. If so, you’re not alone. We’ve narrowed it down to a few key takeaways:

Examples of customer service

We’ve all heard the stories of companies going above and beyond to provide their customers with incredible support. Morton’s steakhouse met a man at the airport with a steak because he asked for one in a tweet. Nordstrom’s accepted a set of returned tires even though Nordstrom doesn’t actually sell tires. But good customer service is ultimately about the scalable ways a company meets customer needs every day.

Here are a few everyday examples of excellent customer service.

  • Resolving issues quickly
  • Providing 24/7 support
  • Serving your customers via the channels of their choice
  • Being proactively helpful
  • Personalizing interactions
  • Helping customers help themselves
  • Using customer feedback to get better

Examples of bad customer service

Bad customer service is when a customer feels their expectations were not met. According to our Trends Report, the top indicators of poor customer service include long wait times, an automated system that makes it hard to reach a human agent, and having to repeat information multiple times.

People have expectations for how a company will serve them. If your customer support is not up to par, it can spell bad news for your brand. When customers have a negative service experience, they’re often quick to voice their complaints on social media. The message is clear: You can’t afford to ignore these annoyances in today’s digitally connected world.

The Museum of Annoying Experiences brings customer service nightmares to life:

Types of customer service you should know about

Each channel could be considered a different type of customer service, but the mindset your business has around customer service is more important. There are four main types of customer service your business should know about: proactive vs. reactive and synchronous vs. asynchronous.

Proactive vs. reactive support

Reactive support used to be the standard: you wait for a customer to contact your business with an inquiry or issue. Proactive service, however, is now a crucial type of customer service—it means anticipating your customers’ issues and addressing them before your customers do. This might include:

  • An e-commerce company getting ahead of abandoned shopping carts by deploying a chatbot on its checkout page to answer frequently asked customer questions.
  • An internet provider sending customers a text about upcoming service disruptions.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous support

Live chat is typically a one-to-one real-time conversation that is session-based and synchronous. Synchronous means real-time chat. Like a phone call, it requires most or all of your attention, and has a defined beginning and end.

Unlike live chat, messaging is asynchronous. Asynchronous messaging can be understood as conversations that start and stop when convenient for the participants. They can occur in real-time, but like an exchange on WhatsApp or in your Instagram DMs, you can put it in your pocket and pick it back up where you left off without losing the context and history of the conversation. This allows customers to troubleshoot while they do other things, like walking the dog, and agents to help more customers at once. And it’s one of the reasons why companies that provide messaging support have the most satisfied customers. In fact, support teams that have the fastest resolution times and highest CSAT ratings are 42% more likely to be messaging with their customers.

The most important customer service skills

Customer service skills or characteristics represent the qualities and abilities a customer service representative needs to deliver good customer service. Customer service managers tend to hire for technical skill sets. Technical skills are important, but soft skills matter, too.

Here are the top customer service skills your customer service representatives need:

1

Ability to mirror a customer’s language and tone

Mirroring another person’s language and tone can help you connect with them.

Now, if a customer is angry on a call, you don’t want to copy their frustration. Instead, remember that “calm is contagious.” Be firm and work to bring the intensity down a notch. Customers respond well to getting help from someone who’s clearly level-headed.

Learn more tips for dealing with customers that are angry in this Forbes article.

On live chat, responses are often short, quick, and incomplete. This makes it harder for you and the customer to understand each other’s tone. Choose your words carefully and err on the side of caution and clarity. Try to avoid puns or regional turns of phrase.

Instead, use a gentle, informative tone. Patience is your best friend when helping a frustrated customer.

2

Active listening

When customers complain and are frustrated, they might not be able to take in what you say. So scrambling to a solution isn’t always the best approach.

The ability to display empathy first is crucial. Remember, both you and the customer want to reach a resolution, not just a solution.

Customers who are stressed need to feel heard. Explain that you understand the reason for their call. This little bit of empathy will go a long way toward improving a difficult customer experience.

3

Clear communication

Nobody likes to wait on hold, especially if they don’t know how long it’ll be until they can talk to someone.

When customers call or start a live chat, set their expectations about hold times. This can help them feel like their issues matter to you.

4

Interpersonal skills

The best customer service templates do more than give agents pre-written text to copy and paste. They’re the starting point for high-quality, personalized answers so agents can build real, human connections with customers.

Start with a template, then adjust it before replying to customers. This makes your answers feel more personal to customers.

It’s OK to use your own voice and approach—just make sure you reflect the company’s brand and philosophy. For example, maybe you can make your own email signature unique.

5

Comfort multitasking

Live chat agents are expected to handle more than one chat at a time. This is a skill in itself. Great multitaskers don’t lose sight of the bigger picture as they’re bombarded by questions.

Be careful not to handle too many chats, or else your customers will be waiting too long between responses. You can always put a chat on a brief hold if you need more time to find an answer. But just like with phone support, set expectations first. For example, ask if you may put them on a brief hold to conduct more research.

6

Attention to detail

Sometimes it’s harder for customers to express themselves in writing. Don’t read too quickly and jump to conclusions. It takes a lot of training and practice to understand how different customers communicate. But it’s key to success in customer service.

For example, someone who works in sales might come off as assertive or aggressive. Or, an engineer might want more technical details about how their problem was solved.

Being able to read cues like this can give a customer care representative a better idea of how to tailor their customer service approach.

7

Attentiveness

Always respond to a customer’s social post when they need help. You may not be able to answer right away. But it’s still important to make quick initial contact with that customer and let them know when you’ll respond. Providing speedy responses means being adept in addressing a customer’s problem with a precise and polite tone.

The exception to “always respond” is when agents are confronted with an obvious attempt to pick a fight on public channels. These comments are often directed at the company itself. It can be tempting to engage with the person if you feel strongly about the issue at hand. But a company can’t afford to have an agent, or any employee, make mistakes on social media. So, always proceed with caution when responding publicly.

8

Collaboration skills

Answering a customer’s question often involves working with other teams or departments. Is answering a social media post a job for customer support, or for marketing? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

If your marketing team manages your social media, make sure they connect with the customer service team for help with any incoming support requests. Remember, everyone is responsible for good customer service so agents will need to have strong collaboration skills.

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Daniel

Daniel

Contributor @samcx.com. Passionate about everything Sales, Marketing and Account Management.

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