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

customer support vs customer service: Delivering high standards of both is a gift for your clients


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Customer service and customer support are crucial aspects of the customer experience. Done right, they foster customer loyalty, word-of-mouth referrals, and more recurring revenue.

The two terms are often used interchangeably. But despite some crossover, they actually refer to different things.

Knowing this difference is important. Once you’ve teased them apart, you’ll be able to define job responsibilities more clearly, make better hiring decisions, and minimize customer frustration.

In this post, we’ll look at:

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The difference between customer service and customer support

We all hear the terms customer service and customer support all the time, and it can be easy to assume they’re synonymous. There are, however, some vital differences:

Customer service

What is customer service? It’s an umbrella term that covers all the interactions between your business and its customers.

It encompasses everything you do to meet your customers’ expectations and improve the overall customer experience throughout their journey with you. 

The ultimate goal of customer service is to help customers get as much value from your product or service as possible—and it’s  a minefield for businesses whose customer service teams aren’t organized and whose phone systems aren’t adaptable

Here are some examples of  what is considered customer service:

  • Onboarding new customers
  • Answering questions and replying to comments on social media
  • Helping customers with billing and delivery issues
  • Resolving non-technical account issues
  • Recommending better tools or techniques
  • Collecting customer reviews and feedback
  • Upselling (when appropriate)

Customer service agents tend to have a broad understanding of the business, its products, and customer contact channels. And although they don’t have specialist knowledge, they’re capable of answering common questions and pointing customers toward more expert assistance. 

Well-honed soft skills are an essential part of delivering great customer service. The best customer service agents are clear, patient, empathetic, supportive, and pay close attention to the customer’s unique situation.


Learn more about how to build customer service skills.

Customer support

What is customer support, on the other hand?

It’s actually a subset of customer service. It’s most commonly found within SaaS, IT, and eCommerce businesses, and its purpose is to help customers solve any technical issues that may crop up when using your product or service.

Customer support interactions tend to be reactive and short term. In most cases, the customer reaches out with a problem they want to solve. The support agent will then either implement the solution themselves or guide customers through the relevant steps.

Here are some common customer support activities:

  • Real-time troubleshooting with customers on support emails and live chat
  • Helping customers install, maintain, upgrade, and dispose of the product or service
  • Creating product documentation and supporting resources
  • Conducting usability studies
  • Providing input into product development

Speed, technical proficiency, and product expertise are key attributes of an effective customer support agent. But to give customers the best experience possible, they should also have the same empathy and people skills as any other customer service agent.

Customer service vs customer support

Clearly, customer service and support are closely related, and it’s easy to see where the confusion arises with terms like “customer support services” and “customer service support” blurring the lines.  But the two are nonetheless distinct.

Customer service deals with the entire customer experience, aiming to satisfy customers throughout the customer lifecycle. Customer support, meanwhile, is more narrowly focused on helping customers solve technical problems.

Plus, while customer service is part of every business, not every business needs customer support. For example, restaurants generally don’t need to offer their patrons technical support. 

This table highlights the main differences:

Customer service Customer support
Applies to the entire customer lifecycle Applies to customers’ technical difficulties with a product
Long-term interactions Short-term interactions
Generalist Specialist
Non-technical Technical
Proactive and reactive Mostly reactive
Applies to all businesses Applies to some businesses
Affects all customers Affects some customers
Doesn’t always involve customer support Always involves customer service


9 Tips for providing great customer service and support

Now let’s look at some different ways your business could provide stellar customer service and support.

1. Define your philosophy and process

Your approach to customer service and support should be unified. Otherwise, you’ll end up with inconsistencies in delivery.

Start by defining the customer service principles you’ll use to guide each interaction—such as speed, accessibility, and proactivity.

You could also create a customer service playbook that outlines common processes and best practices. Include instructions for processes like reporting bugs and errors, how and when to create support content, and protocols for documenting customer feedback.

2. Give your agents the tools they need

Businesses need to support customer service teams with good-quality tools that make their lives easier. Boosting their efficiency frees them up to spend more time helping people, and it also demonstrates to customers that your company is professional.

For example, offering your customers omnichannel customer service means they can reach out to you through whatever channel suits them best—whether it’s live chat, social media, in-app messaging, phone, or email:

Customer profiles are a feature of RingCX that can help. They let you build a rich picture of each customer based on their interactions across different channels. Any agent connecting with a customer gets an immediate overview of their history and needs, while customers are saved the trouble of repeating themselves to different agents:

Building customer profiles in RingCX can help you deliver great customer service and customer support

3. Communicate clearly

Unclear communication leads to confusion and avoidable mistakes which can damage customer confidence in your brand.

Strip away technical jargon and industry slang from your messaging, use simple words where possible, and don’t overwhelm the customer with too much information .

Another important part of clear communication is transparency. If the customer asks a question and you’re not clear what the answer is, it’s okay to let them know you’re not sure and that you’ll get back to them as soon as you find an answer.


Communication with your own teammates is important, too. Everyone should be on the same page about what they’re telling customers. Here are a few communications tools designed for teams.

4. Use positive language

Positive language entails being solutions-oriented instead of problem-oriented.

For example, suppose a customer was unable to access an online training video  due to a technical fault.

A negative response to this complaint might be:

“I’m really sorry about that! Unfortunately, we don’t know what the problem is at this time.”

Whereas a positive response would be:

“I’m really sorry about that! Thanks for the heads up. We’ll look into it right away and let you know the second it’s fixed.”

5. Close conversations properly

Your customer service and support teams must bring all customer interactions to a clear-cut resolution. If you don’t make sure your customer is satisfied with the interaction, you can’t tell if they’ve had a good experience.

When a customer conversation seems to be slowing down, always ask if there’s anything else you can help with. This signals to the customer that you care about their issue and that you’re happy to take as much time as they need.

Once the customer has  no more questions, you can close the conversation.

6. Prioritize first-contact resolution

Whether reaching out to customer service or support, customers want their problem resolved in one go. They don’t want to have to call you again, or to explain the problem to another agent.  

This means you should make first-contact resolution—or first-call resolution—a top priority.

Your first-call resolution (FCR) rate measures your performance on the number of customer interactions resolved in the first conversation. The industry standard for a good FCR rate is between 70% and 79%.

7. Save time with response templates

There will be some customer questions that your service and support teams encounter a lot.

Creating a bank of saved responses—which your agents can customize as needed—is one way to ensure quick and consistent responses to FAQs.

8. Practice empathy, build rapport

Customers contacting support are often stressed and frustrated. Before diving into solving the technical problem, support agents need to show empathy for the customer’s unique situation (even if it’s the eighth time they’ve addressed that same issue today!).

It’s about making the customer feel heard and understood. Likewise, building rapport with customers—addressing them personally, asking questions about their business, showing excitement about their plans—goes a long way toward creating a human-centered customer experience.

9. Involve other teams in customer service

One effective way to build a customer-centric strategy and culture is to involve all employees in frontline customer service and support, aka practicing customer service teamwork.

This could mean asking members of different teams to periodically sit-in on customer calls, or hosting regular cross-team discussions to reflect on customer feedback.

Wheneveryone feels the customer’s pain, they’ll maintain customer-first focus in the work they do.

4 Real-life examples of top-notch customer service and customer support

So that’s the theory, but what does great customer service and customer support look like in practice? We’re glad you asked. 

Customer service

Here are a pair of examples of brands nailing their customer service provision:

1. AmEx automatically detecting travel plans

In this example of proactive customer service, American Express automatically detects when its card holders are traveling overseas, using advanced fraud detection capabilities.

This saves customers the trouble of having to notify AmEx of any upcoming travel plans, which can be easy to forget when you’re preparing for a trip.

2. AT&T personalized video bills

AT&T helps customers to understand their bills by sending them personalized videos that explain things like line items, partial-month charges, and activation fees.

Account holders receive an auto-generated video that runs them through each part of the bill,anticipating common misunderstandings without customers having to get in touch for an explanation. 

Customer support

Customer support is often much maligned, but some companies get things spot-on here, too:

3. Asana’s knowledge base

Knowledge bases—accessible libraries  of helpful resources about your product and related subjects—let customers solve problems themselves without having to contact a support agent. 

Asana’s knowledge base is a particularly good example, with multiple guides,demo videos, helpful use cases, screenshot-assisted help articles, and interactive courses.

A screenshot of Asana’s knowledge base; a great resource for customer support

4. RingCentral’s multilingual chat support

Whether your company trades in the US or across the globe, you’ll have plenty of customers who don’t speak English as their first language. And 69% of global consumers believe it’s important that brands offer an end-to-end customer experience in their native language.

RingCentral’s customer engagement platform is able to offer multilingual support, with the system automatically recognizing over 72 languages to assign incoming messages to the right agent.

Recap: How to tell the difference between customer service and customer support

Let’s wrap up customer support vs customer service. Often thought to be the same thing, they’re  actually two distinct practices. 

Customer service encompasses all the processes and values that underpin your customer interactions, while customer support deals mainly in solving technical customer problems.

Both customer support and customer service help your business to create a seamless customer experience and build positive relationships. 

In some smaller businesses, the responsibility for customer service and support will often fall to the same person. Larger companies will have separate teams.

Either way, success depends on respecting the differences while delivering both in an integrated way.

Customer support vs customer service FAQs

  • Are customer support and customer service the same thing?

No. Customer service is the sum-total of all your interactions with customers throughout their journeys with your brand. Customer support refers to the solving of technical issues which customers encounter when using your products or services. 

  • Is customer service more important than customer support?

Not necessarily. While not all businesses will need to offer customer support per se, for those that do, getting it right is a crucial part of overall customer service. You shouldn’t consider it as an either/or type scenario.

Originally published Jun 23, 2024, updated Jun 25, 2024

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