Customer Service vs. Technical Support — What They Are & How They Differ

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Anna Rubkiewicz
Anna Rubkiewicz

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Today’s customers have higher expectations than ever before.

person defining customer service vs. technical support

One negative experience can lead them to search for alternatives. And let’s be honest, they’re not hard to find. So, if there ever was a time to offer great customer service and technical support, it’s now.→ Download Now: How to Be a Great Customer Support Rep

In this article, I’ll define the difference between customer service and technical support. I’ll also share real-life examples to demonstrate the importance of both. Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

Customer Service Involves the Entire Customer Journey

customer service, Involves all the interactions before and after customers buy your product or service.

Customer service (CS) involves all the interactions before and after customers buy your product or service. That includes sending a live chat message asking for the price of a product, all the way to complaining about a recent experience with your brand.

CS teams act as the face of the company since they’re the first point of contact whenever a user experiences a problem or has questions.

Today’s CS is more about proactivity rather than reactive actions and ticket closing. The best CS teams work towards building meaningful relationships with customers, making sure their experience is enjoyable and as problem-free as possible.

In markets saturated with options, customer service can be a great differentiator, which contributes to people choosing one brand over another.

Speaking of differentiation, let me share a story of this working in action.

The Value of Good Customer Service

Earlier this year, I noticed that my SEO tool had been charging me a membership fee twice a month. It charged me directly from my credit card, followed by a separate payment via PayPal a few days later.

When I reported this issue to customer service I wasn’t angry or worried. All I expected was a refund. When I checked my email a few minutes after contacting customer service, my eyes opened wide.

Not only did the company acknowledge the mistake and reimburse me financially, but they also offered six (!) months off as an apology for any inconvenience they may have caused. To say the least, I was positively surprised and felt truly valued as a customer.

What likely happened was that my support ticket was flagged by this company's help desk software. If it was connected with a CRM, like HubSpot's ticketing system, this company could see how long I've been a customer and how much I spend with their business. This likely came into play when they decided to offer me a free six-month subscription.

This above-and-beyond proactive response from the customer service team solidified my long-term relationship with this business. And, as you may know, it’s more cost-effective to retain a loyal customer than it is to acquire a new one.

What is technical support?

Technical Support. Helps users with any technical questions or glitches. Solve tech-related issues that can’t be solved by knowledge base articles.

Technical support (or, tech support) is a type of customer assistance that helps users with questions or glitches with a specific product or digital service. These teams step in whenever a customer is struggling with a tech-related issue that can’t be solved by directing them to a knowledge base article or training.

Technical support teams are very common at (but not limited to) companies offering software, electronic equipment, home appliances, and telecommunication services. Given that they often tackle time-sensitive issues, they’re usually available through a number of channels —phone, on-site live chat, email, and sometimes social media.

At all the companies I’ve worked at in the past, technical support agents had a very interdisciplinary role. They had to be great at communicating not only with clients but also with software developers. How so? If a technical issue wasn’t fixable upon customer request, they were the ones to mark it as a bug and scale it to the product development team.

Interestingly, I’ve also noticed that the smaller the company, the less likely you are to come across someone who has technical support listed in their title. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t someone like that in the company ranks. This brings me to another real-life example.

The Value of Good Technical Support

A few years ago, I worked at a small SaaS company operating in the customer feedback niche. The brand was praised for great tech support, and for good reason.

Even though they didn’t have a department called technical support, all tech issues were tackled immediately. All because customer service closely cooperated with the product team.

Whenever the former couldn't help with an issue, they quickly passed it on to the Product Manager (PM) who acted as the intermediary between customer service and software engineers. Anything that exceeded a quick fix would be tackled by one of the developers.

The PM would stay in touch with the client as the software team worked on the problem. He would also keep the CS leader in the loop, realizing that anything happening now could affect the overall customer experience. This shows just how important it is for tech support and customer service to stay in touch when working on client requests.

The Differences Between Customer Service & Tech Support Roles

Type (and Level) of Expertise

The top three skills for customer service teams are problem-solving, responsiveness, and empathy. CS reps must go above and beyond to show customers they genuinely care about their experience.

While they should have a basic understanding of the technical side of the product or service, they don’t need to be fully proficient. That’s where they pass the baton over to tech support.

The latter must be good at understanding client struggles and explaining the cause of the problem while avoiding tech jargon. However, their main role isn’t to act as CX ambassadors.

Tech support technicians should have a far higher level of technical expertise — not as advanced as software developers, but strong enough to apply any quick fixes for the user and/or identify complex issues and scale them to product teams.

Nature of Work

Tech support usually works backstage, ensuring that the product runs smoothly. They enter the main stage as soon as a technical issue arises, making their role rather reactive.

Tech support specialists have to quickly identify the root cause of a problem and fix it as soon as possible. Otherwise, customers will get frustrated. Speed plays a key role here. The longer it takes to resolve the issue, the higher the chance of clients searching for other options. This is especially true if users run into problems regularly.

Customer service is mainly about proactively solving problems (i.e., looking out for customers continuously) rather than reacting only when something bad happens. It requires large doses of empathy and great listening skills. CS teams must understand what customers are trying to achieve by using the product or service and offer recommendations to best fulfill their goals.

I guess it’s safe to say that customer service often plays the role of a guide, leading customers to success — no pressure. The more complex the product, the more support users need.

Area of Focus

Customer service teams tend to have a much wider level of autonomy when it comes to how they perform their daily work. In close cooperation with the head of customer service, they think outside the box and ideate ways to exceed customer expectations.

Meanwhile, due to the limited discipline they navigate, technical support has fewer options for creative problem-solving. Their goal is to address any tech-related issues quickly or scale any errors and bugs to relevant teams.

Tech support and customer service play for the same team.

The best customer experience happens when tech support and customer service work closely together. Only then can brands quickly resolve customer issues and exceed their expectations.

While the work of technical support is usually more reactive in nature, they also work with software teams to make sure that the product stays fully operational. However, if an issue arises, they’re responsible for fixing it as soon as possible. Meanwhile, customer service has a broader responsibility — building relationships with customers, meeting their expectations, and keeping them as happy with their solution as can be.

What differentiates good customer service from the bad is proactivity. CS teams should keep their finger on the pulse to prevent problems from arising and contribute to a great customer experience.career

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