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The Difference Between Service and Support

I’ve had a lot of customer service jobs over the past 6-7 years. I worked as a cashier in a chain restaurant, front desk receptionist at a waxing salon, hostess at a club, ticket seller at a concert venue, and receptionist at a moving company. All those jobs were primarily customer service-based. And I disliked all of them.

Recently, I’ve taken a job at GiveWP and I’ve had to learn very quickly that tech support and customer service are not the same thing. Even though you’re interacting with another person to get them to an end result that they’re looking for, they are completely different beasts and require a different approach.

It’s been fun and interesting to drop a lot of the habits I learned in customer service, and adopt the tech support mindset.

My findings and assertions below are what I’ve found to be true in my own experience. Perhaps you disagree – in which case, please leave a comment and tell me about your experiences!

Emotions-Oriented vs is Results-Oriented

When working in customer service, there was always an obligation to make an emotional or personal connection. I remember sitting in training where I as an employee was made to feel as though I was an extension of the company’s marketing plan.

I had to make the customer feel a certain way – paid attention to, listened to, important, special, like a part of the family. If they are upset, apologize profusely and give them whatever you can to make them feel better. We want them to love us, to need us, to keep coming back.

There was an emphasis on getting to know the client personally. Remember the names of regulars. Ask about their kids or spouse. Predict what services they might want or what products they’d be interested in.

While tech support hasn’t been a total detachment from the idea of making the customer feel heard and appreciated, the result at the end of the day is what matters most. Especially given that each time they write in they may get a different employee, there isn’t a high priority on making an emotional or personal connection. In fact, it would probably get in the way.

One of the things I love about my new job is the de-emphasis of the apology as a way to emotionally de-escalate a situation. One of the things that has stuck with me most was the idea that solving the problem they are experiencing is the apology. We make an exception to this rule if a legitimate mistake is made. But we are not expected to apologize, just because the customer is frustrated or annoyed. This frees up focus to actually dive in and find a solution.

Hierarchal vs Level

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The Customer is Always Right” It’s really quite a terribly saying, if you ask me. The customer is sometimes right, but it’s really not about being right, is it?

That idiom, that mindset, puts the customer on a sort of a pedestal. That no matter what they do or say, we as customer service providers must please them and make their experience as positive as possible so they will continue to patronize us. Even if they are dead wrong.

I’ve not experienced that with tech support. It’s a team effort; solving a technical problem requires effort on both sides and while the support person might have more directly helpful knowledge, it doesn’t mean they are “better” than the person asking for help.

I try, in most of the tickets I answer, to work that idea in. To say something like, “I’d be happy to work on this with you” rather than, “I’d be happy to fix this for you.” I want the person I’m helping to feel as though I’m in this with them, that I empathize, and that I’m not ever speaking down to them.

An infographic called Consumer Reactions to Bad Customer Service. 1/3 of consumer would consider switching companies after a single instance of bad customer service.27% of US customers say that ineffective customer service is their top frustration. 72% of consumers say they have to explain problems to multiple agents as poor customer service.
Customer service is extremely important for businesses. Because of these compelling numbers, I find that businesses, brands, and corporations put stringent and unrealistic expectations on customer service representatives that lead to a lot of the problems I outline here.

Indirect vs Direct

A lot of the jobs I had included not only giving the customer what they wanted, or performing the service they paid for, but creating an environment that would influence their decision about whether or not to return. There was a psychological aspect of it which I always found a little bit sneaky.

For example, everywhere I ever worked a customer service job, things like furniture, music, even the art on the walls were meant to influence the customer’s mood and thoughts. When I worked at a waxing salon, there were tons of photos of glamorous-looking, thin, hairless, women all over the place. I always felt like it emphasized a little bit of shame that would then influence that person to request another service.

Tech support is more direct, in so far as there is no “environment”. There is a linear, documented conversation between two people. Stripped out all of the marketing and sales and promotions allows the person providing support to be more focused and work more efficiently. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly and personable. But there aren’t any other indirect factors influencing the conversation.

Exclusionary vs Inclusive

What I found unfortunate about a lot of customer service jobs I’ve had was the idea that certain people “belonged” there while others didn’t. It was obvious in our marketing, the language of our scripts, and the way that managers and supervisors treated various people who walked in the door.

When I worked at the waxing salon I mentioned, only light-skinned, thin women appeared on our posters. There was also the idea that anyone who couldn’t afford the over-priced services or who didn’t tip well could automatically be the subject of ridicule. It was incredibly frustrating to see up close.

Simply put, providing tech support isn’t about creating customers or earning new business. We have some fantastic people in Customer Success who do that.

Our job is about making sure the product works, despite the unique environment it’s been put in. The person doesn’t matter so much as the way the person uses the product. At the same time, we need pay attention to the experience-level of the person we’re dealing with so that each conversation can be easily understood, yet not patronizing. And in so doing, we make sure that anyone who uses the product feels heard and appreciated.

Long-Term vs Short-Term

Now this can be argued. At my current job, of course, at the end of the day, we want our customers to want to sign on for another year paying for our services. We want to eat, after all. But there is something very transient I find about tech support, whereas with customer service, there was a consistent effort to create a long-term and lasting relationship between the brand and the customer.

I think we’ve all experienced an instance where a brand messed up. Maybe the online store you bought from delivered the wrong thing. Just yesterday I was at a restaurant where the waiter forgot one of our appetizers. What usually happens? You get a 10% off coupon as an apology. Or, like my restaurant experience, the appetizer is on the house. Companies can become borderline desperate to keep a customer happy.

Our tech support team simply does not do that. Not that I’m saying a coupon or free appetizer is a bad thing. But it’s simply not necessary. If the customer likes and wants to continue using the product, they will and that’s great! If it’s not right for them, or if for some reason our support was sub-par and it drove them to switching to a different product, we analyze where we could have done better and move on.

What about similarities?

little boy stands looking frustrated, caption reads Linda Linda Listen I'm trying to help you troubleshoot!
Both customer service and tech support can be very frustrating if you feel like the person you’re trying to help is being complicated, difficult, or unreasonable.

I realize I’ve spent this whole post disparaging customer service. Which stinks, because I interact with customer service people out in the world constantly; we all do. And they deserve our respect and our kindness. I personally found customer service draining. I think that has a lot to do with capitalism and a lot of other larger theories I won’t touch on here.

All of that being said, there are some things I liked about customer service that I’ve taken with me into tech support.

  • Both rely on having a degree of patience.
  • Both require you to be empathetic and listen to the person you’re assisting.
  • With both, at the end of the day, you’re there to help someone else accomplish their goal.
  • Both require you to think on your feet and be creative in order to find that perfect solution.
  • Each one can be incredibly gratifying when you hear from a customer that you truly helped them.
  • And both can also be very frustrating if you feel like you did your best and the customer still wasn’t happy.
  • Each one trains you to have a thick skin and not let other people’s frustration get to you.

These are all things that have made me a better personal overall over time.

What has your experience with customer service been? Have you worked in both tech support and customer service? Which one do you prefer?

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By Allie

Allie is a tech support team member at GiveWP, the leading WordPress donation plugin and travels to WordCamps as a GoDaddy Pro speaker ambassador. She owns Pixel Glow Maintenance, where she provides WordPress maintenance services to growing businesses.

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