When we talk about product support vs. customer support, it can seem like there’s quite a bit of overlap. However, these terms are not interchangeable.
To clear up some of the confusion around this topic, we decided to address the question: Is there a definitive difference between product and customer support?
The short answer is yes -- but the details are slightly more complicated.
While there are some similarities (both involve providing support to people struggling to resolve an issue), there’s also a world of difference between customer service and actual product support. Let’s take a look.
Customer support generally focuses on dealing with consumers who are experiencing some form of difficulty or inconvenience associated with your overall business. This can range from issues with a product or service to complaints about overpayment or angst surrounding delivery issues.
The ‘customers’ in customer support are typically consumers (B2C). Those seeking customer service are generally hoping to connect an actual person - whom they hope will help them resolve their issue quickly - whether over the phone or via a post on social media.
In contrast, product support is more likely to consist of what commonly falls under the umbrella of “tech support.” Product-centric companies use product support to attain maximum performance and benefit.
Users can be people from another company (B2B) or consumers (B2C). Buyers seeking product support typically will accept help in a variety of formats, including self-service via knowledge bases, or direct one-on-one help via email, live chat, or phone.
Customer service representatives and technical support agents typically have different goals. Customer service reps focus on the overall customer experience (CX). Their ultimate goal is for the customer to be satisfied and to remain a customer. They aim to reduce churn and provide service that is as personalized as possible.
Tech support agents, on the other hand, operate with a slightly different goal in mind. While CX should still be a priority, the primary goal of tech support is to resolve technical issues as quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible. The primary goal is to resolve every problem during initial contact.
If that cannot be achieved, the secondary goal is to resolve the issue as swiftly as possible. Because trained technical support is more expensive than lower-tiered customer support, this can be a costly process for any business. Additionally, due to its focus on expediency (and not customer hand-holding), advanced technical product support resolution efforts are also often the least personalized service provided to the customer.
A customer service representative listens to the customer as a way to gather information about how they feel, what is making them feel this way, and what they can do to make them feel better.
In many cases, merely having their unhappiness heard, validated, and respectfully addressed can satisfactorily help to resolve a customer service issue. This is often the case, even if the result isn’t precisely what the customer hoped for. The experience of being served can often be more important than the outcome.
Technical support agents listen to users to gather information that can be used to troubleshoot a problem. While demonstrating empathy for the user is essential, a technical support agent’s primary goal isn’t to make the customer feel better; it’s to make whatever is failing function properly.
In most cases, the resolution of the technical issue will also resolve the customer’s unhappiness. For a successful technical support interaction, the ultimate outcome outweighs the overall experience.
A 2013 survey of over 400 technical support professionals revealed that 71% of respondents believed that being proactive about problem-solving would be a necessary skill for technical support professionals in the near future. Their keen insight and prediction is now a reality.
Customer service typically has two levels of engagement - the initial customer service agent and (if needed) the customer service manager.
For B2B product support, post-sale service is key to strong relationships, and the process is more involved. Traditional tech support has five potential levels of support:
The customer tries to resolve their own problem by looking at a user manual or seeking help from DIY articles or videos online.
Searching for these resources online can often lead customers to the next level of support: this can be knowledge-based or a FAQ page on the company website. This and the following self-service level are the least expensive options.
The customer uses the knowledge base or FAQ section to resolve their problem, troubleshoot their issue, and resolve it satisfactorily. If this fails, or the user feels their skills are inadequate, the next step is to make contact with a tech support agent.
The initial point of contact for product tech support is typically the help desk. Technicians at this level have general knowledge, can often answer uncomplicated questions, and ask a few of their own to determine who needs to be bumped up the chain for additional help.
For more straightforward issues, users are more likely to reach out using an email address provided or a live chat option for help desk requests. Around 70-80% of problems can be handled at this level with the knowledge-base of experienced help desk staff.
More complex problems are more likely to begin with a live chat or a direct phone call, as opposed to email. They will often be quickly bumped from the help desk to either the product support team or tech support team.
Problems that hit the second line of support typically require a technician with in-depth knowledge of the product to help unravel the problem and provide a working solution.
The final level of product support generally involves transferring the customer to a product expert, such as a “dedicated superuser,” or someone from research and development. At this stage, the time cost of handling the product support request is at its highest.
The levels outlined above generally describe the flow of traditional 'reactive' support that relies on the customer to recognize a support problem and seek out a solution. But thanks to modern technology, your tech support doesn’t have to remain stuck in this outdated model. In fact, with the right tools at your disposal, you can streamline the support process for your customers.
In an ideal world, your support agents would fix a problem before users reach out for help. The great news is you don't need a crystal ball to predict what support issues might crop up; you need omnichannel support.
Through ‘round-the-clock tech monitoring and alerts that tell your product support team when a problem occurs – even if the customer doesn't report it – it’s never been more cost-effective to migrate from reactive to proactive product support and provide more accessible support solutions for your customers.
If your business hinges around a technical B2B product, sales are naturally your priority. Increased sales can be leveraged through a technical support guarantee, but if your company cannot readily manage the volume of support requests, your bottom line can be severely affected. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining an in-house product support team can be considerable.
Outsourcing can relieve the pressure by providing a way to meet product support demands at a lower cost than an in-house department. However, finding a third-party equipped to handle technical support appropriately can be a challenge. Most support companies focus on customer support and are frequently unable to deliver the level of knowledge required to satisfy user needs.
At Boomtown, we build on skilled technical experts and an intelligent skills-based routing system to ensure each query goes to the agent best equipped to resolve their specific issue or complaint.
Ideally, any company you consider outsourcing to would be positioned to provide true technical and product support, as well as customer support without sacrificing any aspect of the customer experience.
When considering outsourcing your technical support department, consider the following:
The time required to resolve complex technical support issues is almost always underestimated, leading to tech support budget overruns.
Most customer service solutions don’t offer a high level of technical knowledge or the outcome-based focus necessary for successful product support deployment
Many support systems have only one or two tiers of mid-level service, both failing to funnel users toward simple, more cost-effective solutions. Additionally, too often, they are incapable of providing the highest level of support. Phone tech support is 100x more expensive than self-service; this means companies who fail to embrace digital support will end up hemorrhaging money.
At Boomtown, we understand that the most cost-effective way to handle the majority of product support queries is through pre-support or self-service knowledge bases. That’s why we focus on digital self-service solutions that increase user satisfaction and lower support costs by providing fast, clear resolution for common problems and bumping more complex problems up the line.
Manning multiple support query channels can be time-consuming and costly. The absence of these options for users can lead to clogged product support lines and overall higher costs.
At Boomtown, our “Start anywhere, finish anywhere” omnichannel support provides a single thread of ticket management, allowing users to query on social, move to email, and finish on live chat if needed.
Users expect and demand multi-channel support, speed of response, and quick resolution. Failing to meet these expectations can damage a technology brand negatively impacting buyer perceptions.
The steady, evolving technology product development and marketing of similar products and devices mean a company’s reputation can be ‘made’ or ‘broken’ in the product support arena.
With the amount of information readily available online for DIY troubleshooting and the increasing tech knowledge of the average consumer, complex product issues now account for up to 25%-30% of live support requests.
Cloud-based support is the new black; it’s now the expected norm. Companies offering email or phone-only service options will have difficulty competing. Cloud services themselves, however, require an additional level of training and knowledge to provide adequate support.
Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Video support can provide sight verification of hardware issues or device errors. Most customer service solutions do not currently offer video support services.
Emerging technologies and the high level of technical knowledge required to resolve complex problems effectively means a rising demand for -- and corresponding scarcity of -- qualified technical support agents.
Boomtown provides a support platform specifically designed to meet the unique challenges of technical product support. We comprehensively mesh the goals of ticket resolution and customer experience to provide a streamlined, cost-effective solution for your company’s tech product support needs.
Our cross-organizational reach allows your company to communicate with users, experts, vendors, and partners in a single ticket for better information exchanges and faster resolution.
For fast, accurate issue diagnosis & resolution plus improved user satisfaction, Boomtown provides a premier solution for the dilemma of technical product support.