It's very easy to fall into the trap of believing that customer support and community management are the same thing. At first glance, they’re both customer facing positions that require you to interact with those who are interested in your brand. That's not untrue, but that's where the similarities end. Each of these requires specialized skill sets and approaches to be done effectively.
A failure to properly differentiate between the two could lead to neither one being performed optimally. Below we look at some of the key differences that businesses must take into account when crafting their strategy.
Customer Support is Transactional; Community Management is Holistic
Customer Support is all about individual transactions between the company and the customer. People come to the business with a problem or concern, and it's the customer service manager’s job to address these issues in a satisfactory manner. This is a one-on-one interaction that largely centers around providing value in specific scenarios through problem resolution or prevention.
In contrast, Community Management requires a holistic approach to be effective. While it's true that individual customer’s wants and needs are important and will inevitably end up in the discussion, the true impetus of the community is about bringing a large group of people together around a single product or service. This is why it requires an entirely different skill set. A community manager needs to be able to use the tools at her disposal to create buzz, excitement and engagement.
Customer Support is About Efficient Iteration; Community Management is About Creativity
For this reason, customer support is about determining what works and then doing it over and over and over again. While there will always be outliers, in general, customer support managers come to know customer problems and find solutions. Businesses are incentivized to iterate these solutions as quickly as possible to save both time and money, while creating as little friction for customers as possible.
Community management, on the other hand, is extremely dynamic and creative. Discovering new ways to drive engagement t is a necessity, because old ways quickly go stale. The ability to capitalize on short-term popular culture trends in a given market is an essential skill for community managers to have. It's not that the name of the game is finding what works and then repeating it — it's that what works will be a constantly moving target.
Different Uses for Different Tools & Channels
Finally, the tools that customer support and community management professionals use are different. That is not to say there isn’t some overlap — there is. For example, dynamic use of community support forums to engage properly with customers and community is essential. Another commonality between the two is the use of social media, even if the particulars are different for each department.
The biggest difference are the methodologies used to make the most out of these tools. Customer service professionals are concerned with things like speed, and have a mindset geared towards efficiency and succinct, effective responses. They’re also more reactive in nature, meaning that tools will be applied to existing problems as they arise.
In contrast, community management is all about using tools to drive engagement. Things such as the number of users, engagement metrics, the number of top-of-funnel leads captured and the overall buzz surrounding a brand are all critical. These are created with tools that drive conversations, mediate community spaces and create a place where users feel both trust and a desire to connect.
Specialization is Key
At the end of the day, it's important to properly conceptualize the differences between customer support and community management. While it may seem like failure to do so is relatively harmless, that couldn't be further from the truth.
It is untrue to say that customer support is wholly transactional, iterative and quick, while community management is always creative and holistic. But a failure to recognize these key differences where they do exist will lead to strategies which do not use the proper tools, or tactics to optimize either one.