Is customer service the same as customer experience?

Is customer service the same thing as customer experience? Businesses often use the terms interchangeably, and of course they are related. But there’s a crucial difference. Customer service is what you give. Customer experience is what they get.
Businesses often use the terms customer service and customer experience interchangeably. But are they the same thing? They are related of course, but my simplistic view is that:

Customer service is what you give.

Customer experience is what they get.

What is customer service?

Customer service is often the name of a team or department. It’s who customers call when they have a problem. Or customer service is what you deliver when the customer comes to see you.
It’s driven by job titles, processes and systems. It’s what the business chooses to give. It’s transaction-focused and often reactive. Customer service is measured by the CSAT score – how satisfied customers are with a given product or touch point. CSAT can be asked often, because it’s measuring a specific point in time.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience is about emotion, it’s about how your brand makes customers feel. Your brand can be experienced in many different settings. The tone of voice of your communications, the complexity of your documents, even the layout of your office. It’s also influenced by the quality of your products and services.
Customer experience is measured by NPS – how likely your customers are to recommend your brand. Customer experience defines the relationship customers have with your brand. This is the sum total of all experiences, so it changes slowly over time. As a result, NPS is (or should be) only be asked of a customer once or twice a year.

What is the goal for your firm?

So customer service is sub-set of customer experience. How your firm services customers is a key part of their experience. But it’s not the whole story.
This begs the question of what your business goal should be. Is it high customer service or high customer experience? Can it be both?
The answer depends on your brand and strategic priorities. For some professional services firms, their brand is all about the fee-earners. It’s rooted in their expertise and how they use it to deliver what the customer wants. The focus is on the outputs and outcomes.
To use a food analogy, some restaurants focus on the quality of the food others focus on the quality of the dining experience. Some businesses rely solely on the quality of the core product, while others make every aspect of the customer journey a joy.

When to focus on customer service

If your product or service is very transactional, I would start with customer service. Identify the key customer touch points, from sales to billing.
Then measure how satisfied customers are with each touch point and why. With these insights, you can improve specific aspects of the customer service. The ultimate goal may be to increase your average genuine review rating.
Why genuine review rating? When you focus on customer service you need to see the end result for every customer. Only asking happy customers to leave reviews has a long-term cost. Short-term your marketing benefits from high reviews. Long-term you create blindspots, as the causes of mediocre customer service are left to fester.

When to focus on customer experience

If your product or service is relationship-based, then I would be measuring and managing the overall customer experience. This requires a deeper level of customer understanding. You need to be listening to how your brand makes customers and prospects feel.
This starts by understanding the expectations of new customers. Why have they chosen you? Which of your brand promises attracted them? Was it your expertise, approachability or breadth of your networks? This will be the lens through which they judge every interaction.
While you should only be asking them the NPS question once or twice a year, you should be constantly listening to their experiences. Adopting ‘always-on’ listening makes it easy for customers to give you vital insights. Not just when you’re ready to ask, but also when they have something to say.
Measuring and managing customer experience may sound like far more work. It can be if you do it manually, but the pay-offs are also bigger:
  • Great customer experience drives word of mouth marketing and referrals, reducing sales costs
  • If your customers are judging firms on their experience, and your competitors are only focusing on service, you have a competitive advantage.
  • As early as 2015, an Accenture study concluded that ‘B2B Execs See Customer Experience as Key Differentiator for New Market Entrants’. So if you don’t focus on customer experience, your competitors will.

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