Customer Experience is Not Just Customer Service

If you’re looking for the difference between “customer service” and “customer experience” one way to think of it is that customer service is a component of customer experience.

The basics are, well, basic: “Customer service” is what you do for your customer. Smile at them, help them find what they’re looking for, answer their questions, ring up the sale, wave goodbye, take their call to solve a problem later.

“Customer experience” is how your customers feel and think about your company as a result of the interactions they have with you from their initial need identification to all interactions to beyond.

You can go to McDonald’s and they’ll serve you a dinner. Or you can go to Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley and boy, they’ll serve you a dinner. You get perfectly adequate customer service in both places, but the experience is… different.

Customer experience, according to Proonto’s Merav Shoham, starts as soon as the customer has a need for a product or service, and “ends long after that need was fulfilled.”

Shoham breaks customer experience down into five distinct phases:

  • Attraction. This is where the customer has identified the need, is aware of you as a potential fulfillment of that need, and is willing to check you out.

  • Entry. The customer’s first contact with you – they enter your store, hit your website, pick up the phone and call you, however they establish contact to determine if your product or service is what they’re looking for.

  • Engagement. The customer examines the product or service, asks questions, hears your sales pitch, reads your site information, test drives, gets a demonstration, whatever – and makes a purchase, usually after shopping around to compare price and quality.

  • Exit. The customer’s product or service need is fulfilled and they go home.

  • Extension. The customer interacts with you again over a problem or question, needs an adjustment, exchange, or further information – or, as important to the experience, doesn’t. The purchase has been made and the customer is no longer in your shop or on your site, but the experience is continuing.

That’s a pretty good skeleton of the customer experience, which is the name given to all the elements and touch points, including customer service, that your customer has with your company over the lifespan of the relationship – if they purchase a wrench that lasts twenty years, they have a twenty-year customer experience.

And notice that what you call the actual “customer service” doesn’t start happening until Engagement, and may or may not surface later in the experience. Anymore it’s just one part of the actual customer experience.

Or as Tom Peters, the well-known business guru says, “Customer service is the transaction, customer experience is the main event.”

Elizabeth Clor, Senior Director of Content Marketing for Clarabridge, writes that looking at it from the customer’s perspective, there is a great deal of difference between customer service and the customer experience:

Customer service, Clor says, is your customer calling the contact center, whereas the larger customer experience context is “The reason why they’re calling your contact center, everything that occurred prior to the call, and how they feel about the service they received.”

Customer service is how quickly you resolve your customer’s issue, but customer experience is “Why the customer had an issue or question to begin with, and how frequently they have issues with your business,” she explains: Customer service is being able to pay a bill online, customer experience is “how easy it is to pay a bill online.”

This is good news for you. Think about it: In terms of customer experience, not just customer service, you have a lot more opportunities to impress your customers, convert shoppers into buyers and maintain the sort of relationship with your customers after the sale that greatly increases the possibility they’ll turn into loyal repeat customers.

It’s a truism that today products and services, by and large, are commoditized. You develop a better widget, it’s not long before your competition catches up. You’ve heard for years that “customer service is where you differentiate yourself,” that’s the value-add, that’s what sets you apart from the competition and keeps your customers coming back to your for a product or service they can get elsewhere, maybe more cheaply.

Yes and no: Certainly you can excel at customer service touch points – or stink. But when you think of the entire customer experience, especially given the social media tools you have at your disposal, the possibilities for improving customer engagement are almost endless.

As the Customer Monitor blog points out, focusing on your customers’ experience means studying “how they emotionally connect to you on all channels including Facebook, Twitter and other multimedia or social media channels you manage. In other words, the full customer experience is how you make them feel every step of the way when connecting to your brand.”

How to nail that? Customer Monitor offers five basics:

  • Experience Culture. Build a business culture where your employees not only understand the difference between customer service and experience and are told to focus on the customer experience, but incentivized and rewarded for doing so.

  • The Right People, Not All People. You want employees who understand that whatever their particular job title or duties, their job is to provide the sort of customer experience that your company wants. This means selective recruitment and careful training.

  • Love Your People. There are few metric correlations in business as well-established as the fact that the more satisfied and happy your employees are, the happier and more satisfied your customers will be across the entire experience.

  • Customers Have A (Loud) Voice. Get customer feedback, especially during service interactions, search out customer pain and solve it. Act on what they say.

  • Beginning To End. It all works together – your brand name, Twitter, Facebook, marketing, sales, fulfillment, product development, recruitment, training, HR, management – it’s all germane to the customer experience. All of it.


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