Customer services

Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Defining the Difference

Customer experience is the new battlefield in marketing, says research firm Gartner. In 2016, 89 percent of companies surveyed expect to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience while 65 percent now have the equivalent of a chief customer officer who reports to both the CMO and CEO, indicating the importance companies and marketing departments place on customer experience. But just what is customer experience? And how does it differ from the more familiar concept of customer service? The two terms are often used interchangeably and are closely related, but there are also significant differences between them. Understanding these differences can help your company better manage, evaluate and improve your performance in these two crucial areas.

Defining Customer Experience

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Financial Engines group product manager Adam Richardson defines customer experience as the sum of a customer’s engagement with your company and brand throughout the duration of their relationship with you. This includes everything from the time they first become aware of your brand through the time of purchase to post-purchase use of your product and interactions with your service team.

Richardson breaks the customer experience lifetime down into three areas that can be analyzed. First, there is the customer’s journey from the time they first become informed about your brand to the time they become a customer and after. Second, there are touch points that mark the customer’s experience at each stage and support their journey, such as your ads, websites and products. Third, there is the integrated ecosystem linking these touch points together with each other and with the stages of your customer’s journey.

For example, when an Amazon customer visits Amazon’s website and orders a product to be shipped to them by mail, their complete experience from their website visit to the reception of their order includes several integrated touch points. These include the product website page, the checkout process and the physical package they receive in the mail. Each company can do a custom analysis of their customer experience lifecycle and the touch points marking each stage of that journey.

Defining Customer Service

Whereas customer experience encompasses your customer’s entire relationship with you, customer service involves those specific points during your customer’s journey where they interact with your personnel, in contrast to interacting with touch points such as your marketing and advertising material or your product. TSIA vice president of technology research John Ragsdale suggests 15 metrics to measure customer service in his book Lessons Unlearned: 25 Years in Customer Service.

Some metrics measure quality. For instance, a post-service survey might ask customers to rate their agent’s friendliness, response time, product knowledge and helpfulness.

Other metrics involve financial measures. For example, how much do customer service costs cut into gross revenue?

Finally, there are operational metrics. For instance, a company might measure incident volume by channel, such as phone, chat and email, identifying the staff required per channel to meet demand at peak service times.

How Customer Service Impacts Experience

From these definitions, as Disney programming director Bruce Jones points out, it’s clear customer experience is broader than customer service. At the same time, it’s also evident that the quality of customer service impacts the quality of customer experience.

For example, a recent survey shows 92 percent of customers who use live chat for customer service report a satisfying customer experience, while customers using voice report 88 percent satisfaction and satisfaction rates from using web forms and email correspondence are 85 percent. As this illustrates, a company using a cloud contact center with live chat and voice support like Aspect Zipwire can improve its customer service and customer experience.

Similarly, any time you improve your customer service at a point where customers interact with your company, you improve your customer experience as well. Other examples of actions that can improve both customer service and experience include improving your response time, your selection options, your payment option flexibility, your product delivery speed and your refund policy.


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