Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Customer Experience and Customer Service: What's the Difference?

Image courtesy of CXPA
It's that time of year again...

This week, we are celebrating CX Day and Customer Service Week. I love that they land on the calendar at the same time, and yet, let's just keep adding to the confusion!

I've written about the differences before:

Customer Experience is More Than Just Customer Service
Customer Service or Customer Experience
Customer Experience Isn't Just about Customer Service

Looks like I need to get more creative with my blog post titles!

Anyway, here's how I define them.

Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, especially, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

Customer service is one of those interactions or a type of interaction.

And most of you probably already know how I like to differentiate, thanks to Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles: Customer service is what happens when the customer experience breaks down.

(Am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that customer experience has one day in the midst of a week of customer service celebrations. By definition, it should be the other way around!)

I thought I'd scour the web to see how others have defined the differences. Here's what I found.

In her recent blog post, Debbie Laskey asked Bill Quiseng to differentiate the two. Bill's response: 
Customer service is all about what you do for a customer. But, customer experience is all about how the customer feels about your company. It’s not only how the customer feels about your service, but also how he feels about every aspect of your company, from the ease of navigation on your website to the simplicity of understanding the final invoice, and literally every sensory touchpoint in between. In today’s very competitive marketplace, great customer service merely gets you into the game. Great customer experience makes you a winner.

In an HBR article, Disney Institute differentiated the two as follows: Customer experience is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company. This can include everything from a customer’s initial awareness or discovery of a company, product, or service and progressing through the purchase and use of those products or services. Together these all add up to the critical moments - the touch points - that create an organization’s overall customer experience. Customer experience moves us beyond the traditional definition of customer service - those individual moments when employees are providing direct service to customers. It is also about the bigger picture of what happens before and after these service interactions.

Ameyo provided this differentiation in an article from last year: Customer service and customer experience are not that far apart. In fact, customer service is only one part of the overall experience. Customer service is reactive - it only comes into play when a dissatisfied customer contacts the company. The business can only take action once something goes wrong, and not beforehand. Customer experience, on the other hand, is proactive - a business can take action to optimize the customer journey before the customer becomes dissatisfied. Customer experience is a holistic approach that goes beyond customer service and takes into account the overall customer journey by building long term relationships with customers.

Gartner noted that customer service can significantly impact the customer’s perspective of overall experience but added that they both have a shared outcome: customer loyalty. To differentiate, they added: Customer service works to make it easy for customers to resolve specific issues. The challenge of customer experience is to inject that same ease across all the cumulative interactions the customer has with the organization over time.

Maximizer differentiated the two as follows: Put simply, customer service is assisting customers and meeting their needs. It helps to shape the overall customer experience but doesn’t fully define it. Customer experience includes a customer’s perception of a company, a customer’s interactions with a company and a customer’s recollection of that entire process, from start to finish, at all touch points.

In a nutshell, HelpScout defined each as follows: Customer service is the assistance and advice provided to a customer for your product or service as needed. Customer experience, or CX, refers to the broader customer journey across the organization and includes every interaction between the customer and the business.

In their article outlining the difference between the two, Genesys writes that customer service will continue to be an integral part of a much broader and strategic practice of customer experience. In its simplest terms, customer experience is strategic - a holistic view that connects all the dots of each event. It dives deeply into solving the root cause of an issue, bridges organizational silos, and helps to drive clearer business strategies. Look across the customer experience from the customer’s perspective and across all touchpoints. It’s a smarter way to do business.

I could go on and on. The interesting thing is that there have now been a ton of articles written about the differences - and yet, people still use the terms interchangeably.

Why is it important to differentiate? Think about "potato" and "tomato?" Sound similar. Look similar. But they are very different, right? You wouldn't want to use them interchangeably in a recipe, would you?

Yea, I didn't think so.

Well, the same goes for customer experience and customer service. One is proactive; one is reactive. One is about the entire relationship, while the other is a point in time.

They have distinct meanings. They require different skills. They are not one and the same.

Spread the word.

I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap. -Ani DiFranco


  1. Annette, always insightful, easy to digest posts. I'm curious on whether readers feel these definitions (which are all very similar) give customer service a bad rap. Or said another way, are we referring to traditional customer service delivered by a department or function? It seems the trend is for lines blurring more than what the definitions suggest. Think of Customer Success reps or Chief Customer Care Officers. What are their jobs? Only reactive? Only when there's a problem to solve? No, they are increasing the percentage of time being proactive vs. reactive in order to create that customer loyalty resulting from feelings and perceptions that increases retention, testimonials and referrals. So do these efforts fall under customer service or customer experience? If we say customer experience, merely because they are proactive, then we are keeping customer service in its legacy bucket. I think the CS field is evolving towards a more CX-driven approach. Thoughts?

  2. Sorry again Annette. Had to fix my Profile.

    1. Thanks, Charlie, for your thoughts on this. And yes, it's interesting that the definitions and differences outlined are similar. That's a good thing. Perhaps we are all starting to converge and understand a common language.

      Your comment about customer service getting a bad rap is an interesting one. This come up on #CXChat the other day when I used Chris Zane's quote to differentiate custexp and custserv. Nate Brown mentioned that that quote used to anger him. But then he realized it was full of possibilities and opportunities for customer service folks. I honestly don't think customer service is getting a bad rap. Ultimately, all of it is about doing what's right for the customer. I think there is overlap between the two, for sure, but there are also very distinct differences, skills needed, etc.

      I think customer service teams have to design and deliver a better customer experience for customers. I do see that happening. In order to do that, they must be proactive.

      And since you brought up Customer Success, that's a whole different area that I will explore in next week's post.

  3. Annette, agree with the distinction(s). The terms shouldn't be used interchangeably. Some thoughts from a year ago your readers may find helpful...