Customer Service and Customer Experience: Operational Differences and Similarities

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Customer service and customer experience are terms you’ll hear frequently in business. There’s a good reason for this. Together, they form the backbone of every successful organization. But there’s a problem. A lot of business owners don’t know the difference between customer service and customer experience. In fact, people often use the terms interchangeably.

There’s a clear distinction between customer service and customer experience.  Differentiating between the two is essential if your business is to advance. Luckily, that’s where this article comes in handy!

We’ll explore the differences (and similarities) between customer service and customer experience. This article will also explore how you can incorporate both into your organization effectively.

What is customer service?

customer service and customer experience

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Customer service is probably the term that you’re most acquainted with. It’s how you support customers when they encounter problems with your products or services. Today, customer service takes many different forms, including:

Customer service encompasses customer-facing departments. This covers in-store workers and call center agents. You might also forward calls between one customer service department and another. While departments such as sales and marketing might interact with customers, they’re not classed as customer service.

There’s no denying that the quality of your support has an impact on customer relations. According to the fourth “State of the Connected Customer” Salesforce report,  89% of consumers will make a repeat purchase following a positive experience.

In a nutshell, customer service focuses on a specific aspect of a customer’s journey: the moment after a buyer has invested in your product or service.

The goal of every customer service department should be to exceed expectations. This means solving queries as quickly as possible and maximizing the chances of future purchases.

What is customer experience?

customer service and customer experience statistic

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Customer service covers a specific area of the consumer’s journey. Customer experience, on the other hand, represents the journey in its entirety. This spans from the first time a customer hears about your brand to the point that a purchase is made and beyond.

To put this into perspective, let’s look at the following example of a customer journey.

  1. A customer sees an advert for a product on social media. They click the link and arrive on the product page. They take some time to learn more about the item.
  2. They decide to make a purchase. Following the purchase funnel, they input their payment details and address.
  3. Several days later, the item arrives. But a mistake has been made, and the product is delivered in the wrong size.
  4. A customer rings the customer service line. An agent advises the customer to resend the item and offers to send a replacement. The agent also gives an offer on a customer’s next purchase.
  5. The customer follows the instructions and receives a replacement product. They’re satisfied that the situation has been resolved. They then go on to make future purchases with you.

Of course, this is just one example. Each customer experience is unique, varying due to the buyer’s individual circumstances. One certainty is that providing positive customer experiences is vital for your success.

To ensure a positive experience, it’s important to make sure all touchpoints are linked. This means that a buyer should be able to move between stages in their journey smoothly.  For example, an agent should have customer details on hand as soon as they enter a call.

How are they different?

There’s no denying that the two sound similar. But there are some clear differences between customer experience and customer service.

The touchpoints involved

customer touchpoints

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Customer experience describes a buyer’s journey as a whole. This encompasses each touch point. You should place experience at the heart of everything you do; departments should prioritize the customer’s journey in their strategies.

Providing a strong experience means that a customer should run into minimal disruption. In other words, touchpoints such as your purchase page, customer service, and product delivery should be experienced without issue.

Customer service describes one specific stage of this journey. Typically, customer service will only involve one or two touchpoints. For example, a customer may attempt to solve their query by interacting with an online chatbot. If this is unsuccessful, they may then be referred to a call agent.

This stage is an extremely important part of the overall experience. Customers will inevitably have complaints. Your ability to handle these issues will determine whether a customer’s journey is long or short.

Reactive or proactive?

As the name suggests, a reactive process involves reacting to issues as they happen. There’s little to no planning involved. A proactive process requires looking to the future. You’ll have a clear roadmap laid out before you and be ready to deal with any problems that arise.

Customer experience belongs in the latter camp. To create an effective customer experience, you’ll need to plan carefully. This means considering potential issues. What could act as a barrier to a customer’s journey? With a proactive approach, you can help to mitigate potential problems.

Customer service, on the other hand, is reactive. No matter how much planning you do, unexpected issues will still occur. Unlike customer experience, service is almost always instituted by the customer. An effective service team can react to problems as they arise.

The units of measurement

measurement results

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It’s useful to be able to measure customer service and experience. Both are important factors that will determine your success as a business. But you’ll need different methods for measuring each.

The best way to measure customer experience is with a net porter score (NPS). How likely is a customer to recommend your brand? NPS is calculated by subtracting your number of detractors (those unlikely to promote your brand) from the number of promoters. The better the customer service you provide, the higher your NPS score.

The success of your customer service can be determined by a customer satisfaction (CSAT) score. CSAT can help you understand the number of customers that are happy with your product or service. To calculate CSAT, divide the number of satisfied customers by the number of responses to a survey.

Creating strong customer service and customer experience

Now, you should have a clearer idea of the differences between customer service and customer experience. You should also understand their importance. Of course, this document isn’t long enough for detailed descriptions of each. Both topics could arguably have an article dedicated to themselves.

With that said, here are some pointers for creating the best customer service and experience.

Customer service

Below, we’ve listed some best practices for delivering effective customer service.

  • Focus on listening: be attentive and polite towards customers’ concerns. If a customer is irritable, focus on defusing tensions. A customer will feel much more assured if they feel they’re being listened to.
  • Offer omnichannel solutions: there’s a good chance that you offer customer support across multiple channels. It’s important to offer different options, but there also needs to be a smooth transition between channels.
  • Look at data: as you carry out more and more calls, you’ll gather lots of data. You can use this information to improve customer relations in the future. What common problems are being reported? How were they resolved?
  • Segregate teams: phone lines can easily become clogged up. Customers with simple queries may end up waiting in long queues as teams deal with more difficult issues. With the help of a call routing feature, dedicated teams can deal with complex queries.

Customer experience

Now, let’s look at some ways to provide the best customer experience.

  • Know your customers: it might sound obvious, but before you can provide the best experience, you need to know who your customers are. Carry out focus groups and allow plenty of time for market research. This way, you can better understand the wants and needs of your audience.
  • Offer the best user experience: this could mean ensuring a smoothly running website or making sure your phone lines are fully operational. If a customer is to shop with you in the future, their journey needs to go without a hitch.
  • Continuously gather feedback: your customers will probably have a lot to say. While all feedback might not be positive, it is useful. By acting on feedback, you can work to build the best experience possible.
  • Always appear professional: the overall customer experience will form a lasting impression on a customer. It’s important to appear professional at every stage of the customer journey. You might invest in business phone numbers or an up-to-date website.

Customer service or customer experience – which is more important?

So, out of customer service and customer experience, which should you focus on? The truth is that both are equally essential to your business. Every organization offers some form of customer experience. But as we’ve explored in this article, providing a strong experience is easier said than done, as is offering effective customer service.

The first step is to accept that customer service is an integral part of the overall experience. Even if all other touch points are handled with care, you cannot provide the best experience with poor customer service. Similarly, you’ll have a much harder time dealing with queries if the customer experience is poor.

Start by looking at customer experience first. How can processes be improved to provide a happier journey for customers? By definition, if you’re improving customer experience, you’ll also be improving your customer services.

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Published on: 4th October 2022


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