Customer Service vs Customer Experience: What’s the Difference?

Customer service vs customer experience? Sounds like a trick question. It seems obvious that if you offer great service, customers will think highly of your brand. And 9 times out of 10, you’re probably right.

But while they are undoubtedly related, there is a subtle difference in the service you provide and the experience you offer, a gap that’s magnified particularly in the case of complex and lengthy transactions.

No one can dispute that service is an essential piece of the customer experience puzzle. I’m sure that, as a consumer yourself, you’ve had frustrating and unhelpful interactions that have tainted your perception of a brand. Moreover, from an organisational perspective, it can be tempting to measure your customer satisfaction with the service provided at each stage of a customer journey; it is easy build into your existing processes and creates obvious ownership of service at that given point.

The catch for organisations is that, even if each touchpoint throughout a customer journey is optimised so you deliver the best possible service to that customer in that moment, it doesn’t necessarily equate to an overall positive experience.

Why? Because service touchpoint measurement does not reflect your customer’s perspective of their journey, and after all that is what customer experience is really all about.

Customer service vs customer experience – the difference

Imagine that you are the customer and your journey spanned 5 interactions with an organisation. The service at each touch point was outstanding – in fact you were amazed by the enthusiastic staff who helpfully explained what you needed to do – but you can’t help but feel that you could have completed your journey in fewer steps, making your experience easier and less time consuming. Equally, you also felt a bit confused during the breaks between steps; have they received my documents; am I required to do anything more; when will they get back to me? Therefore your overall experience could have been better, even though the service was great.

So what does this mean for organisations today? To make sure you don’t fall into CX pitfalls, organisations should ask three key questions:

1. Are we aligned on our CX strategy?

To better experiences, and indeed prove the value of CX initiatives, organisations must have a clear CX strategy for achieving pre-identified customer outcomes. In my experience, giving this in terms of tangible process improvements usually focuses attention: i.e. ‘to reduce journey times so our customers meet their desired outcome faster’ or ‘to deliver paperless journeys, eliminating the frustrations caused by physically filling in documents or exchanging documents in the mail’ rather than a more generic improvement like ‘to achieve an uplift in CX scores like NPS or C-Sat’.

Without cross-functional alignment, it can be easy to lose sight of the end goal. I recently sat through a brilliant talk by Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insights at BT, who warned of the trap of investing in technology that doesn’t deliver value to an organisation because ultimately it doesn’t make customers’ lives easier.

Across industries today, brands are waking up to the commercial benefits of effortless customer experiences and indeed the risks of neglecting it. Nevertheless, these should not act as a distraction, and for your CX strategy to really deliver the value you hope for, the customer must be placed at the centre of it all.

2. Are my customer metrics really used to drive improvement?

Once you have identified what you want to achieve and the strategy behind it, you are in a much better position to identify your relative success and prove the returns of your investment. However, your CX initiative will only ever be as good as your metrics for assessment, and it is important that they are used not only to measure value but also to drive improvements for both the customer and for your business.

While generic satisfaction measurements- either at a touch point or even journey level- might give you a top line summary of how customers feel about your brand, it doesn’t provide you with the actionable insights into how to drive improvements within the service you provide, e.g. if you know that only 50% of your customers are satisfied, you can recognise that there is a problem without being informed of the cause.

You must be careful to ensure that the measurements you take align with you overall desired outcomes. A good example of a common mistake is measuring AHT with the hope of reducing journey times. The problem with this is that AHT doesn’t tell you how long it takes to resolve an enquiry, and on the basis of the measurement, two 9-minute interactions are preferable to a single 10-minute interaction that resolves the matter first time, when clearly this is contrary to a good customer experience.

This is particularly important when CX metrics have a direct impact on the assessment and rewards for front line staff. Again in the case of AHT, if agents are measured on their ability to get customers off the phone quickly, then this is the behaviour type you will encourage and so are not likely to create the customer-centric experience you are hoping for.

3. Are we seeing the full picture?

…And so we come back to my original point. Customer experience is multi-faceted and there is no single magic measurement that will help you to assess how you are doing, identify improvement areas and drive the right behaviour in front line staff.

When looking at customer experience, you must therefore take a 360-degree perspective. The service you deliver is one part, but it is not the be all and end all. You must therefore ensure that the success of your CX initiative is measured holistically, considering a range of factors including; individual touch point measurements; end-to-end satisfaction; customer mindset & feelings; process improvements like the elimination of mail; lifetime loyalty and more.

Finally, while studies universally show that improving customer experience does bring tangible business benefits, you must consider how you are going to prove the value of your investment. Devoting time at the start of any project to identifying not only your desired customer outcomes, but how these will improve commercial KPIs too, is imperative. Focus on key milestones. Done correctly, this will help you set your customer experience strategy on the path to be self-sustaining. You may offer great service, but what is your customer experience like?

To find out what the 5 CX essentials that your customers value most are, click here.

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