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Why businesses need to understand the difference between customer service and customer experience

customer experience
(Image credit: Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock)

Many organizations today consider customer experience to be key in differentiating them from competitors. This is vital, as most businesses are now operating more-so online than in person because of the pandemic. The online world brings with it increased competition, particularly from digital natives. While most businesses can’t compete with digital natives from a technology perspective, they should be looking to other ways they can provide value to customers that will secure their loyalty.

In light of this, it’s encouraging to see that, according to Econsultancy and Abode’s Digital Trends report, which looked at the single most exciting opportunity for B2B companies this year, customer experience came out top. In fact, The Temkin Group found that companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn an additional $700 million on average within the first three years of investing in customer experience.

Though as with any buzzword like digital transformation or artificial intelligence, the term customer experience (or CX) is thrown around a lot, but do any of us truly understand what it means? Especially the businesses that claim to offer a great one. From what I read online, it appears maybe not, as many use the term interchangeably with customer service. And while both go hand in hand and could not exist without the other, there are some key differences that it is important for businesses to understand. 

Reacting to customer needs

Customer service is a vital tool that all businesses need to master in order to keep their customers happy and satisfied. It largely focuses on one-off interactions between a brand and the customer that most often happen after a purchase has been made or service given. Contact agents tasked with providing a good customer service generally offer advice, assistance and lend an ear for complaints – ultimately, they respond to all customer enquiries and do their best to meet all of the customer’s needs.

The role requires specific skills and training, for example customer service agents should be empathetic and understanding of customer concerns. When we call a business to complain about something that hasn’t met our expectations, we expect at the very least some level of understanding and to be offered a solution, not someone who is distant and disregards our feelings. Furthermore, we expect customer service agents to have good product and brand knowledge so they can answer any queries quickly and with ease.

Thinking about the customer journey as a whole

The key difference between customer service and CX is that, while customer service is just one piece of the puzzle, customer experience encompasses a customer’s entire journey with the brand. It is measured by a customer’s feeling towards a business, positive or negative, and how likely they would be to return as a result.

With this in mind, CX can’t simply be about reacting to customer needs as and when they occur. It has to be a proactive strategy that aims to make the customer’s interactions with a brand, whether via the website or via customer service, positive, memorable and have some kind of impact on their day. If, for example, a customer ends an interaction with your business feeling good and likely to recommend your service to a friend, you’ve got your customer experience right.

Creating CX isn’t a walk in the park

Creating a good customer experience may sound simple, but this usually isn’t the case. For example, ensuring that every staff member is brought into providing a good customer experience, and that all of your customer touchpoints are aligned to ensure customers receive a good CX no matter where or how they interact with your brand, can be challenging.

Ultimately, achieving this isn’t going to happen overnight. Businesses need to approach creating a good customer experience in steps. This is where the relationship between customer service and CX comes in.

Despite being different things, to have a good customer experience requires providing good customer service. Let’s face it, many customers that contact customer service channels are already frustrated for one reason or another, so providing a good experience through service channels is a great and crucial way of turning that around and ensuring such customers leave feeling more positive about the brand.

In order to get this right, there are a number of things organizations can do, including investing in the right training for contact agents in how to provide good customer service. Furthermore, brands can invest in technology solutions to work alongside and assist human agents in providing the best service they can. A cloud telephony platform is a great example, collating all of the data from a customer’s every interaction with a brand and presenting them to any agent that deals with their next enquiry. This gives the customer an impression of alignment and provides them with a seamless experience.

Becoming a CX brand

So, while it is vital that businesses provide both a good customer service and experience, it is vital that they view and understand them as different. The front line of customer service is ultimately where businesses can gain some of the best insights about their customers. Whether it’s about how they use the business and their purchasing habits, or how they feel about the brand and how regularly they return, if at all. It is also often the final interaction a customer has with a brand, so is a vital touchpoint to consider when thinking about leaving a lasting, positive impression on a customer.

However, it isn’t the be all and end all – customer service is simply one step in a wider CX strategy. There are many other customer touchpoints for brands to manage and ensure they are providing a good customer experience too, whether it’s their website, social media, or online chat service. To be a true customer experience brand, businesses need to ensure all are aligned and have a positive impact on their customers.

Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-founder, Natterbox