Discussing important factors in improving and increasing your business's profits is a conversation that can't be had without mentioning both customer service and customer experience. These two pieces of the business puzzle are both hot topics, but many business owners don't fully understand the difference between customer service and customer experience – and this confusion leads to an inability to focus properly on improving either.
So, what is the difference between customer service and customer experience? Is one more important to your business than the other? Are the two directly related? Let's take a look at how each of these impacts your bottom line – and your customer's likelihood to return!
Customer Service – It's in Your Hands
Customer service is exactly what it sounds like – service provided directly to customers, before, during, and after the act of purchasing goods or services or otherwise interacting with a company. The form this takes will vary based on many factors. What your company is selling, what services you are providing, and what concerns, questions or complaints your customer has to voice will all be determining factors in exactly what service your staff will provide. However, in all cases of customer service, a company's representative will be directly interacting with the consumer.
There was a time when customer service was easily confused with overall customer experience. This is because – in the more direct market of yesteryear – delivering great customer service meant delivering on the retailer's end of the bargain made during purchase. Simply put, if you gave the consumer what they were expected and your service exceeded that expectation, their entire experience would be a positive one. However, the many factors that now go into the sales process have changed the face of marketing – and created a difference between customer service and customer experience that is important to understand.
Customer service is truly in your hands – your direct actions as a representative of the overall company influence how your consumer sees the brand itself. While you can't always control how a consumer feels or their entire experience with your company, you are in complete control of most aspects of customer service, so use that control to create an excellent interaction with your customer in every possible way.
Customer Experience – An Emotional Journey
It may sound grandiose to refer to customer experience as an emotional journey, but that's exactly what it is. Consider this: the most common definition – according to the Harvard Business Review - of customer experience is the overall experience a customer has during the entire interaction they have with a company. An experience is simply an emotional occurrence. Therefore, your customer's emotional journey during their interaction with your brand is what creates their impression of both your brand and your products. In that sense, your customer's emotions are very important!
As with any journey, the emotional trek your customer embarks on when they interact with your company has predictable steps. While these may vary slightly from person to person, the phases of the customer experience include:
Awareness, leading to interest – This involves how you market and the impression your potential consumer gets when experiencing your marketing efforts.
Discovery – The feeling of intrigue that makes your customer feel like they've potentially found something worth buying makes this phase of the journey and exciting one.
Attraction – This step is a bit like getting to know another person and realizing you have an attraction to them; a customer begins gravitating toward a company and their products or services based on what they know so far.
Interaction and/or action – This is when your consumer actually makes moves toward buying or patronizing your company. It may involve online or in-store shopping, signing up for services or a variety of other actions.
Purchase – The point of sale – you have made this person a true customer!
Use – Your item or service is given to the consumer and they use or experience it for themselves.
Cultivation – The aftermath of your sale and the customer's experience with your product typically involves a repurchase once the product runs out or a follow-up service, if previous experiences with your brand were positive.
Advocacy – Once you've got a satisfied customer, they will not only keep coming back, they will advocate your company to those around them and become an ambassador of your products.
Making each part of this overall journey a positive one is the primary goal of today's business leader – and the surest route to a satisfied customer.
The Difference Between Customer Service and Customer Experience
Truthfully, customer service and customer experience are very much related. You cannot have a positive customer experience without receipt of excellent customer service. Whether this means knowledgeable and friendly in-store staff, cheerful, pleasant call center employees, or thoughtful follow-up marketing efforts, customer experience is created with good customer service.
The primary difference between customer service and customer experience is that while customer service is reactive, the creation of the customer experience is proactive. When providing customer service, you base your actions and efforts on what your customer says and does. This may mean helping a customer find an item in-store, chatting with them online to solve a problem, or addressing specific complaints or concerns over the phone. In every case, the action taken by the company representative is reactive to what the customer brings forward.
If you're looking to create a positive customer experience, you'll need to focus on more than reacting correctly to your customers' actions and emotions. You'll need to proactively seek out and create experiences that positively influence and impact your consumers. This creates lasting, meaningful relationships between you and your customers and positive experiences that those customers are happy to extend as long as they can.
So, now that you know the difference between customer service and customer experience, which one is more important? The truth is, they're both vital to your consumers' overall satisfaction, as well as your brand's bottom line. Start with great customer service for great products, and you'll be well on your way to building the overall experience that keeps customers coming back again and again!