Understanding the difference between customer experience and customer service will save you money in your contact center!

There’s a quote (which I may have evolved over the years) from Chris Zane, founder of Zane’s Cycles, that goes like this: “Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks down.”

It’s a great quote for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it nicely differentiates “customer experience” and “customer service,” which people often confuse to be one and the same. Not so.

See these other posts for further clarification and differentiation between the two. Clearly it’s a hot topic, and not everyone is on the same page about this differentiation.

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

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

For the purpose of this post, let me define them here.

In its simplest definition, customer experience is (a) the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a company over the course of the relationship and includes (b) the customer’s feelings, emotions, and perceptions of the brand during the course of those interactions. Some people question whether product and price are part of customer experience. Yes; they absolutely are.

Customer experience is actually the “umbrella discipline,” so to speak, while customer service falls under that umbrella. Customer service is just one of those interactions, one touchpoint in the overall customer experience; servicing customers is one action of many that comprises the customer experience.

OK, back to the quote.

“Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks down.”

What does that mean?

There’s a powerful tool and process to help us explain that and to tell this story: journey maps.

Journey maps are a way to walk in – and to capture – your customer’s steps and chart her course as she interacts with your organization (via whatever channel, department, touchpoint, etc.) while trying to fulfill some need or complete some task, e.g., call support, purchase a product, etc. The map (created with customers, from their viewpoint) describes what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling at each step in the journey. With the right data integrated into the map, you can identify key moments of truth, i.e., make-or-break moments or moments during which the customer decides if she will continue to do business with your or not, and ensure that those moments are executed flawlessly going forward.

Important to the journey mapping process is to have the right customers and the right stakeholders in the room to create the maps. The right customers are those for whom you’re mapping, obviously. We typically identify the personas for which we’ll map before beginning any mapping workshop; the right customers will represent those personas. The right stakeholders include individuals from the cross-functional departments that are either directly or indirectly involved in the journey that you’re mapping.

The customer service experience is one of my favorite journeys to map because it is such a rich experience; it affords such a huge teaching and learning opportunity. Why? Most people assume that the customer service experience starts and stops at the call center. This simply isn’t true.

Here’s where we start to tell the story of “customer service happening when the experience breaks down.”

Consider this. People contact customer service when the product isn’t working right; the documentation isn’t clear; marketing set expectations that the product didn’t deliver; sales sold the dream and not what the product actually does; the invoice is not accurate or hard to decipher; or for a variety of other reasons. Something (i.e., the experience) broke down somewhere upstream, long before the customer even thought about calling – or even wanted to call – customer service.

In other words, when messages are misleading or confusing, when the customer has a complaint about an interaction or a transaction, or when something doesn’t work the way the customer expects, the experience is broken. The resultant action: the customer calls customer service to get help or to get answers.

This call isn’t customer service’s fault. This isn’t a breakdown in service; this is a breakdown in the experience. And so, customer service takes the beating and the anguish from the customer for something that could’ve been designed better upstream. Had that proper design occurred, the number of frustrated customers calling the call center would have been drastically reduced.

How does journey mapping help tell this story?

When we map any experience, as noted earlier, we always ensure the right stakeholders are in the room. Having various cross-functional representatives in attendance is even more important when we map a customer service experience. Among the stakeholders will be individuals from each of those upstream departments where the issues are created; we want them to learn how their departments impact (a) the customer and her experience, allowing them to identify strategic fixes that need to be implemented going forward and (b) customer service representatives and their call volumes, as reps attempt to fix the experience at an individual, tactical level.

Get the experience right. Design the experience to be simple, to meet customer expectations, to allow customers to painlessly do what they’re trying to do. And you’ll take a load off your customer service team.

In closing, here’s the full text behind Chris Zane’s quote, from an interview conducted by Zane Safrit. It will add a bit more color to his thoughts about customer service and customer experience.

And, that the customer service starts when the customer experience fails. That’s another thing we talk about pretty openly in our organization: If the customer doesn’t complain, it’s because they’re having such a good time, and you’re empowered to say yes and do whatever they need to do… then we don’t have to go through the recovery process or the apology process. They just had a good time when they were here, and they want to continue to come here.

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, keynote speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.