February 15, 2022 •

9 min reading

Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Key differences

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Terms such as “customer service” and “customer experience” are commonly misinterpreted and interchangeably used. Similar as they may sound, both vastly differ in meaning. Knowing the difference between these two seemingly equal terms will empower you to improve how to serve your current and future customers. Exceeding your guest expectations and creating memorable moments will result in lifelong positive impacts!

The basics

"Customer service (CS)" is a key component of the entire customer journey, while "customer experience (CX)" comprises all the interactions between your brand and a customer. To understand the nuances between both, we need to dive deeper into each. 


What is Customer Service (CS)?

A good way to define customer service would be as “the act of taking care of the customer's needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high quality service and assistance before, during, and after a purchase of a product or a service. (...) It is meeting the needs and desires of any customer".

Customer service embraces the "human element" within the buyer journey. This, in turn, allows such clients to evaluate your company’s overall value. Simply stated, the quality of service support that a customer gets will fundamentally affect his perception of your brand as a whole.

But how do you provide a seamless service that will exceed your client’s expectations? The answer: make them feel valued as individuals.

Six ways to make your customers feel special:

  • Express your appreciation
  • Call them by their first name
  • Thank them
  • Pay attention to them
  • Listen to their feedback
  • Always be presentable as a business

The customer service goal is to go above and beyond isolating the causes of frustration in the customer’s experience over the duration of the relationship. For that, guest services leaders across all functions should aim to indoctrinate a customer-first culture within their employees.

A customer-centric culture can be viewed as a CX-minded team sport that requires the involvement of everyone within the organization (from the CEO to the managers—and even the housekeeping crew). It will allow workers to improve their customer service skills by:

  • Demonstrating empathy in the rise of an issue
  • Understanding the root cause of any customer complaint
  • Personalizing solutions to the case-in-matter
  • Being empowered to use their judgement to best deliver quick, first-class solutions

But a common fault many companies commit is on how they approach this customer-driven strategy, impelled by the end-goal of profits increase (a sales-driven culture). Instead, the guiding foundation here should be meeting customers' needs (and every employee’s goal to deliver a superb customer experience).

In contrast, poor customer service is when your business fails to meet a customer's expectations. This could translate into how long it takes for you to answer a phone call, misaligned information, being transferred from one agent to another, or any overall negative interaction with your brand.

With this 7-step process, you will have all the tools you need
to master your company Customer Experience.

What is Customer Experience (CX)?

Dave Dyson, a community marketing specialist at Zendesk defines customer experience as “how a client feels about the sum of their interactions with a business (...).It involves every way a customer interacts with a company, at all stages of the buyer journey”. 


An example of great Customer Experience


In short, the customer experience is directly related to the combination of all the touchpoints a given client undergoes throughout the entirety of their engagement with your brand. This includes:

  • The marketing material (perceived before they ever become a buyer)
  • The sales experience
  • Post-service treatment
  • Product (features, reliability, ease-of-usage)
  • Service as a whole

Put simply, from the moment a person first visits your website (or store) to their first conversation with a customer service agent, and even how they feel post-purchase. All these are touchpoints which, combined, are intrinsic aspects of an overall customer experience. This ultimately means that the CX is not exclusively the direct interaction that a customer has with a brand, but rather also how these customers feel throughout the buyer journey.

Brands that portray a cohesive and consistent experience across all departments build a stronger loyal customer base. Some examples of touchpoints where customers meet your brand:

  • Social media
  • Online advertisement
  • Browse products on your website
  • Interaction with staff
  • Reading blog posts (digital marketing content)
  • Attending events/webinars
  • Making a purchase (billing actions)
  • Using your product
  • Thank you letters
  • Feedback surveys
  • Peer referral
  • Upsell/Cross-sell emails
  • Customer support channels
  • Customer onboarding
  • Customer loyalty programs


An example of poor Customer Experience

An American grandmother was recently kicked out of a hotel in the middle of her stay with her six-year-old granddaughter. The reason behind such a move was that the 63-year-old had left the hotel with a 3 out of 5-star online review midway through their stay.

What was initially believed to be a prank from the hotel’s part, resulted in a hellish experience, with the pair being escorted from their room by the police in the middle of the night. But regardless of approving the hotel’s choice or not, you don't need to be a hospitality expert to grasp how the two guests felt.

Think about it. Have you ever experienced such a fantastic service after making a purchase that you couldn’t resist but talk about it to your friends? Do you recall how that experience made you feel? Was it valued? Appreciated? Listened to?

Perhaps, all of the above?

Alternatively, remember how you felt after receiving an abysmal service? We bet the aftertaste of the latter experience was rather diverse. Maybe you’ve warned your friends and family about your negative impression, possibly even going to the extent of leaving your opinion online so that others could be equally alerted. 

Independently of your personal experiences, according to a study done by Harvard Business Review stated that 76% of executives not only see the value behind improving CX, but also go further to state that it is a high or critical priority.

The study further claims that leaders being on board set the tone and mindset for the entire organization. In other words: if leaders want to improve the customer experience, other employees will emulate it.


Professional Advice  Service Excellence  Are you looking for professional advice on implementing a service culture  throughout your company? Our experts are here to help!  Learn more

The impact of poor Customer Experience

So yes, offering a superb customer experience is one of the great ways to increase sales, create loyal customers, and turn consumers into passionate brand advocates. But failing to do so can result in dire consequences for your business. 


Source: hotjar

By faulting in delivering an outstanding customer experience, your brand could undergo a: 

  • Loss of customers
  • Damaged brand reputation
  • Loss of repeat business
  • Reduced customer lifetime value
  • Negative customer reviews
  • Decrease in customer acquisition 


Differences between Customer Service and Customer Experience

Now, let's look in detail at the four main differences between customer service vs. customer experience.


Limited interaction vs. an entire journey

It's clear now that customer service is part of the entire customer experience, with the key difference to distinguish each being the number of interactions between the client and the brand. Customer service comprises one (or very few) touchpoints, while various interactions build up the foundations of the customer experience.  


Reactive vs. proactive

Providing customer service will be directly dependent on a client actively reaching out for assistance via their preferred channel (email, phone, social media, live chat, etc). Alternatively, with customer experience, it’s all about anticipating the needs of a given client. Don’t wait for the customer to raise an issue to resolve their problem or meet their requirements.

To provide customers with a great CX, companies need to become intuitive, learn from previous or common issues, and should get a better understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations. For that, figures from previous interactions can be analyzed to provide improvements before customers ever encounter any issues. This will allow such companies to behave preemptively, rather than wait for problems to arise.


Interaction and ownership

Regardless if your customer interaction is face-to-face or online, the customer service teams are the people directly responsible for helping customers with whatever issues they’re facing. 

The customer experience, on the other hand, is often shared across the entire organization, from marketing and sales, to people and product teams. These teams typically don’t interact directly with customers, but their work obliquely impacts customers’ perception and loyalty nonetheless.


How to measure Customer Service vs. Customer Experience

Below are a few ways of analyzing how to measure your service quality and overall customer satisfaction:

  1. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

    NPS is the standard indicator used by companies worldwide. It is used to measure a customer's propensity to recommend a certain brand. The NPS score is also easily comparable to that of your direct competitors and the market leaders. Because NPS follows the journey from start to finish, it’s more adapted to measure the customer experience, being ideal to reflect the customer’s global feelings towards the brand at hand. 

  2. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

    The CSAT is a metric that analyzes the degree to which a customer is satisfied with a given company. Because the CSAT is measured after the interaction or product usage, it is more adopted to measuring the quality of a customer service. 


Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: which matters more?

By now it’s clear that, such as with cheese and wine pairing, CS and CX aren’t whole without the other. Both make up an essential part of your business’ success.

So, as a guest experience leader, if your business is in it for the long run, it’s time to look at the big picture and assess how to create a better customer experience. CX is so much more than just a trend. It should be the beating heart of everything your company does. By promoting and consistently delivering customer care throughout the entire buyer journey, you’ll be able to delight your customers.

Download our Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Key differences Infographic

SERVICE EXCELLENCE: A 7-step process to master your company Customer Experience.

1. Customer Behavior
2. Customer Culture
3. Service Design Roadmap
4. Customer-Focus Governance
5. Customer Service Goals
6. Employees Service Excellence Training
7. Service Performance & Continuously Improve