We’ve heard it all before.

The customer is king

Our greatest asset is our customers

Make a customer, not a sale

We’ve all been educated about the importance of great customer service to the point where everyone should be a customer service superstar. Instead, what we’ve created is a world where everyone knows how important it is to provide your customers with a great service, but not everyone knows how to do it – despite many companies claiming that it is their number one priority.

The primary focus of writing in this area seems to be front-line customer service encounters, perhaps because this is where all of the worst horror stories come from. Everyone can tell a story of the rude store assistant, or the long hold-times, or being bounced from department to department looking for an answer. You’d think we’d have it sorted by now.

The thing is, even if we get that right (and most businesses are a long way from perfect), by focusing on customer service we’re still stopping short of the ultimate customer experience.

“Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job”


So what’s the difference between customer service and customer experience?

We can define customer service as “the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase” (thanks Wikipedia). Typically, it will include all the interactions a customer has with a member of staff, whether face-to-face, over the phone, email or online chat. It might also include self-service customer support, such as FAQ’s or customer forums. It’s typically initiated by the customer, to solve a problem or complete a transaction.

Customer experience, on the other hand, is the sum total of every interaction, touchpoint or individual experience a customer has throughout their “relationship” with a business. From first hearing of the business, to their last interaction, every time a customer has absolutely anything to do with a company it comes under to the category of customer experience.

Great customer service doesn’t necessarily mean a great customer experience. Often customers will turn to customer support teams to fix an issue and find the service excellent – but they still had the issue to start with. Late deliveries, confusing instructions – the driver to speak to a customer service team is usually a flaw in the customer experience.

So from this perspective, customer service is just one part of customer experience. Depending on the nature of the business in question, other elements can include (but are certainly not limited to); store layout, contact frequency, availability of information, product range, delivery times, website usability, product performance, opening hours, contact methods, personalisation, payment options, hold times, music volume, lighting, staff attractiveness (if you’re Abercrombie & Fitch)… you get the idea.

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”

(Walt Disney)

That isn’t to say that customer service isn’t important. It’s the most talked about area of the customer experience for a reason – it’s essential. Bad customer service can quickly change our entire view of a company, and those of our friends, family and online followers. But great customer service is just one part of an amazing experience.

The main aim of customer experience management (CEM) is to give the customer what they want. Customer service is key to this (and is how we clean up the mess when things go wrong), but as we’ve mentioned there is so much more to consider. In particular, it’s important to be aware that not all of your customers are going to want the same thing.

The current age of technology means that it’s now possible to offer up a unique experience to each one of your customers. Big data and sophisticated analytics can give an in-depth view into your customers’ behaviour and preferences that allows businesses to generate an experience that delights your customer at every touchpoint.

“Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer”

(Macy’s motto)

Customer experience is about making everything as convenient as possible for every customer, so that their journey is as satisfying as possible. Where customer service is typically in response to a customer request, customer experience is about giving the customer what they need, when and how they want it – ideally, before they even ask.

Take your website as an example. Website displays can be altered to show the customer exactly what they need. From layout changes and optimised colour schemes, to personalised recommendations and custom voucher codes, CEM software can automate each action so that every customer gets the view they need.

Customer communications are another example. By taking into account customer behaviours and preferences, it’s possible to develop contact strategies that not only satisfy customer needs but are also markedly more effective.

Say you have a customer who only ever uses your app between 7-9pm on Mondays – you can choose to only communicate with them through push notifications sent at 8.30pm on Mondays when they haven’t logged on yet. Or perhaps they always open your emails on their phone, but they haven’t downloaded the app – chances are, the app might be more convenient for them, so you can let them know about it in your next email communication.

Delighted customers are the greatest form of marketing your business can have. A satisfied customer has just had their expectations met – a delighted customer has seen their experience go above and beyond what they could have imagined. Customer experience management is the key to unlocking delightful experiences for everyone.

Read more: Things Winnie the Pooh Taught Me About Customer Service