Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: What’s the Difference?

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Customer experience and customer service are related but distinct fields. Learn about their similarities and differences to improve both at your business.

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Imagine you’re browsing through online reviews of a restaurant. Chances are that many, if not most, of the reviews will focus on good or bad service. People love to share customer service victories and horror stories, so it’s no surprise that customer service is often conflated with the customer experience.

But customer service and customer experience are not the same thing, though they are related.

In this article, we’ll explain what CX and customer service are, what they share, and how they differ. Use this information to take a closer look at how they are structured within your business and whether you have the tools in place to excel at both.

What is customer service?

Customer service and support (CSS) departments are “responsible for retaining and extending customer relationships once a product or service is sold,” according to Gartner.

Most often, customer service employees help guide customers through an issue resolution process, fielding and helping solve customer questions or problems. Yet service agents can also help give advice or assistance to customers who need help before or during purchase.

While customer service used to be limited to a help desk or call center, the increased complexity of customer interactions has resulted in a proliferation of service channels. These include traditional call centers and email, as well as live chat, chatbots, SMS messaging, shared screen, video calls, and social media.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience (CX) is “the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels, or products,” according to Gartner.

Any time your customer interacts with your company in any way, they’re having a customer experience. This includes customer service interactions, as well as interactions with the product or service, sales staff, marketing materials, your store or website, and your social media accounts. Taken together, these experiences shape how your customer sees your company.

Customer experience management (CEM) is “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed their expectations, leading to greater customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy,” according to Gartner.

Because any part of an organization can impact the customer experience, CEM will cross into (or require collaboration with) many related departments, especially marketing, customer service, IT, design, and sales.

Where customer experience and customer service sit within a business

One major difference between the two is how customer experience and customer service are structured within organizations. In a recent Gartner survey of CX management professionals, 58% say they sit within the marketing department in their organization. In contrast, customer service is generally its own department.

Just because most CX leaders work within marketing, that doesn’t mean all businesses should structure their CX teams this way. Another 42% work in other types of business units, including 13% in information technology and 6% in customer service. Just 4% worked in stand-alone CX departments. Where CX sits will vary by the needs and focus of each business.

Most Customer Experience Leaders Sit Within Marketing Department

How are customer service and CX different?

  • All customer service interactions are customer experiences, but not all customer experiences are service-related. Any interaction with a company is a type of CX. So customer service has a narrower focus on issue resolution, while CX is much broader and encompasses any type of company interaction.
  • Customer service is reactive, while CX is proactive. Customer service relies on customers bringing issues to the company and only involves those with issues, questions, or complaints. Customer experience, on the other hand, involves all customers. With effective CEM, companies proactively work to improve experiences before problems arise.

How are customer service and CX similar?

  • Both share a deep focus on their customers’ wants and needs. Both are built on solving issues for the customer and ultimately, making the customer experience better. Because of this, both have a large impact on building customer loyalty and satisfaction.
  • Customer service and CX affect each other. CEM strategy should inform the organization’s approach to customer service, and customer service has a big impact on CX. Gartner research shows that service experiences plays a role in about one quarter of all customer attrition, and price only outweighs bad service interactions 30% of the time.

Software solutions for customer service and customer experience

Depending on your organization’s needs and structure, CX software or customer service software may be most appropriate. Those with standalone CX or service departments will likely want a narrow, focused solution with features tailored to their area of expertise. CX professionals within a broader department, such as marketing or customer service, may want a CX suite that will have capabilities for multiple uses. See below for a breakdown of the software types.

  • Customer service software: Because of the proliferation in service channels, there are now many kinds of customer service software, including channel-specific options such as live chat, help desk, call center, and chatbot tools. What these software solutions generally have in common are case/ticketing management capabilities and ways for the customer and service agents to interact.
  • Customer experience software: CX tools focus on tracking customer sentiment and satisfaction at various points throughout the customer journey. This could include survey management capabilities, multi-channel monitoring and communications, or text analytics. Closely related to customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, these solutions can have ticketing or closed loop customer service functionality as well.
Visit Capterra’s customer experience and customer service directories to learn more about these software options.


Methodology

Gartner’s 2019 Customer Experience Management Survey: The primary research was conducted online from May 2019 through June 2019 among 401 respondents in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. from different industries. Respondents were required to be a leader or a member of the team responsible of CX and with involvement in customer experience programs and initiatives. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents came from organizations with $1 billion or more in annual revenue. The respondents came from a variety of industries: financial services (56), high tech (56), manufacturing (51), consumer products (44), media (51), retail (58), healthcare providers (48), and travel and hospitality (37).

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About the Author

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik is a senior specialist analyst covering customer experience for Capterra. She holds B.A.'s in English and Communications from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Journalism Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Follow her at @kebialik for insight on CX for small and midsize businesses.

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