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Customer service and customer experience are two terms that most people say they know what they mean. Yet, they’re two terms that often get used interchangeably when they’re actually different things. But they’re related and you can’t excel in one without excelling in the other.

What is customer service?

Perhaps the better well-known of the duo, customer service is also more straightforward to explain. It’s how you support your customers when they experience an issue or have a question about your services, products or brand.

The better this level of support, the better your customer service. That might include:

  • Speed of service (how quickly you respond and solve the issue)
  • Level of product/service knowledge
  • How patient you are
  • How accommodating you are to the customer’s needs

Customer service revolves around your customer-facing teams, such as your salespeople, customer service representatives and employees in physical stores. Although more companies are using AI and chatbots to supplement their customer service, human-to-human contact is still important for great service.

What is customer experience?

The customer experience (CX) is about the customer journey. While customer service is about the quality of the interaction(s) between the customer and your team, CX refers to the journey someone takes with your business.

Here’s an example of a customer journey:

  1. Let’s say your company manufactures office furniture. A customer might Google ‘office furniture trends in 2021’ and come across one of your blog posts on the top 10 pieces of office décor for 2021
  2. They click on the post and read it. A few of the recommended pieces catch their eye but the potential customer isn’t ready to make a purchase yet. They want to know more about your company
  3. So, they head over to your case studies and read a few client testimonials and stories
  4. The potential customer wants to know more so they decide to reach out to your company via the live chat function
  5. After discussing the customer’s inquiry, the agent schedules a demo to show the potential customer a little more about the company’s services
  6. The customer is very happy with the demo and requests a pricing quote

You get the picture! In this example, the customer has multiple touchpoints with the company. Not all of them are human-to-human interactions or require input from a customer-facing department (though it would end with that). Although the quality of service is very important, you must also ensure each touchpoint of the journey is linked to each other to cater to different customer needs and outcomes.

After all, different customers will think, want and do different things. So, you must offer them a variety of steps (touchpoints) to choose from.

3 key differences between customer service and experience

1. Reactive vs proactive

Customer service is reactive while CX is proactive. Why? Because customer service is almost always initiated by the customer e.g. if they have a question about your products, they’ll reach out to you and you respond.

CX, however, is about anticipating customer needs and actions. Know what your customers need/want and how they act - this is key to providing a great CX. More on this in our next chapter.

2. Isolated vs ongoing

Leading on from the above, customer service usually revolves around a specific event e.g. a customer request, query or complaint. While it may contribute to the overall customer experience, this event is usually isolated and you can measure it using a variety of metrics, such as first-time fix rate, response time and customer satisfaction (via a survey).

Customer experience, on the other hand, isn’t so easily quantified because it’s not about a single interaction/event. Various things may cause customers to continuously return to your company and as long as they keep doing that, their CX continues.

3. A customer interaction vs the customer journey

And finally, arguably the biggest difference between customer service and CX is the number of touchpoints involved. Customer service is one touchpoint while CX encompasses a range of touchpoints that may or may not involve sales or customer service reps.

To summarise, customer service is just one step in the overall customer experience jigsaw puzzle. Offer great customer service and you’re on your way to creating an excellent customer experience. And an excellent customer experience often also includes great customer service.

Want to find out more about customer service and experience?

Now that you understand the differences between the two terms, perhaps you’re wondering how you can improve your customer service and experience. We have a guide that may interest you, then.

Click the button below to learn more about how to improve your customer service and create a customer experience strategy.

The ultimate guide to customer service and customer experience_Columbus UK Blog


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