Customer Service Vs. Customer Experience: Learn How to Describe Both (Like a Pro)

Michel Falcon working

I want every business professional to learn the difference between customer service vs. customer experience. By knowing this, it will help your business (regardless of industry).

When setting out to open multiple restaurants and bars in downtown Toronto, one of the first things I needed to clarify to my business partners (and eventually our management and employees) was the difference between customer experience and customer service. 

That was four years ago.

But, even today, when I’m invited to attend an event as a customer experience and customer service keynote speaker, I still find that companies are trying to create awareness and alignment within their organizations about these two topics.

In this blog post, I’m going to share the difference and how differentiating the two can be extraordinarily valuable for your business.

Customer Service

How I define customer service to our team, anyone that I keynote speak for or someone who purchases my online course is quite simple,

Customer service are actions. (customer service is an action)

Let’s take two very relatable experiences.

FedEx

When you courier a package using FedEx the person helping process your package from delivery point A to point B is delivering customer service to you.

Whole Foods

“Where can I find blueberries?” The employee walking you over to the produce section of the store and possibly asking you how your day is going is delivering customer service to you.

Often, customer service is micro-interaction within the customer journey that we neglect to continuously refine. 

My rule of thumbnail for businesses of all sizes and industries is to constantly inspect what you expect to ensure that your customer service levels and reputation don’t become stagnant or a thing of the past.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself honestly:

  • When was the last time I trained my employees (or myself) on customer service techniques? Is it habitual or often a one-time event? There are many ways to provide weekly micro learnings to your team.
  • Do I find myself asking, “I don’t have the budget for customer service training?” Yes, you do! You’re choosing to spend it somewhere else.
  • What is going to happen to my business and brand if I’m known for delivering average customer service? Will my competitors get my business? Will I have a poor brand? The answer is yes to both!

Customer Experience

I describe customer experience as,

“A collection of interactions your customer has with your brand from beginning to end.”

Do you see the difference between customer service vs. customer experience?

These interactions can be all-encompassing and include digital and analog components involving your employees or even robots. The way you market on Instagram or Pinterest also has a role in your customer experience. Your sales team has a role in the customer experience by way of how they manage the customer from the beginning, during and after the sale.

Let’s use an example we may all be able to relate to.

SweetGreen is a fast-growing, venture-backed, billion-dollar company in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry. They sell salads and grain-based bowls.

Their customer experience is inclusive of many things.

Digital

SweetGreen has a mobile app that is powering 50% of all orders (this is astronomically high!) and has been downloaded over a million times. By having this as a strong part of their customer experience, SweetGreen is able to have a direct connection with their customers to understand their behaviours and purchasing patterns.

Similar to other apps, it enables customers to order directly through their mobile phones and pick up their meal without the requirement of waiting in-line which positively impacts the customer experience.

I’m not suggesting that every business needs an app, in fact, the far majority don’t, but your digital presence needs to be evaluated. Whether it’s an app, your social media or desktop website, our digital presence must provide a seamless customer experience. By doing so, you can expect to increase digitally-driven sales.

It’s helpful to ask a family member or friend to evaluate your digital customer experience to see if you’re on the right track.

Analog

These interactions are inclusive of any off-line customer experiences. Often, they involve your frontline employees but aren’t exclusive of employees in your finance or marketing teams. After all, your finance team likely manages relationships with investors, suppliers and more. They must be just as customer-centric as your cashier or receptionist.

Long before my book, People-First Culture: Build a Lasting Business By Shifting Your Focus From Profits to People, was released I’ve been advocating that we can’t deliver the exact same experiences to every single customer.

What makes one customer tick, might tick off the next. Knowing this, I’ve been sharing my three customer personality type methodology with my companies and when I’m keynote speaking or hosting workshops.

Building customer-centric training material for your employees so that they can create customer loyalty-worthy offline experiences is imperative. Yes, I do agree that customer experience is slanted toward digital experiences (7-11 testing out cashierless stores similar to AmazonGo comes to mind) but I don’t believe the employee and human connection is going to be removed for a very long time or entirely removed at all.

How friendly, knowledgeable and helpful are your employees today? Be honest. Could they be trained more frequently?

In-store Design:

Until I entered the hospitality industry I wasn’t intimately aware of how much impact in-store design had on the customer experience. Of course, I knew that Apple’s retail customer experience had a great impact on their business but I needed to see it for myself. 

Today, at our flagship restaurant, Baro, the number #2 reason why we have promoters and an Actual Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 80 is because of our ambiance and design.

SweetGreen is no different. When you enter their stores you can feel the design of the store having a positive impact on their customer experience. 

In-store design is one thing but what about maintenance? Are those tables wobbly? Are the bathrooms clean? Does the front door shut properly so that guests aren’t cold on chilly days?

Pay attention to the intricate details of your in-store (or in-office) customer experience.

Product:

Delivering a great customer experience can’t  replace having a great product or service. For SweetGreen, it’s their salads and bowls. For a real estate agent, it would be the timeliness of your communication with the seller or buyer and more.

SweetGreen must compete with their product and customer experience, just like you must too. Imagine SweetGreen having great salads and bowls but rude employees. They might compete for a while but eventually, someone will copy their products and beat them on customer experience. Similarly, you can’t have a great customer experience and a bad product. You must compete in both regards.

Great and legendary brands, like Nike, have a strict focus on their product. Yes, there are times when their products fail, like when Zion Williamson literally fell out of his shoes and injured himself. But, for the most part, companies like Nike stand proud behind their products. 

If you’re a company with a product or service that a customer that has a genuine complaint toward your business, it’s not worth becoming defensive as it will hurt your product, brand and customer experience. Instead, have an operating budget to ensure reimbursement or future discounts are accounted for. This simple tactic will save your product’s reputation.

Marketing and Brand:

Does your marketing educate your customers or does it simply showcase what you have to sell?

This is actually where I think SweetGreen does a poor job. Yes, their Instagram shows their audience pretty pictures, shares their relationship with famed chef, David Chang and showcases their latest bowls, but it doesn’t make me a more informed customer.

My friend, Clay Hebert, refers to this as “look at me vs. learn from me” content.

I’d be more inclined to engage with SweetGreen’s content if they taught me ways to be a better home chef. Imagine if they took their audience on a step by step guide on how to make the perfect trout (an item on their menu) in the ovens of our homes? 

Before you think,

“Well, Michel. Wouldn’t SweetGreen want their customers to eat in their stores, not their homes?” Don’t be so cynical. A true home chef wouldn’t need these step by step instructions in the first place. But, the far majority of people might try it once or twice then revert back to ordering from where they learned the recipes.

Creating customer-centric content for your marketing and branding strategies are imperative if you want to have a comprehensive customer experience strategy.

Think of the ways your products or service can make your current and prospective audiences smarter in your industry. Trust me, even the most “boring” of industries can give their audience the gift of education. This will make your customer experience stronger and earn customer loyalty.

What Does This Mean For You and Your Business?

Customer experience can impact all five senses. It’s what see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Hotels are a great example of this which is why many industries turn to hospitality to learn new customer experience strategies.

Beyond that, it’s what they feel. Do your customers feel like it’s easy to do business with you? Do your customers feel like you care about the details? Do your customers feel like you care about their patronage?

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, may be your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company.


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