February 16, 2024 By Keith O'Brien 5 min read

In many organizations, but not all, customer service is treated as part of the customer experience. Both are interested in driving customer satisfaction, but they focus on different parts of the customer journey to achieve it. So what are the key differences in customer service vs. customer experience? And why do both matter for your business?

Customer experience, or CX, is a holistic accounting of customers’ perceptions resulting from all their interactions with a business or brand, whether online or in-store. Customer experience involves customer experience management (CXM), which refers to strategies, technologies and practices for improving business results by creating an ideal experience for anyone interacting with a company. The overall customer experience focuses on meeting customer expectations and influencing the customer’s overall perception of products and solutions wherever they take place on the customer journey.

Alternatively, customer service refers to the actions that an organization takes to ensure that customers are satisfied with their products post-purchase. Customer service, which can also be called customer support or customer care, is much more customer-facing than many parts of customer experience. Providing great customer service involves making important decisions about pricing, branding, positioning, and use cases.

Customer-centric organizations should aim to excel at both customer experience and customer service. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to explore more deeply where the two are similar and where they differ.

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Customer service vs. customer experience across the customer journey

The simplest key difference between CX and customer service is that CX is concerned with meeting customer needs during the entire customer journey. Customer service is focused on post-purchase. As such, CS is considered a subset of CX.

CX teams are concerned with both short-term tactics and long-term strategy. They are thinking about the holistic picture of the entire customer journey from awareness to consideration to purchase and post-purchase.

Customer journey mapping involves defining the touchpoints throughout the lifecycle of engagements with prospects and customers. A customer journey involves many touchpoints over the entire lifecycle of customer engagement. The assumptions behind customer journey mapping are that prospects or customers are being purposeful at each touchpoint—trying to solve a problem, answer a question, compare options, or cross something off a to-do list.

One way to think about the intersection of customer experience and customer service is to map out the marketing funnel. Doing so demonstrates how CX oversees the entire process, whereas customer service is activated for specific functions.

  • Awareness: This starts with the customer learning about the organization and its solutions, and potentially exploring competitors’ solutions. They might sign up for email messages or follow the organizations on social media.
  • Consideration: After they understand the value propositions, they may ask questions or do further research.
  • Purchase: When a customer is ready to make a purchase, customer service activates. The function helps customers with any questions when they are finalizing purchases and can facilitate the purchase if a customer cannot buy online or in-store.
  • Loyalty: The moments immediately after a purchase are incredibly important for generating customer loyalty. The customer service function helps ensure that customers know how to use the product they purchased. CS is also available to answer further questions or solve problems afterward. Companies often create customer success teams, which can be a part of customer service or the sales team, to provide tutorials and best practices on maximizing the use of a product. The goal is to help those customers use the product as quickly, simply and satisfactorily as possible.
  • Advocacy: Creating loyal customers unlocks the possibility that some of them tell people in their network about an organization’s products or even potentially laud the value of the customer experience it provides. Creating customer advocates helps the customer experience function perform better. That is because new prospects come into the funnel already ‘warmed’ by the positive sentiment from previous customers.

CX and CS tools

Both customer experience and customer service disciplines rely on valuable tools to maximize their value.

Key customer experience tools:

CX teams use tools that help them see and take strategic actions across the entire customer journey.

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) tools enable organizations to collect, track, and analyze data resulting from customer interactions across channels.
  • A/B test software, which can provide different messaging to website visitors to identify which resonates the most. CX teams, working directly with UX teams, can use software to create variations of a message and track which one leads to the most purchases or time that is spent on the site.
  • Dynamic recommendations for other products or accessories based on previous product purchases.

Key customer service tools:

While customer service teams will likely use the previously mentioned tools, some others are much more aligned with CS team roles and responsibilities.

  • Web-based knowledge bases where users can find articles, FAQs and videos to walk them through how to solve issues and use their products or services correctly.
  • A webpage that provides customers with multiple ways to reach the organization to talk to customer support representatives.
  • Proactive email or text messages to customers who inquire how the product is performing and provide instructions and tips on how to use it.

CX and CS metrics are different

Both customer experience and customer service involve measurement of their activities to ensure that they are successful in meeting customer needs. Many revolve around capturing customer feedback and measuring real-time responses. And while some common KPIs relate to both disciplines, others are more closely aligned with one than another.

Key customer experience metrics:

  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): CSAT is the percentage of respondents who claim to be satisfied (4) or very satisfied (5) in surveys that are offered after a touchpoint experience.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): NPS gauges how likely a person is to recommend a company or its products to others. People are asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they would recommend it to others. Scores 6 or less are subtracted from the number of 9s and 10s to create a percentage. It is best considered a customer experience metric because it can occur during any part of the customer journey.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES): After a touch, the customer is asked how easy or difficult it was to accomplish their goal, rating the difficulty from 1 (easy) to 5 or 7 (difficult).
  • Customer retention rate: Maintaining high customer retention rates demonstrates a successful customer experience function and enhances the bottom line by increasing customer lifetime value. Increasing customer loyalty and limiting churn means that customers are either satisfied with the product or solution or have yet to find a good replacement.

Key customer service metrics:

  • First Response Time (FRT): How long it takes for customer support teams to respond to a customer problem or request. It is a sign of good customer service for an organization to be able to respond immediately to a customer issue, whether on social media, email, chat room, or phone call.
  • Average Resolution Time (ART): This involves how long it takes from the beginning of a customer service interaction until the issue is resolved.
  • Issue resolution rate: This relates to how many customer service issues are successfully addressed and resolved. While a customer service team cannot expect to resolve every issue, failure to solve almost all issues is a sign of an issue.

CS and CX together ensure that organizations are caring for customers

Today’s consumers are more discerning and have more options than ever. To delight your customers and remain competitive, you should personalize every touchpoint across the entire customer experience (CX). True personalization at scale involves all aspects of your business, from marketing and messaging to supply chain, sales, and service.

IBM puts customer experience strategy at the center of your business. Our deep expertise in customer journey mapping and design, platform implementation, and data and AI consulting can help you harness best-in-class technologies to drive transformation across the customer experience.

Get the report: “The 5 pillars of personalization” Explore customer experience consulting services
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