Customer Experience Vs. Customer Service – Proactive Vs. Reactive

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What Is a 360 Degree View of the Customer and What Should You Do with It?

Customer experience (CX) is becoming the number one business differentiator and driver of growth. It is the battleground upon which customers are won and lost. Research suggests that by 2020, CX will even overtake price and product as the main reason why consumers choose one company over another. In fact, 81% of customers are already willing to pay more for better experiences, and three-quarters switch to a brand competitor after just one single bad experience. Put simply, customer experience has never more crucial, and companies now find themselves in a race against time and each other to delight and wow customers at every touchpoint and retain a leading edge in this new competitive battlefield.

But what about customer service? Where does that fit into the CX journey? And what’s the difference between customer service and customer experience anyway?

The truth is that these terms are often confused and used interchangeably. Brands do so at their peril, however. While customer service is a part – and an important part – of customer experience, it is only one piece of the larger CX puzzle, and brands need to stop talking about customer service and customer experience as if they are one and the same thing.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the customer service vs. customer experience debate and see if we can clear it up once and for all.

What Is Customer Service?

Perhaps the best way to understand customer service is to think of it as customer assistance. It is the advice and support an organization gives its customers before, during and after buying or using its products or services. Companies invest in customer service personnel who are tasked with answering customer queries, questions and complaints as they come in. Customer service representatives require a particular set of skills – including clear communication skills, patience, attentiveness and in-depth product knowledge – so they can provide the answers, support and assistance that customers need.

Though there are occasions where representatives will aid a customer in choosing the right product or service, usually, customer service comes in after a purchase has been made. They will provide advice on how best to use the product, walk the customer through any key features, help them understand any accompanying literature, troubleshoot any issues, and handle any complaints.

In all of these senses, customer service is reactive – it only comes into play when a customer contacts the company with a question or complaint that needs addressing. And this is perhaps one of the key differences between customer service and customer experience – because CX is wholeheartedly a proactive endeavor.


What Is Customer Experience?

Customer experience goes far beyond simply delivering good customer service – though good service is certainly a part of it. Customer experience is much broader in scope, covering every single interaction between a customer and the organization across the whole customer journey.

Everything a company does – from customer service to product quality, marketing messages, the sales process, technology, the post-sales follow-up, websites, applications, social media posts, employees, packaging, and everything in between – falls under the CX umbrella.

As such, customer experience is holistic in its approach, and companies can proactively make moves, investments and form strategies to improve the customer experience and optimize the customer journey before a customer contacts customer service to ask a question.

CX is measured by how customers feel about a company in its entirety, and includes all the emotional, psychological and physical connections customers have with a brand.

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Why Companies Need to Become Experience-Driven

Though customer experience has always existed, it is only relatively recently that companies have started to form strategies to manage it and compete on the basis of it. In this sense, it is still an emerging and maturing field – though one that has gained a lot of attention in recent times. Gartner’s 2017 Customer Experience Survey, for instance, found that more than two-thirds of marketers were competing primarily on the basis of CX, and 81% said they expected to be competing on it by 2020.

More recently, Acquia’s Closing the CX Gap: Customer Experience Trends Report 2019 found that 87% of marketers say that they are delivering engaging customer experiences. However, there seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between what brands think they’re doing in terms of CX and what customers actually perceive. Indeed, the same report found that despite the confidence of marketers, nearly half of consumers say that brands don’t meet their expectations, and two-thirds cannot recall when a brand exceeded them.

Further research – this time from Forrester’s Customer Experience Index 2019 – also finds that there’s widespread CX stagnation across organizations. The Forrester research defines an experience-led business as one that is invested in CX across people, processes and technology. Applying that standard, the research found that only 31% of businesses are truly experience-led, even though many more believe that they actually are – a huge gap between commitment and actual achievement.

Rick Parrish, Principal Analyst at Forrester, makes the following observations from the report:

  • Some scores at the brand level inched upward. Although 14% of brand scores rose, 5% of scores declined and a whopping 81% stagnated. Of the brands that posted statistically significant score changes, the size of the gains and losses were about the same – a modest 3 points.
  • The number of good scores rose slightly; the number of OK and very poor scores fell.The percentage of scores in the good category increased from 15% to 17%. The percentage of OK scores declined from 66% to 65%, just as the number of very poor scores fell from 3% to 2%.

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Drawing On Customer Service Data and Knowledge to Improve CX

Making the switch from being a customer service-led business to an experience-led one requires taking a big step back and viewing the customer journey as a whole. While customer service is limited to the interactions a customer has when seeking advice, guidance or assistance on a product or service, customer experience must take in the whole customer lifecycle.

It begins with marketing teams creating awareness and interest about the brand and service/product. It then moves through to all interactions the customer has with the organization – across all conceivable touchpoints – pre-purchase, during purchase, and post-purchase. Naturally, customer service forms an important part of CX along the journey – and so it is not necessary to draw hard lines between the two. In fact, organizations that are currently redesigning their CX strategies can learn a lot from paying close attention to what customer service professionals have to say.

As McKinsey pointed out in a blog post last year: “Designing excellent customer journeys –an orchestrated sequence of touchpoints that customers traverse to address common requests and issues, often in a mix of live and digital channels – is critical to a customer-experience transformation. This process of mapping customer journeys is the only way to truly get a comprehensive view of the entire gamut of touchpoints and how they fit together. Customer service, which typically includes the call center as well as online and self-service channels, has an integral role to play. As the natural owner of a large part of the customer journey, customer service can provide invaluable insight by helping to define journeys, identify pain points, and spur collaboration across functions. Such actions can produce additional benefits: an end-to-end redesign of the customer journey can not only transform the customer experience but also reduce operating costs in customer care.”

Of course, retooling for customer experience also requires investments in technology. And one important technology currently leading the way in helping companies switch their emphasis from reactive customer service to managing customer experience in a proactive way is artificial intelligence (AI).

Becoming proactive means utilizing – mining and analyzing – vast quantities of customer data. Only by setting to work on data can companies extract the insights needed to develop a deep understanding of their individual customers – including understanding their goals, questions, complaints, and emotional states at various points of the customer journey, as well as their needs and wants throughout the stages of the customer lifecycle. AI and natural language processing (NLP) can help companies better understand not only what customers are thinking but why they’re thinking it, and thereby use the insights gathered to enhance the whole customer experience – not just the customer service aspect of it.

We’ve covered the role of AI in customer experience in greater detail in our previous post – ‘What Is Customer Experience, and Why Is Good CX So Important for Good Business?’ – so please refer there to learn more about the possibilities of AI and how today’s companies are already using the technology.

AI can also be deployed at the customer service level specifically – particularly through facilitating immediate responses via AI-powered chatbots, as well as through augmented messaging, enhanced customer service phone calls, and by providing real-time customer insights. Again, we’ve covered ‘How AI Can Supercharge Customer Service’ in great depth in a previous post (we’re pretty thorough here at IT Chronicles, dontcha know) – so be sure to check it out.

Final Thoughts

Offering customers the best CX means improving delivery on every front. Customers think about the complete picture when choosing the brands they do business with – and that means you need to, too. Start mapping out the whole customer journey, and begin investigating the tools and technology you’ll need to make the most of your data so you can improve the CX at every touchpoint – and don’t let 2019 pass by as another year of stagnation.

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Terry Brown

Terry is an experienced product management and marketing professional having worked for technology based companies for over 30 years, in different industries including; Telecoms, IT Service Management (ITSM), Managed Service Providers (MSP), Enterprise Security, Business Intelligence (BI) and Healthcare. He has extensive experience defining and driving marketing strategy to align and support the sales process. He is also a fan of craft beer and Lotus cars.

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