Customer service vs. Customer Experience: Key Differences

Ishita Nigam

Jayadeep Subhashis

December 20, 20238 min read

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How often have you heard people commend a brand for its exceptional customer service?  

Quite frequently, right? 

Now, let's shift the focus a bit. How frequently do people express loyalty to a brand because of the quality of their overall customer experience? 

This question might leave some scratching their heads, as it's often assumed that these terms are interchangeable. 

But here's the catch — they're not the same.  

While customer service and customer experience are often used interchangeably, in reality, they carry distinct meanings. In fact, it’s essential for businesses to know the difference between the two as both represent two distinct but interconnected aspects of interacting with customers.  

In this blog, we will delve into the precise definitions of each, elucidate their key differences and relationships and wrap up with actionable strategies for enhancing both customer loyalty and competitive advantage.   

Table of Contents

What is customer service?   

Customer service is the support you provide customers over voice, chat, SMS, email and social channels. Typically, the customer service department undertakes four activities, which are  

  • Answering customer queries regarding product and service offerings  

  • Assisting customers encountering payment obstacles or technical glitches during product or service usage  

  • Guiding customers on how to make the most of their purchase  

  • Anticipating customer issues and engaging proactively to ensure customer satisfaction 

Hence, it plays a pivotal role in the customer journey, from pre-purchase to post-purchase, significantly influencing customer satisfaction (CSAT) and customer retention.  

It can be rendered via: 

  • In-person interaction 

  • Email 

  • Phone 

  • Live chat 

  • SMS 

  • Social media 

  • Review sites 

  • Public forums (like Reddit and Quora) 

Example: Imagine being apprehensive about a window seat due to a fear of flying. Upon requesting an aisle seat, the airline promptly reassigns you, accompanied by a complimentary in-flight booklet offering tips on how to ease travel anxiety. This stands as an excellent illustration of commendable customer service.  

In essence, customer service constitutes the efforts companies make to cater to a customer's individual needs.  

It's imperative to recognize that customer service extends throughout the entire customer lifecycle. It commences with the initial interaction and persists each time the client returns with inquiries or for additional purchases. While your aim is to serve them effectively, their journey may conclude prematurely if the service falls short.  

The 3 pillars of customer service   

  1. Proactive support: It involves anticipating customer needs and addressing potential issues before they arise. This can include reaching out with relevant information, updates or solutions, ultimately enhancing the customer experience by preventing problems before they occur. 

  2. Customer self-service: It empowers clients to find answers and solutions on their own. It includes resources like knowledge bases, FAQs, tutorials and online forums. This pillar allows customers to resolve issues independently, providing a convenient and efficient support option. 

  3. Agent-led support: Agent-led support involves direct interaction between a customer and your company representative. This can happen through various channels such as phone calls, live chat or email. It's a critical pillar for handling complex or personalized inquiries, offering a human touch and expertise in resolving customer issues.  

Must read: B2B customer service: A comprehensive guide   

5 components of good customer service  

Research indicates that up to 68% of customers say they’ve switched service providers because of poor customer service. Notably, providing outstanding customer service doesn't necessarily require exorbitant costs. Here's what constitutes good customer service: 

1. Personalized approach: Customers anticipate that your agents have knowledge of their purchase history and contact details in every interaction. Implementing personalized customer service not only makes customers feel valued but also fosters a sense of belongingness to your brand. 

But there’s a catch.  

Gleaning customer insights from conversations is not a cakewalk, with communication channels expanding rapidly. That's where AI in customer service can be a game-changer for businesses.   

AI-led customer support software can process terabytes of customer data inflow from siloed channels, deciphering customer needs in real time. Using these insights, your teams can personalize content, channels and recommendations to meet and exceed customer expectations every time.  

Good to know:  Speaking of AI-powered tools, Sprinklr’s agent assist software capability can provide real-time recommendations and suggest the next-best actions to your agents during live calls. This empowers agents to engage in more personalized conversations, leading to significant reductions in call handling times and a substantial increase in customer satisfaction levels.

Agent assist software from Sprinklr Service

2. Empathy: It's vital for customer-facing representatives to realize that customers usually seek assistance when they face challenges or have unanswered questions. By comprehending the customers' needs, objectives and difficulties, agents can approach interactions with empathy, delivering pertinent support. 

 Learn more: How to show empathy in customer service 

3. Prompt and timely responses: In times of crisis, a timely response can often tip the scales in your favor. Ensure your agents are well-informed about the context and developments surrounding any challenging situation and offer swift support. Proactively communicating with customers portrays your brand as customer-centric, fostering loyalty even in unforeseen circumstances.

 Editor’s pick: How to manage crisis communication in 2023 (+ checklist) 

4. Product knowledge: Effective resolution of queries hinges on your agents' thorough understanding of the product. Provide personalized onboarding, conduct regular training sessions and offer on-the-job coaching, especially if your products or services are highly technical. The clearer your agents are about your offerings, the higher the quality of communication and service.

Coach like a pro: 10 customer service coaching tips to supercharge your support teams 

5. Professional behavior: Your staff should exude courtesy and employ professional language when interacting with customers. Moreover, they must remain composed, patient and solution-oriented when dealing with dissatisfied customers. Remember that how you handle your customers in the worst situations typically reflects how efficient and empathetic your customer service is. 

Read more: The 3 most important qualities of customer service 

While it might seem more straightforward if a customer's purchasing decisions were solely based on service quality, reality tells a different story. Brands often struggle to succeed even when they provide swift solutions to customer inquiries. This is because multiple factors influence a customer's perception of a brand, with the overall customer experience playing a substantial role.   

What is customer experience (CX)?  

Customer experience encapsulates your customer's overall perception of your brand. It encompasses every interaction your customer has with your brand, ranging from product or service quality, pricing and customer service to brand aesthetics, website usability, customer engagement and response times. 

Example: Returning to the scenario discussed in the previous section about customer service, you chose to book a ticket with the airline due to: 

  • Easy discoverability on the web 

  • Swift navigation through the booking portal 

  • Effortless seat selection and checkout process 

  • Availability of your preferred mode of payment 

  • Immediate booking confirmation via SMS and email 

  • A notification for a seamless web check-in from the airline 48 hours before departure 

  • Smooth luggage and security check-in with personalized assistance  

These touchpoints collectively contributed to a positive customer experience, ultimately influencing your preference for this particular airline over others.  

Interesting read: CX is a love story by digital transformation maestro Howard Tiersky  

5 steps to improving your customer experience   

In today's competitive landscape, it is the cumulative experience a customer has with your brand across multiple touchpoints that truly distinguishes your brand and helps in building customer loyalty. With this in mind, here are five practical tips for enhancing customer experience.     

1. Map the customer journey: Customer journey mapping is instrumental in identifying and rectifying potential customer experience gaps. Incorporate an open-text feedback option in your customer surveys and use the voice of customer programs to understand their challenges and needs better. 

2. Personalize content and approach: A personalized approach creates a deeper, more meaningful connection between the customer and your business. As a result, you gain deep consumer insights from what consumers are buying to why they’re making buying decisions and how they’re feeling about your brand or product. This leads to prompt assistance, longer-lasting relationships and reduced customer churn rates. 

3. Empower your employees: Employee satisfaction drives customer satisfaction. It's imperative to value your employees’ ideas and provide them with a platform to express their concerns. Understand what motivates them, identify any obstacles hindering their performance and work on addressing those pain points. 

💡Pro tip: Go one step ahead and establish employee advocacy in your organization. It yields manifold benefits – fosters employee loyalty, builds a positive brand perception and uplifts the overall morale of your workforce. Go ahead and get started with a robust employee advocacy platform. Happy employees eventually lead to happier customers. 

4. Embrace a digital-first approach: Prioritize digital customer experience, as customers typically seek you out on the web before making a physical visit or an online purchase. Start by discerning which digital platforms your customers prefer and ensure your brand is active on those channels. Deploy AI-driven tools like chatbots and live chat support on your website and app and augment your social media presence to create a comprehensive digital customer experience. 

5. Go omnichannel: By offering omnichannel customer service, you can enable customers to transition smoothly between different channels without losing context. For example, a customer can start an inquiry on your company's website, continue the conversation through your mobile app and then complete the transaction in your physical store.  

An omnichannel approach also helps you gather and utilize data from various touchpoints. This data helps in understanding customer preferences, behavior and history. With this information, you can personalize interactions, offer tailored recommendations and address specific needs effectively.  

Good to know: Today, omnichannel routing tools enable you to assign customers to the best-suited agents based on skills, capacity and historical utilization. Not only that, but also you can detect customers’ intent and sentiment in voice and digital conversations to understand their underlying issues and expectations. 

Omnichannel solution powered by Sprinklr Service

Learn More: Omnichannel customer engagement: How to manage effectively  

Customer service vs. customer experience: 10 Differences 

Customer service constitutes a singular facet within the customer experience. Support, along with product, communications, sales and marketing, collectively constitute customer experience.  In addition, there are a few notable distinctions, too. Here is a tabular comparison between the two. 

 Criteria 

Customer Service 

Customer Experience 

Definition 

Addresses specific instructions and inquiries 

Encompasses the entire customer journey 

Focus 

Transactional 

Holistic and comprehensive 

Timing 

Typically, reactive 

Can be both reactive and proactive 

Aim 

Resolve issues and provide solutions 

Create emotional connections and build loyalty 

Interaction types 

Direct interactions (phone, chat, email) 

All channels and touchpoints (social media, in-person, online) 

Personalization 

Focus on issue resolution and efficiency 

Tailoring interactions and offerings to individual preferences and needs 

Resource allocation 

Typically, a dedicated support team 

Company-wide effort 

Feedback mechanism 

Feedback surveys, post-interaction surveys 

Ongoing feedback collection from various touchpoints 

Feedback loop 

Addresses specific concerns 

Provides insights for the overall experience 

Employee role & training 

Specialized training in issue resolution 

Comprehensive training in understanding and meeting customer needs 

Which is more important — customer service or customer experience?   

While customer service is essential for resolving customer problems and providing support, it is only one part of the overall CX. A good CX is seamless and positive for the customer at every touchpoint.

However, delivering good CX is not a cakewalk.    

In today's dynamic business landscape, enterprises grapple with a surge in customer service queries spanning traditional and modern communication avenues. As customer expectations continue to escalate and digital channels proliferate, organizations have increasingly turned to established point solutions to manage governance and compliance. Paradoxically, this reliance has resulted in fragmented customer experiences, data silos and high costs.    

Here is precisely where Sprinklr's Unified Customer Experience Management (Unified-CXM) comes to your rescue.    

Unified-CXM's AI-powered single platform strategy enables your customer-facing teams to have a single, unified view of customer data to collaborate and take action in sync. Here's how you can thrive with Sprinklr AI    

  • Predict 10B+ interactions every day  

  • 100M+ training data points covering 60+ industry verticals and sub-verticals keep you aware of conversation trends, patterns and customer behavior  

  • 750+ AI models ensure best-in-class accuracy   

  • Leverage AI monitoring across 30+ digital, social and messaging channels to pinpoint inbound messages of utmost importance to your business.  

  • Offer unmatched service with 50+ global languages  

Interested in a product walkthrough?    

Schedule a demo with our experts or take a 30-day Free Trial today! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Customer service best practices include quick responses, being patient with customers, having in-depth product knowledge and maintaining a professional demeanor.

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