Evolving From Customer Service to Customer Experience

July 26, 2013 by David RichComments

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customer service vs customer experience

In a 2005 issue of the Harvard Management Update, James Allen, Barney Hamilton and Frederick F. Reichheld published a staggering statistic:

Eighty percent of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, while only 8 percent of their customers agree.

The stat from that famous paper still turns heads—there’s often a difference between what you think about yourself and what your customers think about you, but a seventy-two percent difference?

The field of Customer Experience has quickly risen to the front of our awareness in the retail industry, likely due to stats like these: they represent a significant blind spot for retailers.

But, really, nothing that can’t be remedied through a little understanding.

Customer Service Vs. Customer Experience

The reason why companies have a different opinion from their customers about the level of CX they provide, I believe, has something to do with the yardstick by which they measure. Retailers still equate “customer service” with “customer experience,” but the fact is that these are different—though related—disciplines.

Customer service is about practically addressing customer needs, questions and concerns, and supporting customers in all of the ways necessary to upholding your brand’s promise. Any time a transaction occurs between a customer and a retailer, an agreement is made:

Our company stands behind the product or service we’re providing you. And if for any reason it starts to look like our product or service might not go above and beyond that promise, we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it does.

Obviously, great customer service is a critical aspect of business, but it is in many ways a reactive discipline, and its influence is limited to one or several departments.

Customer Experience is different. Whereas customer service is reactive, customer experience is proactive. A brand’s CX is constantly being nurtured across the entire organization, regardless of department and lifecycle stage. Everyone owns the task of providing a great Customer Experience.

So, in that way perhaps the 80 percent of companies from the 2005 study were correct: maybe they were providing great customer service—but their Customer Experience wasn’t quite up to snuff.

Why is Customer Experience so important?

Customer Experience isn’t new. But it is definitely on our minds now more than ever, for two likely reasons:

1. We live in an omnichannel retail environment.

The new media channels that have emerged over the last ten years are making it more challenging than ever to deliver a consistent Customer Experience across every touchpoint associated with your brand. And just because you have this new challenge, doesn’t mean your customer is necessarily going to be tolerant of your inability to surmount it—customers expect you to keep up.

2. Competition is as fierce as it’s ever been.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers are being challenged to stand apart from their online-only retail competitors. In addition to price reductions, bricks-and-mortar retailers (or “bricks and click” retailers) can accomplish this by providing a customer experience that’s completely unique from anyone else.

Knowing this, how can major retail brands modify what has always been their great customer service to a world that demands a complete customer experience?

How can retailers evolve from great customer service to great Customer Experience?

Creating a world class Customer Experience requires significant commitment at all levels of your company. However, there are several things you can do to begin ingraining excellent CX into the customer-facing roles within your organization immediately.

1. Be sure that store associates know your brand inside and out.

This goes beyond just knowing your products and/or services, although of course that’s an important piece.

Protocol for engaging customers within a bricks-and-mortar store should be both coordinated and flexible, meaning that store associates should operate strictly in accordance with compliance while maintaining the ability to customize the experience based upon each customer’s preferences. This includes understanding the many ways in which customers are choosing to engage with your brand—whether in-store, online or on-the-go—and being able to tailor the experience accordingly. Channel inconsistencies can be extremely frustrating for consumers—don’t be that brand.

There are plenty of great evaluative tools for finding out if store associates are delivering on your brand promise or if adjustments need to be made via new training initiatives. Get a baseline reading of multiple store locations with mystery shopping or customer intercept surveys and work directly with your provider on formulating a strategy for improvement. Even incremental changes—a quicker ‘welcome’ or a polite ‘thank you’—can foster noticeable increases in brand loyalty.

2. Provide a personalized, unhurried shopping experience.

We’ve all had that retail shopping experience where we felt like the only customer in the store, in which a store associate—or even several store associates—focused exclusively on helping us find exactly what we were looking for.

We remember those moments because they’re entirely unhurried—there’s nothing that will turn a customer off faster than making them feel like they’re simply one more item on a to-do list or store associates are trying to usher them through the buying process quickly in order to stay ahead of the influx of bodies. You’ve been to the Apple Store, right? Is there any bricks-and-mortar store more crowded but less hurried than Apple?

Make sure your store associates are trained correctly in best practices for proactively engaging customers rather than waiting for customers to come to them. Brands that anticipate customer needs before they happen stand a much greater chance of earning customers for life.

3. Create an expectation of consistency, and never fail to deliver on it.

For all of the ways the world’s best brands might differ from each other, they’re all, without fail, the same in one specific way:

They deliver a consistent customer experience, every time.

Search for even the most granular inconsistencies at the store level using third-party evaluations like mystery shopping. Ironing out these kinks across locations will set a standard that customers will begin to associate with your company. And once you’ve achieved that standard, maintain it at all costs.

That’s how you become an elite brand.

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Photo Credit: cdweber

Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction

Written by: David Rich

In more than a decade as President and CEO of ICC/Decision Services, David has grown the business into an internationally recognized customer experience management firm. In addition to ICC/Decision Services, David has started, bought and/or sold several companies in categories including the in-store demonstration, event marketing, market research, and social media space. He received his bachelor's degree from Syracuse University.


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