Customer Service is Dead: Long Live the Customer Experience

It has been some time since my last post.  I have been thinking about, reading, and researching the customer experience.  Technology, cultural shifts, and emerging trends have had a deep impact on what is traditional called customer service.  Good customer service is no longer enough.

When most of us now describe good customer service, we are actually describing a good customer experience.  Customer service, in the common sense, is dealing with customer problems.  This is only one part of the overall customer experience.  For example, I may go to a grocery store.  During my trip I may find everything I want, the prices might be fair, and I may encounter a problem with checkout.  During my problem, a manager can come over to help remedy my issue.  In this case, I likely received good customer service.  I have no real complaints about the transaction, but I doesn’t mean that I have a good customer experience.

Customer experience, grounded in the participatory culture we live it now, means so much more.  Customer experience expands beyond the problem solving typically found in good customer service.  To create another analogy, the seat belt is like customer service.  It serves its function to keep me safe and alive.  But just because my car has a seat belt doesn’t mean that I drive an AWESOME car.  The same is true with good customer service.  Just because you solved my problem with a smile on your face, doesn’t mean I had a great experience.  Truth be told, if you had to solve my problem in the first place, odds are I had a bad overall experience.  In other words, customer service is reactive, while customer experiences are proactive.

Customer experience includes the customer’s perception of the organization.
Am I proud to frequent the establishment?  Does it give me some sense of meaning or pride?  Not in the, oh I buy Apple look at me, but in the, I shop local to make a difference attitude.

It also includes the interaction with the organization.  Have you ever sent an email to an organization, not of a problem but of a suggestion, only to have that email fall on deaf ears?  Customers want to participate in organizations now a day.  I don’t mean being shareholders or voting members, but they want to be able to make a suggestion and see some action.  They want the organization to recognize the time they took to make a suggestion, and they want to organization to view them less as a revenue stream, and more as a partner with benefits to both sides.  Customers want relationships with the organizations they support.

Customer service usually focuses on an event, typically a problem.  Customer service, on the other hand, focuses on the feeling of the customer from start to finish.  In other words, customer service deals with a single transaction, while customer experience deals with the duration of the relationship between the customer and the organization.

I am always skeptical of an organization that has a customer service department.  It’s a telltale sign that an organization is committed to the wrong things.  Customer experience is a philosophy that is deeply engrained in the organization culture and DNA.  A customer service department means that good service isn’t everyone’s job.

I will write a follow up post to this in a few weeks that discusses employee empowerment, organizational culture, and customer participation, but I leave you with this question: Do you want to frequent an establishment that doesn’t recognize you as a human with a heart before it recognizes you as a revenue stream?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Customer Service is Dead: Long Live the Customer Experience

  1. The Oak Park Library has a customer service department, one that I believe is focused intently on the customer experience. I need to be sure that everyone involved understands the difference. And, perhaps it’s time to change the name.

  2. Funny, David, I was just thinking the same thing about “Customer Services” department. Maybe a name change is in order!

    Thanks for writing this, Tony! Planning to use this for a group discussion with colleagues.

  3. David, I meant “our” (SPL) Customer Services department. :)

  4. Michael

    The problem is most companies think Customer Experience is customer service or service excellence. CE is not service excellence. Software vendors then pile in because they think oh, Experience means everything therefore you should measure everything. Customer Experience I am afraid is dead

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