The Art of Differentiation: Customer Service, Customer Care, and Customer Experience

17th-century educator John Amos Comenius once wrote: "To teach means scarcely anything more than to show how things differ from one another... He who differentiates well teaches well." To put it in practical terms: if you don't know the difference between a table saw and a hammer, you'll never be able to build a house.

If your company is in or heavily involved with the customer experience sector, then you've undoubtedly heard these terms thrown about as though they were interchangeable:

  • Customer service
  • Customer care
  • Customer experience

Maybe you've even used them interchangeably yourself. But the fact is, there are key differences between these three terms; and a clear understanding of what each phrase means can help you to achieve your business objectives with less friction and more efficiency. Let's take a few minutes to differentiate between them, one at a time.

Customer Service

Here's a simple definition for customer service:

"Customer service is the advice or assistance a company gives its customers."

You can't get much more straightforward than that! What does this mean in practical terms?

Customer service could involve a company representative recommending a particular product to a customer. It could also refer to the advice that a salesperson gives to a prospect before closing the deal.

More frequently, however, customer service focuses on what happens after the sale; in other words, how the company supports the customer after the purchase has already been made. This includes troubleshooting problems, assisting customers that are having issues using the product, answering customer questions, and a host of other activities.

In summary, customer service is a term that focuses on the actions and outcomes of customer support. As such, it is intimately related to customer care; nevertheless, there are major differences between the two terms.

Customer Care

Customer care's focus is implied in the name itself: how well the customer is cared for. In other words, there is a shift away from the tangible actions and outcomes that are associated with customer service, and an alignment with more intangible aspects of customer interactions, such as empathy, concern, and active listening.

Another major difference between customer service and customer care is that customer service is, by its very nature, reactive. A product breaks, and it has to be fixed or replaced. A customer calls in, and his or her issue has to be resolved.

In contrast, customer care can be a highly proactive aspect of CX management. Since customer care is associated with interpersonal communication over business process, there is always room for training and growth.

"Okay," you may say, "let's be real here. Can an investment in customer care really yield a tangible ROI?" For those of you who doubt, we would refer you to the following examples:

  • A mortgage company based in the United Kingdom began training its representatives to listen for personality type "clues" when fielding a call. The agents were taught to quickly assess whether they were talking to a "controller," a "thinker," a "feeler," or an "entertainer," and adapt their responses accordingly. As a result, repeat calls to the company dropped by a whopping 40%!

As you can see, customer care is a vital part of the overall customer experience, and works hand in glove with customer service to deliver exceptional results.

Customer Experience

Finally, we come to customer experience. While this is a much broader term than customer service or customer care, let's narrow its definition down to one sentence:

Customer experience is "the perception the customer has of your brand."

CX is of vital importance to the modern company, because consumers have increasingly shifted their attention away from factors like product quality and price, and make more and more purchasing decisions based on their perceptions of (and past interactions with) a brand.

Thus, optimized CX should be one of your primary business goals. Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES) will tell you a lot about where your company stands in relation to consumer perception. Of course, customer service and customer care feed into overall CX, and have a powerful impact (for good or for bad) on your company's potential for growth.

Brands that pay heed to CX are rewarded time and again for their investments. For instance, back in 2014/2015 ESPEN.com executives paid attention to their community of users and redesigned their homepage according to the suggestions they received. What was the result of this investment in UX? A revenue jump of 35%!

Summary

As we have seen, customer service, customer care and customer experience mean very different things. If you understand the key features of each concept, then you can successfully combine these ideas into one streamlined, unified strategy; and you can look forward to significant, sustainable growth for your brand in the months and years to come.

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