Q: The difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience? A: Emotion-driven behaviour.

We’ve all seen “Customer Service” and “Customer Experience” labels freely interchangeable in role descriptions, job titles and team functions.  They are seen as one and the same thing.

Does it matter? After all, it’s about “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do” (whatever that means in practice).  I’d argue it matters a lot;  they are very different disciplines with potential for a very different impact on the bottom line.

I’d suggest there are one or two crucial differences that may help.  For me, Customer Service is what we do for our customers and clients;  Customer Experience meanwhile is what that service really looks like to be on the receiving end of it.

And then there’s the difference in outcomes – Customer Service is generally tracked retrospectively by internal performance metrics while Customer Experience – functionally and emotionally – affects the way customers feel, think and behave next time.

A recent example brings the differences to life.

Buying a rail ticket online should be a straightforward transaction.  Indeed, they have a comprehensive website, a booking engine that caters for all needs, navigation that is (for the most part) intuitive and a helpline in case there are any questions or problems.  Lots of Customer Service boxes ticked then.

So, feeling reassured and confident, I book a short day-return journey.  I’m then asked for my seat preferences.  Great.  Easy to do business with.   On to the payment page though and I notice a couple of personalised messages:  I must travel off-peak and there are no seats available.  Uh-oh.  Confidence turns to anxiety and confusion.

I know I selected to travel off-peak, so why are they making an issue of it here?  Worse, there is no information about exactly what times are peak or off-peak.  And they are happy for me to pay yet there are no seats and no alternatives offered.  What’s that about?

Maybe I was too fussy in my choice so I start over (there’s no option to amend what I’ve done so far).  Same result.  After the third time, confusion morphs into frustration so I call the helpline.  What do I get?  Charged a handsome rate, back to the beginning and a voice-activated question and answer system. After 20 minutes battling with the computer I’m finally told I’m being put through to someone who can take my payment.  But then, not only is it such a bad line I can’t hear what they’re saying but the price has suddenly gone up.  Once again we get into seat availability and unclear cost options.  Honestly, how hard can it be?

Frustration becomes exasperation becomes anger.  But that quickly evaporates when I hatch a cunning plan, wrestle back control and smile smugly as I hang up and go back online to book a bus.

The Customer Service was in place, with all good intentions and yet the reality was that it produced a range of emotions and took too much effort for me to become a customer, let alone a frequent traveller or an advocate.

The brand is what the brand does, as they say and experiences don’t always mirror what the Customer Service manual says should happen.

So if we’re not confident we know what today’s customers will say about their experience over dinner tonight, we should at the very least not assume that Customer Service and Customer Experience are one and the same thing.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 
 
 

Customer Experience: listen to the silence of the customer

If ever there was a statistic to make us sit up and take notice, for me this is that stat:  “96% of customers who are unhappy don’t complain“.  96%! Frightening.  And it gets worse.  “Of those, 90% will just walk away and not come back”.

When businesses set out to build a branded, differentiated customer experience they will often search for the silver bullet; that single, elusive crowning glory that will set them apart from everyone else for ever.  True, such aspirations are good at galvanizing an organisation behind a common goal but the reality is that the starting point needs to be a broad and strong foundation of many smaller experiences that just get the basics right.

Understandably, most of the information for what to get right comes from the root cause analysis of complaints and operational data.  Investment and resources are directed accordingly and all being well, the number of complaints starts falling.

But just fixing the underlying causes of complaints doesn’t have as big an impact on customer numbers and their value as it might.  That’s because, generally, the things that are complained about get prioritised.  If fixing complaints are the foundation blocks for a Customer Experience programme, then addressing this potentially destructive layer of niggles and frustrations is the bedrock on which those foundations should sit.

So, we have a rich seam of things that don’t go as customers would want, which are significant enough to make them try elsewhere next time but not so significant as to warrant putting fingers to keyboards and to complain.  It might be about phone calls to a service centre that doesn’t answer the phone.  It might be a shop assistant who doesn’t smile.  Surprise at the final cost.  Things that are easily fixed but that have a big emotional impact on customers.  That in turn drives their behaviour next time. The silent customers then, voting with their feet and loyal only to their wallet. Gone.

And yet those problems are unintentionally left to fester because people are complaining about other things.  What we need to know is what our customers from today say to each other when they sit down for dinner tonight.  When they tell the tale of what is was really like to be a customer, is that story the one we want and expect them to tell?

Customer insight about what it's really like to be on the receiving end of our service

Wanted: to know what our customers tell each other that they don’t tell us

Tracking down that level of qualitative information isn’t without challenge but it is well worth the effort.  Research that asks customers what they want will give the proposition teams ideas for bells and whistles.  But knowing what niggles customers will show where finite resources need to focus on in the short-term to improve experiences, loyalty and therefore revenue streams.

To complain takes effort and many feel companies don’t deserve to be helped if they can’t get such basics right.  In today’s world where the customer is in control, and whose bar of expectations is rising all the time, customers are rightly less tolerant to anyone who shows them a lack of respect by not “bothering” to reach a minimum standard.

They might be the small, sometimes “fluffy” things and not the single shiny silver bullet – that will come in time – but left unchecked these corrosive issues may as well be bullets being shot in the brand’s own feet.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
 

Customer Experience: differentiate, yes, but don’t ignore the undifferentiated basics either

The big picture is important but here petrified wood shows the detail is just as emotive

Epic voyages start with a small step, so they say.  Not, as some believe, a giant leap for glory.  They also say that the best things in life are free and that from little acorns grow majestic oak trees.

Such maxims are true not only for life’s challenges but they apply just as much when it comes to improving Customer Experiences and protecting revenue streams.  The point being, that when business leaders invest in developing Customer Strategies and Customer Experience programmes, there is a real temptation to set out on a path that goes straight to the big “wow” signature actions;  the heroic ones that will capture the headlines and create branded differentiation at every touchpoint.

That’s admirable and shouldn’t be discouraged.  But in reality, some of the biggest positive impacts come at very little cost simply by paying attention to the smaller things, the ones that lurk in the detail.

The point was vividly illustrated to me a few years ago when I left the UK to live in New Zealand.  Shortly after arriving, and in the company of a few friends, we set out on a three-day mountain trek to complete a circuit that would take us way up beyond the tree-line and back down.  The guide-book said it would take eight hours to hike to the first camp site.  The locals, relaxed as always, agreed.

But I was fresh from the energy of the corporate and competitive UK.  I saw the eight hours as a target.  So without thinking I enthusiastically suggested that we should aim to do it in seven hours.  What a result that would be.

The looks I got were as cold as the rivers we were about to cross.  “Mate” said one with a grin, “you give yourself the hurry-up if you want.  If you know where you’re going  you’ll get there first. No worries.  You go on, get your head down and hoist the flag when you get there.”   Actually, I didn’t know the way.

My lesson continued.  “Us?  We won’t be far behind but we’ll be taking everything in.  It’s more rewarding, that’s why we’re here.  The rare lichen that helps perpetuate the natural environment;  the springs that finally cast daylight on water that’s travelled hundreds of miles underground;  the small birds with musical but deafening calls;  the sheer variety of trees;  crossing glacier-fed rivers …”  The list went on.  A salutary lesson.

It’s the small things that can be the most important, most evocative and most memorable part of the proverbial journey, not solely the destination.  It’s the same for Customer Experience too.

We’ve all been in a store where the point of sale material is a natural extension of the current TV or online campaign.  The investment in the brand and what it stands for is patently huge.  The customer service on offer seems to tick all the boxes.  And yet the gap between what the brand promises and what it actually delivers is often a chasm because the detail, which can be a piece of make-or-break functionality or something that can evoke the strongest emotions, has been overlooked.

Meet the basic expectations first…and learn from customer feedback

Examples are everywhere.  Not unreasonably, I want a welcoming smile rather than that “Oh no, it’s a customer, what do they want now?” expression especially from a major high-street retailer.  In a large way, digital media has created our fast-moving, in-the-moment lives so if an event on a website is being advertised but it actually happened last month I will feel insulted that they haven’t bothered to update it.  I recently went to a restaurant with an award-winning menu and we were fussed over while being seated and handed the menu.  Then we were forgotten about.  Why – and how – does that happen?  Spell my name right, I’ve been a customer for 10 years.  Do what you say you will and don’t say it just because that’s what you think I want to hear.   And so on and so on.

Of course, the rewards of creative and clear differentiation at the points that matter most are significant.  But rarely will that differentiation be rewarded if at the very least the little things, the things that everyone should get right and which customers expect as basic fundamentals, are not in place and working effectively.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

www.customerexperience.uk.com