Do not confuse Customer Experience with Customer Service

CX is not CSThere are too many people who use the customer experience and customer service/support terms interchangeably. Even well respected authors and customer centricity consultants, like Don Peppers, occasionally slip into this ambiguous trap. Here are some basic definitions found on the web with a simple query:


“Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.”


“Customer Service is the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services. “


Customer service is just one of the attributes that comprise customer experience, but it is most definitely not the same thing. For some businesses it could be the most important ingredient, and for others in could be completely inconsequential one.


Here are some examples to make the distinctions a little more clear:


• You can have great customer experience without the participation of the customer service department at all, but sometimes even the best customer support efforts cannot salvage overall customer experience:

o The most attentive waiter can’t improve a poorly cooked dish, but a scrumptious meal can be remarkably experienced in self-served establishment.

o Expertly installed TV cable service does not guarantee quality entertainment.

o Customer Success Managers can only help to retain customers for a short period of time if the software does not perform as expected.


• A product plays the leading role in delivering customer experience, not efforts of customer-facing employees. If a product sucks, no heroics of the front line personnel can deliver excellent customer experience. From this perspective it is difficult to understand how product managers, and even more so product marketing managers, manage to avoid the customer experience responsibility spotlight. These are the people who interpret customer needs and wants into a product design. It is a best practice to have them handle customer support lines on a regular basis to learn firsthand how accurate were their interpretations.


• Marketing is the group that creates customer expectations, and when these expectations do not meet reality of a product, customer experience suffers. Classical marketing is supposed to “learn” what customers need and translate this learning to product designers and advertising messages that attract the “right” customers to the “right” product. Instead, marketing is too often focused on “pimping” products designed by engineers overseas without any connection to actual consumers. Focus groups and survey are designed to figure out how to sell what they have got, rather than to make what customers want. No wonder the distinction between “market research” and “marketing research” is so blurry. Customer service can be very helpful to facilitate the return of an unwanted product and deliver great product return experience, but it cannot deliver a great customer experience.


Confusing customer service/support with customer experience puts an unfair and unbearable load on the shoulders of an organization that already is the second most stressed group, after sales, in the company. Even though its performance has relatively limited ability to influence delivery of customer experience, it is measured, dissected and optimized completely out of proportion. When you see that happen, it is the first sign that the company is focused on financial engineering – not on their customers.


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17 Responses to Do not confuse Customer Experience with Customer Service

  1. If a customer has to call customer service, then something has gone wrong with their experience.

    Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine of Forrester Research give us another helpful distinction in their book, Outside In: “People call customer service when they have a problem. So equating customer service with customer experience is like saying that a safety net is a trapeze act. Yes, the net is important to the act. But if the performer needs to use the net then something has gone wrong with the show.”

  2. Fariborz, I could not agree more on your comment: the net should never be mistaken for the show.
    Nonetheless, in many cases customers refer to customer service for something different than a mere issue. They might be investigating before a purchase or be too lazy to read the manual (or simply non-expertized users) and call to get instructions about how to connect this and that together.
    In this sense, customer service has always been a powerful tool for customer retention.
    Many companies are now trying to avoid such contacts (just for costs saving, even if someone may call it a change of vision) and referring customers to the web for anything and keeping alive a “human” customer service only for complaints. I see how this strategy is pushing customers away from brands.

  3. Richard Snow says:

    I could not disagree more. Customer Experiences, by their very nature, occur throughout the customer life-cycle and across all touch points. So it could be seeing a advert, it could be an in-shop experience, it could be calling the contact center, it could be participating in a social media forum – the list goes on. It could be to ask for information, it could be to close a sale, it could be a compliant, it could be to terminate a contract – again the list goes on. It could be good, it could be bad. Just because someone calls customer service it doesn’t mean something has gone wrong; it might even be a compliment. The customer experience has to be viewed in it totality and all experiences need to be handled in context, and to balance business and customer expectations.

  4. Gregory says:

    Interesting discussion. Keep in mind that not all call centers/contact centers are culturally aligned with traditional customer service function, as a function of dealing with product or delivery inadequacies. Zappos considers their contact center serving a marketing function, they fund and measure its performance accordingly. Here is another example

    The quote from the “Outside In” book (which I enjoyed reading) sometimes is interpreted as a flawlessly executed customer experience strategy would eliminate a need for customer service. I don’t agree with this interpretation for a number of reasons, and I don’t believe that the authors have implied that, judging by the other chapters of the book.

  5. Gregory, the Zappos example is one reason why I don’t particularly like that company as a good example of CX. Tony Hsieh pushes relationship marketing which increases customer effort and all too many people in CX fall for it being something wonderful.

    Our family used to buy quite a bit from them but dropped them completely two years ago. Not one single follow up email, call, text to see why they lost us. I don’t think that’s even a good example of relationship marketing.

    In regard to the “Outside In” book, the real life example is Amazon (ironically owner of Zappos). They view every single contact with their call center as a failure elsewhere in their ecosystem. Could they have provided clearer information, did they leave out information, was the presentation wrong, was the shipping/packaging poor? I am a voice channel guy, with over twenty years in the call center industry. Yet I love Amazon because I rarely ever have to call them. I think I’ve phoned them twice in five years and yet I gave them a 10 on a 10 scale for their call center experience. Yes, there are going to be reasons why you can’t eliminate calls into a company, but it is my opinion that Amazon is one of the few companies who actually act on the information provided by those calls to prevent recurrences.

  6. And two thumbs up on your response Richard, I am in agreement with you, however adding in the Amazon example as one way to lower those voice contacts.

  7. Pat Hennel says:

    Great customer service can help salvage a bad situation, but if there is something inherently wrong with the product/service nothing your team does can resolve that. Customer service reps can be stuck dealing with a terrible product that they have no control over!

  8. Pratish says:

    Well said Greg. I have a small doubt- your example says “You can have great customer experience without the participation of the customer service department at all….” Is that really possible. While we are clear that customer service is an attribute that comprises customer experience?

  9. Gregory says:

    Prathish, there are many examples when we have great experiences with products without any need to reach CS department. I have purchased my PC and 2 monitors that were easy to find on Amazon at a reasonable price. The product collateral was easy to understand and to relate to my needs. The deliveries, packaging and installation instructions were sufficient to get me going, and I had no interruptions using them. While I could offer a few ideas for minor improvements to these products, there was no reason for me to contact customer support of Amazon or the manufacturers. I am sure you had similar experiences as a consumer. Of course complex B2C and B2B products often heavily depend on customer support to deliver good experience, but IMHO most consumer products using the CS as a crutch to inferior marketing or product management.

  10. Chris Zane says:

    Great article! I’ve spent the last 35 years promotting to my team, “customer service starts when the customer experience fails!”

  11. Don Peppers says:

    With respect, Gregory, I think there are just way too many buzz words out there, each one with a particular set of defenders. I think your definition of the distinction between service and experience is useful, but even that parsing of terminology begs a few questions. For instance, when a customer community provides customer service for other customers, that falls outside your definition of “customer service”? And by the “classic” definition of CX (which I also think falls short), would we classify word of mouth discussion (plus or minus) a part of “the sum of all experience”?

    We’re all working toward the same goal here, which is basically making the world safer for customers, no matter how you define the terminology… IMHO.

  12. Gregory says:

    Chris, that’s a great quote. It is probably not accurate for every business, but it is dead accurate for many. Can I use it (with attribution of course)?

  13. Gregory says:

    There is no disagreement here, Don. The goal is to obtain a clear and practical definition of terms that allows us to communicate constructively.

    In my opinion today, for what it worth, community support falls out “customer service” definition, but is a part of “customer experience”. The word-of-mouth is most definitely a part of “customer experience”.

    I think this distinction is very important because it reflects a difference in approaches to management of processes and departments involved.

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  17. Benjamin Okuka says:

    Customer experience cannot be reduced to just the interaction of the customer with customer service/support. Customer services is only a part of customer experience.

    A business’s business model and customer experience strategy determines how customer service is deployed to support the customer experience and business objectives. This explains why Amazon and Zappos deploy their customer services departments differently. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine explain this well in “Outside In” chapter 5 (Strategy).

    A business certainly will harm itself if it seeks to reduce cost for example by eliminating customer service by moving to the web without modifying it business model/strategy and customer experience strategy.

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