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Customer Experience vs Customer Service: What Is the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Freya Laskowski
By Freya Laskowski
31 October, 2023

Don’t know the difference between customer service and customer experience? Read this to find out what they are, how they’re different, and how to measure them.

an image showing the difference between customer service, and customer experience

Customer experience and customer service are used so often in marketing that they can start to sound the same.

Although there are undeniable similarities, they aren’t the same (or interchangeable).

In this blog post, we’ll explore what customer experience and customer service are, plus their four most significant differences.

What is Customer Experience?

Customer experience (CX) is the journey your customers go on, starting from when they hear about your brand to when they become loyal, repeat buyers.

This is often called the “sales cycle” or “buyer’s journey.” It includes five main stages:

  • Awareness Stage. This is when the customer realizes they have a need, want, or problem.
  • Consideration Stage. In this stage, the customer starts searching for products or services that will solve a problem or fulfill a need. They start comparing companies to decide who they will buy from.
  • Intent Stage. The customer now engages with a brand (or a few) and expresses interest in their product. They become a lead in this stage. Usually, they graduate to this stage by contacting someone, subscribing to an email list, downloading a content offer, booking a free trial, etc.
  • Decision/Purchase Stage. The customer reaches this stage once they’ve decided who they will purchase from and have bought the product. They are now officially a customer.
  • Loyalty Stage. In this stage, the customer becomes a repeat buyer, coming to the same brand every time they need more of the product. They also recommend the brand to their friends and family members.
a graphic showing the five stages of the buyer's journey

Each stage is an opportunity to provide a top-tier customer experience, pushing the customer to the next stage. Customer experience doesn’t occur in just one stage—it happens across all five.

Customer experience is also multichannel. Everyone who interacts with your brand (whether they’re already customers or not) should have a positive experience no matter where they are. 

For example, customer experience can be impacted by your social media content, blog post content, free content offers and lead magnets, customer service team, email newsletters, reward systems, and more.

HubSpot breaks providing a high-quality customer experience down into three simple steps:

  • Attract — lead generation and brand awareness tactics (i.e., running ads, content marketing, marketing campaigns, etc.)
  • Engage — interacting with leads and coming up with competitive offers (i.e., prospecting, price quoting, pipeline management, etc.)
  • Delight — leave a positive impression on customers and leads by alleviating pain points, simplifying the buying process, providing support, and more

The “delight” stage includes customer service (which we’ll discuss next), as well as self-service options, customer support, collecting customer feedback, and more.

What is Customer Service?

Customer service is an interaction between customers and a brand’s customer support team. 

Someone from the team helps the customer solve problems, answers their questions, explains how to use a product, and ensures they get the most out of their purchase.

However, in digital marketing, customer service can include automated and self-service options. These features allow customers to quickly get the help they need without having to call someone.

One of the most popular self-service options is live chat. For example, The Patel Law Firm has a live chat feature that lets potential clients find answers to their questions 24/7, including after the firm’s working hours have ended:

The Patel Law Firm live chat feature screenshot
Source: The Patel Law Firm homepage

Shaked Law has a similar feature that allows new visitors and existing clients to text them 24/7 from their website’s homepage:

Shaked Law 24/7 live chat text feature
Source: Shaked Law homepage

You can easily add live chat to your website by downloading a plugin supported by your hosting system or hiring a WordPress developer

You could also use free third party apps to add live chat to your website. Some common options include Tidio or Zendesk Messaging

There are countless ways to provide high-quality customer service outside of self-service options and staying patient with busy customers on the phone. To name just a few:

  • Asking for and collecting customer feedback
  • Acting on customer feedback
  • Quick response times
  • Little to no customers are placed on hold
  • Interacting with customers on social media (i.e., answering their messages, responding to comments, etc.)
  • Responding to online reviews
  • Answering customer support tickets within 24 hours

While your customer service team will mostly interact with existing customers, it’s essential to note that providing world-class customer service to those in the first few stages of the buyer’s journey can heavily impact their decision to buy from you.

Plus, customer service plays a major role in graduating customers from the “decision/purchase” stage to the “loyalty” stage.

Positive customer service keeps retention high— data from Zendesk reveals that a positive customer service experience led 42% of customers to purchase from the company againm and according to further  research, repeat customers spend 67% more than new customers.

Finally, customer service is especially important when dealing with existing clients in a service-based business. Many times, you’ll need to communicate with the client after they’ve signed a contract or placed an order to get the details you need to provide the service. This is usually done through an onboarding process.

In this situation, your customer service team’s goal should be to make the process as easy as possible. How can you simplify it to take less time? How will you request client files in a safe, secure manner online? Who will be supporting your new client throughout the process?

What’s the Difference Between Customer Service and Customer Experience?

Now that you know customer experience and customer service, let’s explore their four most significant differences.

1. Customer experience is a journey vs. customer service is an interaction

Customer experience starts when someone realizes they have a need and comes across your brand in their search to fill it.

It’s how they interact with your brand and the experience they have with it—how helpful were your blog posts? How engaging is your social media profile? How easy is your website to navigate?

Customer service is not a journey—it’s an interaction that often  happens just once.

However, it’s critical to note that customer service impacts the customer experience. Positive, helpful customer service contributes to a customer’s overall experience with your brand. Customer service falls under the “delight” step of improving customer experience—it’s one piece to a much bigger puzzle.

HubSpot summarizes this excellently by describing the steps brands take to improve customer service compared to just a few factors that impact customer experience.

HubSpot infographic about the difference between customer experience and customer service

Because of this, customer experience and customer service cannot be used interchangeably. And it’s not a direct relationship that flows both ways.

In other words, if your customer service is poor, customer experience will suffer. But just because your overall customer experience is good, doesn’t mean your customer service is.

2. Customer service and customer experience success are measured differently

Because customer experience and customer service are different, the way you improve and measure them will be different. 

Customer experience entails a seemingly endless list of parts to your marketing strategy, from social media to website navigation. So measuring it is typically less straightforward than customer service. 

Because of this, companies use tons of metrics to track progress. A few of the most common ones are:

  • Customer Effort Score (CES) — measures how easy it is for your customers to find something they’re looking for
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) — measures how happy or unhappy customers are with any part of your business on a scale of 1-10 (i..e, a product, your customer service team, delivery of a service, etc.)
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) — measures how likely your customers are to recommend your brand to people they know on a scale of 1-10
  • Customer Churn Rate — measures how many customers you’ve lost over a specified time period
  • Customer Retention Rate — measures how many repeat customers your business has over a specified time period
  • Customer Referral Rate — measures how many customers are referring other people to your business
  • Trial-to-Paid Conversion Rate — measures how many people who sign up for free trials turn into paying customers after the trial ends 

Some of these metrics—such as CES, CSTAT, and NPS—require you to use surveys. You can calculate the other metrics by collecting and using data you already have, such as Customer Retention Rate and Trial-to-Paid Conversion Rate. 

Although customer service is much less broad compared to customer experience (due to being an interaction and only a piece of the overall experience), it’s more difficult to measure without the help of your customers. 

The most common way to measure customer service is through customer feedback surveys.

These can be done quickly at the end of a customer service call. Or you can ask a list of people—previous customers, customers who have recently made a purchase, customers with recently closed support tickets, etc.—to fill out a quick online survey. 

Whichever option you choose, make sure to keep the survey as short as possible. It should take a minute or less to complete.

3. Customer experience is proactive vs. customer service is reactive

Customer experience can be measured at any point in the buyer’s journey based on data you already have. This makes it easy to be proactive about the positive and negative results you discover from those metrics. 

Customer service, on the other hand, is a response to customers reaching out to you with problems or questions. It’s reactive. If no one emailed, called, or submitted support tickets, your customer service team would be jobless.

4. Everyone is responsible for customer experience, but not customer service

Anyone who works with any of your brand’s teams automatically impacts customer experience in some way, whether they’re behind the scenes or on the frontlines. 

To name a few examples:

  • Marketing teams that run social media ad campaigns
  • Content writers who craft SEO blog posts that will rank well on Google and bring more traffic
  • Social media managers who schedule content for the week and interact with followers
  • Product designers that ensure the product is durable and high-quality 

Customer service, though, is only handled by your customer service team—a group of individuals specifically trained to deal with customers in need, solve problems, and maintain clear communication.

Customer Experience vs. Customer Service: The Bottom Line

Knowing the difference between customer service and customer experience is important.

They aren’t interchangeable terms, and understanding how they affect one another can improve your conversion rateand (most importantly) retention rate.

But although they’re different, the most impactful similarity is that they should both continue past the purchase stage and start before it.

No matter which stage your prospects are currently in, if you focus on attracting, engaging, and delighting them, you’ll be on the road to more revenue and a loyal fan base.

Freya Laskowski

About the author

Freya Laskowski

Freya is an SEO consultant who helps brands scale their organic traffic with content creation and distribution. She is a quoted contributor in several online publications, including Business Insider, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, and the Huffington Post. She also owns CollectingCents- a personal finance blog that she grew from the ground up. 

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