Customer service or customer experience?

9th Sep 2016

I recently saw an interesting study by service design consultancy, Engine, which looked at consumer perceptions of the customer service they receive in a variety of different sectors. Engine’s third annual Customer Experience Survey revealed that 38% of consumers rank train operators and public transport as the worst for service, with utility companies just behind them, cited by 36% of respondents.

Now, train operators may or may not provide the worst customer service – personally, I have found transport customer service to be hugely improved – but there is an important distinction to be made here between service and experience.

Close bed-fellows…but not the same

Perhaps it is all in a name. The title of the Engine research used the word ‘experience’ but the questions within it spoke about ‘service’ – both closely related to eachother, but not the same. Customer service is just that - the service delivered to a customer around a transaction, answering queries and addressing needs. Delivered via any number of different online and offline channels, this is the mechanics of interaction.

Any business should know the value of good customer service, as it is so important a part of what makes up the overall customer experience.  This is every interaction a customer has with an organisation, along the buyer’s journey and beyond and taking in sales, marketing, support and yes, service. It effects perceptions and memories of a business, everything a customer goes through.

Customer service is more often than not, the last port of call when the customer experience has gone wrong.  Is this what people were referring to in the Engine study? Who could fail to be frustrated on a commute if a train is delayed or doesn’t turn up and information is not forthcoming? But that’s the experience gone wrong, not poor service.

Improving the experience

Interestingly, the survey showed that honesty is the best quality in how a company deals with a customer. This was cited as a top three trait by half of consumers, closed followed by efficiency and reliability. So what can a brand to deliver such qualities of customer experience?

In 2016, any and every organisation should be focused – and indeed structured – to being completely customer-centric. The customer experience should inform everything that organisation does, and if that isn’t possible or realistic at this stage, then a strong focus on the customer experience would have to suffice.

This involves capturing data and information on customers, and using that data to understand them and their needs and requirements. Collecting data from every single interaction and analysing that, will allow a brand to know what customers want (sometimes even before) and to offer them a contextual, personalised experience across a multitude of channels. Doing so will greatly reduce the strain on customer service agents, and improve the performance of certain sectors in research such as this!

A seamless and consistent experience is what is demanded by modern consumers, and omnichannel is the best way to deliver this, improving both service and the overall experience.

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