Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: What You're Missing and How to Fix It

Corry van den Brink
Founder & CEO

In a small town, two ice cream shops, Sundae Smiles and Scoops of Serenity, exemplify contrasting approaches to business. Sundae Smiles emphasizes customer service but struggles due to a neglected ambiance. In contrast, Scoops of Serenity prioritizes the holistic customer experience, offering a welcoming atmosphere, allergy-friendly options, and more. The distinction between customer service (direct interactions) and customer experience (cumulative, sensory, emotional) is explored, drawing inspiration from Disney's Four Keys Basics. Implementing a tailored framework, emphasizing education, consistency, feedback, and adaptability, is essential for long-term success. Customer service may attract customers, but an exceptional customer experience keeps them returning.

In a quaint little town, there were two ice cream shops, both brimming with potential but with starkly contrasting approaches to running their businesses. "Sundae Smiles" prioritized customer service, while "Scoops of Serenity" took a more holistic approach, focusing on customer experience.

Sundae Smiles: The Ice Cream Shop That Prioritized Customer Service

Sundae Smiles had some of the friendliest staff you'd ever meet. The minute you walked in, you were greeted with a warm smile and a cheerful, "Welcome to Sundae Smiles! How can I make your day sweeter?"

The staff were experts in problem-solving. If they ran out of your favourite topping, they’d offer a complimentary alternative. The scoopers were trained to maintain eye contact, offer samples, and serve each sundae with flair and enthusiasm.

But there were issues that the excellent customer service couldn't overcome. The shop was a little rundown, with chipping paint and flickering lights. The space was cramped, and the lack of cleanliness was apparent. The ambiance was disrupted by a noisy air conditioner.

Customers left Sundae Smiles feeling conflicted. They couldn't fault the staff's courtesy, but they didn't feel particularly eager to return either.

Scoops of Serenity: The Ice Cream Shop That Focused on Customer Experience

Scoops of Serenity also had friendly staff, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The moment you approached the shop, you were enveloped in the sweet aroma of freshly made waffle cones. The shop was spacious, spotless, and decorated in soothing pastel colours. An oldies playlist created a nostalgic, feel-good vibe.

And then there were the little things—ample parking, a beautifully landscaped outdoor seating area, and even a small play space for kids. The menu was allergen-friendly, and they had options for those who were lactose-intolerant or vegan.

While the staff here was also trained in customer service skills like courtesy and problem-solving, their scope went beyond that. The entire team was educated on creating an inviting and inclusive environment, akin to Disney's Four Keys Basics: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency.

Beyond The Tale: Understanding the Layers of Customer Experience

While the story of Sundae Smiles and Scoops of Serenity illustrates the difference between customer service and customer experience in a simplified manner, let's peel back the layers and delve into what makes each concept unique and crucial. The differences may seem nuanced, but they have a profound impact on the long-term success of any business.

Defining Customer Service

  • Interpersonal Interactions: Customer service primarily involves direct interactions between employees and customers. This includes elements like courtesy, active listening, and problem-solving.
  • Reactive Nature: Often, customer service comes into play when there's a problem to be solved—like when a customer has a complaint or query.
  • Short-term: The impact of customer service is often immediate. A customer asks for something, and the staff reacts accordingly.
  • Skill-Driven: Good customer service can often be ‘taught.’ Employees are trained in specific skills like greeting customers warmly, maintaining eye contact, and resolving issues efficiently.

Defining Customer Experience

  • Holistic Approach: Customer experience is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a business. This starts from the moment they hear about you, to navigating your website, to the ambiance of your physical location, and beyond.
  • Proactive Nature: Here, the objective is to pre-emptively create a positive environment that encourages customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Long-term: The impact of customer experience is cumulative and extends beyond the point of sale.
  • Sensory and Emotional Factors: Experience addresses more abstract factors like ambiance, emotional connection, and overall ‘feel’ of interacting with the brand.

Learning from Disney’s Four Keys Basics

When I was working in the amusement park industry, I stumbled upon an eye-opening guide—Disney’s Four Keys Basics: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. This framework is not just about dealing with customers but about creating an entire environment that prioritizes the guest's experience. It inspired me to zoom out from the details and see the bigger picture of the guest experience. The principle of 'Show', for instance, opened my eyes to the importance of ambiance and presentation—not just polite staff.

Adapting the Framework for Your Business

After reading about Disney's standards, I felt compelled to create a tailored framework that resonated with my team and environment. For instance, while 'Courtesy' is an important aspect of the guest experience, I felt that having engaged employees and engaged guests spoke more to us achieving our goals. As a result, we adapted this standard to meet our needs and expectations. The change may seem small, but it connected in a big way with the team. Within weeks we had the front-line team looking for innovative ways to dislodge the guest experience from the current standard to something noticeably unique from the guests' perspective.

Keys to Implementation

  1. Education and Training: Make sure everyone on your team understands the broader framework, not just the customer service aspects.
  2. Consistency is Key: It's not enough to provide a great experience sporadically; it has to be consistent across all touchpoints.
  3. Feedback Loop: Continuously gather feedback, not just on customer service metrics but on the overall experience.
  4. Iterative Improvement: Always be willing to change and adapt your strategies based on real-world feedback and new insights.

Moving Forward: Benchmarking Success

In my next article, I will delve into the process of benchmarking a five-star customer service level. This will serve as a practical guide to assess where you stand in relation to your competitors. Remember, customer service gets them in the door, but an exceptional customer experience will keep them coming back.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the distinction between customer service and customer experience is the first step in creating a business that not only satisfies but delights. As I learned from adapting Disney's Four Keys Basics to my context, an effective customer experience strategy must be both comprehensive and tailored to your unique environment. Only then can you create a magic moment of your own, where customers are not just served but enchanted.

So, the next time you think about improving your business, remember: Customer service might get them in the door, but customer experience will bring them back.

May 1, 2024