Last updated: Customer service vs customer experience: The differences

Customer service vs customer experience: The differences


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Looking for a living example of the difference between customer service vs customer experience? Look no further than today. Retailers of the last generation are in trouble – even those whose upper-scale legacies seem untouchable. Both Barneys and Dean & Deluca, staples of upper-class New York consumerism, are struggling – filing for bankruptcy and closing multiple stores. 

What was once hailed as a beacon of success for Generation X, millennials have transformed retail landscapes within hubs like New York City (and across the country), replacing artisanal, if not incredibly expensive store experiences with Amazon boxes and Warby Parker storefronts. 

The difference here is one of convenience, not necessarily price (Away’s luggage is not much cheaper than anything you’d find in Barney’s, for instance). What is different though is how the newer, preferred retailers of Millennials focus on customer service and customer experience in comparison to how those of Generation X did. 

The difference between customer service & customer experience

First things first –– when it comes to customer service vs customer experience, what is the difference (or is there one) between the two?

Customer service is what happens when a customer or potential customer engages with your brand in search of additional information to move them down the funnel. So much falls within this definition, so let’s look at a few customer service examples. 

Customer experience, on the other hand, is the umbrella under which customer service lives. Customer service, however, is not the only aspect of customer experience. Let’s repeat that because this is very important to grasp: customer experience includes customer service, but customer service is not the only aspect of customer experience that must be thought through. Let’s look at a few examples to better understand this. 

Customer service examples

Customer service ranges from how quickly your brand responds to someone on Facebook messenger (and what your brands says to them), all the way down to a customer wanting to return an item (and you respond to that situation). 

Here are a few examples of customer service:

  • Facebook messenger responses (either by a customer service team or set up with logic and AI through a messenger bot). 
  • Instagram direct message responses
  • Instagram comment responses
  • Paid social media responses
  • Site chat bot responses
  • Email responses of any sort
  • In-store associates, and how they interact with customers and potential customers
  • The returns process, and how a team interacts with customers going through that process

This is just a short list. Essentially, any time a customer or potential customer is getting in touch with your brand and asking a question or looking to accomplish a task, customer service kicks in

Customer experience examples

Good customer experience also includes good site design and user flow, as well as good physical retail layout and flow. Customer experience also includes any: 

  • Email nurture streams you send: the content as well as the flow 
  • How you build out your returns process: Is it easy or is it difficult to return an item
  • What your shipping policy is: Does it get there quickly, is there free shipping, so on and so forth
  • How you package your goods: Branded packaging? Is there a return slip included? Are there instructions?

Customer experience is the overall strategy designed by your brand to give customers an experience that aligns with your branding strategy. 

So, why is all of this so important? Great question! 

Service & CX: Data & stats

To recognize the difference between customer service vs customer experience, let’s look at some hard data on how today’s consumers prefer to shop with brands. 

  • More than half of consumers expect a response from customer service within an hour, even on weekends: This is a pure-play customer service expectation by consumers, that must be built in to a brand’s customer experience strategy in order to stay competitive. Most brands do this via AI and chatbots. 
  • 76% of consumers think companies should understand their expectations and needs: This high percentage is likely due to an increase in brands, mostly direct to consumer brands like Warby Parker, Casper, Away Luggage, Andie Swim, and more, completely customizing and personalizing their customer experience (including their customer service strategies) to the specific needs and wants of customers. This is where many legacy retailers are struggling to implement the internal change needed to address these new consumer expectations. 
  • Email is the most commonly used customer service channel, with 54% of consumers using email to contact a company in 2018: For Millennials, email and text messaging are the most two most convenient ways to deal with any customer service issues. If you do not have a team readily available or a nurture stream already set up to answer questions (bonus points for having an FAQ page that can answer most questions for people – 90% of consumers expect companies to have an online portal for customer service), then you are behind. And losing points for customer experience and customer service with the largest spending popular in the world right now. 
  • 33% of consumers who ended their relationship with a company last year did so because the experience wasn’t personalized enough: To reiterate, if you are not meeting Millennial customer expectations, you will lose them as customers. This is the exact problem Barney’s and Dean & Deluca are facing. 
  • 43% of Millennials contact customer service from a mobile device: It is no longer enough to only have a website. You need that website to be mobile-optimized. Bonus points here for that site being mobile-first. This is a user experience exercise that extends well into customer experience. If they can’t navigate your mobile site easily to find what they want including FAQs, how to contact you, etc –– they won’t shop with you. 57% of people won’t recommend a business if its website isn’t designed well for mobile use. 
  • 79% of Millennials are more willing to buy from brands that have a mobile customer service portal: Moreover, if you do have a mobile customer service portal that is easy to find, navigate, and use, Millennials are more likely to shop with you more often. 

Digital-first customer service & customer experience matters

Customer service and customer experience have always existed. After all, retailers serve people –– and people prefer to spend their money with those who treat them well and give them experiences to remember. 

But, Millennials highly prefer convenience to idiosyncrasies (like artisanal collections found at Barney’s or Dean & Deluca). That means that your holistic customer service strategy must be prioritized over even your product catalog. Because if you can’t match millennial customer expectations, those shoppers will go elsewhere –– like Amazon or Etsy –– and your band will go the way of Barney’s or Dean & Deluca. Even if you have the best products. Even if you have the best in-store reps. 

You first need the best online customer experience, or else you’re dead in the Millennial consumer water. 

Every digital moment matters.
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