On-the-job Performance

Customer satisfaction vs. customer experience vs. customer service: what’s the difference?!

Posted on: February 21, 2023Updated on: August 9, 2023By: Alex Kinsella

In today’s omnichannel world, setting your business apart from the competition means more than having the right products or services. Successful companies know that delivering engaging and delightful customer experiences is the key to attracting new consumers and retaining existing ones. 

While almost everyone agrees that providing excellent customer experience is crucial, many companies often focus on individual components like customer service or customer satisfaction measurements—instead of looking at the fulsome experience. These terms are often used interchangeably but are separate and unique functions of how businesses interact (and amaze) their customers and being able to identify and define each is crucial to success.

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Customer care vs. customer service

While customer care and customer service are individual interactions, customer care focuses more on one-on-one engagement. Customer care goes beyond the problem or issue and requires truly listening to the customer and often understanding the emotional need behind solving the problem. Conversely, customer service interactions are one-time support experiences your customer has with your company regarding a product or service. 

Customer care and customer service often get confused with customer experience because of their importance in the customer journey. It’s also critical to your bottom line. Accenture’s landmark global research revealed that poor customer service cost U.S. companies over $1.6 trillion due to customers switching to another company. 

That also means that the opposite is true and if customers are treated with next-level care, it could be a reason to stay loyal. But it won’t happen overnight.

Exceeding customer expectations

In January, Dave Sansavera, Senior Director of Learning and Development at Lowe’s, participated in a speaking session at NRF 2023 and talked about how the home improvement retailer empowers its associates to create unique customer experiences with its Lowe’s University learning platform.

“Customer service is simple,” offered Sansavera. “A customer comes in, you say, ‘Hi!’ and ‘I help you get what you want.’ But taking it to another level, taking it to that care and really helping—that ties back to empowerment.” 

Sansavera regularly meets with managers to review how associates use the Lowe’s U learning platform on the store floor. 

He shared a powerful story about how a customer had come into a store looking for help with electrical push connectors and an associate who was working saw her and stopped to see if she could help her. 

“The customer was asking about how to use them and the associate said, ‘This isn’t my department, but I’ve got this tool and we can figure it out together,’” Sansavera said.

By showing genuine care for the customer and their problem, the associate not only helped her find the answer but created a memorable experience. When the customer left the store, Sansavera said that she had filled out a satisfaction survey and even took time later to write a note to the store manager.

“This is the greatest part because she said ‘I’m trying to figure this out. Your associate didn’t know, but she said we can do this together. We learned together by watching these videos. How cool was that?’ I’ll never forget that ending—’How cool was that?’ 

“She gave them a 10 out of 10. That’s how you earn loyalty. That’s how you really solve customer issues,” Sansavera said.

Though the associate didn’t have the product knowledge at the time, she demonstrated she cared about the customer and their needs. This story is customer care in action—working to build an emotional connection with the customer. 

Whether online or in-store, delivering excellent customer service and care goes back to who is executing it—your frontline employees. From answering a product question to ringing up a sale or helping to carry a large purchase to a customer’s vehicle, frontline employees determine customer perceptions and customer satisfaction, every shift.

The customer experience journey

When you hear customer experience, you may think of an instance when you received great service. But customer experience is more than a one-time interaction—it is the total lifetime experience a customer has with your company. 

The best way to think about customer experience is as a journey. It begins with a customer’s initial awareness of your brand, whether that’s through advertising, your website or your physical store. Once a customer is aware of your brand, every interaction will influence how they view you and eventually impact their purchase decision.

Customer experience differs between online and brick-and-mortar shopping, but the end goal is the same—deliver customer delight that creates a return visit. In-store and online customer experience do share common elements, including branding, email and social media communication, as well as reviews and recommendations.

When it comes to online shopping, though, customer experience is impacted by elements like website design, blog or other content, the availability of interactive chat features and most critically—the checkout flow. 17% of U.S. shoppers said they abandoned an online cart due to the checkout process being too complicated. 

The experience design continues after checkout, too. Having easy-to-access support and return information and following up with customer satisfaction surveys or next-purchase discounts are essential elements of a well-designed post-purchase customer experience in an online world.

In-store customer experiences have more of an obvious, instant impact since your frontline team can interact one-on-one with a customer. Ensuring your staff has the information needed to help customers is critical but they also need to be empowered with the skills, education and freedom to do what’s right for the customer in an effort to create a memorable experience.

What is customer satisfaction?

Customer satisfaction is a measurement, not an activity. It measures how well your products, services and experience meet your customers’ expectations. The what and the how of your customer satisfaction measurement will vary based on your business type and the products or services you offer. Customer satisfaction measurements can include in-store and online shopping experiences, product usage experiences and return or other customer service interactions. 

What’s the deal with customer satisfaction surveys?

Customer satisfaction can be measured in a handful of ways, using either a Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) or Customer Effort Score (CES). NPS tracks how likely a customer is to recommend a product, service or company to a friend or family member using a 1-to-10 scale. CSAT typically uses a 1-to-5 scale that measures how satisfied customers are with your customer experience. Lastly, CES measures customer loyalty and focuses on customer convenience versus total customer experience.

Let’s talk business impact

How important is customer experience to your bottom line? In a word: very. According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, 88% of customers surveyed said a business’s customer experience is as important as its product and services. 

The impact of creating a great customer experience can also be reflected in your revenue. A 2021 McKinsey report showed that a one-point increase in a 1-to-10 score like NPS customer satisfaction could generate a 3% increase in sales and a Gallup poll uncovered that companies with an engaged workforce outperform competitors by up 147%.

And it has reciprocal benefits since delivering a great customer experience can also increase employee engagement. Companies that actively work to improve their customer experience can increase employee engagement by an average of 20%.

Improving the employee experience has a positive impact on customer experience too—and that can ultimately boost sales as one-time shoppers become lifelong brand ambassadors. Empowering your employees with the right tools and resources so they know how to deliver the best possible customer experience, and customer service that’s elevated to customer care—is the key to maintaining a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded industry. 

Alex Kinsella

Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Kitchener, Ontario. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, The Community Edition, Grand Magazine and more.

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