Monday, February 10, 2014

Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Does Your Business Know the Difference?

I’d like to introduce Shep Hyken to my blog. Shep is a customer service expert, professional speaker, and New York Times bestselling author who works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and he’s also the creator of The Customer Focus program which helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. Shep’s most requested programs focus on customer service, customer loyalty, internal service, and customer experience. He’s known for his high energy presentations which combine important information with entertainment to create exciting programs for his audiences. Shep and I recently discussed a variety of customer service topics, and the highlights follow below.

QUESTION: What is the difference between customer service and customer experience?

SHEP HYKEN: It used to be that customer service was the experience. It was primarily focused on the interactions between the front line and the customer. However, customer experience has grown to include much more than just the front line touch-points. It now includes every touch-point the customer has with anything related to doing business with your company. It includes the online (website) user experience, the packaging that the customer receives in the mail, the look and feel of the onsite experience, and much more. Think of every interaction the customer has with your company, even if it doesn’t involve your employees, and you start to get an idea that the customer’s experience is much more than traditional sales or support.

QUESTION: Who owns customer service in today's competitive marketplace?
SHEP HYKEN: If you’re asking me who, inside of a company, owns the responsibility of customer service, the answer is everyone. Customer service is no longer a department. It’s a philosophy that should be embraced by every employee at every level. It’s part of everyone’s job.

QUESTION: How can you teach all departments or silos within companies (HR, IT, Marketing, Sales R&D, Finance, etc.) to work together to improve customer service?
SHEP HYKEN: First, take a look at the answer to the last question. Next, recognize that the customer service culture of a company starts at the top. It’s defined and deployed through training and leaders’ modeling that behavior. Walt Disney used to say that everyone had three jobs at Disney. First was to do the job they were hired to do. Second was to take care of the guest. And third was to keep the park clean. Now, you may not have a theme park to keep clean, but when you truly embrace the first and second responsibilities, you realize that regardless of your job and department, you are there to take care of the customer. Everyone must be on board with this concept.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this is the “Age of the Customer?”
SHEP HYKEN: I like the concept of the “Age of the Customer” and believe we are in an age or era that requires a company to be customer-focused. There are two reasons. First, it makes competitive sense. Customer service can be a differentiator that sets you apart from your competition. And second, the customer is smarter and has higher expectations than ever before. Customers are promised good service by most companies and do receive it from some. And they recognize it when they get it. But they no longer compare you to your direct competition. Instead, they compare you to the companies they admire and like doing business with most. For example: Your customer may have done business with a company that is completely unrelated to what you do. That company may return their phone calls and emails within 30 minutes. So that’s what they have learned to expect (and now want), and to meet and exceed their expectations, you better deliver.

QUESTION: What are some key reasons that customer service fails?
SHEP HYKEN: Start with people. Without the right people in place, customer service can fail.  But even with the right people, there has to be a system that supports the customer, and that comes from the top. Leadership defines the culture of the company and the customer service experience. Those must be synergistic. Once defined, the employees must be properly trained and be in alignment with the customer service vision. Then, they must execute. You can create the best system and have the best intentions, but you are only as good as the one person who is interacting with the customer (both internal and external).  Customer service is everyone’s job, and if one person doesn’t realize it and buy in, the system can fail.

QUESTION: What three tips would you give to a company that wants to improve its customer service?
SHEP HYKEN: Just three? I have dozens and dozens, but here are three of my favorites: 
1. Customer service isn’t a department. It’s a philosophy to be embraced by every employee.
2. While leadership may set the tone and create the customer service vision, everyone must assume a leadership role when it comes to customer service. Be the person that others look to and aspire to be. Be a role model for what good customer service is all about.
3. The customer is NOT always right. Even when customers are wrong, and they are, let them be wrong with dignity and respect.

Learn more insights from Shep Hyken on his website at and on Twitter @Hyken.

Image Credit: Thanunkorn via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.


  1. I like that the article says that Customer service is not a department but a philosophy. It's one of the only tasks that can either fail or succeed. The philosophy is never made that same way in every situation.

  2. This was very informative, thank you. I hadn't ever distinguished between customer experience and customer service, but the difference makes sense. Now that the media is interactive through the internet, customers and clients expect quick responses to their concerns even if they're not there in person. The field is always changing, but it's possible to stay on top of it and maintain good relations if you're willing to put in the effort. |


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