Customer Service vs Customer Experience – A Complement or A Conflict?

In this week’s Guest Post we are delighted to welcome Steve West. Steve is a customer services professional who has designed and implemented customer services strategies, to deliver operational performance, improved customer service measures, customer loyalty and people engagement.  Steve poses the question:

Customer Service vs Customer Experience – A Complement or A Conflict?

Customer Service vs Customer Experience - A complement or a conflict

In order to answer this, a short summary of the current status will serve to enlighten.

The ‘new’ customer experience movement has all but gained the high ground in the modern customer centric organisation. And about time too!

Those in customer service know and acknowledge, that a customer service function acts as an agent for much of the ‘delivery’ of what customers have been promised in their purchase transaction.

The customer service function has become even more squeezed in recent years. This has been in part due to the natural economic pressures of recession, or, no growth. But equally impacting has been the ‘sandwiched’ position between other organisational functions,  whose measures seem to have a higher status in the company. For instance:

  • Operations; who are naturally focussed on a KPI led service VS cost delivery
  • Sales; who may use customer service to provide a differentiator in their sales pitch and help them to secure the all-important ‘new business win!’
  • Finance; who are trying to accelerate ‘free cash flow’.

Customer Service squeezed by sales finance and operational metrics or requirements.

An unenviable position, where the day-to-day focus of many Customer Service Teams is transactional and measured on the delivery of service based on each physical interaction with a customer – typically metrics include number and type of transactions, time to respond and time to ‘close etc.  The Customer Service Team tries valiantly to soak up these pressures and deliver on various objectives, but in doing so the ‘noise’ of transactional values, or SLA’s, drown out and silence ‘the voice of the customer’.

This business structure also limits the opportunities for the Customer Service Director to petition and drive the changes necessary, to remove any identified waste and root cause provided by the insights, or analytics, from this exposure to customers at critical ‘moments of truth’.

In my experience, customer service is now a largely enabling role for the customer transaction, measured against KPI’s and the void has really opened up for a real ‘champion for the customer’.

customer champion, Customer Experience vs Customer Service

A Customer Experience Director with a board position and powerful mandate to persuade, cajole and achieve change with a true customer centric focus, backed by an outside- inside approach can only deliver excellent results to all stakeholders. This role will rightly challenge structure, standards, process, and behaviour and is totally focussed on this purpose. Not distracted with day to day operational performance, challenges, capacities etc.

This new breed of role brings with it, a new language, with ‘customer touch points’ and better clarity across the customer journey; the position should challenge design and delivery across the business, which in effect will deliver a better overall experience:  The customer experience can not alone be measured by transactional value, where customer service to some degree can.

The customer experience is thought, seen, experienced, believed and your customer, (prospect, new, existing, or, lapsed) will form this opinion, or, ‘feel’ this through every interaction with your brand, whether it is conscious or subconscious; via marketing (advertising, text, or, sales messages), finance (billing, invoicing, or credit control), website design (language, content, usability), friendliness of your employees (retail staff, servers, engineers, receptionists, cleaners).   With Customer Service, teams will more likely be a centralised function delivering service in an instance – the Customer Experience is the whole journey, every interaction, chosen or felt.

This role can only work across the whole business. It is not restricted to the bricks and mortar model and encompasses web, social and all modern, evolving ways of customer interaction.  Customers think, act and work holistically and the transaction is not the experience; feelings and the kinaesthetic aspects are now how customers judge, whether there are promoters (NPS) and these drive scores in the customer effort measures.

So in my world customer experience is different, wide ranging and potentially powerful if executed properly. Customer service is still extremely vital and does its part when needed but largely a customer service mandate is marginalised as a functional team, with the now standard cost and service pressures facing the new, social 24/7 world of business.

In my opinion, complementary and ‘best friend’ status should be accorded to the customer experience role. Customer service can only benefit with a Customer Experience function that is effective and in doing so, a Customer Service function within a Customer Experience focussed business will only complement one another. However, it may also mean that a transactional customer service function within this structure will cease to exist in its current format.  My personal take on this is that a ‘smaller’, more value adding role will evolve, where customers receive better advice, support and ‘service’. Perhaps not a nice scenario but one where customers are ‘delighted’ and the business is stronger.

A complement for sure; a short-term conflict in the transition to the ‘new world’ perhaps, but an inevitability where customers will not pay for ‘unnecessary’ waste and competitors embrace the ‘experience’ option as a genuine business differentiator. Internally the customer service function will need to plan, and prepare for a ‘smaller’ role but one which will add much greater value.

What are your thoughts on Customer Service and Customer Experience, do you see a conflict or a complement?  Please do let Steve and ourselves know your thoughts, or, experiences by commenting here.

About Douglas Jackson Executive Search and Recruitment Consultants

Douglas Jackson are an Executive Search and Independent Recruitment Consultancy offering professional executive recruitment and managerial appointments on a permanent and fixed term contract basis. We work with customer and experience focussed organisations, who want to develop, or, improve their operation, sales, strategy, service, experience, or success. We recruit for Chief Customer Officer, Director, Head of Department, Manager and skilled strategists for; Customer Service, Customer Experience, Customer Contact, Resource Planning, Operations, Strategy, Insight, Analytics, Sales, Success, CRM, Data, Programmes, Transformation, Continuous Improvement, and Contact Centre. We work in partnership with our customers across the UK and internationally, many of whom are FTSE 100, blue-chip brands but also challenger, fintech and start-up organisations, to design, develop, deliver and manage your Customer strategy. Revolutionise your Recruitment and Retention of New Hires. Douglas Jackson Search takes the guesswork out of your hiring. Sourcing Exceptional Talent….Define your Customer Strategy. Lead your Operations. Design your Customer Experience. Direct your Digital and Customer Contact. Transform your functions. Develop your Customer Insight. Manage your Data/CRM, Deliver your Sales and Customer Success. Differentiate your business and brand.
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9 Responses to Customer Service vs Customer Experience – A Complement or A Conflict?

  1. Chris Brown says:

    Completely agree with what you’re saying. As dangerous to the profession as it may first appear, in my opinion, and after watching the titles of ‘Customer Service’ and ‘Customer Experience’ jostle for position in fast paced environments over 14 years, there is now scope for small groups of smart customer experience and service teams to combine the two together. These teams would be flexible and agile enough to identify and manage ‘customer touch points’ throughout the customer journey for the benefit of the customer and business.
    I know this sounds like management speak for ‘downsizing’ but customer’s are constantly tuned into and looking for ‘contact waste’ when dealing with companies, the classic one being “It’s not my job to deal with that…”
    I believe the answer is to keep it small and smart, this will reduce “contact waste” and enhances the customer journey – which leads to more customers, more jobs and more opportunities.
    But as you’ve pointed out: the trick is to demonstrate the value of this approach to the decision makers when stacked up against perceived higher status measures of other functions in the business model.


    • Hi Chris, many thanks for your comments and thoughts which are very valid. Sometimes the best service is no service, as in everything is done right and so there isn’t as much as a need for customer services, or, as large a customer service team as previously may have been in place. To achieve this the whole company needs to be focussed on delivering a great experience and service, so a role, or focus, like that of a true Customer Experience expert would be needed to help achieve this situation.


  2. Ian Williams says:

    Great article Steve. It is great to see people getting the distinction between Customer Service and Customer Experience right. Usually they do compliment each other, however they can conflict. This all depends on what the brand promise is. If the promise is to deliver low prices (e.g. Primark or Ryanair), then great Customer Service might end up driving up costs, which in turn drive up prices. In that instance good Customer Service would deliver a poor Customer Experience.


    • Morning Ian, glad you liked the article and thank you for your comments and thoughts. You make a good point re the budget brands, although Ryanair are now investing in Customer Service, so it will be interesting to see how, or, if that changes their pricing or customer experience.


      • Ian Williams says:

        It will be interesting to see whether the investment is Capex or Opex. I suspect it will be Capex, as it was for Primark after the Mary Portas debacle!


  3. There would only be a conflict if framework for customer service is not strong or not adaptable, it should be treated like an evolving entity found by support groups that innovates to continuously revolutionize the face of customer service against any major changes and challenges in any company or a project so customer service can deliver better and everyday change customers’ perception in a positive way of course. Yes, high cost of hiring geniuses that can connect the dots and buying new toys to develop something is just short term compared to the possible future losses because of customers’ having a bad experience that roots from a bad framework and foundation. There is no real conflict between customer experience and customer service that is a long gone myth it was busted for some time now, resolved few but not understood by many, people in the customer service business who are still boxed by the myth that there is a conflict, It is like believing that “Cold War” between US and the Soviet Union still exists when Soviet Union is already dead. That is my thought about the subject.


    • Thank you for your thoughts and comments Ericson, most of our community agree with you, definitely should be a complement.


      • It just frameworks and foundations with a twist of good values and advocacy to the masters or best friends that we serve ..the customers.


      • Thanks Ericson, response from Steve West directly:
        ‘ An excellent point and in certain organisations there is no conflict, indeed demonstrating there should not be a conflict. Where the framework supports fully cooperative working, then customer service and experience merge into one and guides all operational functions. However, as you would expect, I have encountered this situation infrequently in the UK and European markets; in times of recession, or, extreme competitive pressure you see a behaviour that is inwardly focussed on the functional directors role – this creates the opportunity for the customer experience position. But Ericson we need to be aware, as you point out this is not necessary and may I say wasteful and non value creating. Customer experience and service delivery is an omni business responsibility.

        Sadly I have seen too many examples as frameworks are not designed well or worse still poorly deployed hence the conflict.



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