Customer Experience vs. Customer Service: What's the Difference?

My beloved iPad is dying a slow death.

It's several years old and I use it daily. The memory is nearly full. I've dropped it a few times. The lightening connector is getting finicky.

So I'll soon be making a trip to the Apple Store to buy a new one. This process provides a nice overview of the differences between customer experience, customer service, and even customer success.

Man scratching his head in confusion.

What is Customer Experience?

Here's a definition from customer experience expert, Annette Franz:

The sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, especially, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

The elements of customer experience go well beyond just customer service. To illustrate this, I've listed some of the steps in my customer journey with the customer service elements in bold.

  • My experience with my current iPad (I love it, so I want another)

  • Visiting the Apple website to research new options

  • Driving to the Apple Store and parking (gotta avoid the crowds!)

  • A person greets me as I walk in the door and offers assistance

  • The Apple Store layout

  • I'm introduced to another employee who assists me with my selection

  • The employee shows me some of the new iPad's features

  • The look, feel, and function of the new iPads

  • The employee rings up my purchase on a mobile device

  • Another employee retrieves my new iPad from the stockroom

  • Unboxing my new iPad at home after I buy it

  • I follow guided instructions to configure my new iPad

  • A support article helps me transfer my content from the old iPad

  • Using the new iPad every day

What is Customer Service?

This is a helpful definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:

The assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

Customer service also includes something called customer success, which I'll define in just a moment. Here is a summary of the customer service I can expect to receive from Apple, with the customer success elements in italics.

  • A person greets me as I walk in the door and offers assistance

  • I'm introduced to another employee who assists me with my selection

  • The employee shows me some of the new iPad's features

  • The employee rings up my purchase on a mobile device

  • Another employee retrieves my new iPad from the stockroom

  • I follow guided instructions to configure my new iPad

  • A support article helps me transfer my content from the old iPad

What is Customer Success?

Here's a straightforward definition from Hubspot:

An organizational function that helps customers get maximum value out of a product or service.

Buying a new iPad would be a frustrating experience if I couldn't figure out how to use it. There are a few particular functions, such as configuring the new device or transferring content from my old device that can either create a moment of delight or a moment of misery.

Here are some examples of how Apple focuses on customer success:

  • The Apple Store employee shows me some of the new iPad's features

  • I follow guided instructions to configure my new iPad

  • A support article helps me transfer my content from the old iPad

The Total Customer Experience

One of Apple's secrets is the organization's understanding of all three elements and how they work together.

The overall experience is customer-focused. Apple's products work seamlessly together, which is why I own a MacBook, an iPad, and an iPhone. 

The customer service function is designed to quickly get me the help I need. When there's a human involved, I've consistently been served by someone who was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. 

The customer success function is dialed in to make using Apple products easy and intuitive. There are gentle nudges, such as on-screen prompts, in just the right places along with deeper assistance and even in-store classes if I need them.

So yes, I'm a huge fan.

Customer Experience vs. Customer Service Infographic

customer experience vs customer success infographic

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How to Meet People and Learn About Service on Twitter

I met my neighbor on Twitter.

Jeremy Watkin wasn't my next door neighbor, but he lived about a mile away from my home. We connected because he is a customer service expert who regularly shares interesting customer service content (follow him on Twitter!)

We exchanged tweets and I subscribed to his outstanding Customer Service Life blog that he co-authors with Jenny Dempsey. It was a few months before I learned we lived in the same neighborhood. 

This isn't uncommon. 

ICMI just released it's list of Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter. Including Jeremy and Jenny, I personally know 23 of the 50 from meeting them on Twitter. 

That's not bragging but rather a testament to the power of Twitter as a networking and learning tool. Here's how you can use Twitter to grow your customer service network and knowledge too.

Be Helpful, Not Spammy

A so-called customer service expert once begged me to follow him on Twitter. Literally begged me. He sent me daily tweets that read, "Please, please follow me!"

The reason? He had a new book coming out and wanted help promoting it. Ugh. Those tweets were exactly why I didn't follow him. 

Don't be spammy.

Don't tweet to people and ask them to read your blog or sign up for your newsletter. They'll discover your amazing content on their own if it's relevant to them.

Instead, try to be helpful.

Notice what people are tweeting about customer service and share the content you like. Tweet back with your own take or helpful links. Ask questions. Show appreciation.

In other words, use Twitter to engage in honest conversations. You just might learn that someone interesting is your neighbor.


Find Experts to Follow

Follow some customer service experts you admire. 

These people often scour the internet for new ideas and helpful tips so you don't have to. They also share their own interesting and relevant ideas.

Not sure who to follow? 

There are plenty of top tweeter lists like the one ICMI just put out. Look up the Twitter handles for people whose books or blogs you read, keynotes you listen to, or even journalists who write about customer service.

You can also see who the people you follow follow. For example, I typically only follow people who regularly share relevant and interesting customer service content.

You can click on that "following" number and discover new people.


Follow Hashtags

Hashtags are away of organizing content around a specific theme, so following customer service-related hashtags is a great way to discover new content and ideas.

My favorite hashtag for customer service is #custserv.

There are other good ones too, and you may discover additional hashtags that are relevant to you or your industry. 

Here are a few other favorites:

Tip from the pros — some companies try to ruin these great hashtags by spamming them constantly with job postings and other marketing. You can block or mute these Twitter handles so you don't see them in your feed.

I like to use Tweetdeck to organize the various hashtags I follow, but there are plenty of other tools you can use such as Hootsuite.


Join Tweet Chats

Tweet chats are great opportunities to learn and network.

These are regularly scheduled events where a moderator will tweet questions around a particular topic. Anyone following the chat's hashtag can view the questions.

Here's an example from #icmichat (Tuesdays, 10am Pacific):

People then respond to the question by starting their tweet with A (for answer) and the question number while including the hashtag so everyone else can see it.

In addition to #icmichat, I regularly enjoy the #custserv chat at 6pm on Tuesdays.

Want to find more chats? You can often spot people you follow engaging in chats. Another good option is to tweet to a few experts to ask for their recommendations.


Follow Conferences

Many customer service conferences have an active backchannel, which is really just another way of saying they have their own hashtag.

There are two ways to use conference hashtags.

If you're attending the conference, you can network with other participants by engaging in conversations about a particular keynote or breakout session. This is particularly helpful in big sessions that wouldn't otherwise be interactive.

If you can't attend a conference, following the conference hashtag allows you to capture some of the big themes and top insights without having to be there.

Here's Your Next Level Customer Service Action Plan

You sense an opportunity to improve customer service.

Not that your team’s customer service is bad. It’s pretty good, actually. It’s just that it could be better. 

The promise of taking customer service to the next level is alluring. Happier customers equals more referrals, increased customer retention, and ultimately more revenue. It costs less to serve happy customers. It’s also a lot more fun.

But, where do you start?

This is a common question for customer service leaders. There’s a whole universe full of ideas out there. You can find customer service blogs, books, and videos galore. Everyone has advice and much of it makes at least some sense.

Distilling this information down to a few key actions isn’t easy.

That’s why I’ve compiled this action plan to help. It contains essential steps that you can take to elevate your team’s service. Links to tools and resources are also included. 


Next Level Customer Service Action Plan

Step 1: Define Outstanding Service

The first and most important step is to define outstanding customer service. Every employee must share the same definition and be able to describe how the definition applies to them. You can use the Customer Service Vision worksheet to help create your definition.


Step 2: Measure Outstanding Service

You have to be able to measure something if you want to improve it. Setting a SMART goal for customer service will allow you to track progress and can help motivate the team. Here’s a worksheet you can use to help you set SMART goals. 


Step 3: Align Your Team Towards Outstanding Service

This step involves making sure your basic functions are all pointed towards outstanding customer service. Like a car that's out of alignment, it's difficult to keep your team heading in the right direction when parts are misaligned. You can use this Customer Service Alignment Check to review your team.

For more information on the first three steps, check-out my short training course on


Step 4: Look for quick fixes

A lot of customer service challenges can be solved very quickly if you know where to look. Use the Quick Fix Checklist and diagnose the root causes of customer service problems. 


Step 5: Analyze Voice of Customer Data

Your customers can help you pinpoint a lot of problems, but having a customer satisfaction survey isn’t enough. You need to make sure you’re asking the right questions and then extracting meaningful insight from the results. 

Here are a series of blog posts that provide step-by-step instructions on developing an effective Voice of the Customer (VOC) program:


Step 6: Find Hidden Obstacles

There are a lot of hidden and even counter-intuitive obstacles that can make it hard for employees to deliver outstanding customer service. My book, Service Failure, reveals ten of the most common obstacles and provides practical advice for overcoming each one. 


Step 7: Provide Customer Service Training

Notice that training is number 7 on the list, not number 1. This isn't an accident. A lot of problems can be solved without training.

Sometimes, employees do need new skills to take their service to the next levels. You can access training-related posts on my blog, take my Customer Service Fundamentals course on, or schedule your employees to attend a Delivering Next Level Service training program.


Step 8: Constantly Reinforce Outstanding Service

Taking your team’s service to the next level isn’t just a one-time project. It’s an ongoing process that needs constant reinforcement. Here’s a blog post I wrote on ten ways to reinforce outstanding customer service

You can also sign your employees up to receive my free Customer Service Tip of the Week email.


This list is just a start. What else would you add to it?

The Biggest Myth in Customer Service


This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Blog. You can also read my latest Salesforce blog post, "The Hidden Influence of Excellent Customer Service."

There are a lot of myths in customer service. There's the notion that the Net Promoter Score is only about asking one question (it’s not). There’s the popular saying that the customer is always right (they aren’t). There’s even an unspoken feeling that no complaints mean things are going well (not necessarily).

Dive a little deeper and you’ll find it easy to debunk these myths. In fact, that last myth about complaints was neatly debunked in a recent post on the Salesforce blog.

There’s still one myth that persists and it’s the biggest one of all: customer service is easy.

It seems like nearly everyone believes this. Customers certainly do. They’re shocked when things go wrong, but never consider how they may have contributed to the problem. Every service failure story ever told starts with the assumption that the customer was pleasant, reasonable, and should have been easy to serve. I’m not saying customers are entirely to blame for poor service, but let’s not let them off the hook when they’re rude, unreasonable, or make an error.

Executives believe service is easy. They classically overrate their company’s ability in this area. A famous 2006 Bain study revealed that 80 percent of executives felt their companies delivered outstanding customer service. Only 8 percent of their customers agreed. (View report PDF)

Managers ascribe to this myth, too. Many fail to define great service, provide adequate training, or even bother to discuss service with their employees on a regular basis. They are so consumed with putting out fires and keeping up with an avalanche of administration that proactively developing a customer-focused team becomes a low priority.

Customer service consultants perpetuate this myth by doling out pithy advice that all sounds very common sense. They write blog posts on how to deal with angry customers in five easy steps while forgetting what it actually feels like to be yelled at by a total stranger. It seems oddly reasonable to this group that a customer service rep would absorb a profanity-laced tirade and then pull a card out of their wallet to remember the S.M.I.L.E. procedure for handling angry customers.

Many employees have bought into this myth too. There’s a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect where the less knowledgeable or skilled you are at something, the more you overrate your ability. This holds true in customer service, where the worst performers will often loudly proclaim they’re the best. 

This effect is illustrated by a simple experiment I’ve repeated many times. I ask employees to rate their customer service ability on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being best. The average score is 4. Then, I ask them to rate the team’s customer service ability on the same scale. The average score is a 3. In other words, customer service employees consistently think they’re really good even though some of them are not.

There’s something else about the Dunning-Kruger effect that’s interesting. Everybody overestimates their ability except for one group: the very best. The best underestimate their ability. The best customer service employees never give themselves a 5 when I do my little rating experiment because they think there’s room for improvement.

That’s the secret shared by only the very best customer service employees, leaders, and companies. They know that customer service isn’t easy at all. It’s hard. They constantly worry whether they’ll be good enough and continuously try to get better.

Here are some things you’ll never hear a customer service champion say:

  • “We just hired a few good people and that was it.”
  • “All we did was send everyone to a two hour training class.”
  • “Our entire initiative consisted of hanging up a banner with this new slogan.”

Instead, you’ll hear:

  • “It starts with hiring good people.”
  • “Training is important, but we constantly reinforce that same message.”
  • “The new slogan summarizes how we go about our business every day.”

I recently asked a long-time client for advice I could share with new clients. They had improved their Net Promoter Score from 23 to 60 over a three year period. It was an impressive result and I wanted some of my new clients to be able to learn from their experience.

Without hesitation, my client said, “Tell them it’s a long process.”

That was it. I had been working with this client for three years and they still weren’t satisfied. Their exceptional improvement, glowing reputation, and stellar business results were a sign of excellent progress but not a final destination. They still worried about getting better. There was a long list of challenges to overcome and improvements to be made.

My client understood that customer service isn’t easy. It takes a real commitment.

Response to Fortune article on customer service via Twitter

Fortune ran an interesting article on their website last week titled, "Can I help you? On Twitter, the answer is No." I really liked how the author, Anne VanderMey, and her colleagues put a variety of companies' customer service to the test via Twitter. The result was an interesting article, but I also think there are some points that were left uncovered.

First the positives
I love the idea of doing a real experiment rather than simply reporting on the abstract. Ok, maybe I'm biased because I ran my own social media experiment with customer service last year. (Check out the results.) VanderMey also examined a range of companies and wrote from an objective point of view. She let the results do most of the talking.

A few missing points
There were a few points I think VanderMey missed in her article.

Wait times aren't apples to apples. VanderMey compared the time required to get an answer via Twitter versus getting an answer via other channels, such as a toll-free number. It's a good idea, but with a Tweet (or email), you send it and then presumably go on with your life until you get a response. Calling a number generally requires a bit more of your attention unless you are stuck on hold. Even then, you might catch yourself singing along to the soothing soft rock hits of the '80s.

Twitter is good for info, bad for real problems. The article didn't make a distinction between the types of problems Twitter is good for and the types of issues that are best directed elsewhere. Twitter is a great tool for information. Need step-by-step directions or a list of the nearest stores? A company's Twitter team may be able to help you. Need to change your customer profile or check the status of an order? Better call or email.

Public versus private. The last big one for me was the article didn't squarely address the distinction between Twitter being a public forum while a phone call, email, or chat session is expected to remain between the customer and the company. As a customer, I'd definitely think twice about sharing the details of too many of my service problems in a public forum. (Unless, of course, I wrote a blog. That's waaaaay different.)

My conclusion is it was a good article that could have been even better. What do you think about getting customer service via Twitter? Are companies doing a good job? What expectations should consumers have when they Tweet for service?

Top sources of competitive advantage

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released its 2008 Global CEO Survey that asked CEOs to name their top source of competitive advantage. A total of 36% of companies identified a topic that fits squarely with our areas of practice. The #2 answer was customer service (19%) while the #3 answer was recruiting and retaining top talent (17%). (The bad news is we aren't much help with the #1 source of competitive advantage, technological innovation.)
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