Target shows the difference between customer experience and customer service.

A recurring theme among my customer experience friends and clients is the frequent confusion between customer experience and customer service.  We explored this theme in several of my recent interviews, with two particularly good examples:

  • “Customer service is about 5-6 percent of the customer experience. The only time service really matters regarding the long-term loyalty of a customer is when it goes wrong.” Ingrid Lindberg, Chief Customer Experience Officer  at Prime Therapeutics
  • “Customer service is a person-to-person interaction. Customer experience extends to every interaction with your brand,” Mara Bain, Chief Experience Officer, Western National Insurance.

 A Great Example

However, it’s rare that somebody without a customer experience title has an articulate response ready.  When I introduce myself as being in customer experience, I’m often asked if I work in a call center.  My clients have similar problems, with internal customers often confused about the difference between the two terms.

But in a meeting a few weeks ago, a client told me an excellent story of the differences, framed with her experience with Target.

“I was really frustrated when I heard about the incident, and I wanted to know what to do to protect myself. I heard nothing from Target for days – the only things I heard were from the press.  So I decided to call them.  I waited on hold for over an hour, before I finally reached a person.

“He was really friendly and helpful, and walked through everything I could do to protect myself. But I was left wondering – why do I have to take the initiative here?  Why didn’t they contact me first?

That’s when I realized what we’ve been talking about!  Target gave me excellent customer service.  The person on the phone was very helpful, and I’d definitely give him a high score.  But the customer experience was awful.  Target didn’t take the time to tell me what to do, leaving me to figure it out for myself. That’s the difference between customer service and customer experience!”

What’s your favorite example of the differences between the two?

2 replies
  1. Marybeth Alexander
    Marybeth Alexander says:

    Great post! In the last paragraph, it looks like it should actually read “Target gave me excellent customer *service*….But the customer experience was awful”. Just got confused for a minute when reading!

    Many companies (not pointing fingers but I’m sure we could all name a few) fall down on both fronts: the customer experience and the customer service. Luckily, there are more and more companies focusing on giving great service. However, great customer service doesn’t have the same impact if you aren’t also focused on a great customer experience.

    For example, if you realize you were double charged for a service, great customer service might be contacting support and not only getting the charge reversed but also getting a credit for the inconvenience. A great customer experience would be that the issue never happened in the first place or even that the company noticed and proactively fixed it so you didn’t have to.

    Great customer service is obviously very important, but its limitation goes back to the idea that most people won’t complain or contact support (they can just take their business elsewhere). In addition to ensuring great customer service, businesses need to also be focused on a great customer experience as that affects far more people than those who actually contact customer service.

    I have heard it from quite a few customers over the years: “You guys are great; I just wish I didn’t have to contact you so much” or “Love your support team but I wish I didn’t need to call for something so simple”. Great customer service can be a lifesaver in many situations, but it is the overall customer experience that has the biggest impact on your customers’ opinions of you.

    Thanks for the post!


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