It is difficult to deny that these three terms are becoming increasingly visible in the language of business:
- Customer Service
- Customer Experience
- Customer Centricity
I say that they are becoming increasingly visible – in reality, organisations have been throwing them all around like ‘confetti’ for many years now. To a degree, all of them have merged into one as business leader after business leader has tried to convince its employees and customers that they are serious about the one consistent word in all three phrases – ‘the customer’!
Despite their increasing use, it is important that no-one assumes the people using them understand their real meaning. So often I hear one or all three being incorporated into business presentations, but it is sometimes clear that there is a lack of understanding of their true meaning. Even though the difference between service, experience and centricity may be obvious to some, we must never assume it is to all. That is why I think it is worth creating a simple resource to help those who would like a reference to demonstrate the difference. So here goes:
Let’s start with Customer Service – the two words that have been embedded in the way organisations work for decades. Customer Services is NOT Customer Experience. Whilst many definitions will exist to describe it, this one is as good as any:
“The assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services”
Many business leaders think that Customer Service IS Customer Experience – they seem to consider that customer perception of their brands is the sole responsibility of the Customer Service function. Without wanting to sound blunt, it is NOT. Customer Service is just ONE of the many business functions who are responsible for delivering the ‘end to end experience’ to customers. Sales; Marketing; Operations; Finance; HR etc.. are all equally as responsible for bringing the ‘customer journey’ to life.
So what is Customer Experience?
Customer Experience is very simply explained as EVERYTHING an organisation does to deliver the ‘end to end experience’ to a customer. From advertising; to PR and media; to sponsorship; to websites and apps; to physical interactions (stores and branches); to products; to documentation; to employee behaviour; to communication; to Customer Service etc… Again, there are many publicly available definitions of Customer Experience, but this one is as good as any:
“Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy”
It is vitally important to understand the true meaning of Customer Experience. The reason why it is becoming more and more significant for businesses all around the world is the fact that many are finally realising that they have been delivering Customer Experiences since the beginning of time! That is right – your organisation has always delivered an experience – yet it is only now that businesses are opening their eyes to the importance of the ‘end to end Customer Experience’. This has led to an increase in companies talking about it.
However…. this is where the link to the last ‘customer’ term comes in. Every business has ALWAYS had a Customer Experience….BUT….just acknowledging that and starting to talk about the Customer Experience does NOT make you Customer Centric! So let’s explore this final term:
Every business is likely to have a Customer Service ‘function’. As I have just stated – all organisations have always delivered Customer Experiences (albeit in the main, subconsciously!!) – yet just having a Customer Service function and delivering Customer Experiences DOES NOT make an organisation Customer Centric! The rise of businesses talking about Customer Experience may be kidding some into BELIEVING they are operating in a Customer Centric way. However, to be truly Customer Centric, it would mean that an organisation does the following:
“Putting customer focus at the heart of everything you do, in order to achieve customer satisfaction and loyalty”
In other words, every time a business makes a decision – whether it be a tactical or strategic decision – it does so considering the effect that decision will have on the customer. Sounds simple right? Wrong! I have literally asked hundreds of business professionals all over the world (most of whom have some role to play in Customer Experience) if this is what their business does – I would say that 99% of those people shake their heads and say NO. It is not because people do not want to do this – do not want to be Customer Centric. The reality is that most organisations are still not able to allow/enable their people to truly be Customer Centric.
Becoming a truly Customer Centric organisation is what will ultimately enable organisations to consistently deliver Customer Experiences that meet and sometimes exceed the expectation of Customers. It is not an easy thing to do. It requires committed leadership, courage and a number of specialist competencies. The Customer Experience ‘Profession’ is steadily developing the competencies to help businesses deploy frameworks to better manage the Customer Experience. Yet to deliver great Customer Experiences, all functions; all roles; need to also continually develop their expertise to become better at doing what they do. If this can be done AT THE SAME time as all functions becoming more aware of the role they play in delivering the Customer Experience ‘collaboratively’, then consumers should start noticing the difference!