Don’t Confuse Customer Service With Customer Experience

I often get asked to describe the difference between customer service and customer experience. To me, it comes down to this picture:


Customer service is an organizational function, like marketing and sales, that manages a subset of interactions with customers. Customer experience, on the other hand, is the connection that companies make with their customers across all functions and touchpoints. Here’s a definition for customer experience:

The perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization

I also like what’s CEO Jeff Bezos had to say on this topic:

Internally, customer service is a component of customer experience. Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that you don’t need to contact [anyone]. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations. You know, I got my book and it’s missing pages 47 through 58

For most companies, customer service deals with some key “moments of truth” for customers. So that function is an important participant in most efforts to improve customer experience. But firms can’t just  focus on customer service interactions or offload responsibility for customer experience to the customer service organization.

The bottom line: Customer service is an important component of customer experience

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

18 Responses to Don’t Confuse Customer Service With Customer Experience

  1. Pingback: Outside in or inside out: an approach to customer experience and customer service « Fredzimny’s Blog

  2. I totally agree. I think you have captured the essence of the concept and debate very well. However I would debate that each of the 5 areas of a business you have listed above are still involved and critical to the delivery of customer service. Enhancing a customers overall experience means improving touch points throughout the company.

  3. David Onoue says:

    Great post Bruce! I have to agree with you 100%. Very insightful and will have to share this with others.

  4. John says:

    Your point is absolutely correct and well worth making, but I take huge issue with your diagram as customer service, sales and tech support are all sub-sections of marketing. Unless people understand that, mistakes flow – not least within marketing departments. I’m not sure if you were referring to advertising or promotion in the box labelled marketing (and hre I’m assuming of course that it’s your diagram) but I do think it’s much moe than semantics.

  5. David Rich says:

    Great post. People often group customer experience as customer service. Not true…customer service is a component of customer experience. Customer experience is the interaction with the ENTIRE organization from start to finish – not just at the point of sale.

  6. Mike Moroze says:


    Good post – I think, though, you left out one of the key aspects of Customer Experience and that is actually using the product or service. I agree that Customer Experience is heavily dependent on the touch points of the organization, but it also depends on using what the organization is trying to deliver. The iPhone was delivered through various channels – including AT&T phone stores – however the customer experience with the product itself caused “all” the buzz…

    Perhaps expanding your definition would be appropriate?


  7. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi everyone: I wasn’t expecting this post to be as popular as it is. I agree with all of the comments so far. The graphic (which I threw together pretty quickly) is just meant to illustrate the difference between customer experience and functional interactions. I selected an arbitrary group of 4 functions to put along side customer service as examples, although I can see how it looks like an attempt at a complete list.

    As for the role of products in customer experience — absolutely! I think the current definition can include products, but maybe it isn’t clear enough. Should I adjust the definition of customer experience get more specific about products as follows: “The perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization and its products”

    What do you think?

  8. Bruce, I like the simplicity of the current definition. Perhaps its because I took into account interactions with a company’s products of services. In fact, I think that’s what so great about the definition. I think many companies focus their attention exclusively on making the experience with the actual product top-notch. What they forget is that the setup, billing, etc. are all part of the experience.

    I am working with a company that has built a great product so their customers love it – the problem lies in the other areas, specifically the contract and billing side of things. And those things are obviously pretty important when looking at the overall customer experience.

  9. Mike Moroze says:


    I like the proposed update to the customer experience definition: “The perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization and its products.” While I think we can “assume” product houses focus on the customer experience of their products, there are many examples where that is just not true. Companies that focus on the customer at ALL the touchpoints will have a competitive advantage. Of course, I am “assuming” here that they do it correctly – it’s not easy!

    Thanks again for your posts!

  10. Bruce,

    While I agree with your concept as a starting point, there must have been a highly specialized audience that you developed this model for because I think in leaves out an entire segment, and an important one as well. I think you miss giving attention to the customers’ physical contact with the product or my focus; the store. Good Design is Good Customer Service. Good Customer Experience in this self-service world is usually delivered to the customer by the physical environment. Promises of satisfaction made by marketing, the availability of technical support, sales and accounting, are either verified or damaged by the physical delivery of the experience. So I can forsee adding to your diagram two more boxes; ‘Product Design’ which includes smart design, usability, instructions and recyclability, and ‘Store Design’ for those with that passion, which includes: store planning, interior decor, signage, ease of concluding the purchase, the human sales component, and access into and out of the store.

  11. Do you remember your high school science class? That’s where we learned that it takes three elements to produce fire: You need 1) something combustible; 2) oxygen; and 3) heat. If you delete any one of the three, you cannot produce fire.

    This illustrates the point of “necessary but not sufficient.”

    In Customer Experience, excellent Customer Service is necessary, but is not sufficient by itself. You can’t have a great Customer Experience without it — it’s “necessary” — and there’s SO much more to include (not just the simple three elements needed for fire).

    Far too much to address here; as everyone knows, it includes the entire atmosphere and environment, before- and after-transaction / event, and the whole “emotional” side — all viewed from the Customer’s POV.


  12. Bruce Temkin says:

    I’ve been a bit busy, so it’s been a while since I’ve been able to join this conversation. First of all, thanks for commenting — keep the dialogue going!

    I think Steven and Mike provide a good comparison of alternatives — one perferring simplicity while the other looks for completeness. That’s a spectrum that I am constantly trying to navigate. I have to say, though, that I am almost always inclined to lean towards the side of simplicity.

    Jerry, you’re right. Thanks for pointing out the importance of the store experience. I actually discuss store experiences regularly. The graphic that I chose (which was done very quickly, and just for illustration) shows only some functions. It could have easily included a retail function (which means “stores” in many industries) or I could have shown some channels like Web/Phone/Store. In any case, don’t forget you store experience!

    Richard, the only think I remember about my high school science class was this very wierd teacher and my obsession with bunsen burners. Seriously, though, I like your statement about great customer service being “necessary, but not sufficient.”

    Once again, thanks everyone!

  13. Ben Pitman says:

    Bruce, great post you are completely right it is every department within a company that contributes towards the customers experiance. beacuase of this it is important for companies to make sure all departments are communicating properly and effeciently to give the best experiance to their customer.

    I recently had a problem with vodafone when i ordered a new sat-phone online for when i would be sailing. they told me the item was out of stock but was promised, as I need the phone to work, that it would be in stock in time for it to be delivered before my flight. It got to the day of supposed delivery, the day before my flight, and there was no sign of it. I rang vodafone only to be told that there had been a problem and the phone couldnt be delivered. So I asked if they could contact their closest store to where i lived with one in stock and I would go collect it. They told me that since I originally bought the phone online they were unable to transfer the payment to a shopfront as their system wouldnt allow it.

    A company as large as vodafone should have all their departments communications unifeid, of they had then this wouldnt of been a problem.

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Ben: Like many companies, Vodafone has silos between their online business and their brick-and-mortar operations. But that’s no excuse, the phone rep should have been empowered to cut across the silos and make things work for you. Have fun sailing! And, who knows, maybe the lack of a phone will help you relax.

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