Customer service. Customer success. Customer experience.
What do they all mean and why do they matter? How do they work in concert and benefit each other? And is there a better approach to getting them all working together to improve the business?
Let’s unravel this.
We’re all familiar with customer service. We probably all have a customer service interaction one or more times each week. It could be chatting with a customer service agent online to determine where your order is. It might be calling a company to question a credit card statement. Even logging in to an auto insurance website and using a tool to check “what if I change deductibles” on your existing policy is a form of customer service.
From those examples, you see how customer service can cover many scenarios, and be transacted across various channels–and in some of those cases without interacting with a customer service agent.
Customer service is the base means by which a company serves its customers. It’s a requirement for any business to operate. Customers will have questions and experience problems with products and services–full stop. Customer service helps to get customers back on track.
If customer service is about answering questions and solving problems, think of customer success (CS) as trying to avoid those problems in the first place. In fact, it’s to move customers to the other end of the spectrum: away from issues and towards thriving use of a product or service by understanding their goals and helping them to achieve them.
While it would seem CS is a recent phenomenon, it’s actually been around for a while. And though it got its start in the world of software-as-a-service as a means of reducing customer loss or “churn,” it has expanded into other industries (especially those selling products and service under a subscription model) and is recognized as a growth engine.
In many companies, customer service and CS are two distinctly separate organizations. Customer service focuses on common issues affecting customers while CS takes more proactive actions with customers. CS can also take many forms, such as developing best practices and self-help tools meant to help customers at scale or having customer success managers dedicated to customers.
If customer service is needed just to operate, the argument is customer success is a means by which to fuel business. That said, CS isn’t applicable to every business. Businesses must evaluate if the products and services they sell as well as customer expectation and the need exists.
That brings us to customer experience, sometimes abbreviated as CX. Unlike customer service and CS which provide different types of assistance, CX is the connective fiber running through companies to ensure the company is successful.
Let’s start at the beginning. In 2015, Gartner predicted CX would become the new competitive battlefield. Their belief was that competition was such in most industries that products and services were becoming similar in capabilities and prices. Customers were beginning to see many alternatives with little reason to remain loyal, erasing any single company’s advantage. The concept was the new differentiator would be how easily a customer could interact with a brand to achieve the outcome they were seeking, be that buying products, taking a taxi, reserving a table for dinner, etc. CX is measured cradle-to-grave: from first awareness all the way to customer loss or non-use.
Regardless if your company relies on customer service, CS, or a combination of the two, CX is a topic you must stay focused on. It does not remain static. One major reason for this is the problems that cause customers to seek help.
A favorite quote of mine is “customer service is what happens when the experience breaks.” Truer words have not been said. As soon as a customer has an issue or a question, what might have been a frictionless experience up to that point requires the customer to reach out to customer service or CS for assistance. At this point, a company has two actions to take.
The first is obvious: to address the customer’s issue. They must get the customer back on track to a state of useful use with their product or service. As noted above, this could be accomplished through a live interaction, self-service, or automated means.
The second action is to further evaluate the customer issue. Is this customer unique in encountering it, or is this problem becoming a trend (and it’s having an impact on service costs)? Beyond just cost, how much of a bearing does it have on CX (and could that poor CX affect customer loyalty and positive reviews and referrals)?
In each case, a service management approach makes assessing the situation and charting a course easier. Service management connects customer service and/or CS to the rest of the organization, making collaboration about customer issues with other departments easier. And through that collaboration, the problem can be discussed, a plan agreed upon, and a solution delivered–be it to develop self-service tools (for low impact CX issues and to reduce service costs) or have the department responsible for the issue address the root cause, meaning customers in the future won’t encounter the issue an improving CX.
Customer service? CS? Both? Regardless of how you structure your work with customers, it is a critical means of keeping customers satisfied and loyal. Looking beyond that, the heart of the matter is an effortless CX that requires constant review and care.
Customer service and CS are hearing the CX issues from customers daily. Though they can offer one-time answers and workarounds, these are not permanent solutions to issues–issues that are ultimately marring overall CX. Only by connecting customer service and CS to the rest of your company through service management are fast and meaningful CX improvements possible.