Customer ‘experience’ vs. service

Home Al’s Column Customer 'experience' vs. service

customer experience(Second in a three-part series)

(Editor’s note: The following article was derived from recorded transcripts of “The Experience Edge,” a presentation that Chris Wallace, co-founder and president of InnerView, delivered at the 2021 NAFCD conference in Dallas this past November.)

In a recent research study conducted by Synchrony Financial, 4,000 customers who made major purchases of $500 or more across various categories including appliances, home improvements, flooring bedding and mattresses were asked to identify their highest priorities when selecting a company to do business with. Surprisingly, out of a list of 24 priorities, “product selection” ranked No. 13.

What did we learn from this? We learned that there are plenty of products; consumers are telling us that other things are more important. They’re saying, “Make my life easier, build trust with me, stand behind your products. Have people who can help me—people who are knowledgeable and actually know what they’re talking about. That’s what I need, not more product.”

It’s important to remember that customer service and customer experience are not the same thing. Customer service is responding to your customers. In other words, when they have a need, you’re there for them, you listen to them, you show them that you care. Customer experience, on the other hand, is getting way out ahead of what they need, anticipating when they’re going to have a need and designing a strategy and solutions that help them meet those needs. It is a deliberate strategy, not a response mechanism.

Here’s an example of delivering a good customer experience. When I was younger, in my teenage years, I worked for a minor league baseball team. I would dare say I learned more about being a good business professional and how to serve clients by working in a minor league baseball stadium than I ever have working in the corporate world.

For instance: when somebody pays $8 for a ticket, if they get a beer spilled on them, they’re upset about that. Good customer service is making sure that if they get a beer spilled on them, that you’re responsive, you’re empathetic, you show them that you understand. You give them a ball or cap, and a pair of tickets for another game.

Providing a memorable customer experience, on the other hand, is making sure that the season-ticket holders don’t sit in a place where they’re going to get a beer spilled on them. It’s anticipating, it’s thinking ahead. It’s making sure that instead of having a little girl and her family come to you after she got hit with a foul ball—that you make sure families are put in a section where there’s netting, where the little kids aren’t going to get hit with a ball. That’s customer experience.

One of the basic tenets of providing a great customer experience is: the easier you can make somebody’s life, the better. Case in point is digital marketing. Over the last 10 years, and we’ve had so many advancements in this area, but instead of driving a better customer experience, you might actually be driving more confusion.

Instead, make sure you have someone who can explain to the customer how the right selection will result in the right investment in her home. Or, how it’s going to be the right product for her family, the kids and the dogs—or whatever her life circumstance is. Having somebody help them figure that out is extremely important. The easier you can make that for them, the better.


Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies transfer their brand messages to their customer-facing employees and partners.

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Dec. 6/13, 2021

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