Customer Experience (CX) vs Customer Service

Customer experience (CX) is a term we're hearing a lot about these days. But what does it really mean, and how is it different from customer service?


Jana Barrett

March 20, 2017

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Customer experience (CX) is a term we’re hearing about a lot these days.

Research has called customer experience the ultimate competitive advantage and companies are creating new tools to help businesses monitor and manage it effectively. It’s clear that CX increasingly important to organizations around the globe, but what does it really mean?

Customer experience feels like a buzzword that you could easily swap out for “customer service” or other more tangible concepts, but it’s actually much larger.

In this post, we’ll discuss what CX really is and how it differs from customer service. Plus, we’ll dig into the other aspects of business that impact it, like marketing, sales, and product.

Defining CX

According to the Harvard Business Review, customer experience is the sum of all customer interactions across company touchpoints. From the online checkout experience to social media interactions to customer service and beyond, every individual experience creates the customer experience as a whole.

On the other hand, customer service refers to a specific aspect or factor of the customer experience. Customers receive service from a support staff member or use self-service resources, like forums, FAQs, and how-to articles, to find solutions themselves.

The big difference between the two is that customer experience encompasses every interaction between customer and company. Customer service only includes interactions in which customers seek and/or receive “support.”

Think about it like this: You may have experienced stellar customer service when a support agent for an online retailer walked you through an issue with a coupon code. However, you were ultimately frustrated because you couldn’t place your order through the company’s mobile website. Plus, the product pages don’t include enough photos… and the item you ordered showed up damaged.

Even though you received outstanding customer service, the customer experience as a whole was lacking. That poor overall experience might make you think twice about shopping with this company in the future.

Everyone impacts the customer experience

Now that we’ve established the difference between CX and service, let’s look at examples of how other departments and functions contribute to the customer experience.


We don’t often think of marketing roles as a “customer-facing” because their interactions are more indirect than service or sales. But the way a company markets itself has a major impact on the customer experience. From the content of its campaigns to the audiences it targets, a company’s marketing initiatives mold public brand perception and get people thinking and talking about it.

Say you own an outerwear company. A potential customer is researching the best option for a new winter coat and she finds a helpful blog post on your site comparing different types of winter coats based on needs, weather, and style. With that info in mind, she’s able to pinpoint and purchase the perfect coat for her next expedition.

This is one example of marketing’s impact on customer experience. In this case, it was positive for the company and the customer—marketing content fulfilled its purpose.

But consider the opposite scenario. Maybe your blog post lacked substance because it was written more for search engines than for humans. If a potential customer reads through the post and gets nothing but a mess of keywords, they might leave your site unsatisfied and a bit frustrated, looking for info elsewhere.

Examples of marketing touchpoints:

  • Website visits and app sessions

  • Email campaigns

  • Events and conferences

  • Social media interactions

  • Product and service promotions


There are many moments throughout the sales process that shape customer experience, and they start well before a purchase is made. Sales, like marketing, shapes consumer brand perception. As prospects make their way through each step of the sales funnel, they develop new opinions that guide their future decisions.

If a company has a broken or misleading call-to-action button on their website, like Buy Now when it should really say Request a Demo or Proceed to Shopping Cart, then shoppers have to climb hurdles in their path to purchase. Similarly, if a sales rep makes promises about the product or service that he can’t actually deliver on, prospects will inevitably experience confusion and disappointment that damage their brand opinion.

The impact of sales on CX is especially visible in B2B sales, when companies are building partnerships and “doing business” instead of just making a purchase. The sales cycle tends to be longer and more involved than in B2C, and salespeople rely on relationship-building to win deals.

Because the price tag is higher and the decision to buy or not buy is far more subjective, losing a deal in B2B sales is often inevitable. However, salespeople can learn a great deal from prospects when they ask the right questions. Our sales team uses win-loss surveys to get honest feedback from companies after closing an opportunity in Salesforce. The results have shaped our sales strategy and given prospects the chance to tell us what we could have done better.

Examples of sales touchpoints:

  • Communications with sales reps (emails, calls, in-person meetings, etc.)

  • Product page conversion elements (think live stock updates, coupon codes, etc.)

  • Purchase process

  • Post-purchase transition and handoff from sales

  • Delivery and/or implementation


Once a customer makes a purchase and receives a product or service, the interaction between brand and customer continues. If the product was delivered damaged or didn’t meet their expectations, the customer experience suffers. Without a convenient channel to voice their issues directly, customers might take their complaints to social media or review sites.

Product satisfaction includes more than just product quality though. Setup and implementation are a critical adoption phase that set the tone quickly, especially when reality doesn’t match customers’ expectations. For example, the instruction manual might be difficult to navigate or customers might expect implementation to take much less time than it actually does.

These details may seem minor on the business end, especially if the transaction is done with and the money is in the bank. But from the customer’s perspective, this is only the beginning of their brand experience—and it’s off to a bad start.

To capture customer feedback at these critical moments, you first need to consider where and when customers experience issues the most. Maybe it’s on your website, when they’re looking for an answer to a question. Or it could be in your app, when they’re actually engaging with your service. Or maybe it’s offline, when they’re assembling a product or using it out in the wild.

In any case, offering quick help and straightforward ways to raise concerns can mean the difference between a happy, loyal customer and a frustrated one that voices their issues online (and hurts your online reputation in doing so).

Examples of product touchpoints:

  • Setup and implementation (including instruction manuals, how-to guides, etc.)

  • Packaging

  • Usage and functionality

  • Feature set

  • Overall product quality

Customer Service & Support

As we determined earlier, customer service is just one of many components that contributes to customers’ overall brand experience, but it’s a big one. Customer service includes everything from interactions with support agents to the self-service resources that empower customers to find their own answers. And the moments when customers interact with your customer service department are often the most important ones.

The stats support the weight of service—good and bad—on CX. Take Zendesk’s findings on customer service:

  • 55% of people are willing to recommend a brand to others because of outstanding customer service (more than price or product quality).

  • 82% of people have stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service.

  • 85% of people would pay up to 25% more for exceptional customer service.

  • 95% of people have taken action because of a bad customer experience—and 79% of them told other people about it.

The numbers are clear—customer service matters a whole lot. But customer success—often its own department—also makes a major impact on the customer experience. If your company has a customer success team that manages customer onboarding and serves as the go-to for new customers, then CS will have perhaps the largest effect on customer satisfaction.

No matter how you structure your service and success organizations, you should prioritize customer satisfaction and decide how you’ll measure it early on. Customer satisfaction metrics like CSAT and Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) should serve as the key performance indicators for your customer-facing teams.

That involves more than just telling your support team they need to care about customer satisfaction—it means your whole company needs to recognize the value of the customer voice and give customer-facing teams the resources they need to treat each customer interaction with care and empathy.


We’ve discussed a wide range of touchpoints and roles here. Of course, not all are created equal when it comes to their impact on CX, and the import depends entirely on the company and the customer.

For example, if you’re a B2C company that primarily sells to and supports customers through your website, then the online checkout process and web support will probably matter more than other touchpoints.

The thing to remember is this: Managing CX can start small. If you’re just beginning to think about CX, take some time to rank the most critical touchpoints throughout the customer journey. Once you’ve prioritized, consider the best ways to measure customer satisfaction at each one. Is it through open-ended feedback, like in a web form, or 1-5 rankings, like in a simple email survey?

With a simple strategy in place, you can begin collecting customer feedback and establishing benchmarks and baselines to measure CX effectively. Then, there’s endless room to grow.

Learn more about how customer experience surveys can help you measure and manage CX.

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