Jun 24, 2024 | 8 min read

Guide to customer service vs. customer experience

On the surface, customer service and customer experience seem quite similar. They’re both frequent conversation topics for businesses big and small, and company success often relies on the quality, effectiveness, and intentionality of both.

In reality, service and experience refer to two distinct phases of the customer journey. That means the corresponding initiatives and strategies require unique approaches and ideas.

The main distinction is that customer service refers to reactive assistance, typically following a one-off problem or isolated incident. Meanwhile, customer experience (or CX) refers to the entire journey a customer takes with your company, made up of many individual touchpoints that form an overall impression.

Beyond that, how do these concepts translate to your real-world business, what impact do they have on your customers, and how can you prepare for success in both areas?

Defining customer service and customer experience

Customer service vs. customer experience—it’s not so much a battle but a pas de deux. Both are essential for customer-facing businesses and work best in tandem:

  • Customer service Responding to customer questions, resolving complaints, and providing assistance during the shopping experience are all classic examples of customer service. The interactions are often one-on-one and tend to be more reactive: meeting a need the customer has explicitly expressed. Research shows that 88% of customers say that good customer service makes them more likely to buy from a business again.
  • Customer experience Broader than customer service, customer experience refers to the sum of all parts: a collection of customer touchpoints (interactions with your brand) that color the consumer’s impression. The customer journey might look something like this: seeing an Instagram ad while scrolling, looking up your website, searching product reviews on third-party platforms, following your social media account, and finally, visiting in person or making a purchase.

If every touchpoint is positive and cohesive, the customer experience is viewed favorably. According to PwC, consumers place high value on efficiency, convenience, friendly service, and easy payment.

While customer service and customer experience are separate concepts, they interact regularly. Oftentimes, customer service is one part of a larger customer experience strategy. For example, a customer service representative at a clothing store might help a customer find the perfect outfit for an event, or a technical support agent might help assist a user struggling with a software installation. Both of these touchpoints slot into the customer journey.

The critical differences between customer service and customer experience

There are notable differences when it comes to customer service vs. customer experience:

  • Scope – Service refers to individual interactions between the customer and a member of your team, often regarding specific problems or requests. Experience, in contrast, refers to a collection of interactions, some one-on-one with a sales associate, for example, and some between the customer and a digital ad, email newsletter, online checkout process, brand design, and more.
  • Conclusion – In the same vein, a customer service interaction has a clear endpoint and, ideally, a satisfying resolution for the shopper. The customer experience is ongoing, starting with their initial impression. Following a purchase, it includes touchpoints like post-purchase surveys and customer loyalty rewards. Even if they stop frequenting your business, their experience isn’t truly over; with the right re-engagement strategy, you can always win them back.
  • Timeline – As mentioned, customer service is largely reactive: taking the customer’s order, listening to and interpreting their feedback, remedying the situation with a correction, discount, or incentive, and potentially following up to ensure their continued satisfaction. Good customer experience is proactive in that business owners tailor and improve experiences to better serve customers in the future.

Let’s look at two different examples:

  1. You buy a new camera but have trouble using it, so you return to the real-time chat feature on the retailer’s website. The support rep on the other end walks you through the steps to resolution, and by the end of the interaction, you’re able to use your camera without a hitch. You feel good about your purchase and the business’s support features. This is quality customer service at work.
  1. A customer finds out about your business through a social media post. They click the link in the bio and are impressed by your user-friendly site. They easily navigate through the online check-out process, and once they become a customer, they can talk to your customer support representative to solve a tricky issue they encounter. Then, they receive regular emails from your business and buy more of your products, remaining a long-time customer. This is the power of positive customer experience.

Why both customer service and experience matter

The most important commonality between customer service and experience is how important they are for business growth and success. The biggest influences on brand loyalty are great customer service, as well as aspects of the overall< customer experience, including a brand’s mobile app and its effort to build a relationship with a customer.

Both critically impact whether a one-time shopper becomes a long-time customer; studies show that a majority of customers will leave a business due to poor service.

Enhancing customer service

You can invest in strategies and tools to elevate your customer service strategy and ensure customers receive smooth resolutions to their issues. For example, you can train your employees and team members to empathically and actively listen to customers. You can also equip them with in-depth product knowledge so they can confidently answer questions and provide accurate information to customers in need.

Technology also plays a big role in customer service. You can hire customer service reps to answer phones, create a self-serve knowledge base on your website (like an FAQ or Resources page), and deploy chatbots (both AI and human).

Even your customer service policies themselves can make a difference in how your team executes your service strategy. If you establish clear and defined expectations, your customer service team will be empowered to make decisions without seeking constant approval, and they’ll have well-established protocols for different issues.

Optimizing customer experience

So, wondering how to improve customer experience? Because your customer experience is a holistic journey comprising many touchpoints, your optimization efforts have to be equally far-reaching and comprehensive.

Here’s how you can break that daunting task into manageable steps:

  • Establish your customer journey – What does it generally look like, and what are all of the discrete points along the path? Mapping the positive< experience visually, whether on a real or virtual whiteboard, can help everyone on your team understand the vision and leave no stone unturned in developing your digital customer experience strategy.
  • Invite everyone to the table – When it comes time to brainstorm, facilitate cross-departmental collaboration so that the different areas of your business (sales, marketing, customer service, and even operations and product) can share information. Diverse perspectives internally will likely create a more widely appealing experience externally, enhancing your overall customer experience marketing efforts.
  • Personalize customer experiences with data – When you collect valuable customer data (such as demographics, buying behavior, and lifestyle factors), you can use those insights to deliver improved communications. If you segment your audience into core groups, you can tailor your email outreach, targeted ads, and even promotional offers to best align with their habits and preferences. This is exactly what Rita Shelley, founder of Cheeky Spices, says improved her ad campaigns. By using different messaging for different zip codes, she was able to better resonate with those consumers. For instance, she promoted the health benefits of her spices to neighborhoods with families but emphasized the great taste of neighborhoods with university students.

Integrating customer feedback into business strategies

Why guess when you can simply ask? Customer feedback can give you a wealth of insights that elevate both the service and experience you’re providing.

Gather feedback from different channels, such as post-purchase email surveys, social media comments, and third-party review platforms. You can also train your customer-facing team members to actively listen to and interpret customer feedback. Sometimes, listening for the problem within the problem yields much more actionable and applicable insights.

After gathering feedback, you can put it to work to enhance both customer service and experience. For example, you can analyze and categorize customer feedback to identify recurring trends, where your business is excelling, and where adjustments can be made.

You can also analyze feedback frequency to prioritize customer issues. Start by tackling the most common issues so you can deliver value right away. This will give you time to address larger concerns that require more robust solutions, too.

Future trends in customer interaction

Technology certainly appears to be shaping the future of consumer engagement. For example, AI-powered self-service tools (such as chatbots) are becoming more sophisticated, offering personalized support and handling routine customer inquiries around the clock.

Other trends to watch include:

  • Predictive customer service analytics, where companies can use data insights to anticipate customer needs
  • Omnichannel experience management, even for small businesses; Crieve Hall Bagel Co., for example, offers the option for customers to order in-person, online, or via Uber Eats.

Customer service + experience = an invaluable investment

When it comes to customer service vs. customer experience, both play crucial roles in how a customer interacts with your business and evaluates those interactions. Excellent customer service is essential for meeting customers’ needs with urgency and ensuring their continued satisfaction. Meanwhile, a carefully crafted customer experience can positively impact every aspect of your business.

Investing in both customer service and customer experience can ensure sustainable growth and long-term customer satisfaction.

If you’re eager to reach more customers in your area and best meet their needs, Nextdoor Ads Manager can help. You’ll be able to reach specific audiences with precise messaging, thanks to powerful targeting options. Get started with Nextdoor Ads Manager today.


  1. Salesforce. 36 Customer Service Statistics To Move Your Business Forward. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/customer-service-stats/
  2. PWC. Experience is everything. Get it right. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/library/consumer-intelligence-series/future-of-customer-experience.html
  3. Statista. Leading brand loyalty drivers among consumers worldwide in 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1077882/why-consumers-are-loyal-to-brands-worldwide/

  4. Forbes. Ninety-six percent of customers will leave you for bad customer service. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2020/07/12/ninety-six-percent-of-customers-will-leave-you-for-bad-customer-service/?sh=3e7d125830f8
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