Takeaway for Readers:
- The difference between customer service and customer experience is perspective.
- To deliver a good experience, center the needs of your customers in the design of operations.
Are You Looking Outside-in, or Inside-out?
As we’re working across DHS to talk about customer experience with stakeholders, one misconception has been prevalent. And that is the notion that customer experience and customer service are the same and can be used interchangeably. They are different, but they are both critical parts of improving government services. The difference really comes down to perspective.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, customer experience is defined as:
Customer experience (CX) refers to a combination of factors that result from touchpoints between an individual, business, or organization and the Federal Government over the duration of an interaction and relationship.
Let’s unpack that a bit. The experience a customer has with a government service is shaped by their collective interactions with that service and the quality of those interactions, which we call “touchpoints.” This may be a single interaction such as visiting a webpage to learn more about a service. Or it may be the sum of many, many interactions as they work across that service to attempt to get their desired result. So, customer experience is from the perspective of the customer (or end user of the service). And it may vary from person to person as they have individual combinations of interactions because each person’s goals and knowledge of the service they’re interacting with is different.
Now that we’ve talked about customer experience, let’s move to customer service. Very simply defined, it is:
Customer service is the assistance and advice provided by an organization to those people who buy or use its products or services.
Customer service is a tactic organizations use to improve the experience customers have with their services. The key word here is “assistance.” This includes addressing issues customers already have with a service or as a way to remedy issues, frustration, or confusion with service offerings. Customer service channels can include a variety of options, from call centers to live chat to customer support kiosks to knowledge bases, to social media, and more. So, customer service is delivered from the perspective of the organization delivering the service and is a way to positively impact customer experience.
Example: Airport Security
How about a real world example to help drive home the differences between these two important terms:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administers the security process at all domestic airports across the country. Everyone who wants to get on a plane has to go through the security screening process. For many, this process invokes feelings of anxiety as they wonder if lines will be long or if they packed their carry-on appropriately.
As they go through this screen process, each flier goes through a similar set of interactions, from waiting in line to providing a boarding pass and ID, to placing their items on a conveyor belt to be screened, to walking through a metal detector (or other scanner), and then finally grabbing their items and heading to their gate to catch their plane. While these interactions are intentionally designed to be repeatable from customer to customer, the experience each person has may be different depending on how each interaction plays out.
One flier may be randomly chosen for additional screening that includes being swabbed for explosives. Another may have their baggage chosen for closer inspection by a transportation security officer. A third may have a less than ideal interaction with one of the officers on duty for that screening line. A fourth might breeze through the process with little problem. The cumulative experience each flier has going through the screening that day or over the course of multiple screenings forms their customer experience with TSA’s screening process and with TSA more broadly.
Now, let’s say that one particular customer has a question about what size shaving cream they can take in their carry-on luggage and they decide to call the TSA Customer Service Contact Center they saw on a sign to ask what size is allowable. They make the call and talk with a TSA customer service representative, who can efficiently answer their question. The process by which TSA takes their call and helps guide them through their questions is one way that TSA provides customer service.
That’s one simple example. Government services can be very complex and involve hundreds of interactions between the customer and all of the channels that make up that service, including digital, physical and human. In many ways, as service providers, we don’t control how end users experience our products and services. But by our intentional decisions about how to enact the touchpoints, we can both deliver the best possible experience and meet our missions. However, in the end, providing good customer service is one way to help ensure that customers have a great customer experience with any government service.