Having the best product, for the best price, is no longer enough to guarantee success in today’s retail landscape. Among many ongoing shifts in the industry, customer centricity is emerging as an important differentiator of success. Customer experience and customer service are now top priorities for businesses wishing to build customer loyalty, grow their brand, and maintain their market share.
But what makes a good customer experience, or memorable customer service? And what is the difference between customer service and customer experience to begin with?
Service Vs. Experience: What Are They, and What is the Difference?
Confusion between these two terms is understandable: there is some overlap, and they are often used in confusing, occasionally interchangeable ways. Let’s define their most common uses.
Customer experience is the more wide-reaching term because everything
that touches your brand informs customer experience. From the first time a customer hears an ad to their latest conversation with support, customer experience is the sum of all interactions a customer has with your brand.
Customer experience can occur in digital spaces, through advertisements or an online store; it can also occur in a physical location, like a brick-and-mortar shop; it can even happen through interactions with a product.
Customer experience clearly has a human component. Interaction with employees, whether in-person, over the phone at a call center, or via chatbot or chat are all human aspects of the customer experience. This is where customer service comes in.
Customer service has a few recognized definitions in the industry, but it can really be summarized as any part of that brand interaction where a customer needs or wants some support. A call center agent tracking down a lost package, a fast-food worker taking an order at a drive-through, or a store clerk scanning someone’s purchases are all examples of a customer receiving assistance to solve their problem or add convenience to the experience. Chatbots, interactive voice response (IVRs), and other automated tools can also be valuable to providing customer service and helping customers solve simple issues.
Of course, customer service doesn’t have to be centered around a problem or issue. Customer service can also just be that extra human touch in the customer experience.
Customer Service Can Make or Break the Customer Experience
Customer service is just one aspect of customer experience, and an integral one at that. Customer service helps customers accomplish what they need any time they need a hand. Customers will remember how easy they found it to accomplish their goals by interacting with your employees—or conversely, how difficult and frustrating it was.
What differentiates good customer experience in retail?
Arguably the most important aspect of great customer experience in retail today is omnichannel capability. True omnichannel capabilities, instead of just disjointed multi-channel experiences, provide a seamless customer experience across apps, stores, webpages, call centers, and anywhere else customer experience can occur.
A truly frictionless omnichannel experience is one where the digital and physical components fit together seamlessly. A retailer that has a good connection between their app and retail stores, for example, can let a customer know if a specific product is available at a certain store or if they are low on inventory. A customer can be reasonably confident that their buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) order won’t come with the dreaded “Sorry, we’re out of stock!” email a few minutes later. A good omnichannel experience can build trust and, over time, win customer loyalty.
What differentiates good customer service in retail?
Good customer service in retail is much like good customer service in any other industry: it’s removing friction from the customer experience, being attentive to the customers’ needs, and giving the customer the solution they are asking for.
Great customer service is marked by going above and beyond. It’s solving a problem in the way a customer wants an issue to be solved — or giving them a solution that solves a deeper need than what they are explicitly asking for. The difference between good customer service and great customer service comes down to empathetic, attentive, and empowered employees.
I can give you a personal example. I was at Disney World a few years ago with my family. Our plan for the day was to go on specific rides and visit a different Disney Park the next day. We ended up being thrown off our schedule by an unexpectedly long wait time, so I decided to convert our tickets to park hopper passes so that we could come back the following day before moving on to the next park. When I made my request to guest service, the cast member asked if I would prefer being given a few extra FastPasses for that day. FastPasses admit you into a special, shorter queue at the head of the line and shorten your wait time. Using FastPasses the rest of the day would save us enough time to keep to our original itinerary.
That’s a great example of an empowered employee providing great customer service. The cast member listened to my problem, heard my suggested solution, and realized that they had the tools to solve the deeper root of the problem. Their solution saved me time and money and left a lasting impression. Good customer service builds your brand, but great customer service makes customers want to come back again and again.