When we think about some of the biggest brands in the world, we tend to think about the things that set them apart: their marketing, their product(s), the sales experience, and, potentially, the service experience. Some brands even make that last piece a brand differentiator (after all, who thought of branding a service experience until Apple introduced its Genius Bar?) — which is certainly the trend among industry-leading companies. But behind the scenes, things tend to get a little bit muddled when we start talking terminology. So, what’s the best way to understand the difference between customer experience (CX) and customer support/service (CS)?

What is customer experience (CX)?

Customer experience is the entirety of a customer’s journey with your brand. That’s everything from the first ad they see, to the research they do around it, through to the purchasing and post-purchase experiences. Customer experience futurist Blake Morgan explains it this way: “[Customer experience] isn’t a one-off interaction, but rather includes the entire customer lifecycle and every touchpoint a customer has with a product or service.”

The customer experience starts with a company’s branding. Our own Head of Brand, Christine Richardson likes to point out that, “A brand is more than just a logo and some colors. It’s also all the intangible elements that make up your company’s identity. It’s a comprehensive experience that adapts to different situations and contexts while remaining reliably consistent.” A brand sets the tone for every interaction your customer has with your company. What kinds of promises are you making? How are you fulfilling them? All of these contexts impact your overall brand identity. If the pre-purchase experience differs entirely from the post-purchase experience, you have two separate customer experiences, and the last touch is likely to be the one customers remember — especially if it’s far more negative than the first. You’ll have broken an unspoken social contract with your customer.

The difference between customer experience and customer support

What is customer support or customer service (CS)?

This is where your customer support comes in to play. Customer support is a part of the overall customer experience and the fulfillment of that social contract. Post-purchase guidance and assistance is a second beginning for the brand-customer relationship. How much can you be of help when something goes wrong — or even if something is going right, but could be better? We see this especially in the SaaS world, where the customer relationship is renewed with each subscription renewal. It’s not just about closing tickets and troubleshooting, but about demonstrating the value of your offering (which includes your CS team) over and over again.

A part of the whole

When it comes to SaaS companies, Yael McCue, manager of the Strategic Customer Success team at Guru thinks of CX as “a long term coordination across many people (from the sales rep closing the deal to the CSM to the Product Team) that makes the customer feel always like they’re the most important person in the world. It is both a philosophy and the execution of that philosophy. CS, on the other hand, is a single action — a moment where a customer reaches out with a problem and you help them with that problem.”

Maybe the best way to understand the difference is to think all the way back to geometry class when you learned that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares? That’s also a good way to remember the difference between CX and CS — all customer support is customer experience, but not all customer experience is customer support.

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