11 min read
Sep 13, 2017
Customer Service

Customer Service vs Customer Experience: Which One Does Your Small Business Need?

Is there a clear distinction between customer service vs customer experience? Here, I'll go through the difference and suggest software options for both.

Suzie BlaszkiewiczAnalyst

Customer experience is one of the biggest buzzwords to hit the business world in the past two years. According to a 2017 digital intelligence briefing from Econsultancy and Adobe, 29 percent of companies say that they plan to differentiate themselves from their competitors through customer experience over the next five years.

The problem is that its definition isn't always clear and often confused with its close relative, customer service. Are they one in the same, or is there a clear distinction between customer service vs customer experience? Here, I'll go through the difference between customer service and customer experience, and suggest software that'll help you in both departments.

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Customer service vs customer experience

Customer service

According to Gartner, customer service- also sometimes referred to as customer support- is "responsible for retaining and extending customer relationships once a product or service is sold." Whether from the business or customer perspective, it's likely that you've been exposed to a customer service department yourself. What you might be less familiar with is the software side of things. Customer service software helps solve customer service issues with the use of:

  • Ticket management: to assign, track and resolve customer queries.

  • Self-service portal : to let customers help themselves with FAQs, how-to's, and discussion forums.

  • Multi-channel support: to track customer service queries across various channels including phone, email, live chat, social media, or web forms.

  • Automation and triggers: to speed up the customer service process with features like email templates, macros, and auto responders.

Customer service software can take many forms, depending on which channel you're using. Call center, live chat, and social media management all have stand-alone software solutions, but these features can also be incorporated into (or integrated with) customer service software.

Customer experience

Customer experience (CX), also known as customer experience management (CEM), is more all-encompassing than customer service. Returning to the Gartner definition book, it defines customer experience management as "the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy." While it can (and does) include customer service, that's only one part of the complex customer experience process, which includes the entirety of the customer journey. From promotion to purchase, post-purchase to recommendation, customer experience covers the entire gamut of the customer lifecycle.

From a software buying perspective, this makes things a little bit trickier, as you'll generally require multiple pieces of software to satisfy every step of the customer journey. This can include features for:

  • Marketing automation: to promote your product or service on various channels including email, social media, and mobile.

  • eCommerce or POS solutions: to ensure that your customers have a smooth journey when purchasing your product or service.

  • Customer service: to help answer any questions or solve any issues post-purchase.

  • Advocacy marketing: to locate, amplify, and reward your most loyal and vocal customers.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of features and functionality for CX, it sets the scene for some of the key steps in the customer experience journey.

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Which tools are out there?

While tools for customer service are quite distinct, those for CEM may take a bit more time to navigate. Here are a handful of examples of each to help put you on the right track when looking for the tools that you need.

If you're looking for customer service software


Zendesk is a big name in customer service and helpdesk software. It offers features for ticket management, multi-channel support, customer service analytics, and a knowledge base and community portal for self-support. It also offers its own live chat solution under the name Zendesk Chat.

One user says the biggest pro of Zendesk is its ticketing system:

"I really do like the overall functionality of the solution. Thought-out, robust, and can help with foundational customer ticketing and tracking of customer concerns. This is a tool that performs and works a specific way and so you can really rely on it for a generic customer service platform."

Zoho Desk

Zoho Desk is another popular customer service solution that helps agents provide context-aware responses, meaning that all of a customer's history is in front of the agent so that they can answer questions with the help of previously entered information. Features include multi-channel support, a knowledge base, and workflow rules.

One user points to its automation as a key feature that helped with their workflow and efficiency:

"… We run daily reports, these have become an automatic task. We are able to track our work and look for 'Bottlenecks' in our process. From here we can fix any issues and increase our productivity."


TeamSupport is a B2B customer service and support solution that has features for task management, ticket management, a customer portal, and reporting. It encourages strong collaboration among customer service agents and departments so that anyone that needs to help resolve the issue can track it and get visibility by sharing the ticket.

Says one user about its tracking and reporting features:

"Team Support has given us the ability to track hours and types of calls we were getting. It allows us to see a trend by having the issues stored all in one area so that we can run a report based on customer or by overall tickets. We can create reports easily and filter based upon subjects we need to focus in on. Great tracking tool for our business."

If you're looking for customer experience management software…


Autopilot is a marketing automation tool for email, SMS, and in-app messaging that lets you target the customer throughout every stage of their journey. It allows for lead and data capture on web forms and social media, triggered emails and drip campaigns, A/B testing, and real-time journey analytics for better insight into customers.

Says one user about its automation and targeting:

"I love this tool. You can set up campaigns and forget about all the manual work once properly set up. Great tool for onboarding and lifecycle stages. You can set up multiple campaigns to send according to your specifications, depending on target behaviors."


As an eCommerce solution, 3dcart helps with the purchasing process of the customer experience. It includes a built-in CRM to help stay connected to customers post-purchase, a customizable online store, multiple selling and payment options, and built-in reports.

Most users note how easy it is to get up and running with 3dcart, as this reviewer highlights:

"About as easy as you can get. A true WYSIWYG site and super easy to use. I had my site ready in about 3 weeks with over 300 different products. Amazing! The ease of use and how quickly I can add products. What I did in 3 weeks would have taken me 3 months on other software."


Omnistar is a referral and affiliate software that lets you find, nurture, and reward your biggest advocates. Automatic tracking means that when users sign-up, referrals will automatically be tracked in the solution, while the survey features help to find which customers are likely to become advocates. From there, you can offer discounts or rewards to track more clients.

Says one reviewer about its integrations:

"Experience was great. The integration of this affiliate software is simple and works well with our current e-commerce solution. It also integrates with many 3rd party tools. There are lots of features that got explained to us during our introductory call with support. I would recommend this software for its ease of integration on use…"

More about customer service software:

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