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Customer Service vs. Customer Experience

An opportunity to attend the Disney Institute in Orlando, Fla., enabled me to learn firsthand how Disney methodologies are operationalized at Walt Disney World. Most observers would likely agree with me that Disney is considered the model for a good customer experience … or is it a model for good customer service?

I’ve always assumed customer experience and customer service are one in the same. That is, until I learned at Disney they’re not. And perhaps there’s no more important time than now for dealers to recognize the differences, given the expectations that demand will be moderating, inventories will be replenishing, and attention to details will be a must to keep business moving forward by emphasizing customer relationships.

What’s true today is that the term customer experience seems universal in business. Indeed, focusing on the customer experience has even been touted as the single most important way for a business to achieve success. It’s usually touted as the key differentiator and a competitive advantage. Customer experience and customer service the same thing? Wrong.

The definition of customer experience is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a dealership. It embodies virtually everything from a customer’s first awareness of the dealership, through the discovery of products, and on through the purchasing and use of the product. The same applies to services. These are all referred to as “touch points.” And when viewed together, these steps all add up to the critical times that create an organization’s overall customer experience.

Put another way, recognizing and emphasizing what customer experience includes should lead to an understanding that it moves well beyond the traditional definition of customer service. CS is only those individual moments when a dealer’s employees may be providing a direct service to a customer. In other words, customer experience is the big picture encompassing what happens before and after interactions.

The distinction is now more important than ever. What one dealer fails to recognize will hand an advantage to a competitor that does. Put another way, customer experience must be all inclusive. It’s a responsibility of each employee in each area of a dealership requiring intentional focus on how their decisions and actions will impact the overall customer experience.

Here are three ideas that could increase focus and raise your customer experience.

1. Everyone must understand there’s a common purpose in the dealership. Define what you want the customer experience to encompass, and it becomes the foundation on which all other service decisions are developed. It says to everyone on the dealership’s team what you stand for and why you exist; it’s the primary focus intended get everyone on the same page.

2. Your knowledge about the customer should be all-inclusive. This should extend far beyond the boundaries of traditional sales and service interactions. After all, we don’t sell boats; we sell experiences. Understanding their wants or expectations and the emotions connected will always be the key to beneficial personalized interactions and a good experience.

3. Repeat business and lifetime customer relationships are what’s really the goal here. Providing a consistent, exceptional customer experience will always produce a solid return on any short-term cost or investment.

So customer experience is about much more than just good customer service. It’s about real engagement by every employee in the dealership. It’s about understanding customers, backing them with excellent customer service, and empowering employees to always make that happen.

If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you couldn’t help but be wrapped up in the ways Disney creates the model experience. In turn, the Disney Institute offers sound business insights and best practices in developing a customer experience culture. One can be in a “living laboratory” to see first-hand how they apply the workable principles in any work environment. More information can be found at

I also witnessed the Disney experience culture in action. We were eating lunch at an outdoor café when a large raven swooped down and scared our 3-year-old granddaughter Lillie. She was shocked and shaking with fear. No matter what we tried we couldn’t console her.

A Disney employee asked if we needed help. We explained what happened. She said she’ll be right back, and upon returning she softly spoke to Lillie while handing her a Mickey Mouse doll. It immediately calmed her, and when I wanted to do something for the employee or pay for the doll, her answer was: “Thank you, no, that’s why I work here, to make sure you have a magical day.”

At Disney, they clearly walk the talk. That should be the goal in the dealership, too.



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