Is it customer service or customer experience?

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I once had an opportunity to go behind the scenes in Orlando, Fla., with the Disney Institute to observe firsthand how Disney methodologies are executed at Disney World and I have always considered Disney the model of the good customer experience … or is it good customer service?

Frankly, I’ve always assumed they’re one in the same until I recently read a piece in the Harvard Business Review by Bruce Jones, senior programming director at Disney Institute. Here are some things he says that are worth serious reflection as our dealerships enter the prime boating sales season:

“The term ‘customer experience’ is ubiquitous in business these days,” Jones said. “In fact, focusing on the customer experience has become the single most important way for an organization to achieve success — often becoming its key differentiator and competitive advantage.”

But is customer experience and customer service the same thing? Not according to Jones. Most importantly, we should understand it.

“First, let’s start by defining customer experience as the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company,” Jones said. “This can include everything from a customer’s initial awareness or discovery of a company, product or service and progressing through the purchase and use of those products or services. Together these all add up to the critical moments — the touch points — that create an organization’s overall customer experience.”

Jones cites an example of a car dealership he worked with to better understand what customer experience is (and is not). He analyzed and created in the entire organization an intentional effort realigned and focused around exceeding customer expectations at every touch point. Through the last few years, sales have increased 26 percent for that dealership.

“The key learning here is that customer experience moves us beyond the traditional definition of customer service,” Jones said, “those individual moments when employees are providing direct service to customers. It is about the bigger picture of what happens before and after these service interactions.

“This distinction is more important than ever now. Customer experience must be approached holistically, with those responsible for each area of a company’s offerings giving intentional focus to how their decisions will shape and impact the overall customer experience,” he said.

Jones offers three actions a dealership can take to raise its customer experience:

Create an organizational common purpose: It’s a succinct explanation of what you want the customer experience to be at an emotional level and it is the essential foundation on which all other service decisions can be developed. It represents to your team what you stand for, why you exist and it’s your primary tool for getting everyone on the same page.

Get to know your customers holistically: Your knowledge of the customer must extend far beyond the boundaries of traditional service criteria. Truly understanding their needs, wants and emotions, as well as any industry stereotypes, is the key to personalized interactions.

View exceptional service as an economic asset instead of an expense: Repeat business and lifetime customer relationships are always at stake, so the return on investment for providing a consistently exceptional customer experience clearly justifies any short-term cost.

So customer experience is about much more than just customer service. It is about fostering employee engagement in the dealership. It’s about understanding our customers, creating a plan for delivering exceptional customer service and empowering employees to deliver it. It’s also about training leaders to recognize and reinforce the right behaviors and discovering and acting on your dealership’s areas of opportunity.

Disney Institute uses business insights and time-tested examples from Disney parks and resorts to help organizations develop a customer experience culture. One can go behind the scenes in a “living laboratory” to observe firsthand how Disney methodologies are executed and how they can be adapted and applied to any work environment.

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