In casual conversations, “customer engagement” and “customer experience” are often used interchangeably. But from a customer relationship perspective, they are absolutely not synonymous and it’s critical to understand the differences. Here’s how we define them:
Customer experience (CX) is the perception of an individual interaction, or set of interactions, delivered across various touch points via different channels. The customer interprets the experience as a “moment in time” feeling, based on the channel and that specific, or set of specific, interactions. A visit to an ATM is a customer experience, as is the wait time in a branch lobby on a Saturday morning or the experience of signing up for online banking.
Customer engagement, on the other hand, is the sum of all interactions that a customer has throughout their financial lifecycle: direct, indirect, online and offline interactions, face-to-face meetings, online account opening and financial consulting. Engagement with a customer over time and repeatedly through dozens of interactions should ideally build trust, loyalty and confidence. It should ultimately lead to a greater investment of the customers’ money in the bank’s product and service offerings.
Why the Difference Matters
As customers demanded and used self-service and digital banking capabilities, bank executives focused on the user experience (UX); however, that is merely a subset of CX and a poor substitute for actual customer engagement. Moreover, the promise of digital-first often doesn’t meet adoption and usage goals, worsening the customer experiences while underutilizing the technology. The addition of digital-first channels can also cause confusion, frustration and dead-ends — resulting in an even worse CX than before.
Take for example the experience of using an ATM. If the ATM is not operational, this singular transaction — occurring at one specific point in time — is unsatisfactory. The customer is unable to fulfill their transaction. However, it is doubtful that after this one experience the customer will move their accounts to another institution. But if these negative experiences compound — if the customer encounters multiple instances in which they are unable to complete their desired transactions, cannot reach the appropriate representative when additional assistance and expertise is needed or is not provided with the most up-to-date information to quickly resolve the issue — they are going to be more willing to move to a competitor.
When banks focus on experience, they tend to only look at point interactions in a customer’s journey and make channel-specific investments — missing the big picture of customer engagement. This myopic focus can produce negative outcomes for the institution. Consider the addition of a new loan origination system that produces unsustainable abandonment rates. Or introducing live chat, only to turn it off because the contact center cannot support the additional chat volume and its subsequent doubling of handle times. These are prime examples of how an investment in a one channel, and not the entire engagement experience, can backfire.
While banks often look at point interactions, or a customer’s experiences, to assess operational performance, bank customers themselves judge their bank based on the entire engagement. Engagement spans all customer interactions and touch points, from self-service to the employee-assisted and hyper personalized. Now is the time for bankers to consider things from the customers’ perspectives.
Instead, banks should prioritize engagement as being critical to their long-term success with customers. Great things happen when banks engage with their customers. Engagement strengthens emotional, ongoing banking relationships and fosters better individual customer experiences over account holders’ full financial lifecycle.
Engagement enables revenue growth, as new customers open accounts and existing consumers expand their relationship. Banks can also experience increased productivity and efficiency as each interaction yields better results. Improving customer engagement will naturally increase the satisfaction of individual customer experiences as well.
The distinction between customer engagement and customer experience is central to the concept of relationship banking. Rather than providing services that aim to simply fulfill customer needs, banks must consider a more holistic customer engagement strategy that connects individual experiences into a larger partnership — one that delights account holders and inspires long-term loyalty with each interaction.