Customer Experience and Customer Success: What’s the Difference?

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Time to tackle another differentiation!

Last week, I once again tackled the topic of the differences between customer experience and customer service. This week, I’m going to see if I can do justice to the differences between customer experience and customer success.

Controversial? Yes. I think there’s controversy when trying to delineate customer experience with customer service, but the conversations become a bit more heated when it comes to customer experience and customer success.

Regardless, let me preface this post by saying: as long as we all work toward a common goal, as long as we all try to do what’s right for the customer, it’s all good!

So, let’s start with defining customer experience again:

Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, especially, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

What is customer success?

I have always defined it as ensuring that customers get the value they expected out of the products they purchased, that they achieve their desired outcomes. The business outcome is retention. I have typically associated customer success as a B2B endeavor, specifically B2B technology customers.

I did a little homework and came up with the following definitions from the customer success experts.

Lincoln Murphy, who wrote Customer Success: The Definitive Guide, defines it as follows: Customer success is when your customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company.

I wasn’t too far off, but I wanted to keep looking.

Gainsight defines it as: The business methodology of ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service. Customer Success is relationship-focused client management, that aligns client and vendor goals for mutually beneficial outcomes. Effective Customer Success strategy typically results in decreased customer churn and increased upsell opportunities.

I found this on Wikipedia: Customer success is the function at a company responsible for managing the relationship between a vendor and its customers. The goal of customer success is to make the customer as successful as possible, which in turn, improves customer lifetime value (CLTV) for the company.

Todd Eby of SuccessHacker says: At its heart, customer success is about understanding why your customer hired you, what are they attempting to achieve and then doing all that you can to help them achieve that.

Mindtouch says customer success encompasses the ongoing efforts of an organization to continue delivering value to its customers. A good customer success program aims to deliver value throughout every step of the customer journey, from pre-purchase to post-sale and beyond. This can include (but isn’t limited to) onboarding, product training, customer service and support.

Starting to see a pattern? Yes. Customer success is rooted in companies delivering value and customers achieving their desired outcomes. Guess what? So is customer experience. One more…

The Customer Success Association defines customer success as: a long-term, scientifically engineered, and professionally directed strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven value.

Um…

So, I then took a look at some of the ways people differentiated customer experience and customer success.

Helpshift noted that customer success is just one part of customer experience, and includes a longer description of the differentiation, which you can find here, but the key part is summarized at the end of their article: The real key to a phenomenal customer experience is a company-wide, top-down philosophy on what the result of the customer journey should be. It’s not enough to just have good CSAT; you want your customers to have an overall positive association with your brand as a whole. Customer success is just one part of this macro vision of the customer.

Sue Duris of M4 believes that the two will converge, but until then notes that customer experience is strategic, while customer success is transactional and product-centric.

This one is interesting. The Future of CIO blog differentiated between customer experience, customer service, and customer success as follows: Customer service is reactive, available when customers need it, in the channel when customers want it. Customer experience needs to be interactive, to delight customers in every touch point. Customer success is proactive, identifying ways to help customers gain value from the product or service you provide. Customer Experience is the broad umbrella that you deliver from purchase throughout the full “journey.” Customers need all of these areas to be a focus of the business if you want them to continue to buy and recommend your products/services to others.

ChurnZero differentiates the two by saying that customer experience is focused on the overall impression a customer has, while customer success is focused on the end results (or lack thereof) of those interactions.

***

I’ve read a lot of articles about customer success in the last few days, and the lines between customer success and customer experience are blurred by many; some don’t even come close. There are differences, but it seems fuzzy, for sure. Here’s how I’ve boiled it down.

Customer success is:

  • B2B
  • Product/value focused
  • Customer/outcomes focused
  • Account focused
  • Relationship focused
  • Retention/repurchase focused
  • Tactical in the scheme of things, but strategic as it relates to the account
  • One part of the equation, a subset of customer experience

Customer experience is:

  • B2B and B2C
  • People focused: employees and customers
  • Culture based/driven
  • Design focused – design products that deliver value, help customers achieve their desired outcomes
  • Product/value focused
  • Customer/outcomes focused
  • Relationship focused
  • Business outcomes focused
  • Emotions, feelings, perceptions
  • Strategic, enterprise-wide

Makes me question if the customer success role/discipline is really necessary. What do you think? Customer experience is the umbrella. Get the experience right – listen to customers, understand the problems they are trying to solve, innovate, and design and deliver a better experience – and customer success management becomes obsolete, no?After all… it’s all about the customer.

Make everyone think about things from the customer’s perspective. -Mike Grafham

18 COMMENTS

  1. Customer Success Association says their goal is to provide Customer Value. Mindtouch says: A good customer success program aims to deliver value.
    You say: Customer success is rooted in companies delivering value and customers achieving their desired outcomes. Guess what? So is customer experience.
    If everyone’s aim is to deliver value, why aren’t we focusing on this (the result) rather than processes or the method used CS or CX.

  2. Great analysis, Annette. Here are my definitions used in my exam prep course for Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) designation:

    Customer — anyone who has a role in the decision and action to get something and anyone who uses what is obtained.

    Customer Experience — customers’ realities in selecting, getting and using a solution that enables a capability they want. (their reality divided by their expectations)

    Customer Experience Management — programs that manage customers’ expectations, sentiment and behaviors (pre-sale and post-sale).

    Customer Success — dedicated efforts in ensuring customers’ usage of the offering and goal attainment (post-sale and especially important in subscription business models).

    Customer Service — organization’s conscience in favor of customers’ welfare, answering customers’ questions and solving their concerns real-time (typically post-sale).

    Customer Experience Management Strategy — objectives and approach for the enterprise that determine the degree of customer-focus experienced by customers.

    Customer Experience Transformation — alignment of a provider with customers’ preferences and goals through voice-of-customer influencing enterprise-wide strategic planning and management of processes, policies, people, business models, etc.

    I agree with you, Annette, that if CEOs emphasized the true definition of customer experience strategy and transformation, the burden on Customer Service and Customer Success would be significantly reduced. These roles will always be vital, but over-reliance on them as a company’s customer experience strategy is a very expensive way to run a business.

  3. Tracking your line of thinking, my one issue is why customer success can’t also be applied to some, non FMCG, components of B2C products and services. If I own an SUV, lawn mower, or laptop, can’t success also be defined by the personal performance and service value received over time?

  4. I agree measuring the value customers realize can and should be done, but feel these efforts can be more effective if done more granularly. For complex B2B customers there are usually several stakeholders that have different measures of success based upon their titles and MBO’s. Often sellers identify potential value at user or departmental levels but in doing so fail to provide enterprise views of value.

    For example if a seller’s offering allowed a manufacturing company to reduce outages of spare parts for their capital equipment:

    • The Maintenance Manager could reduce downtime, costs and overtime.
    • The Production Manager could avoid overtime and meet production targets.
    • The CSO could achieve top line revenue targets and meet customer delivery dates.
    • The CFO could meet or exceed margins by achieving revenue targets and lowering costs.

    Quarterly or annual meetings to track results give vendors opportunities to highlight and reinforce the benefits and value being realized.

  5. And, William Shakespeare had his character Juliet in Romeo and Juliet make some important comment about a rose. I know it is crucial that we achieve a meeting of the minds in good communication. Maybe it is because it is Monday morning and UGA lost an important game on the weekend. But I sometimes wonder if we would be more effective if we spent as much time thinking about clarifying results or outcomes, as you suggest, as we did defining whether a certain “smell” should be called a “rose” or a CQX!

  6. For me, ChurnZero provides the most useful distinction: “customer experience is focused on the overall impression a customer has, while customer success is focused on the end results (or lack thereof) of those interactions.” No coincidence that ChurnZero’s explanation is also the most succinct.

    Customer Experience (CX), like the words attitude, emotion, and results, is agnostic. Practitioners often assume only positive meaning for CX, and that creates confusion, evidenced by the title of your article.

    Customer success is not just provided by one company, as Lincoln Murphy says. In most B2B and B2C scenarios, there are a combination of variables that have direct bearing on customer perceptions and results. If I have an enjoyable experience at a sporting event, it’s because I like the stadium venue, my seat, and the team. I’ve had positive interactions with the traffic cop, parking lot attendant, ushers and ticket takers, security personnel, concession cashier, bartender. Every staff member I’ve mentioned works for a different organization and every one contributes to my overall experience. It also means that those sitting around me weren’t overly profane, belligerent, or obnoxious – things that are commonly outside of anyone’s direct control. It also helps if the weather is good. The notion that a company – and just one company – can control customer success fails to acknowledge salient risks. This example is extensible to many product experiences across broad markets and industries.

    Low churn, or retention, as a predictable outcome of customer success is another confusion: “The business outcome is retention.” Sometimes. But there are many products that are bought and sold once, or if there are follow-on purchases, they are sporadic. Achieving retention demands more from vendors, in particular, having a portfolio of products and services that customers can buy as their needs evolve.

  7. @John:
    Measuring Customer Value should not be confused with measuring tasks or satisfaction with a task. So let the maintenance manager et al measure what they have to
    But do measure Customer Value, what the customer values (he does not care about downtime and overtime and revenue targets etc.

  8. In my experience working with SaaS and MSP organizations, Customer Success refers to a function while Customer Experience refers to activities across functions. CSMs are typically involved immediately after the sale to assist with onboarding and account management with an aim to increase usage, achieve customer value, and engender trust along the way. CX includes CS along with all other functions involved in making and living up to promises the organization makes to its customers. While Customer Success contributes, Customer Experience ultimately determines whether a customer buys again.

  9. @Ed,
    I would respectfully suggest that CX does not determine whether people buy again. It suffers the same issue that CSat does. You may have a great experience on an airline that you normally do not use and may never fly again.On the other hand you may have a lousy experience on an airline you normally fly, and yet you will fly it again. And if suddenly you find an airline that gives you better value you will switch (Value incorporates success and experience).

  10. You make a good point, Gautam. Both value realized and experience form the basis for buying again. And both transcend the Customer Success function and are instead enterprise-wide concerns.

  11. Annette, always insightful, easy to digest posts. I’m curious on whether readers feel these definitions (which are all very similar) give customer service a bad rap. Or said another way, are we referring to traditional customer service delivered by a department or function? It seems the trend is for lines blurring more than what the definitions suggest.

    Think of Customer Success reps or Chief Customer Care Officers.

    What are their jobs?

    Only reactive?

    Only when there’s a problem to solve?

    No, they are increasing the percentage of time being proactive vs. reactive in order to create that customer loyalty resulting from feelings and perceptions that increases retention, testimonials and referrals.
    So do these efforts fall under customer service or customer experience?
    If we say customer experience, merely because they are proactive, then we are keeping customer service in its legacy bucket. I think the CS field is evolving towards a more CX-driven approach.
    Thoughts?

  12. Nishant, Customer Value is pro-active. It is based on understanding the customer, the competition and figuring out how to add value in excess of what competition can. The steps may include increasing experience in selected areas, improving product and service offerings, improving your people or your price. You need to work on a=only two or three key things, and not an omnibus approach.

  13. Ahhhh, one of my favorite topics. These are all great comments and thoughts. Maybe we could do a webinar on this discussion Annette?

    While the topic on the surface an appear academic, I view these as two very critical functions that inform very real decisions about how companies design the organization, build teams, define KPIs, and drive behavior to ultimately achieve growth through share of wallet, customer retention, advocacy, etc.

    I have many thoughts, but my basic belief is that CX (as you mention) is the umbrella and Customer Success (as in the CSM function) owns a subset, albeit a large piece, of the customer journey. The work involved in CX informs brand promise and Customer Success strategy, and CS is a critical execution arm. I don’t believe the CSM function will ever go away. Do some companies over-rely on it? Absolutely, but the CS function at its heart is a consultative function that serves as a VoC channel & on the ground pulse check for the business and helps customers understand how to evolve their use of products/services to as their business evolves (which the inevitably do). And when done right, the CS function isn’t a cost center (like Customer Support); it can actually pay for itself many times over.

    Sharing a few more thoughts below:

    Linkedin article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/intersection-customer-experience-success-part-i-gonzalez-ccxp/

    CXPA Insights Exchange Show & Tell: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uwZ1M2LWWhcgY91RONmUlhYneBCWqZXZ/view?usp=sharing

    And if your in San Francisco Nov. 7, come see me speak on this VERY topic! “Weaving the Thread of CX and CS” https://www.talkdesk.com/opentalk/speakers/

  14. Annette:
    Before closing, I would like to state what is in the literature:
    CSAT and CX do not correlate directly to loyalty. Sometimes high satisfaction means poor loyalty or market share (See JD Powers. They state that the highest satisfaction company does not have the highest market share).
    Yes, better satisfaction and experience can increase value and loyalty, but not always. For example if you are used to good courtesy at a store, higher courtesy/ experience may not lead you to buy.

  15. After 30+ years in business I have seen so many arguments about who or what is the most important or most strategic. Each case is made from the perspective of where the person or team making the argument sits. It matters not one jot. It improves life for customers not one iota. It contributes nothing to profitable growth.

    Whether I am David, Dave or any of the numerous other names people have called me makes no difference to what I do or how well I do it. I think you could have ended your article after the sentence “as long as we all work toward a common goal, as long as we all try to do what’s right for the customer, it’s all good!”

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