Customer Success vs. Customer Experience: Understanding the differences

Exploring the differences between customer success and customer support.

What is Customer Experience?

In order to understand how the two fields contrasts, it is essential first to understand what constitutes customer experience. As a parallel to how customer success evolved and emerged from the field of customer support, customer experience owes its foundation and development from the efforts of customer success. Having developed within the last few years, the area of customer experience expands on the principles and goals of customer success. An ongoing debate over the relationship and nature of the two fields is a dynamic and nuanced process. To simplify the terms of the debate, the core question concerns which of the two areas is an umbrella for the other. Some believe customer success resides beneath the broader scope of customer experience. Others believe the opposite. The most crucial factor is that the two fields converge into one another, remaining most successful when they work in unison.

What is the Difference betweeen Customer Success and Customer Experience?

Moving forward with the understanding that customer experience is thoroughly intertwined and overlapping with its predecessor field, some essential features help define the field of customer experience. The strategy of customer experience accounts for the whole of a customer’s journey with a business. This journey is part of the support for an argument that customer experience is the overarching structure that customer success resides under, given success strategies deal with a more concentrated arena of efforts and goals. From a customer’s earliest exposure with a business to customer churn, the field of customer experience involves assessment, engagement, and retention efforts. Customer experience tactics are an ongoing interaction with the customer to ensure high regard for the company's brand. This process goes beyond initial engagements to include every touchpoint that impacts the customer relationship to and perspective about the brand. Part of a description of the concerns of customer experience strategies can be to say that it deals in more abstract terms. A bulk of a customer’s experience is associated with their feelings and thoughts about a brand, product, or service. This could involve numerous interactions, such as a conversation with the marketing team, an expansion opportunity presented by a Customer Success Manager, or the physical and virtual environments constructed for the customer. Analyzing and understanding how the customer responds and interprets each of these touchpoints is part of their overall experience with the brand. In summary, the field of customer experience involves the entire journey a customer has with the brand and product—from the earliest points of brand exposure to any potential reasons for customer churn. Customer experience strategy aims to assess and respond to the customer’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives to be continually attempting to improve business strategy and operations.

What are the primary differences between customer success and customer experience?

  • Customer experience is people-focused. Customer success is account-focused.
  • Customer experience has a broader scope of time. Customer success begins at a later stage.
  • Customer experience is mostly interactive. Customer success is mostly proactive.

Focus: People vs. Accounts

Though both customer experience and customer success are critical to the relationships businesses develop with their customers, the role of the customer experience practice deals with the more abstract types of broad human experiences, including the customer's feelings, emotions, and perspectives. Customer success is more directly involved with managing and responding to a customer's particular needs and goals, specifically regarding the customer's relationship to the product or service of a company. In this respect, customer success identifies the pressing issues associated with a customer’s account. A customer success manager will use a combination of metrics, customer engagement, and strategy to inform efforts on predicting the needs or challenges of a customer. Thereby, the success strategy can mitigate or efficiently intervene in problem-solving for a given customer. This process also informs customer success on how to discuss and plan for broader goals for the customers.

Each of these efforts by customer success teams assists in informing the strategy and principles of customer experience. For instance, if a customer’s challenges or goals are sufficiently achieved through the efforts of the customer success team, then the customer’s feelings and perspectives about the brand and product are likely to be positively affected. Customer experience teams can track and analyze these responses from customers to further inform business strategy and operations. Two critical examples of the customer experience are recommendations and testimonials. These two outlets provide valuable feedback directly from the customer concerning their emotions and impressions about their experience. Such recommendations and testimonials often result in accounts being renewed or expanded.

The field of customer experience aims to understand the customer’s overall impression and association with the company. This strategic goal sets customer service apart from customer success in terms of the scope of its timeline with the customer.

How do the two fields differ in stages of engagement?

The stage of engagement is one of the critical distinctions between the two areas. Though the impact or result of customer success may have a broader impact on business strategy and operations, its core functions are best understood as focusing on the stages between when the customer first comes into a working relationship with a business and when this working relationship ceases. The core functions of customer experiences, however, extend beyond these parameters. A key feature of customer experience can exist long before the customer purchases a product or service. Once the working relationship begins, customer success develops engagement with the customer that predicts challenges and goals, developing strategies to mitigate and manage them.

Customer experience has an impact on the customer’s first contact. And this contact often exists before the customer engages in an active relationship with the company. This occurs in two primary ways. The first is the influence customer experience strategies have on the culture of a company. A top-down approach is imperative to the processes of customer experience. For customer experience strategies to be successful, they must align with the overall business or corporate policy. Such a process incorporates the unity of all teams or departments. As a result, the effort to establish a consistent and reliable experience for the customer invigorates the organization's broader culture. Employees at all levels and in every area are invested and influenced by customer feedback. The customer experience modality serves to assess, communicate, and adapt based on the impressions, feelings, and perspectives of its customers. As an extension of this top-down and cultural approach, customer experience processes influence front-end and back-end strategies and operations.

For example, the collection and analysis of customer feedback can impact needed changes. Assessing the negative input of customer experience can lend to positive refinements in strategy. On the front end, customer experience processes engage directly with marketing and sales teams, informing both on matters of how their given plans are being perceived and responded to by customers. This is not to say that customer success does not concern itself with similar efforts. However, the active functions of customer success focus on the time the organization has a working relationship with the customer.

Interactive vs. Proactive

To be clear, both customer success and customer experience do interact with customers. Customer success must interact with customers to engage their concerns and develop plans to achieve goals. But the interaction that customer success strategies employ is mostly done proactively. As discussed in earlier sections, customer success teams proactively attempt to identify areas and ways in which the customer can gain the most value from a product or service. The most precise way to distinguish customer experience from customer success is to state that customer experience is almost exclusively based on interactive processes with the customer. A primary purpose of customer experience is to satisfy and excite at every point of the customer lifecycle. As mentioned earlier, customer experience is interactive through the customer’s entire journey, from the initial sale to recommendations of products and services to others. Metrics and analysis of customer experience efforts are then used to refine or embolden each stage of these interactions.

How the two fields work in unison

Relative to the top-down, cultural structure and influence of the customer experience field and its exhaustive impact on an entire organization, customer success teams play an integral and intimate role in the customer experience process. With ongoing and direct relationships with customers, success teams are continually receiving and implementing customer feedback; thus, creating high-quality customer experiences. Customer success teams can immediately implement customer feedback in their daily interactions and contribute to the ongoing assessments by customer experience teams.

There are many ways in which these two disciplines overlap and work in unison. Both can work with product teams to alleviate or solve customer problems more efficiently. Each team can engage in their monitoring to identify patterns of achievements or issues before they have a terminal impact on the customer’s relationship to the business. To this end, customer success and experience strategies help maintain the longevity of a customer relationship, generate new customers, or increase renewals.

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