Customer Experience Vs. Customer Success: Connecting Now to Later

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Customer experience is a phrase we hear all the time. It seems pretty self-explanatory… until you consider a very similar phrase: customer success. The two terms may sound alike, and they’re entirely related, but they are far from interchangeable.

Customer experience includes not just the experience of using your product or service but the customer’s impression at every touchpoint along the way. Customer success, on the other hand, is a measure of how well the customer’s goal is accomplished in the end.

To understand the difference between customer experience and customer success — and how they connect — put yourself in the shoes of a consumer in need of residential WiFi service. It’s a service nearly everyone seems to have, so it shouldn’t be that hard to get…right? But too often, the customer experience goes something like this:

  1. You go online to pick a plan via your internet provider’s website. You ask for the self-service installation kit, which is free and, allegedly, easy.
  2. It arrives, and you proceed to spend the next several hours of your life trying to install the WiFi, in vain.
  3. Fully frustrated, you call customer service, and after much waiting on hold and some haggling, a representative agrees to walk you through the process.
  4. Eventually, you get the WiFi working.
  5. But you wake up the next day, and it’s not working again. You pick up the phone, prepared to spend several more hours fixing the problem.
  6. Frustrated by the entire experience, you post a scathing online review of the service.

In a case like this, you, the customer, ultimately achieve success (working internet!). But your customer experience along the way is pretty hair pulling. And the customer service you experience is a big part of why. A subpar experience leaves you grouchy, resentful, and untrusting of your internet provider — not the best way to start off a customer relationship.

Customer Experience Has Many Touchpoints

In the scenario above, the customer’s experience did not start when they clicked “install.” It probably started when they moved into their home and asked the neighbors for internet-service information. They then presumably either got online or called the company for information about packages, rates, and details. They may have even done some sleuthing on social media or online review sites to compare options. Finally, they navigated to the website or called to speak with a representative to place the order. All of these interactions and points of communication were touchpoints along the customer experience journey.

The key to creating a positive customer experience is to ensure that the customer has a positive experience at every touchpoint, and a seamless experience across all of them. There can’t be a weak link in your customer experience, and the support options you offer must meet customer demands and expectations.

Customer Experience Is Empowered by Customer Service

Helpful dialog with your customer service organization is often a crucial aspect of customer experience early on. While a lot of customer service leaders consider their line of business to be standalone within a company, the truth is, customer service cannot be extracted from the greater customer experience. As Jeanne Bliss, the author of Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine, describes it: “The work we do is defined as customer experience rather than customer service. Customer experience is the proactive and deliberate orchestrating of an end-to-end journey between a customer and a company. Each stage of the journey is architected to understand the emotions and needs of the customer, and what he or she is trying to achieve.”

Customer service is woven tightly into the fabric of customer experience and often plays a critical role in creating customer success, too. 

Ultimately, Customer Success Is the End Game

All touchpoints are important, but not all are created equal. In our WiFi example, a customer might judge their experience much more on how the customer service interaction went than on how well the website performed, for instance. And ultimately, customer success might be more important than customer experience along the way. McKinsey reports that:

 …customer journeys are significantly more strongly correlated with business outcomes than are touchpoints. A recent McKinsey survey, for example, indicates customer satisfaction with health insurance is 73 percent more likely when journeys work well than when only touchpoints do. Similarly, customers of hotels that get the journey right may be 61 percent more willing to recommend than customers of hotels that merely focus on touchpoints.

That old cliche “the journey matters more than the destination” is not necessarily true when it comes to customer experience vs. customer success. The entire customer experience must be thoughtfully designed to lead to success, with customer service as the main driver.  

In the WiFi example, customer service is an integral part of the customer experience. But the nicest and most helpful customer service rep in the world adds little if the customer can’t get the WiFi working quickly. Helping customers achieve their goals leads to customer success, of course. But this is easier said than done. It requires that there be channels of communication between product teams, customer support teams, sales teams, and leadership teams. 

Customer Service Designed to Support Both Customer Experience and Customer Success

Customer experience is having a heyday as a term, but we can’t forget that the goal of providing good experience is to set the customer up for success. Ultimately, customer success is the goal of customer experience. 

Within customer service, there are plenty of ways to create a better experience that leads more quickly to customer success. These are just a few:

  1. Build a robust knowledge base, that answers almost any kind of question a customer might have.
  2. Based on this knowledge base, use automation to help your customers self-serve and to respond instantly to any customer service inquiry.
  3. Put in place AI-enabled issue classification to better direct incoming customer queries to the right resource or customer service representative.

There are plenty more customer service strategies you can use to create a customer experience that leads more quickly to customer success. The point is, your long-term customer service strategy must be designed to enable your customers to reach success as quickly as possible, with as little frustration as possible. 

Scrutinize Your Customer Experience to Improve Upon It

Of course, you might be doing everything right and still struggling to provide your customers with a quick path to success. Customer experience and customer success are dependent on so many disparate factors that it’s essential for your business to test and measure which factors determine satisfaction and success the most, and emphasize those.

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. 

Customer success is just one part of this macro vision of the customer. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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Published September 7, 2016
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