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Customer Success as Part of the Customer’s Experience

Updated: Apr 15, 2019


Organizational Design Customer Experience Management

I was recently asked what the difference between customer experience and customer success is and how do the two relate.


Surprisingly it is actually a longer answer than one would expect.


Wikipedia describes customer experience as the “product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship” and that these interactions are “made up of three parts: the customer journey, the brand touchpoints the customer interacts with, and the environments the customer experiences (including digital environment) during their experience”.


It goes on to further explain that “customer experience implies customer involvement at different levels – such as rational, emotional, sensorial, physical, and spiritual” and that this involvement can be both active and passive.


Active meaning that the involvement is initiated by the customer such as when a purchase is made, passive when the customer receives an interaction with the brand either initiated by the vendor such as with advertisements or nurture campaigns, or via others through word-of-mouth advocacy (or negativism as the case may be).


Generally, customer experience has to do with feelings and how individuals personally respond to the interactions they have with a brand.


This is why customer experience has typically been the purview of marketing.


Marketing’s primary objective is to create the customer by presenting offerings of value to prospective buyers that they are excited to have.


Until more recently and especially prior to the advent of subscription services, marketing was traditionally focused on going to market, or the pre- and sales phases.


Customer success, most prevalent among software as a service (SaaS) companies, on the other hand is defined as “the function at a company responsible for managing the relationship between a vendor and its customers” with the objective being to drive successful product adoption to improve the customer lifetime value.


Customer Success’ primary objective is to keep the customer by ensuring that the vendor’s offerings continue to provide value to the customer so that they remain loyal, and ultimately buy more.


Customer Success “always refers to the customer relationship management after the initial sale” and their focus has been on enabling the product use and return on investment for customers.


The confusion lies in the fact that these two concepts have been tightly tied to functions within an organization (i.e. vendor centric) rather than a holistic philosophy centered around the customer’s journey.


These two groups largely use similar terminology (personas, segmentation, customer journey, critical moments of truth, etc.) but are often talking about very different ways to operate.


Customer experience professionals are frequently people with market research or marketing backgrounds, customer success professionals are regularly people with account management, professional services or support backgrounds.


Talk with customer experience professionals and you will hear a lot about creating positive experiences, talk with customer success professionals and you will hear a lot about creating positive outcomes.


These two concepts cannot be separated by pre- and post-sales functions.



A happy customer not receiving the outcomes they need will eventually leave no matter how happy they are, as will a customer that receives the value they require but is unhappy (eventually they can find another product delivering similar ROI and receive better service).


From a straightforward customer perspective, customer experience is what the customer encounters or undergoes with every interaction they have with the brand, customer success is what the customer achieves with the use of the product.


That is, the prospect that then becomes the customer, has experiences with the brand throughout their entire journey and the vendor should ensure that the customer is successful at each stage of the journey.


The objective is that consumers should have positive experiences and be successful at every stage of the journey.


When done correctly, the prospect will buy and become a customer, the new customer will use the product and receive value, becoming a loyal and long-term customer.


Customer success - it needs to be a part of the customer’s experience along the entire journey!

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