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Why Customer Success is not Customer Experience

AvatarPala | December 1, 2018

Who owns the customer experience in your organization?

When it comes to putting customer experience management into action, it’s critical to know who owns the moving pieces. Who’s accountable for ensuring that every single customer encounters a well-designed and well-executed experience – regardless of where they are in their journey? Without true accountability, pieces are bound to slip through the cracks.

In today’s B2B world, customer experience management (CEM) often falls to the customer success team. They naturally gravitate to the role because they spend a lot of time talking with customers and they have an intimate understanding of what customers need. In the subscription economy, customer success has almost become synonymous with customer experience.

However, in reality, customer experience comes from a vastly different place. The origins of CX lie in the B2C domain and are steeped in the discipline of market research. The roots, evolution, methods, and analytics of CX are completely different from what has today come to be called CS in the subscription economy.

While CX and CS are two sides of the same coin, they come to the table with vastly different perspectives and modes of operating. Customer success only offers a small view of the customer experience. Customer experience encompasses everything from the very first touchpoint of a prospect to the moment a customer churns.

Relying solely on customer success for customer experience will leave you with a big blind spot.

Melinda Gonzalez, Salesforce advisor and CEO of MGCX Advisors, explains the difference this way. “Philosophically, CX and CS have the same general goal, which is to strengthen customer engagement, retention and brand advocacy. But,” Melinda continues, “as business functions, they operate quite differently.

Here’s why customer success is not the same as customer experience, and why treating them the same will let your CX lag behind your competition.

1. Customer experience comprises the entire customer journey

Customer success begins from a perspective of doing whatever it takes to make the customer successful. But what about everyone who isn’t your customer?

Consider a prospect that doesn’t end up purchasing. Understanding why, and feeding that information back to sales and marketing is critical to the customer experience. But because this prospect was never a customer, this process doesn’t touch customer success.

The customer experience begins even before the customer’s expectation is set, and before they’ve even heard of your organization. From the beginning, every point along the journey has an additive effect on the customer’s perception of the organization. To drive the metrics that matter (repeat purchase, retention, and advocacy), we must look beyond customer success to understand each touchpoint contextually.

A contextual understanding of each touchpoint requires data from the entire customer journey. For example, in a typical organization:

* Marketing sets expectations for each new potential purchaser (ie. advertisements)

* Sales helps facilitate a purchase online or in-store (ie. test driving a new car)

* Product delivers an experience based on those expectations (ie. new washer and dryer installation)

* Service resolves any issues that crop up along the way (ie. contacts from a dissatisfied customer)

Whereas a siloed customer success team might only look at the ongoing value the customer receives, customer experience requires a much bigger perspective. Customer experience requires department silos to be broken down to include the marketing, sales and product functions.

2. Customer experience involves everyone’s voice.

To improve the customer experience, organizations must embrace a wide variety of perspectives. While Voice of Customer (VOC) initiatives are important, they don’t showcase the whole picture. Organizations also need to bring together the Voice of Employee, Voice of Partners and other intermediaries to understand the 360 degree view of the customer experience.

Customer Success is focussed on listening to the VOC, and they do an excellent job at distilling what the customer is saying. But they don’t have ears on what employees think, or what partners need.

For example, employee NPS has a strong correlation with customer NPS. As Bain and Co writes, “Employee promoters power strong business performance because they provide better experiences for customers, approach the job with energy-which enhances productivity - and come up with creative and innovative ideas for product, process and service improvements.” Improving employee engagement has a positive effect on multiple customer journey touchpoints.

If CEM is based solely on what Customer Success is saying, you’ll be listening to only one of the many important voices. Customer Experience Management is only successful if it uses a wide lens to view the entire customer journey from every angle.

3. Customer experience requires predictive, integrated analytics

Measuring Customer Experience is very different than measuring Customer Success, due to the unique origin of each discipline. CS is based in the subscription economy, whereas CX has its origins in market research.

CS focuses on tangible operational data like renewals, product usage adoption and NPS scores. These metrics are important to customer experience as well.

But CX focuses on more intangible data, like contextual surveys and customer engagement. It requires a deep look at Voice of Customer data across the entire customer journey. These experience metrics, when analyzed by a CX platform, let you take immediate action to impact revenue.

And ultimately, customer experience is concerned with the connection between all of these elements. How can we accurately predict what improvements will have the biggest impact on the customer experience? What feelings do we need to ignite to improve the financials?

Because of this added complexity, CEM requires very different analytical capabilities than customer success teams do.

Where does Customer Experience actually live?

So if customer success can’t be held accountable for customer experience management, where does this responsibility fall?

It’s tempting to say that customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. It sounds nice, and in a way it’s true. In order for an organization to actualize a complete customer experience transformation, everyone needs to be on board.

But practically, that doesn’t work. Telling everyone to own customer experience will create a logistical mess. There’s no accountability and nothing will get done.

Instead, customer experience needs to be owned by either the CEO or someone directly reporting to the CEO. If the CX leader doesn’t have that kind of access, customer experience initiatives are likely to fail.

Why does customer experience leadership need to come from the top? It’s because it relies on organizational access and the ability to make change. When we’ve seen mid-level managers who report to a head of marketing tasked with improving customer experience, they often don’t have the authority or the data to make the necessary improvements. Through very little fault of their own, initiatives fall short of what they could impact with the right backing.

Customer experience needs to generate metrics and insight across the entire customer journey. No single person can own the journey from start to finish. Product, marketing, sales, and services all deliver a tiny slice of the experience.

That’s why the Head of CX needs to be able to talk to all the various disciplines and also have the backing of CEO. Customer experience management is a cross-functional discipline and it requires the ability to work with a cross-functional team.

Marketing is also not CX

If you’re in marketing, you might be reading this article and thinking “Yes, but marketing is customer experience.” But marketing alone cannot be successful at delivering transformational CX.

It’s true that marketing extends across the entire customer journey. Marketing starts with awareness and prospect conversion, but it doesn’t end there. They find evangelists and happy customers further down the journey to encourage referrals and advocacy. They often lead NPS surveys and have similar metrics to the customer experience lead. In the experience economy, it can be difficult to tell a marketing team from a customer experience team.

However, marketing can struggle with the operational aspect of customer experience management. CX is rooted in hands-on operational changes like shipping details, invoice updates and service improvements. These aren’t the typical domain of marketers, and they tend to find it difficult to execute the necessary ground level changes. In order to be successful, marketing teams need buy-in from partners across the organization to break down department silos.

Marketing brings a unique perspective to the customer experience program. In fact, we often see marketers becoming Chief Customer Officers. They are an important stakeholder in the process, because customer experience is the new marketing, after all.


At CloudCherry, I own customer experience. At an early stage, it makes sense for CX to come directly from the CEO because they have an all-encompassing view on the entire customer journey.

But everyone has a hand in delivering our customer experience. Sales and marketing create the customer expectations in the prospect stage, product determines usability and how the product feels, customer support delivers exceptional service and customer success ensures ongoing usage and value.

Ultimately, we need to remember that customer experience is not just customer success, but so much more than that. And, frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you call it – as long as the customer’s expectations are consistently being exceeded across the entire journey. The title of the department is just semantics.