Some argue over the difference between customer experience and customer success. Some say one is bigger than the other, almost as if there’s a fight for territory, a fight for the next wave of consulting-speak. I don’t want to enter that argument, but I deeply want to see greater success for customers in this world. I strongly believe that should one take two comparable well-run companies, the one that is more committed to their customers’ success will have greater business success than the other.
What is customer success?
There are numerous different definitions of customer success. Wikipedia expresses it as follows:
“Customer success is 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.” (Wikipedia)
According to the Customer Success Association the definition is: “Customer Success is a long-term, scientifically engineered, and professionally directed strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven value.”
Let’s also look at a couple of definitions of customer experience which I note below, not to pitch customer success against customer experience, but to compare the way the two concepts have been defined and point out a critical difference.
“In commerce, customer experience is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.” (Wikipedia)
“Customer experience is the perception of your customers based on all the interactions they have with your brand. Some of those perceptions extend beyond their direct interactions with you.” (CustomerThink)
Note how the definition of customer experience focuses on that which is created as a result of some form of interaction between the company and the customer. A simple diagram would illustrate this as a bubble that forms in the mind of the customer based some form of interaction with a customer. On the other hand, the definition of customer success focuses on that which the company does: a strategy or business methodology. For me, this is where the customer success definition misses the point.
Customer success is not the strategy, it is the outcome of the strategy. Surely the definition of customer success is should centre on the success that the customer wants. If you want a strategy let’s call it a Customer Success Strategy, just like if one wants to manage customer experience, it is called Customer Experience Management.
Lincoln Murphy puts it well: “Customer Success is when your customers achieve their desired outcome through their interactions with your company.” I like this. The focus here is on the customer and what they want. (As an aside: The fact that this definition includes the word ‘interactions’ immediately gives you clues to the nature of the relationship and overlap between customer success and customer experience, but we won’t unpack that right now.)
Building on Lincoln’s foundation, I believe there’s more to customer success. I want a definition that more deeply addresses the core of customer success and intimates the fact that it is co-created within a context. With this in mind, I propose another definition:
That’s the simple definition. A fuller, richer way to define the essence of customer success is tabled as follows:
Briefly unpacking this definition
It is worth expanding on some elements of this definition.
- Customer success is an accomplishment. It is something a company achieves. It is a values-based, purpose-driven result. While it requires a strategy and ongoing process and commitment to accomplish it, customer success is not the strategy nor process.
- Customer success accomplishes the customer’s purposes i.e. their reasons, desires, aims, objectives.
- Those purposes (reasons, desires, aims, objectives) are not always fully known to the customer. In other words, there are things that a customer may not explicitly state as a purpose for interacting with your firm or using your product, but the absence of it disappoints or thwarts the accomplishment. Companies that succeed in delivering success for their customers focus on both the conscious and subconscious purposes that commonly exist amongst their customers.
- Customer success should occur not only when a customer interacts with a company but also when a customer has or uses a company’s products. When I have success using my Nutribullet, I am not in any way interacting with the company that manufactured it nor distributed it.
- Customer success occurs within an ecosystem, that is, within a complex interconnected system in the lives of one’s customers. Indeed, both the manufacturer and retail store contributed towards my success in using and owning a Nutribullet (for which I am most grateful.) But let’s appreciate that my local grocer and electricity provider also contributed towards my success in this regard.
The heart of customer success
Much is said these days about business being a force for good in society. Something every business can do, and ideally would want to do, is to at least be a force for good for their customers. This goes to the heart of customer success. To focus on the success of the customer is to proactively look after their best interests, even when doing so is not the most popular short-term business decision. It’s comes down to customer ethics: living the company’s values with integrity and doing the right thing even when the customer is not watching or might never know.
Business leaders who really ‘get it’ – who comprehend and resonate with the real heart of customer success – grasp the gravitas of the fact that they are dealing with people’s lives. Such leaders’ intentions, decisions and actions demonstrate that they respect and honour the customer. With customer success as their ‘true North’, they find a way to innovate and excel within the parameters of a higher purpose and thus a higher standard of conduct. I for one would love to see more business leaders like this and challenge myself to be counted among them. What about you?
We have the privilege of working with exceptional companies, navigating the search for the ultimate treasures in customer success together. Give me a call or drop me a note. I would love to hear your views and challenges in this regard.