Hints and Tips | | Published March 10, 2017

Customer What?!? Decoding Customer Support Terms for 2017 - ASP Report Summary

There are many terms in customer support that are used interchangeably, sound the same, or are just plain confusing! For example - help desk, customer support, and customer service - is there really a difference? That's another blog post, but today we want to talk about the latest buzz words in the industry and try to shed some light on the subtle, but important, differences between customer success, customer experience, customer satisfaction, and customer effort. Our good friends at the Association of Support Professionals (ASP) recently published a full report on this topic, and it inspired us to write this post!

The Interaction

Customer Experience

Customer experience is the most broad term - encompassing things from onboarding and adoption, to renewals and migrations, and of course individual support interactions. The customer experience can also be referred to as the customer journey - it's literally every experience the customer has with your company. Even a pre-sales encounter like navigating a website when first researching solutions and working through a software trial are part of the customer experience.

When working to measure and improve the customer experience, the goal is to make every interaction as seamless as possible. As Bill Skeet of Cisco notes, "customer experience shapes expectation." There isn't a quick and dirty way to measure customer experience, but you can look at metrics like adoption rate, renewal rate, and churn to get an idea of how you're performing. Customer effort can also be a large indicator of the customer experience, but we'll talk about that later. 

Customer Success

Customer success goes a step beyond the customer experience, it's about taking steps to ensure your customers are successful and as such is where the customer experience should lead . This is important in B2B customer support because a successful customer is a happy customer - and more importantly, if you contribute to your customers' success they are more likely to be a long-time customer. While it's hard to measure, customer success encompasses things like proactive customer support and providing knowledge about best practices. It also includes really working to understand their business so you can offer suggestions to improve efficiency, profitability, and ultimately success. 

In a SaaS business this is essential to ongoing subscription revenues (aka renewals) and in non-SaaS the impact is on upselling, expansions, and cross-selling. Both directly impact revenue. Don't forget, the goal of focusing on customer success is to improve the overall customer experience and ensure users are getting value from your product or service. All of this will eventually increase product adoption rates.

So how do you measure customer success? You really can't, only your customer can determine if they feel successful or not after working with you. But you can always ask for their feedback! Measuring customer satisfaction is certainly a good indicator of success. To really simplify it, think of it this way - a customer who feels you are meeting their needs will be "satisfied" and a customer who feels you go above and beyond, understand them and their business, and are a true partner will be "extremely satisfied".


The Metrics

Customer Effort

Customer effort is a metric - it is a way of measuring how much work a customer has to put in to do business with you. This can (and should) be measured early in the relationship, in terms of effort to become a customer, or throughout, in terms of effort to do business with you, resolve support issues, etc.

In the ASP report, Skeet mentions that he feels customer effort impacts a customer's perception of their experience. We agree with this statement. Measuring it requires asking the customer and assigning a "customer effort score" to record it. It will usually also require a follow up to figure out what the cause was - did they have an expectation that something would be easy and it wasn't, are they being unrealistic or can the process be streamlined? Responses from these questions will help determine the steps to take to improve customer relationships. 

Remember too that responses will be affected by the individual, for example today's millennials likely consider being forced to call customer support (rather than finding the answer themself or sending a text) to be too much effort and would therefore give a low customer effort score, whereas an earlier generation might see that as an extremely easy process and rate it much higher. Similar to the old question "how easy are we to do business with?" the customer effort score really must account for emotion as part of the metric.

Customer Satisfaction

Although by definition an intangible thing, when referred to in customer support terms customer satisfaction is a metric; a way to measure customer happiness. In the past decade the most common measurement has been the NPS, or Net Promoter Score, which asks customers to rate the likelihood of recommending a company to their peers on a scale of 0 through 10. More broad measurement tools include transactional surveys and customer satisfaction surveys.

This is probably the most long-standing term in our list, and unfortunately the most abused. Many business have used NPS or customer satisfaction surveys as a crutch, taking the results as the be-all and end-all to determine if their customers are happy. The problem with this is you can only measure satisfaction (via a survey) at that one exact moment in time, and it's arbitrary - if you ask the same customer how satisfied they are three days after you had a major outage you'll get a much different response than if you ask them three days after you fixed a major pain point for them. Similarly different people rate things, well, differently. To some 8 out of 10 is fantastic, they never give 10 out of 10. To others you have to really screw up to get less than a 10. 

If you really think about it, customer satisfaction is actually a combination of the other three terms. Customer effort, experience, and perceived success will all affect overall customer "satisfaction".


While these are great topics to be front-of-mind in customer support, remember that each interaction and metric can only ever provide a snapshot. One cannot stand without the others, so to truly predict company growth and profitability you need to understand who is unhappy, why they are unhappy, at what point they became unhappy, and how to make them happy again. This requires an all-encompassing approach and a constant focus on customer happiness.

*To access the full report from ASP, visit their site at http://www.asponline.com (note: you must be a member to access it).