Customer Success vs. Customer Experience

What is the difference between customer success and customer experience in SaaS? Read on to find out.
Published on: Apr 11, 2022
Last updated: May 14, 2024

TL:DR

  • Customer success and customer experience are both crucial to the smooth functioning of any SaaS business.
  • At its core, customer success is an approach to ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty by delivering a positive experience and helping your customers meet their desired goals and outcomes.
  • Customer experience or CX, on the other hand, is the overall impression a person has when interacting with a company's brand, product, or service.
  • Customer success and customer service/support fall under the larger CX umbrella.
  • The main differences between customer success and customer experience fall largely along three axes: differences in the disciplines, differences in job functions and differences in essential KPIs.

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Is Customer Success the Same as Customer Experience?

While Customer Success and Customer Experience are related and often intertwined, they are not the same thing.

Customer Success focuses on ensuring that customers achieve their desired outcomes while using a product or service. It involves activities such as onboarding, training, proactive support, and ongoing engagement to help customers derive value from what they've purchased. The ultimate goal of Customer Success is to drive customer retention, expansion, and advocacy.

On the other hand, Customer Experience encompasses the entirety of the customer journey, including every interaction and touchpoint a customer has with a company or its products/services. It's about how customers perceive their interactions with a brand, from initial awareness to post-purchase support. Customer Experience involves factors such as usability, convenience, branding, and overall satisfaction.

What is Customer Success?

We've done a deep dive into this previously, so make sure you read our 'What is customer success?' article if you want a more detailed breakdown.

Here's a little refresher: 

At its core, customer success is an approach to ensure customer loyalty by helping your customers meet their desired goals and outcomes using your product or service.

It involves a few things: 

  • Taking responsibility for customers after signup
  • Forming relationships with key stakeholders
  • Working with those stakeholders to define goals and desired outcomes
  • Formulating a plan on how they can use your product or service to achieve those outcomes
  • Frequently checking in with them to make sure everything is going to plan
  • Encouraging upsells and cross-sells
  • Preventing churn
  • Winning back customers if they do churn by leveraging your relationships with key stakeholders

Examples of Customer Success

  1. Onboarding Programs: Companies often have structured onboarding programs to help new customers get started with their products or services smoothly. This may include personalized training sessions, guided tours, or comprehensive documentation to familiarize customers with key features and functionalities.
  2. Proactive Support: Customer Success teams proactively reach out to customers to offer assistance or provide guidance before issues arise. This could involve regular check-ins, health assessments, or offering solutions to potential problems based on customer usage patterns.
  3. Customer Education: Providing educational resources such as webinars, tutorials, knowledge bases, and online courses helps customers maximize the value they get from a product or service. By investing in customer education, companies empower users to become proficient in using their offerings effectively.
  4. Customer Success Managers (CSMs): Many companies assign dedicated Customer Success Managers to individual accounts or customer segments. These CSMs serve as trusted advisors, understanding customers' goals and challenges, and helping them navigate through any issues or roadblocks they encounter.

What is Customer Experience?

We've also covered CX in more detail before, so definitely go read that article for more information. For now, we'll keep it short: 

Customer experience or CX is the overall impression or experience a person has when interacting with a company's brand, product, or service.

Unlike customer success, which is far more limited in scope, CX encompasses every touchpoint on your customer's journey. Both customer success, customer service and customer support come under its broad umbrella.

Here is a list of some common CX roles. As you can see, both customer success and customer service/support roles are nestled under CX.

  • Customer support specialists
  • Customer service representative
  • Call center agent
  • Customer support engineer
  • Customer journey manager
  • Customer success manager
  • Customer experience manager
  • CX operations
  • CX admin
  • Chief Customer Officer (CCO)

Customer Experience Examples

  1. User-Friendly Website and Interface: Ensuring that your website and digital platforms are easy to navigate, intuitive to use, and visually appealing enhances the overall experience for customers interacting with your brand online. Clear navigation, simple checkout processes, and responsive design contribute to a seamless user experience.
  2. Personalization: Tailoring interactions and communications to the individual preferences and behaviors of customers can make them feel valued and understood. Personalization can take various forms, such as recommending products based on past purchases, addressing customers by name in emails, or offering customized content based on their interests.
  3. Omnichannel Support: Providing support and assistance across multiple channels such as phone, email, chat, social media, and in-person interactions ensures that customers can reach out for help using their preferred method.

Customer Success vs Customer Experience: Key Differences

We've broken down the differences between customer success and CX in three different ways: 

  • The basic differences between CS and CX: here, we cover broad-stroke differences between these two business functions
  • The different job descriptions of a CX manager and a CS manager: what do these two roles entail? 
  • The difference in CX metrics and CS metrics: how do you judge the success of each team?

Basic Differences Between Customer Success and CX

key differences - customer success vs customer experience

While you may not feel the need to separate these two business functions into their own areas, there is a lot of value that can be found in clearly defining customer success and customer experience so things don't get muddled and everyone knows exactly what they're responsible for.

As a customer support team does the work related to onboarding new customers and helping those customers realize the outcomes they're hoping to achieve with your product or service, they need to be able to proactively address client issues. They should also know how to upsell and cross-sell other aspects of your service to these clients.

A customer experience team, on the other hand, ensures that buyers have consistently positive interactions across every part of their association with your service. This experience should be seamless and positive right from the point they click on the landing page of your website. Your CX team is an invisible guiding hand that leads customers through a journey that is ultimately unique to your company.

Differences in job duties between customer success and CX managers

To put these differences into more concrete terms, it's helpful to examine the roles and responsibilities that a customer success manager takes on and those that are best left to CX managers.

What does a Customer Success Manager Do?

customer experience manager vs customer success manage
Find the full presentation here.

Here's what the job of a customer success manager typically looks like:

  • Once a new customer has signed up for the platform, a customer success manager takes over their onboarding. Success managers often work with CX teams to design effective onboarding sequences and may even personalize them for priority clients.
  • Another important function of a customer success manager is building relationships with different stakeholders within a company and working together with them to define goals and outcomes.
  • Customer success managers then take these goals and outcomes and figure out how best to achieve them using their product or service.
  • Customer success managers are ultimately responsible for retention, renewals and churn, so they must follow up with key stakeholders often to make sure clients aren't in danger of churning and are on track to renew their contracts.
  • Customer success managers are also responsible for increasing NRR by encouraging cross-sells and upsells.
  • If a customer churns, customer success managers may be responsible for winning them back, which is why developing meaningful relationships with stakeholders that can be leveraged in tricky situations is so important.
  • Apart from all of these responsibilities, it is ultimately the task of a customer success manager to advocate for individual customers and work with product and CX teams to implement feedback.
We covered the exact role and duties of a customer success manager in a webinar recently. You can find all the key insights in this presentation.

What Does a Customer Experience Manager Do?

As opposed to a customer success manager, whose responsibilities are constrained to certain points of the customer journey, a CX manager is responsible for the entire journey. Some of the job functions that fall under this role include:

  • CX managers are responsible for customer journey mapping and customer research.
  • They're responsible for constantly measuring and improving customer experiences at each stage of the journey or funnel.
  • CX managers are responsible for coming up with customer service/support and customer success strategies in collaboration with those departments.
  • They are also responsible for formulating and implementing a data strategy in connection with CX, support and success.
  • They also sometimes take a more direct role in training and supervising customer support agents, though this isn't always the case — especially in larger companies where customer experience, customer support and customer success are distinct departments or teams.

Customer Experience Metrics

If you're at a company with both a customer success and CX team, chances are there's going to be some overlap in the metrics they're keeping their eyes on. However, it's helpful to decide who is responsible for what metric from the outset.

In terms of CX teams, they are more likely to focus on collective goals, which most often translate into the following metrics: 

  • CSAT: The measure of how satisfied a customer was with an interaction, experience or feature.
  • NPS: How likely a customer is to recommend your product or service to someone else.
  • Customer acquisition rate: How many new customers or clients a company signs up.
  • Conversion rate: Conversions can be any 'goal' or 'action' you want your users to take. For example, one conversion metric could be what percentage of customers who sign up for a free trial ultimately go on to becoming paid users.

Customer Success Metrics

For customer success teams, individual goals and KPIs matter more since they're tasked with getting individual customers to their version of success with your product. Some key customer success metrics include: 

  • Customer/Revenue Retention: How many customers renew their subscription or contract after signing up and/or how much revenue is maintained/increased.
  • Customer/Revenue Churn: How many customers downgrade or close their account after signing up and/or how much revenue is lost as a result of customers churning or downgrading.
  • CES: How much effort a customer had to expend during an interaction, experience or while using a feature.  

How CS and CX can Work Together

Customer experience and customer success are different things, but they play off of each other. Setting them up as separate entities while allowing them to collaborate strategically can create a potent recipe for success.

For example, both CX and CS teams are excellent at ensuring customer loyalty is improved. While the process works slightly differently in both cases, it is complementary.

Customers with generally positive experiences with your brand are also likely to respond positively to upsell and cross-sell pitches from your customer success team. In a survey carried out by Gainsight, 70% of respondents reported that a customer success program helped increase customer retention figures.

CS enhances CX and vice versa; your customer success and customer experience teams should be made to work seamlessly together for maximum effectiveness. What this looks like is different depending on the stages of your customer journey.

Onboarding

At this stage, customer success teams take the lead and provide new clients with resources, along with answering any FAQs or other product-related queries they may have. They sometimes even give customers personalized onboarding demos and help with product implementation so new clients are off to as good of a start as possible. CX teams can help this process along by giving success teams access to any relevant information they have about the customer so that siloes do not spring up.

Adoption

At the adoption stage, customer success teams should encourage new clients to join a customer community. If CS teams notice adoption levels are low and churn is high, they can work together with both CX and product teams to implement customer feedback and come up with new strategies to drive adoption.

Retention

At the retention stage, CX teams should design thoughtful surveys to collect customer feedback and then sync with both the product and success teams to implement it. The product team can work with CX to deploy broadly applicable product-wide changes and the success team can work with CX to identify issues individual customers are having that are preventing them from reaching their desired outcomes and deploy targeted fixes.

Expansion

At this stage, customer success teams focus on upselling and cross-selling services so they can make meaningful gains in NRR. CX teams can help success teams identify customers who have outgrown their current plan or ones who are good targets for upsells and cross-sells. They can do this in a few different ways: by sending out surveys, by watching customer behavior in-app, by monitoring social media pages and community groups to find brand advocates, and by leveraging data more broadly to identify trends they can hone in on.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does customer success fall under?

Customer Success typically falls under the broader umbrella of Customer Experience (CX) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). While Customer Success is a distinct discipline focused on ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes with a product or service, it is closely related to and often integrated with other functions within the organizati

Who should customer success manager report to?

Customer Success Managers (CSMs) can report to various departments depending on the organization's structure: directly to the CEO, under Customer Experience or Operations, within Sales, under Revenue or Growth, or under Product or Operations.

Wrapping things up

Too often, businesses focus on acquiring new customers without putting enough effort into retaining the ones they have. Losing a customer can be expensive, and it's much harder to win them back than to keep them happy in the first place.

So, what is the difference between customer success and customer experience? Put simply, customer success is about ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes, while customer experience is about making sure they have a tremendous overall journey with your company.

Both are essential for a successful SaaS business, but you may find that one area needs more attention than the other.

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