Article

Customer success vs. customer experience: What’s the difference?

Customer success vs. customer experience—what differentiates the two? Find out how they’re different and how they work together to improve the customer journey.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published November 1, 2021
Last updated November 3, 2021

How are customer success and customer experience different? If you don’t know the answer to this question, you’re certainly not alone. The two concepts are often confused because there are some similarities and overlaps.

Though they’re both customer-centric roles, customer success and customer experience teams perform distinct functions. Customer success (CS) teams focus on understanding customers’ goals and helping clients achieve their desired outcomes with a purchased product or service. Meanwhile, customer experience (CX) teams work hard to provide great experiences at every single touchpoint, from discovery to purchase and beyond.

Without knowing the difference between CS and CX, teams are at risk for stepping on each other's toes, not knowing who’s responsible for what, and making poor hiring decisions.

What is the difference between customer success and customer experience?

The main difference between customer success and customer experience teams is the role they play in the customer journey.

Customer success teams

are all about the end result of the journey. They strive to help customers reach their goals with the company’s product or service and to build a strong, long-term relationship.

Customer experience teams

focus on improving individual touchpoints across the entire customer journey. They evaluate where there may be issues in the buyer’s journey and how to make every interaction the best it can be.

For example, the customer success team at a sales CRM company helps clients become knowledgeable experts who can then use the software to automate their sales process. The CS team provides onboarding resources—such as videos, knowledge base articles, and blogs—so their customers can make the most of the CRM. They also advocate for their clients, anticipate possible customer issues, and proactively solve them. CS teams can even identify cross-selling and upselling opportunities as their clients’ needs evolve.

The customer experience team, on the other hand, works to ensure buyers consistently have positive interactions with the sales CRM company at all touchpoints. Whether it’s a call with a salesperson or a messaging conversation with a support agent, each interaction must be up to par. After all, any exchange between customers and businesses can strengthen (or damage) the relationship. CX teams also collaborate with other internal departments to optimize the buyer’s journey across channels.

Scope

Customer experience is broader than customer success. CX focuses on creating a positive relationship between a company and its customers throughout the buyer’s journey—from the awareness stage to the end of the customer lifecycle. Customer success is only one part of the customer experience. CS teams work with customers after the purchase, helping them optimize the use of a product or service so they can reach their business goals.

Metrics

Typically, different metrics are used to gauge the quality of customer experience and customer success. CX is evaluated using customer satisfaction score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score® (NPS), customer acquisition rate, and conversion rate. CS is measured by customer lifetime value, customer retention rate, customer churn rate, Customer Effort Score, and repeat purchase rate.

Industry

You’re more likely to find a dedicated customer success team at companies that use a subscription-based model, such as Business to Business (B2B) or Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. Since their survival and growth rely on repeat purchases, they focus on helping customers reach their goals with the product or service. But customer experience roles are more commonplace among all industries.

How customer experience and customer success work together

Customer experience and customer success play different roles, but they intersect in many ways and are equally critical to the long-term vitality of your business.

Both customer success and customer experience teams help achieve company-wide goals of increased revenue and improved customer loyalty. They influence one another, too—it’s easier to cross-sell and upsell your customers when they have good experiences. Additionally, 75 percent of customers are willing to spend more to buy from companies that give them a good customer experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

75 percent of customers are willing to spend more to buy from companies that give them a good customer experience.

Research also shows that helping customers succeed increases repeat purchases. Nearly 70 percent of respondents in a Gainsight survey said that implementing a customer success program increased customer retention. Ninety-nine percent of survey respondents agreed that customer success improves the customer experience, too. CS teams help enhance CX by showing clients how to optimize the use of a product or service—reducing the need for customers to contact support teams and, in turn, improving satisfaction.

When you look at the big picture, meeting customer expectations is a team effort that involves both departments.

How customer success and CX impact the customer journey

Customer success teams can collaborate with customer experience teams to provide better experiences for the buyer at each stage of the customer journey. But it’s particularly essential to assure customers they made the right choice after a purchase.

Onboarding stage

At the onboarding stage, customer success teams provide the resources needed to answer customer FAQs and product-related inquiries. They may also offer new customers a personalized onboarding experience with video calls.

The customer experience team can share relevant customer information with the customer success team. This will help the customer success team gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s problems.

Another best practice: It’s never a good idea to leave customers in the lurch when they reach out. Ensure your CX team sends follow-up emails or sets up calls to track their progress.

Adoption stage

At the adoption stage, CS managers can encourage clients to join a customer community. This community will provide peer-to-peer support on product use and increase customer engagement. Users can connect on a regular basis to have conversations, answer questions, and share ideas and information.

If the CX team notices that adoption levels are low, they can alert the product team to improve the customer’s experience.

Retention stage

Regular communication before and during the retention stage can help reduce churn. By asking questions and identifying customer milestones, the customer success team can gauge the customer’s progress. If the customer is far off the mark and struggling to meet their goals, the CS team can identify gaps and relay their findings to concerned departments.

CX teams can also use in-app surveys or emails to solicit customer feedback about progress with your product or service over a period of time.

Expansion stage

For customers that stay on, it’s time to move them to the expansion stage. At this phase, the customer experience team can use surveys to identify customers who’ve outgrown existing plans. Including open-ended questions in surveys will allow customers to elaborate on their thoughts and explain what additional features they need in detail.

Based on the feedback, the customer success team can find cross-selling and upselling opportunities. The CS team can create case studies of customer wins, too, which other departments can then use to help attract new customers.

During this stage, the CX team may also identify brand advocates based on social media posts, customer feedback on various channels, and positive comments on review sites.

Break down silos and build bridges

Now you know the difference between customer experience and customer success; the next step is to leverage both teams’ strengths to build better relationships with your buyers.

Start by ensuring both CS teams and CX teams know why their roles are important and how they can work together. Encourage the departments to collaborate regularly to achieve company-wide goals instead of focusing on only their individual team priorities. Improving customer support, increasing customer value, and creating better products or services are only possible when both teams work together.

A customer service solution like Zendesk can help connect customer data from all teams and areas of the business to streamline management and optimize the customer journey.

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