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Customer success vs. customer experience: unraveling the differences

The whole customer success vs. customer experience debate can be a bit of a head-scratcher, especially if you're a support representative. Even though these terms are often used interchangeably, there are a few important differences that are worth identifying and discussing. 

In this article, we'll talk about what makes customer success and customer experience each unique and distinct from one another, why they both matter, and how they can positively impact your business. We’ll also show you where they overlap along the customer journey, with examples of companies that excel at combining the best elements from each of these critical concepts. 

We’ll be avoiding any fancy, unnecessary jargon, too, opting instead for a clear, straightforward breakdown. Shall we?

Customer success vs. customer experience: why is it important to understand the difference?

1. Strategic alignment

While customer success focuses on driving value for customers post-purchase, customer experience spans their entire journey. Businesses that recognize this distinction will be able to tailor their strategies accordingly. Mastering alignment between these two experiences ensures a cohesive and synchronized approach, optimizing resources and efforts.

Ultimately, a nuanced understanding of the differences between customer success and customer experience can serve as a useful compass, guiding organizations toward strategic coherence and effectiveness in delivering exceptional value at every touchpoint.

2. Resource allocation

Knowing the difference between customer success and customer experience can have a major influence on smart resource management. Possessing a comprehensive understanding of these two concepts is the equivalent of having a map that shows you where to focus your team and budget. Simply put, grasping customer success and customer experience at a nuanced level helps you to assign the right people and money where they matter most. This way, you avoid spreading yourself too thin and allocate resources with insight and efficiency. 

3. Measurement and analytics

When it comes to measurement and analytics, it’s crucial to understand the unique characteristics of customer success vs. customer experience. After all, it's not just about tracking performance; it's about using the right yardsticks for the right goals.

This clarity ensures you're not just crunching numbers, but rather getting insights that make sense to your operations and are legitimately actionable. So, when you dive into measurement and analytics armed with this knowledge, you're not just tracking data you’re not sure what to do with; you're steering your ship in the right direction.

Differences between customer success vs. customer experience

Customer success

Definition

Also known as CS, Customer success is the strategic initiative undertaken by a business to assist customers in accomplishing their goals. It entails collaborating with customers to determine how products and/or services can most effectively support them in reaching their objectives. This often involves anticipating and addressing customer needs and desires, and taking proactive measures to surpass their expectations.

Goals

Aims to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention by helping customers achieve their specific goals with the product or service.

Scope

Primarily post-purchase, concentrating on the product or service usage and achieving specific milestones.

Metrics

Metrics may include:

  • Customer churn rate

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT)

  • Customer effort score (CES)

  • Customer health

Responsibility

Often falls under customer success or account management teams, focusing on proactive support and guidance.

Time frame

Emphasizes long-term relationships, with a focus on customer lifetime value (LTV) and ongoing value realization.

Communication

Involves personalized communication to understand and address individual customer needs and challenges.

Customer success

Definition

Also known as CS, Customer success is the strategic initiative undertaken by a business to assist customers in accomplishing their goals. It entails collaborating with customers to determine how products and/or services can most effectively support them in reaching their objectives. This often involves anticipating and addressing customer needs and desires, and taking proactive measures to surpass their expectations.

Goals

Aims to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention by helping customers achieve their specific goals with the product or service.

Scope

Primarily post-purchase, concentrating on the product or service usage and achieving specific milestones.

Metrics

Metrics may include:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT)

  • Customer effort score (CES)

  • Sentiment analysis across various touchpoints

Responsibility

Involves multiple departments such as marketing, sales, customer support, and product development, as it spans the entire customer journey.

Time frame

Encompasses both short-term and long-term interactions, with an emphasis on creating positive experiences at every stage.

Communication

Requires consistent and seamless communication across all touchpoints, ensuring a unified brand message and experience.

Bridging the gap: the intersection of customer success and customer experience

One of the most significant overlapping elements of customer success and customer experience is customer satisfaction. Both CS and CX aim to provide shoppers with a positive experience that meets –or hopefully even exceeds – their needs and expectations.

Another key element of the intersection between customer success and customer experience is effective communication. Both areas of your relationship with your customers require clear and open contact channels in order to build trust and establish a positive relationship between a company and its customers. Effective communication strategies also allow businesses to provide customers with relevant information and support when needed.

Finally, continuous improvement based on customer feedback is another common element of CS and CX. Customers' opinions are essential for companies to understand how they can improve their products and services and subsequently meet their audience’s needs better. By using customers' input, companies can ensure that their CS and CX strategies remain relevant and effective in the long term.

How CS and CX influence the customer journey

1. Onboarding stage: enhancing initial experiences

Onboarding is the first experience that a customer has with a product or service, and when it’s easy and effective for the user, it can set the tone for a long and fruitful relationship. A negative experience, on the other hand, can inspire a sense of frustration and disappointment from the very beginning, greatly increasing the likelihood of eventual churn. Because the stakes of the onboarding stage are so high, it’s important to enhance this initial experience customers have with your brand. 

One way to improve the onboarding stage is by proactively providing clear and concise instructions. Customers should be guided through the process in a careful, step-by-step fashion to ensure that they fully understand the product or service and all of its capabilities.

Our Product Tour feature makes it easy for new users to get started with automated and interactive onboarding. It also doesn’t impose an excessive or time-consuming burden on companies: it’s code-free and exceedingly simple to set up.

Also, the CX team has the ability to communicate pertinent customer information to the CS squad, enabling the success team to develop a more profound understanding of the customer's issues.

Additionally, offering personalized onboarding experiences based on the customer’s needs and preferences can be very effective. This can be done through the implementation of strategies like targeted communication, customized training, and ongoing support. 

If you want to captivate your customers from the get-go, check out this article: How your user onboarding can make a great first impression.

2. Adoption stage: fostering community engagement

During the adoption stage, businesses need to overcome the simplistic approach of customer success vs. customer experience. This is the opportunity to foster community engagement in order to create brand loyalty and increase retention rate.

This stage is crucial, as it’s where customers start to form their opinions about the brand and decide whether they want to continue their relationship with the business. 

Strategies for fostering community engagement include responding to customer feedback, addressing complaints, and providing helpful resources to customers. But how do you execute these critical actions at scale?

Well, you’ll need a platform that automates workflows and streamline processes. Ideally, it should also allow you to maintain a personal touch with customers, so they don’t feel like mere numbers in a crowd.

Our workflows tool provides one example of how businesses can use emerging technology to give their teams more time to spend on cultivating enduring relationships with customers. The tool helps businesses to visually automate their team’s workload with assignment rules, SLAs, time-saving bots, and more. By freeing up time from repetitive tasks, you can dedicate more effort to the customers that make your business everything that it is. 

Another effective way to foster community engagement is by creating customer-focused content such as blog articles, videos, and webinars. This content should be designed to educate customers about the brand, its products, and the industry as a whole.

However, you might still be wondering how CX and CS teams can help each other in the adoption stage. The answer is simple: if the customer satisfaction team detects a decline in engagement metrics, for example, they can bring it to the attention of the marketing team to enhance strategies for a more compelling customer outreach.

3. Retention stage: mitigating churn through proactive communication

Mitigating churn through proactive communication plays a crucial role in the retention stage. By being there before your customers even realize they need your help, you’re demonstrating to them – with not just your words but timely, decisive actions – that you always have their backs. You’ll also let them know that you understand their needs and are highly prepared to resolve their issues, whenever they come up.

In instances where customers deviate from their objectives and encounter challenges, the CS team can pinpoint gaps and communicate their insights to relevant departments.

An AI-powered chatbot, like Fin, is a great way to communicate proactively with your customers. As a natural language bot, Fin understands complex queries, asks clarifying questions, and fully converses with your customers – dramatically reducing support volume, unlocking 24/7 support, and delivering CSAT-boosting service.

And if Fin doesn’t know the answer, don’t worry – it can help you triage complex problems and quickly pass them to your support team. This seamless transferring capability ensures that your customers always get the best possible experience.

4. Expansion stage: unveiling growth opportunities

In the expansion stage, it's critical to identify blossoming opportunities, such as entering new markets or developing new products or services, while maintaining a strong focus on providing excellent CS and CX. This will help businesses to not only retain their current customers but also attract new ones, leading to sustainable growth over time.

According to McKinsey & Company, replacing the value of a lost customer may require gaining three new customers. The good news, however, is that 80% of the success seen in top-growing companies comes from their main business focus, which primarily comes through finding new ways to generate income from existing customers.*

CS ensures that customers achieve their desired outcomes while using the product or service, which leads to loyalty and retention. CX, meanwhile, focuses on creating encouraging interactions and positive experiences for customers throughout their journey.

Utilizing the input received, the customer success team can identify opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. They are also capable of crafting case studies, which provides valuable material for other departments to leverage in attracting new customers. 

5. Advocacy stage: transforming customers into advocates

At this stage, the goal is to transform satisfied customers into brand advocates who will promote the product or service to others. Advocates can provide valuable word-of-mouth marketing, referral business, and social proof, which can significantly boost the company's bottom line.

To achieve this, companies need to go beyond just recognizing the differences between customer success and customer experience and actually combining the best practices from both to create a memorable journey from beginning to end.

Furthermore, companies can incentivize advocacy by offering referral discounts, exclusive promotions, or loyalty rewards. By investing in CS and CX, companies can create a loyal customer base that will not only return for repeat business but also help generate new customers through advocacy.

Get customer success and experience right with Intercom

Understanding the specifics and nuances lying beneath the “customer success vs customer experience” debate is essential to planning out your acquisition, nurturing, and retention efforts. Because of their ability to impact key performance indicators, both areas warrant your full attention and efforts. 

That’s why we offer a comprehensive platform that helps businesses to both achieve customer success and create remarkable experiences for their audience. With our cutting-edge features, companies can streamline their communication channels and deliver personalized interactions to their customers at every touchpoint.

Our platform includes features like artificial intelligence, automations, and in-depth personalization resources that make it easier for businesses to engage with their customers across multiple channels. We also offer powerful analytics and reporting tools that provide businesses with valuable insights into their customer behavior and help them make informed decisions to improve their CX.

If you're interested in learning more about how Intercom can help your business achieve customer success, sign up for a product demo. Our team will walk you through the platform's main features and answer any questions you may have. Don't miss the opportunity to elevate your customer experience and drive business growth with us.

Sources

* McKinsey, Experience-led growth: A new way to create value.