difference between customer success and customer experience

You can’t stop thinking about the future—that’s where the real value lies.

The rise of the customer-centered economy has created an urgency among enterprises to keep customers happy at all costs. The prevalence of short-term subscription solutions with little initial customer investment make it easy for customers to leave arrangements that don’t meet their highly personalized expectations. It has never been easier for unhappy customers to churn.

This environment tempts enterprises to focus on the here and now of customer happiness, or the customer experience. While everyone wants to make it as simple and enjoyable as possible for a customer to use their product there is a more profound way to strengthen your customer relationship – deliver value.

Value leads to sustainable growth for both you and your customers. It is the reason your customers sought your solution, and it is the basis of a mutually beneficial B2B partnership.

This focus on continually finding new ways to deliver customer value is at the heart of customer success. It shifts the goal from happy customers to successful customers.

Customer Success vs Customer Experience

Customer success and customer experience are inescapably tied. Both are important to sustaining mutually beneficial growth that maximizes customer lifetime value. That’s the overall value an enterprise achieves from their entire relationship with a customer—and they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, while some organizations can separate the two approaches into distinct teams, many customer success professionals will utilize aspects of both throughout their daily practices.

The difference between customer success and customer experience is perspective.

Customer success is proactive, focused on continuously delivering new ways for the customer to derive value from the product.

Customer experience is interactive, focused on delivering an enjoyable and accessible product that can be smoothly integrated into a customer’s daily workflows.

Customer success is the search for new and unexpected ways to sustain positive emotions about your product into the future. The customer experience deals with the emotional response a customer has to your product today.

This difference in perspective can be demonstrated by examining each phase of the customer journey.

Customer Focus Across the Customer Journey

The digital transformation of business has led directly to the customer-centered economy. With services and products now readily available online through Cloud computing, customers are choosing low-risk, on-demand solutions that spread the value of an agreement across a recurring cycle of renewal and upsell. The goal for both customer and enterprise has therefore shifted to a mutually beneficial balance of sustained value over time.

To maintain relevance to your customers over such a commitment it is helpful to view this customer journey in terms of lifecycle stages. Each stage represents the customer’s evolving understanding and use of your product.

  • Onboarding
  • Adoption
  • Escalation
  • Renewal

Note: Stages are not linear and do not necessarily follow one another.

You can break each stage down into a series of goal-based, results-driven actions that guide your customer engagements. Backed by comprehensive customer information these goals help you continually deliver value to your customer throughout their journey.

The difference between customer success and customer experience and how each contributes to a sustainable customer relationship is defined in the actions you undertake through each customer lifecycle stage.


Onboarding is the process of educating your customer about your product so they can independently incorporate it into their daily workflows. The quicker your customers can accomplish this transition the sooner they can experience value and begin building trust in you.

Customer Success – Achieve first value from your product. Anticipate and remove potential bottlenecks; maintain strong link between onboarding materials and business goals; ensure exposure to key product features.

Customer Experience – Focus on establishing a single, clear line of communication; ensure customers understand and progress through onboarding materials; develop intuitive, easy-to-operate onboarding interfaces.


Adoption is the stage where your customers will spend the most time. It essentially covers your customer’s working life with your product/service. This is where your customer begins to experience ROI, and to use your product to achieve their business goals.

Customer Success – Closely follow customer behavior to accurately measure product use and benefit; anticipate future needs and product services; create and acknowledge customer goals and milestones.

Customer Experience – Ensure the customer can comfortably access and use your product in their daily workflows; provide the customer with educational and promotional materials that relate product success to business success.


Even the most successful customer relationships encounter obstacles from time to time. The way you respond to customer escalations can have a direct and lasting impact on the strength of your relationship. Always personally acknowledge customer complaints and feedback, always assume responsibility for providing a solution, and always keep your customer informed of the escalation procedure and you’ll gain far more than you lose during times of difficulty.

Customer Success – Anticipate problems using account segment data; share information across the enterprise to avoid/solve problems; rollout solutions across customer segments; reassess practices and procedures based on customer feedback.

Customer Experience – Provide a clear avenue for complaints and feedback; personalize all messaging around problem acknowledgement and time to solution; remain calm and keep customer conversation flowing.


Renewal is the lifeblood of SaaS and subscription enterprises, but it is not exclusively tied to a date and a cycle. A customer’s likelihood to renew their agreement is based on their entire product journey. Every engagement, interaction, and product involvement influences a customer’s feelings about it.

Customer Success: To achieve high renewal rates, focus on these goals and KPIs: All of your accounts’ renewal rates, churn cost per quarter-to-date (QTD), unit churn QTD, forecasted cost of churn until the end of the quarter, and cost of churn per quarter of the year before. Monitor renewals at risk and renewals on time as well. Look at the cost of renewals at risk and renewal customers by status (for example, renewed, no risk, and risk), and try to achieve a 90% renewal opportunity in good health.

Customer Experience: Personalize renewal messaging with reference to customer goals and achievements; speak to future growth opportunities; allow the customer a clear avenue to provide feedback.

These final renewal actions underline the biggest difference between customer success and customer experience approaches – customer success is based on accurate and up-to-date customer behavior information.

Customer Success is Action Based on Information

Customer Success is based on facts. It is the process of using a comprehensive customer success platform to capture customer information from a wide range of sources and then turn that raw data into actionable goals. While a customer Experience approach can be interactive and customer-driven, Customer Success is proactive and based on a mixture of your product knowledge, your customer’s goals, and your customer’s actions.

By gathering real-time information and setting up processes to activate the data, you can be proactive at scale. You’ll have an early warning system to keep watch over entire segments of accounts. A Customer Success focus lets you build for a successful tomorrow by understanding exactly what is going on today. It is future growth based on current behaviors.

Totango designs customer success platforms that tell you exactly how your customers are using your products. When you’re ready to start giving your customers the experience they demand, create a free trial account to get started today.

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