“Customer success” refers to the way your business helps customers derive the most value possible from your products or services. It means prioritizing your customers’ satisfaction and ensuring they are always progressing toward their goals. Customer success centers around the idea that a win for a customer is a win for your enterprise, too.
Customer success is often mistakenly conflated with other business methodologies, so it is important to know the difference and what sets customer success apart.
Customer service is reactive and focuses on addressing specific customer problems swiftly and effectively.
Customer success takes a proactive approach that involves utilizing customer data to address potential problems and needs before they arise.
The main difference between customer success vs. customer service lies in their respective approaches to customer interactions. Customer service is reactive, focusing on solving problems as they arise, whereas customer success is proactive, focusing on preventing problems and fostering long-term growth. It drives value for customers and helps them achieve their goals.
Customer service is more in-the-moment and reactive. It’s about zeroing in on specific issues and complaints, such as a technical malfunction or customer confusion surrounding a certain process or application, and figuring out the most effective way to solve them—all while providing customers with the best possible experience. Ideally, customers will walk away with their problems solved—and an increasingly positive perception of their relationship with your organization.
Customer success, meanwhile, is about the big picture. It involves taking customer data insights and turning them into strategic actions that will help your customers achieve their business goals (which, in turn, will help you achieve your own). The idea is to accomplish this while providing customers with a great experience. The focus is on optimizing the value your customers derive from their investment in your products or services.
Both customer service and customer success are important instruments for achieving positive outcomes and growth. Even more important than their individual impact is how well they play together.
Despite their differences, neither customer success nor customer service can truly operate effectively without the help of the other. Without clear, open communication between the two, important data and insights will inevitably get lost in translation. Customer experience will take a hit, since information will likely have to be repeated when speaking to members of both teams—who may receive contradictory answers or advice that will only serve to increase their confusion and frustration.
Achieving harmony between the two teams ensures that all employees are on the same page in terms of each customer’s individual needs and challenges, using transparency and open communications at every step. This allows for a more streamlined experience overall, as both teams will be aligned on which solutions and strategies will optimize both customer experience and success.
It is up to the customer service team to keep the success team abreast of the problems an individual customer may be facing, particularly if the issue is ongoing or recurring. If you’re using the right solution, then your teams don’t have to set up a lot of meetings to find out what’s going on—the data should give them that insight seamlessly. It’s one of the reasons that you should connect all of your data streams to create a more complete picture of the customer.
They should communicate not only the nature of the issue, but also their approach to solving it. Customer success teams can then use this information to inform their strategy moving forward and, ideally, prevent the issue from arising again, or at least minimize the impact of the issue on the customer’s overall success.
Customer success teams are responsible for providing support teams with context for the issues they help customers solve. Understanding a customer’s larger business goals and brand identity can help customer support optimize the solutions they offer in order to achieve the best possible results.
In short, the more effectively your teams can collaborate, the better the outcome will be for both teams and your customers.
So how do you ensure your customer success and customer service teams have what they need to work together successfully? Focus on these steps:
Customer experience focuses on specific interactions and revolves around how easy and enjoyable it is for customers to use your product.
Customer success focuses on the customer journey as a whole and puts CX into the context of the customer’s overall needs and business goals.
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.
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.
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 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.
Account management tends to involve reacting to upcoming contract end dates, customer feedback, and account health, and focusing on encouraging renewal and expansion.
Customer success also involves working toward renewal and expansion, but focuses on identifying overarching trends and patterns in data to predict future needs and optimize customer outcomes.
Both customer success and account management maximize the customer’s experience of value. Team members must pay close attention to the customer’s goals across the breadth of their journey and anticipate future needs. To achieve this level of oversight, customer success and account management teams must share customer knowledge and coordinate their customer engagements.
As a broad customer success vs account management distinction, these engagements occur in different ways. Account Managers tend to react to renewal anniversaries, customer feedback, and the overall health of the customer experience. CSMs also often work on renewal and expansion, but tend to be more proactive, seeking to create additional value for the customer by measuring day-to-day metrics that reveal the customer experience and taking action based on this data to ensure customers remain engaged throughout their journey.
There is some overlap between customer success and account management. As such, it is vital that the teams find ways to enhance the roles of their colleagues, including:
Sharing Customer Information
The customer success and account management teams must share customer data. Information should be gathered from as many sources as possible and shared across your entire enterprise. Access to accurate information helps every team member provide personalized, intelligent engagements and ensures the customer never needs to repeat themselves.
The process begins with a comprehensive sales to onboarding handover that allows the CS team to gather all the information they need to understand the customer’s unique business goals. The two teams should continue to communicate throughout the customer journey so that the account management team is aware of the optimal times to pursue upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Keeping Customer Goals in Mind
Customer success teams help customers meet their business goals. Metrics such as product usage rates, feature access, time spent in an application, and license utilization are crucial to track progress. When these metrics lag, the customer success team must intervene to enhance product engagement. Above all, deriving value and hitting identified milestones are the true indicators of success.
Both teams also need to keep customer goals in mind. If a certain customer is growing rapidly and might need expansion, teams can examine customer goals and key metrics, then determine the best way to provide additional value and frame an upsell opportunity.
Understanding the Customer Journey
Each customer moves through a non-linear journey as they learn about the product and experience value. Understanding this journey makes it easier to deliver value to customers.
Your customer success team will drive the customer journey by tracking progress and being proactive as different phases are completed. The successful completion of each milestone should be celebrated with the customer to encourage a sense of achievement and shared with the account management team to personalize sales campaigns.
Using Customer Success Software
Your customer success software will be the primary tool of your CS team, but it should also provide a high-level, detailed explanation of the customer experience for account management. The platform will gather and break down customer information drawn from every interaction your customer has with your enterprise. The software can generate customer health scores, making it easy to see how a customer is progressing. It will also serve as an early warning system, alerting team members of significant trends and suggesting the best way to respond to the situation.
These capabilities help to optimize customer engagements and sales events, empowering both customer success and account management to personalize their customer interactions.
Your customer success and account management teams occasionally follow separate pathways, but they move toward the same end. They each work to maximize customer lifetime value and develop a mutually beneficial future for you and your customers.
Your customer success team takes a more proactive approach, preparing the way for the sales team to successfully progress your customer relationship through the day-to-day implementation of goals-based engagements. The account management team has a reciprocal role to play. It needs to share information with the CS team so that the needs of the customer are directly served with every engagement.
Together, these two teams drive your customer relationship by proving that your enterprise can provide the value your customers need.
Investing in customer success means investing not just in your customer’s success, but in that of your enterprise. Investing in customer success can:
All of the above, of course, will ultimately also contribute to overall customer-centric growth for your enterprise.
Monster, creators of an online platform for connecting job seekers with employers looking for new hires, began seriously investing in customer success just over three years ago. They have since reported a YOY increase of 11 percent in customer retention and $3.9M in directly and indirectly influenced revenue thanks to the CS strategies and solutions they have implemented in that time. To put it in their own words, “Our customers are more successful, and so is our sales team as a result.”
Your organization needs to be able to grow and scale its processes. As your business grows, your team also needs to be able to iterate quickly by analyzing your process and making any necessary changes to improve it and ultimately support your customers at scale. By scaling customer success, you can free up time for your CSMs to work on high-impact projects that will grow your business.
Investing in customer success alone can accomplish a lot, but it works best when your CSMs can effectively collaborate with other teams as well.
Customer success and sales teams, for example, set each other up for success by sharing customer data in both directions. Data and information your sales team gleans from an initial sale can help your CSM provide a smoother transition for your customers while making them feel valued and understood. Insights from your CS team, meanwhile, can help your sales team better understand your customer base so they can pitch and close expansion sales more effectively.
A CS solution that gives every member of your company access to customer data is an invaluable way to help your employees collaborate to positively impact the customer.
The same is true of CS teams and marketing—marketing education materials can help CS nurture programs, while data from CS can help marketers with advocacy and case studies. Your product team should be able to see that same data, as it may affect the decisions they make and the projects they prioritize. A CS solution that gives every member of your company—whether they work in customer success, sales, or product development—access to customer data is an invaluable way to help your employees collaborate to positively impact the customer.
Customer success also involves collaboration with your customers. No two customers are exactly alike, after all—and no two CS strategies will work exactly the same way, either. For customers that you need to work closely with, you should have a solution that allows you to help keep track of what you are working on with customers and who owns which next steps. Keeping your customers in the know going forward will allow them to see clearly when your business’ product drives results, keeping the full value of your product top-of-mind at all times.
The hospitality platform SevenRooms needed to pivot to help restaurants affected by COVID-19. They implemented a direct delivery system for restaurants looking to own the guest relationship and data, avoid costs associated with third-party delivery services, and ultimately increase profitability for delivery and pick-up orders. Using Totango’s Zoe product made it possible for SevenRooms team members to access the information they needed on any account at any time. This allowed SevenRooms to work smarter and more proactively with a scaled-down team. Company-wide access to customer data made it easy for everyone at SevenRooms to see how their actions were benefiting the customer and to work together to increase their positive impact.
In customer success, your customers define their own victories. No one-size-fits-all finish line exists that clients must strive to cross, and there is no Harvard Business School concept of accomplishment you can award your customer before resting on well-earned laurels.
That’s because defining customer success is a long-term joint project undertaken by you and your client. Customer success means creating data-driven engagements that provide ongoing value to the customer and growth opportunities to the enterprise.
The key word is “ongoing.”
In an ongoing pursuit of value, the ideas of “finish lines” and “completion” are replaced by “milestones” and “progress.” Ultimately, you and your customer must create your own customer success definition that is measurable, flexible, and equates directly to real-world growth.
The customer success approach breaks down the customer journey into simple, easy-to-manage stages. Each stage can then be assigned goal-driven actions that guide customer engagements and keep them on track to long-term growth. KPIs can help you see how you and the customer are performing against your stated goals.
These stages are seldom linear in their progression, but customers generally experience the following stages:
In this critical phase of first impressions, the goal is to accelerate the experience of value by helping the customer rapidly integrate your product into their daily workflows. Goals might be to consistently meet implementation timelines and deliver a great customer experience.
Customer definition of success: Learning to use your product is smooth and easy and the customer progresses quickly through the stages of onboarding. The customer begins to confidently and independently put your product to practical use and reaches first value quickly.
This is the longest phase of the customer journey, in which the customer starts using your product to generate value. Your goal is to maximize license utilization and usage frequency and ensure the right customer is using high-value features.
Customer definition of success: The customer uses your product effectively and regularly in a way that helps them reach goals that you have set together.
Customers in the advocacy stage are willing to share success stories with other customers or potential prospects. Turning customers into advocates is a great way to spread the word about your product. You can make customers into advocates by identifying customer goals and acknowledging when they are met, going above and beyond in your response/handling of customer escalations, making onboarding a quick and smooth path to value, customize communications and offerings, offering extra value such as webinars and beta or early access to features, and by using NPS scores to determine customer satisfaction level.
Customer definition of success: The product and customer experience are so smooth and offer so much value that the customer is excited to share their experience and bring others on board.
The lifeblood of recurring revenue enterprises, renewal is a company-wide responsibility that flows from the customer experience. The customer should see renewal as a logical and necessary extension of your partnership and the only way to continue experiencing value. Your goals should be to focus on renewals that are at risk and those that are past their renewal date.
Customer definition of success: Renewal is a smooth and easy process with plenty of lead time for bringing up issues.
Rapid, personalized, and inclusive responses to customer feedback and challenges can actually improve the customer relationship and your product. Some KPIs for escalations are the time it takes to resolve an escalation as well as customer feedback and health post-escalation.
Customer definition of success: The customer should see their problems solved and their feedback implemented to drive change. In some cases, they may see practical improvements to the access, use, and efficiency of your product.
Your ability to continually deliver value across these shifting stages of the customer journey depends on your understanding of the customer experience and customer needs.
Your customer wants to see a return on their investment with you. That is why you must arrive at a mutually agreed-upon customer success definition that distills value down to measurable outcomes.
The customer may wish to improve revenue on a product line by X amount within Y timeframe. Your task is to break that goal down into achievable milestones that gradually build to broad success. You can use your customer success software to set up a success plan for your customer, share the plan with your account contacts, and document progress on each objective.
For example, you might create an action plan with milestones such as:
One overarching goal can be broken down into a series of achievable milestones that demonstrate progress and ongoing growth. Being able to drive customer achievement of these goals requires accurate customer data and easy ways to act on that data.
The six principles of customer success are vitally important to understand and to base all of your CS objectives around, those six principles are: