Customer Success vs. Customer Experience

While these two terms have different meanings for many, in B2B SaaS they have specific meanings that can help drive success.


Joseph Loria

4/24/20232 min read

Since launching RetentionworCX (focused on the customer experiences of B2B SaaS businesses), I’ve bumped into some debate regarding the term “customer experience.” I’m intending to lend clarity here, but let’s see if I end up stirring up a hornet's nest instead. One disclaimer up front is that I’m no B2C expert.

The History of Customer Success

First, let’s acknowledge the obvious – Customer Success (CS) is closely associated with B2B, whereas Customer Experience (CX) aligns more with B2C. The question is why, and for that, we need to dig into the B2B archives and review how Customer Success came to be.

Specifically, let’s look at that post-sale experience through the decades:

  • 💾 1990s
    Software purchases are transactional (perpetual licensing!), so there is only Customer Service. Any real experience comes mostly from 3rd parties.

  • 📀 2000s
    A post-sale experience emerges as Onboarding/Implementation is added, but this is heavy in the first 90 days or so, and then…Customer Service again.

  • 📱 2010s
    With subscription sales taking over, we finally see a bridge between Onboarding and Customer Service, and thus “Customer Success” is born.

This explains the origin of Customer Success, which was to fill the gap between Onboarding and Support, simply because subscription required an ongoing customer relationship.

The Misunderstanding of CS

Wait, CS as additive? Those of us around in the 2010s didn’t experience it that way, did we? “Customer Success” was used for everything, a new function serving as a total replacement for Onboarding, Training, Services, and Support. Somehow, our incremental answer to the subscription relationship became the default for the entire post-sale function, which ended up hurting CS along the way.

CX versus CS

“Customer Experience,” then, represents the entire post-sale function, from Onboarding and Training through Services and Support. Yes, it includes Customer Success as one function, the incremental role in a Customer Experience that ensures the customer derives value from their purchase.

To go one further and emphasize the negative:

  • Customer Success is not training

  • Customer Success is not services

  • Customer Success is not support

  • Customer Success is not onboarding

This is why CS struggles. It has simply been asked to do too much, to be the jack of all trades, but master of none. If you are in Customer Success and you are doing those things listed above, be aware that you’re not being set up for success.

Earlier-stage companies are somewhat exempt. In their infancy, cost prohibits specialization. The key, though, is understanding that resources are doing multiple roles, and the lack of specialization cannot continue indefinitely. Awareness is critical. Track workloads across these functions, even if it’s all done by CS, and be ready to split into separate roles when the workload supports it.

This is how you make CS successful and create a CX that boosts net revenue retention.


I’ve kept this focused on post-sale, but we all know the customer experience starts well before purchase. Prospects interact with content, events, and ads, and talk with business development and sales representatives, and experience the actual product through demos and eventual use. All good topics for another discussion.


CX = the Customer Experience across all post-sale functions.
CS = the function inside CX that ensures customers derive value.