Customer Vs User Experience

Since it came up in discussion at the recent London UX Bookclub where we were discussing Selling Usability: User Experience Infiltration Tactics by John S. Rhodes, I have been thinking about whether it would be useful to start calling myself a Customer Experience Consultant rather than a User Experience Consultant.

In the book, the author advocates using the term ‘customer’ rather than ‘user’ because your business colleagues will both understand & value a ‘customer’ more than a ‘user’. This is not really the reason that I would consider the change, though. It’s actually more about me and the kind of work I do.

The main reason that I would consider changing to a Customer Experience Consultant is because I’ve found that more and more the scope of ‘experience’ that I need to access and can have an impact on goes well beyond the website. Despite the fact that I have much more expertise in engagement with customers in digitally interactive environments, more and more the holistic experience that the customer has with the business I am designing for is relevant and important in the strategy, recommendations and ultimately design work that we do.

By defining myself as a ‘User Experience Consultant’ I am effectively signaling that my scope, interest and usefulness starts and ends at the digital border (however fuzzy that border may be becoming these days). I don’t think this does anyone any favours.

I’m also on the record as not being a huge fan of the term ‘user’, because there are so many more descriptive and humane alternatives. It would be a nice fringe benefit for me to get the word ‘user’ out of my job title.

Of course, there are downsides to this. ‘Customer’ is also a fairly limiting term, it implies consumer focus, it doesn’t allow for differentiation between the person who is ‘buying’ the product/service and the ultimate end user (who can sometimes be very different people!), and it is often too generic and not descriptive enough for companies we engage with, where ‘customers’ are called ‘members’, or ‘readers’, or ‘subscribers’ for example. (Were I working inhouse I could tailor my title to suit, but as a freelancer this is more challenging!).

Another downside of this change is that it creates yet another definition for us (the IA/UX/IxD and however else we already define ourselves) to argue over, it is another title for clients to learn, and it doesn’t give any clues around ‘usability’ which is still something that a lot of clients look for when they are really looking for user experience (but don’t yet know it exists).

I’m not really one for labouring over definitions of what we do, and I don’t think I’m going to go out and change my business cards tomorrow, but it’s something I’ll be mulling over for a while I think. My gut feel is that there is something important here, but also a bunch of problems. I’d be very interested to get your thoughts on this as well, included suggested alternatives.

You can now read this post in Belorussian (thanks to Fatcow for the translation).

23 thoughts on “Customer Vs User Experience

    1. @leisa you are indeed onto something – that a holistic customer experience is indeed what is important -it should NOT be divided by 2D vs 3D

    2. @leisa Interesting post. Been having many of the same thoughts myself, esp as social media goes beyond mkting to customer expereince.

    1. @leisa I call myself a UX’er but often refer to users as people for the reasons you raised. Service delivery design is a future career goal.

  1. Results and experience speak louder than job titles. Just forget about it and get back to work :)


    1. Yeah, usually I’d agree 100% (and I’m certainly not losing any work time over it). I wouldn’t waste a moment on it if I didn’t think that it *may* actually help me to get better results. Maybe.

  2. The same kind of conversations were had when I was at the BBC – were we Audience Researchers, Consumer Researchers or Market Researchers or a bit of everything? Audience, Consumer or User can imply that you’re dealing with an existing customer base but of course this is only half the story!

    There’s so much else to understanding how a person behaves online – I agree that ‘user’ on the face of it seems to ignore the offline, contextual stuff that motivates and drives someone’s behaviour. A tough, but important consideration.

    My job titles have never properly reflected what I do. I guess that’s what happens when you build yourself a niche.

  3. I also don’t like the the word “user” in this context. Worse, people on my team are called User Interface Designers, and I don’t like the “interface” part either.

    However we sell ‘enterprise’ software so ‘customer’ tends to mean a company, where user is the actual person who uses the software. I find that to be a helpful distinction. product Managers focus on customer needs we focus on user needs (though obviously the two largely overlap).

    I like the term Interaction Designer, but it is unpopular on my team because Interaction Designers get paid less than User Interface Designers according to salary survey sites, and they don’t want to limit their future earnings.

    1. good question Pete, it has crossed my mind. I’m not sure exactly what a ‘Service Design Consultant’ actually does (perhaps I should look into that some more), and I’m not sure that the title is any less confusing and limiting than Customer Experience Consultant…. I don’t *feel* like a Service Design Consultant (not yet, at least). What do you think?

      1. Well, I don’t think it’d add any clarity to people’s understanding of the role, which was John’s argument against the term ‘user’.

        However, if your concern is more to do with the scope implied by your current title, then considering the below definition, maybe the Service Design cap does fit…

        “Service design is a collaborative process of researching, planning and realizing the experiences that happen over time and over multiple touch points with a customer’s experience.”
        Phi-Hong D. Ha (

        However that definition could equally describe Customer Experience Design!

  4. I totally see how that makes sense for your context. In my current situation, working in a large organization, I *know* that about 60% the audience I design for are NOT people who purchase the service, so I have purposefully stuck with user to counter the marketing activities which are exclusively targeting customers and potential customers.

  5. When I explain what I do to people, I always get much better results using the term “customer experience”. They don’t get it when I say “user experience”. That speaks volumes for me.

    I vote Customer Experience :)

  6. I’ve continued to think on this one. When I need to tell people out side the industry what i do I usually just say “I design software.” And they generally more or less get that answer better than anything else I’ve tried. So I may just go with “Software Designer ” in the future.

  7. Nice post. I too have never been really happy with the word user in my title; finding, like you, that it’s impersonal and pretty limiting in scope.

    A few years ago I was freelancing at an agency in London that made the decision to change all UX-types’ titles to Experience Architects. I can see where they were going, but it tended to provoke one of two reactions:

    1. *Erm, what architect?* says the client in bemusement


    2. A little grin, as the client inwardly sighed *Now if that doesn’t sound prententious, I don’t know what does*

    So for the time being, I’m sticking with the title user experience architect, coupled with a company name that helps clients find out that that’s what they need (Usability Savvy).

  8. I interchange the term depending upon who I talk to. For digital peeps “user”, for business peeps “customer”.

    However I personally prefer the term “human”… because all of our experiences start there – digital or real world.

  9. One problem you could meet when representing what you do to companies is that they may already use the term Customer to refer to the customer-facing operations teams and Customer Experience are the people who are repsonsible for the interaction with customers through call centres: only one component of how you are defining the customer experience.

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