Customer Experience v User Experience

In the process of writing the book (A Practical Guide to Strategic User Experience, yes, it’s coming, I promise!) I found myself surprisingly flummoxed when it came to writing about Experience Strategy and the role it plays (or should play) in business strategy. I’ve talked about Experience Strategy with clients over the years, written Experience Strategies for projects I’ve worked on, and worked under the illusion that I was clear about what this actually entailed… however, in coming to write about and thereby define what it meant, it all of a sudden felt very fuzzy.

What is Experience Strategy?

Having done a review of some of the significant contributions to this topic from the UX community, I found myself dissatisfied… Steve Baty wrote a detailed essay on the topic for Johnny Holland some time ago. This essay does address a lot of significant issues around what businesses should be doing to create better experiences as differentiating opportunities… but at the end of it I can’t help asking myself – isn’t this just a part of a good value proposition? And where and how does/should a User Experience person get involved in these kind of activities that go way beyond the interface and into the mechanics of how the entire company functions?

Then I discovered Customer Experience (CX).

Turns out there is this whole other profession, born, it seems, mostly from the marketing discipline, who have an active interest in orchestrating company wide good experience for their customers. They are experienced in making strong, financially driven business cases to management at the highest level, getting decent budgets and then investing in infrastructure that enables an organisation to deliver good customer experience (such as ‘single view of the customer’  and ‘voice of the customer’ programs that enable an organisation to aggregate their understanding of a customer into one view (how rare is this for most established organisations, and how crippling is the typical fragmentation), and enables an organisation to hear and respond to what their customers are saying to and about them.

Reading some of their books (I particularly enjoyed this one) it strikes me that they have a much more mature and structured way to approaching company wide good experience than we User Experience people (generally) do. Given the choice of having a Chief Experience Officer (CXO from a UX background) or a Chief Customer Office (CCO from a marketing/CX background), I’d probably choose the latter – for the more comprehensive, well rounded view of the organisation and all its working parts than the interface obsessed UXer is likely to be.  And I’m more confused about where Service Design fits into all of this than ever.

I’m writing up a lot more about what people who do CX do, and what they think about in the book (and I’ll no doubt share some more of that here, now that I’m back writing again!) but I wanted to take a moment to flag how – from my own experience and a lot of the people i’ve been talking to – we don’t really know people who do Customer Experience, in fact, most of us probably don’t even know they exist and will be immediately skeptical upon discovering them.

Similarly, in reading what they write about, it is disturbing how little reference Customer Experience people make to User Experience people. I’ve come across several references to human factors and usability, but you’ll almost never find Customer Experience and User Experience in the same book/article/room.

This worries me.

It worries me because I think that actually, this is possibly one of the best, strongest alliances that could exist in companies. It worries me because so much of what CX people do is what we need done so that the experiences we’re designing have a real chance of being good. And it worries be because I think we as UXers could really benefit from understanding, in greater detail,  a lot of the structure and discipline and business focus that CXers bring to our combined cause.

We’ve done a lot of hand waving about Good Experience and Experience Strategy over the past few years, but we’ve done very little to explain HOW to make this happen. Getting to know our Customer Experience colleagues, getting more of them in our organisations and  making them aware of our existence could really help move this forward.

34 thoughts on “Customer Experience v User Experience

  1. Like your post, and am pleased that you found the growing and rapidly maturing discipline of CX; I am on a similar journey, perhaps from slightly different direction. I am at a tech focused digital agency with a strong UX practice that has asked me to help broaden our firms expertise and approach to digital marketing, which to my mind is somewhere in/under CX. So very interested in your book and your thoughts on UX vs. CX! Connect with my on Twitter and LinkedIn if you would like to keep in touch (I would), and if you want to dive in a little deeper, I moderate a group on LinkedIn called “The Marketing Technologist” and would love it if you would join and join in the discussion that is getting started there; the topic right now is “What is the definition of a marketing technologist and what skills should they have?”

    Again, thoughtful post, and looking forward to getting pinged when your book comes out.

    — David

  2. Maybe I’m dense here, but your article doesn’t answer the headline question: What’s the difference between UX and CX? Shouldn’t the users in UX be the same target as the customers in CX? CX seems to be completely unnecessary if and when good UX principles are used. If your users aren’t your customers then who are your users? It seems to me that, in every case, your “customer” *is* your “user”.

    Am I missing something?

    1. You’re right, I probably didn’t really define that at all… I think that it’s fair to say that User Experience people are largely interested in touchpoints with customers that involve digital interfaces. Customer Experience people are interested in ALL the touchpoints that customers have with an organisation as well as all the procedures and infrastructure required to make sure these interactions are as they should be. At least, that’s how I have it defined in my head at the moment.

      I’m well aware that a lot of UXers talk about doing what CXers do but I’ve seen very little evidence of anything other than talk.

      1. Where I used to work (huge telco) we as UX designers incorporated the whole user journey in our design process, using a tool called the Customer Life Cycle – great way to cover all the touch points our users/customers had with a product or service. So even though we did a lot of digital UI design, our framework very much had its foundation in UX, covering all touch points.

        Now I’m working for a company where our customers actually aren’t the users since we are BTB selling a whitelabel product. To accommodate for the customer and the users in this case is a tad bit harder since their end goals aren’t alway aligned. I’m still dedicated to design for the best user experience possible, so it’s a fine balance and a great challenge indeed.

    2. I believe (and this is from working alongside a CX team) that CX is all about collating user research and amplifying it as a single voice within an organisation. This reduces noise and confusion when developing a product – think of it as a living breathing persona or a user representative. CX is generally less about project specifics (agile, engineering, accessibility) and more about influencing definition of requirements.

      …but I agree it is very unclear and the potential for misunderstandings are very high!

  3. Hi Lisa,

    Good post and here’s my tuppence worth. I agree with your view that they almost appear to be two separate schools and that’s a function of where they originated from I guess.

    ‘User experience’ evolved out of web usability when it was recognised that, while whether it worked (the mechanical aspect) was important, so too was how it made you feel (the emotional aspect). In my experience when people talk about user experience they tend to be talking about web/digital experience and work for digital agencies.

    ‘Customer experience’ was borne out of marketing functions in recognition of the growing need to have separate skillsets focused on managing the customer experience. This tends to refer to cross-channel experience more often than not (beyond the screen interface as you allude to above).

    To my mind they are interchangeable terms although I would contend that ‘customer experience’ is more strategic involving itself as it does with parts of the organisation beyond digital.

    So in summary I think – rightly or wrongly – user experience is closely associated with digital and customer experience is digital plus everything else. But isn’t nearly everything digital now anyway? Ah I give up!

    Looking forward to your book.


    1. For what it’s worth, Marty, I think I agree with you. Although UXers do talk a lot about all the other aspects of the experience that affect a customers experience with an organisation, the large majority of our focus is on touchpoints with digital interfaces, and probably only a relatively focussed group of those (websites, applications, mobile interfaces (web or apps), maybe email. Occasionally some parts of social media. We don’t, as a generalisation, do a good job of pulling it all together or pulling an organisation all together around improving customer experience… which is what I see the role of the CX leader to be.

  4. You should review many of the articles and research discussed by Forrester on this specific subject. As a ux practitioner that works closely with our marketing partners, cx is very important to us.

    1. Good point – actually, it was seeing the articles and research on Forrester that helped me decide that CX was a real thing! Also the Harvard Business Review has some good articles on CX.

      I’d be interested to hear more about your experience working with marketing on customer experience.

  5. Hi Leisa,
    I really do appreciate this distinction you are trying to make.
    I wonder if you have included the cross-channel work coming from the IA community and the Service Design work coming out of IxD, ID and Graphic Design?

    Both are working at this organizational level like the CX folks you describe.

    It is interesting to note that the CX folks don’t talk about UX, but could that be that they just think the term UX and CX are too close in meaning so they use words like HCI and Usability to mean the more specific tactical elements involved that make up the research side (UCD) of UX and then just address the design side, as well, design?

    1. hi Dave,

      Yes, I’ve looked a lot at the cross channel UX/SD/design thinking work that’s going on – I’m sure there are some instances where this and CX are more or less the same thing but in much of my experience (and talking to lots of other people) it seems that most cross channel projects are still right on the very surface of the organisations interface with the customers and very rarely reach the core of the organisation, how it is structured and operates – the things that ultimately affect how well an organisation is able to execute good experience across all touchpoints and how we’ll they’re able to develop products and services that are the foundation of good experiences.

      I also don’t see anything like the discipline that seems to be coming out of the CX field in terms of being able to make the business case for their work and to talk about maturity levels and the work required to reach each of these maturity levels. I think there’s a LOT in there for us to learn.

      I do worry that because we have such similar sounding (confusing) names we’ll see each other as competition… that would be A Bad Thing.

  6. Lisa. Nice post. It is a time someone is making the difference between the two. Both are important and addressing customer centric it’s from a different aspect. Thanks for the mention of customer experience strategy book

  7. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend reading the the ‘Lean Startup’ by Eric Reis. Honestly, the book bothers me a bit because Eric talks about activities and measures we as UXer’s have been doing for years as though he is just discovering it, e.g., knowing when/when not to listen to customers, iterative prototyping, pairing quantitative with qualitative data, building only features that are tried and true, etc. However, if you’re writing about User Experience Strategy, or the role of UX, CX, DX etc, it’s a must read since this book is changing the way organizational movers-and-shakers think (CEO’s, CTO’s, CMO’s, PO’s, VP’s of Engineering, even developers themselves).

  8. Great post! I love that you pointed this out. From my point of view I’m always in discussion about what UX will mature into, and it seem like CX is a natural fit for those of us who do the experience strategy work. I agree that an alliance is an important one, however I can also see how it might be a growth pattern out of UX overall.

  9. Thanks for the post – I’m really happy to read about other people thinking through the CX/UX interaction. As a UX-er and newcomer to the adventure of advancing change within a large corporation this subject has been very much on my mind lately. The one category that I see getting consistently omitted in the UX-CX discussions I have witnessed is the user who is not the “customer” — that is the person who might need to use digital systems but who isn’t paying for them directly.

    The CX people seem to disregard this person as being someone we’d like to help in an ideal world but who is somewhat beyond the scope of our projects. I find UX people to be somewhat more sympathetic to the plight of this orphan of the B to B to C world. I would be really interested in references or sources of business cases that help bolster the case for including that user cohort in CX discussions.

  10. […] What is Customer Experience? Turns out there is this whole other profession, born, it seems, mostly from the marketing discipline, who have an active interest in orchestrating company wide good experience for their customers. They are experienced in making strong, financially driven business cases to management at the highest level, getting decent budgets and then investing in infrastructure that enables an organisation to deliver good customer experience. […]

  11. Just a quick post, as a CX person who has done lots of UX.

    CX did not come out of marketing. Marketing is the most isolated of all departmental silos, while one of the key points of Customer Experience Management (CEM) is cross-departmental collaboration and creating seamless multichannel interactions. But marketing does play a role in Customer Experience; to promote the customer value promise. UX is to delivery value through interaction with a human-computer interface. Digital interfaces are one of countless touch-points with companies.

    Lots of UI Design companies are now starting to say they do “Customer Experience”. But unless they are looking at the experience through all channels including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, R&D, HR, third-party interactions, etc., and looking into company procedures and policies, researching at multiple channels and establishing organization-wide Customer Experience KPIs, they’re still into UX, or UI Design. But UX people do have a something that is at the base of CEM (but that most other functions/departments don’t): interest in understanding the customer.

  12. Good UX = CX… Just read Stephan Blank’s “Four Steps To The Epiphany,” a seminal work on developing products customers WANT and how to achieve this in a Lean manner. If you read Copper’s “Inmates…” and Blank’s book, it becomes VERY obvious that Experience Design cannot happen without developing the customer experience to coincide with the product experience… THIS thinking is what makes clients happy, customers engaged, and startups successful!

  13. […] this brings me to my recommended reading from this week: Customer Experience v User Experience by Leisa Reichelt. Don’t forget to read the comments, full of supporting info and links to […]

  14. […] rapid prototype development and iteration, market research and customer experience design. Customer experience is a parallel field to user experience that has grown out of marketing. A knowledge of this field […]

  15. Hi Leisa,

    Great observation in the ongoing difficulty all CXers/UXers/IAers/UIDers struggle with coming to grips with…”what label or definition appropriately describes what I do and what domain I feel I belong to?”

    2 x definitions for CX & UX are as follows:

    CX: “Increasing business value by improving the way new and existing customers engage with your products and services.” [customer & business related strategic thinking]

    UX: “the practice of designing, creating & validating aesthetic and interactive improvements for users of digital tools & applications.” [creative & functional construction and execution]

    It is important to remember that no matter which domain or which practice your experience lies with, it is the term ‘Experience Design’ that encompasses ALL facets (thinking & doing) – where the respect should be focused on how our lives are enriched and improved by it.

  16. If UX is viewed as the digital design arena and customer service more on the operational side of client-business engagement, I do understand the difference and see the value.
    However, it troubles me that in an increasingly interconnected world, there should not be such clear and cut boundaries, if they mean that, in practice, CX and UX are two separate, almost siloed, areas in a business.
    Not saying that either group should cancel each other out, but rather, that the vision should be shared and actions consistent and coordinated.
    I like the fact that this article also helps alleviate the feeling that UX (as in UXD) seems to be everything these days, when it is not.

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