The best way to think about CX vs. UX is that customer experience spans the ENTIRE customer journey. UX is a piece of that journey, the part devoted to product and website design.

CX vs. UX: I’m often asked what’s the difference.

CX (short for customer experience) and UX (short for user experience) are sometimes used interchangeably. But they have different agendas and focal areas.

The best way to think about CX vs. UX is that customer experience spans the ENTIRE customer journey. UX is a piece of that journey, the part devoted to product and website design.

When done well, both disciplines use touchpoint maps, observational studies, and scientific methods to identify friction points and opportunities.

CX vs. UX: A Deep Dive

UX focuses on an individual user’s interactions with products and websites.

Companies with an appointed CX director aim to improve customer relationships at all touchpoints, not just the products and websites.

Companies that employ UX designers strive to build interfaces that are straightforward and easy to use. (For an example of a “difficult to use” product, see my recent yogurt ordeal!) As customers, we have all felt the difference when a company makes UX a priority.

An e-commerce site with bold checkout buttons and a simple shopping cart icon demonstrates the fundamentals of good UX design. Likewise, if your tablet or smartphone conforms to the ergonomics of your hand, no doubt it was tested and re-tested in UX labs.

In contrast, companies with an appointed CX director aim to improve customer relationships at all touchpoints — packaging, store layout, customer service, onboarding, repairs, billing, product returns, and more — not just the products and websites.

A killer product alone is never sufficient to retain customers, and studies have found that up to 86 percent of consumers will stop shopping with a company due to just two poor customer experiences.[i]  In this way, having a customer experience czar makes a whole lot of sense.

CX vs. UX in the Real World

In reality, customer experience teams rarely have the top oversight seat in the house. More often, they oversee operational issues or marketing, but not the whole enchilada. But they should. Every aspect of your company that in some way interacts with customers is part of the customer experience.

“As an app, software, or website owner, your product is not the totality of your brand and, therefore, not the totality of the customer experience.” writes Rafał Warniełło.

Before this, products were primarily designed based on whatever the engineering team wanted to build, not what the customer wanted, needed, or was able to use functionally.

Design Thinking Started It All

In 1969, cognitive scientist and Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon laid out the basic principles of Design Thinking, a method for incorporating the user’s perspective into how products are designed.

In essence, Simon’s work laid the ground for the CX and UX disciplines. Before this, products were primarily designed based on whatever the engineering team wanted to build, not what the customer wanted, needed, or was able to use functionally.

Founded in 2004, Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design broke down Design Thinking into five distinct phases:

  1. Empathize: Understand your customer. Walk in their shoes. What do they see? What do they need? Where are their friction points and obstacles with your products and services?
  2. Define: Once you’ve seen the terrain from the customer’s perspective, what are the main problems you want to and can fix? What are the potential barriers? What is the challenge?
  3. Ideate: Immerse yourself in all potential solutions. Sometimes called brainstorming, this inventive step is a team effort and aims to identify a few strong solutions to the problem defined in Step 2.
  4. Prototype: Build an imperfect model. Think sketches, not photographs. At this stage, you still want your team to weigh in freely. For them to do this, your models must look low fidelity and incomplete. These are your hypothetical solutions that could turn into reality.
  5. Test: End where you started: with the consumers. Get honest feedback to see if you’ve actually solved the customer’s problem.

These five phases don’t necessarily occur in order, and designers and engineers may repeat them until the product is perfect.

Ideo and Apple, Two Peas in a Pod

In the 1980s, Ideo produced one of the most famous examples of Design Thinking with its creation of the first usable mouse for Apple. Steve Jobs was thrilled with the result, and the relationship between Apple and Ideo became a famous partnering of minds.

Design Thinking had become a necessary business practice for every company hoping to keep up with Apple.

“Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success,” Ideo’s co-chair Tim Brown writes.

While Ideo started writing more about its Design Thinking process, Apple became increasingly known for its sleek and satisfying products.

For example, a problem Apple recognized was that people had to carry a clutter of devices in order to listen to music and take phone calls. The solution was the iPhone.

Apple had set the bar. Customers began to expect intentional, planned, and positive interactions with technology. Design Thinking had become a necessary business practice for every company hoping to keep up with Apple. 

The Birth of UX

Let’s take one more trip back in time, this time to 1981, when the cognitive scientist Donald Norman published The Truth about Unix: The user interface is horrid.[ii] A decade later, Norman joined Apple as their chief User Experience Architect, coining the term “user experience design.”

Norman said about user experience, “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual.”[iii]

In the “Age of the Customer,” every interaction between customers and a company is critical.

The CX Era

The emergence of the Net Promoter Score in 2003 created a simplified system of brand “detractors” and brand “promoters” who rank a company on a scale of 0 to 10. Although NPS remains controversial, it has undoubtedly impacted the CX discipline significantly.

Then in 2008, Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss founded the Customer Experience Professional Association (CXPA), establishing a body of CX practices.

The year 2010 marked a turning point in the business world: the end of the “Age of Information” and the beginning of the “Age of the Customer,” according to Forrester Research.

Seen in this light, the UX team reports to CX. Of course, in the real world of business silos, it doesn’t always work out this way.

With the rise of smartphones and social media, the prevalence of rating systems, and the growth in apps, customers have become increasingly empowered and vocal. Thus, in the “Age of the Customer,” every interaction between customers and a company is critical.

So where does that leave us in the CX vs. UX distinction? Basically, UX is an aspect of CX. Both disciplines observe and improve experiences. Whereas UX designs customers’ interactions with the products, CX governs their interactions with the entire company.

Seen in this light, the UX team reports to CX. Of course, in the real world of business silos, it doesn’t always work out this way.

CX in Crisis

Unfortunately, most CX today is done poorly. For many companies, CX is simply a survey, worse yet, a survey copied from somewhere else.  When approached this way, CX is more of an afterthought than a true discipline.

But CX was never intended to be merely a box to check at the end of the customer interaction.

When companies genuinely care about and invest in CX, they apply the same methods used in UX, including customer interviews and observational studies.

In the hands of CX practitioners, these methods are directed not just at the company’s website and products but also at its customer service, tech support, and other departments that interact directly with customers.

Especially today, when the customer’s voice is amplified across media, companies simply cannot afford to take a bargain-basement approach to CX and rely merely on simplistic surveys.

Choose Your Team

Given the CX vs. UX divide, I’m also asked which of the two teams matters most. As with so many things, the answer is “it depends.”

If:

  • your company’s products are unique,
  • your customers are entirely loyal because of your products,
  • and nothing about the rest of the experience matters,

Or if:

  • your website is the only way consumers buy your product, and it’s the only aspect of your company that matters,

…then go narrow and focus on UX teams.

But, if:

  • you are in a competitive market where many touchpoints contribute to whether the customer decides to buy from you,

…then you need CX practitioners who take a comprehensive approach to CX, as we do at Interaction Metrics.

CX vs. UX: Takeaways

Things may seem new, but they often have a history.

When done well, CX and UX are both firmly entrenched in Design Thinking principles, where companies study customers closely and iteratively develop solutions to problems. Gone are the days when engineers developed products based on what they thought would be cool.

Where UX has a specific focus, CX is broad, covering a customer’s entire journey from initial company awareness to every touchpoint that contributes to creating loyal fans.

CX vs. UX: how do you view this distinction? We’d love to help you sort this out!

 


 

[i] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220202005525/en/86-Percent-of-Consumers-Will-Leave-a-Brand-They-Trusted-After-Only-Two-Poor-Customer-Experiences

[ii] http://www.ceri.memphis.edu/people/smalley/ESCI7205_misc_files/The_truth_about_Unix_cleaned.pdf

[iii] https://blog.adobe.com/en/publish/2017/08/28/where-did-the-term-user-experience-come-from

 

 

Categories: Customer Experience Strategy
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Written by the analysts at Interaction Metrics, we highlight the latest developments in the fast-changing world of CX.