Over the last decade, the discipline of human-centered design has gained recognition, appreciation and popularity. Along with that growth came ever-changing terminology that tends to confuse everybody: people who seek to enter this field, the hiring managers and recruiters who want to hire good job candidates, and last but not least, the professionals already working in this area.

Among the many terms floating around, customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) are two of the most ubiquitous, with user experience yielding 208 million search hits on Google and customer experience yielding 103 million hits. Let’s look at what both of these terms mean.

What Is UX? What Is CX?

UX refers to the holistic impression a person gets from using a product or service offering. To what degree does it help me accomplish my objectives? How easy is it to learn and use? How does it make me feel? When a user encounters a product or service there is always a UX — good or bad, whether you design for it or not.

It’s worthwhile to note that any particular UX may be formed as the sum of several experiences. Take for example a software product. Its installation experience may be different from the learning experience it provides. And the learning experience may be different from the experience I get as a proficient user.

user experience

CX expands the definition of UX to include pre- and post-utilization phases. To stay within our example, things that happen before using the software may include researching the right product and buying or subscribing to it. Once the software is in use, it needs to be maintained through updates and license renewals, and we may want to upgrade to another product tier to get more features. The sum of all these steps and the reactions of those who experience them is what we call CX.

user experience customer experience

In short, UX looks at the product or service itself and how it helps its users accomplish objectives, while CX looks at the whole process of the customers finding, using and maintaining the offering. Through this lens, UX is part of CX.

However, the pre- and post-usage phases have their own UX as well. In our example the software manufacturer may have a website promoting its software, providing selling propositions, product descriptions and everything else to help someone do their research. That same website may also allow acquiring the software. The website therefore provides a UX for its users — it affords doing the research and acquisition comfortably or not. The company may also provide a web portal for existing customers, allowing them to maintain and upgrade their software. Again, that portal comes with its own UX. From this perspective, CX is the sum of the UX of all involved phases.

multiple user customer experience

Related Article: How CX and UX Can Be Truly Lean

Customers and Users Aren't Always One and the Same

The people involved in the various phases may be the same, or they may be different. We can refer to them as customers and users. Customers are those who acquire an offering — they pay. Users are those who use the offering. A person can be both the customer and the user. This is normal in the B2C (business to consumer) world where a company sells directly to individual consumers. In a lot of instances though the customer and user of an offering are different people.

Take a typical B2B (business to business) scenario. A software company sells its product, say an application to run email campaigns, to a company. A representative of the company interested in the application gets in contact with a representative of the software company to negotiate terms and conditions, and potentially make a payment for the product. The purchaser in this case is the customer. She may not use the email software, her role is just to acquire it. The employees in the marketing department will use the software, they are the users.

The purchaser may in some cases have a very good user experience with the product website, but the marketing staff finds the software to be clunky and poorly designed. Alternatively, the purchaser may find the presentation of the product and pricing information very confusing, but once purchased, the marketing department loves the software.

Arguably, accomplishing greatness is harder in CX than in UX, because CX covers the entirety of touchpoints between suppliers and demanders. Those touchpoints may be owned by different departments on the supplier side and they may or may not work together well to provide a seamless overall experience to the demander side.

Based on the relevance of CX, it’s striking that compared to UX it’s much less established and formalized. This is reflected in the search results I provided above, where UX produces twice as many search hits as CX.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Bad UX Cost Citibank $500M – What Went Wrong?

Measuring UX and CX

Both UX and CX can be measured in order to do benchmarking or establish a baseline to track progress in optimizing an offering.

UX metrics include:

  • Task Completion Time: How long does it take users to finish defined objectives?
  • Task Success Rate: What percentage of users can successfully complete objectives?
  • Number of User Errors: How many errors do users make during the completion of objectives?
  • Learnability: How much faster can users complete the same objective over time?
  • User Satisfaction: How happy are users with the way the offering allows them to accomplish their objectives?

In CX, some of the metrics are:

  • Net Promoter Score: How likely would customers recommend a company to other people?
  • Customer Loyalty: How often do customers return after the first-time purchase?
  • Customer Lifetime Value: How much total revenue does a company make from a customer?
  • Churn Rate: What percentage of customers stopped doing business with a company?
  • Customer Satisfaction Score: How happy are customers with the touchpoints between themselves and a company they have contact with?

Both CX and UX measure satisfaction as a key metric. The difference is the focus: For CX, satisfaction ascertains the overall happiness of a customer with the company that sells the product. For UX satisfaction refers to the degree of contentment with which the offering itself can be used.

Related Article: Companies Are Misusing Net Promoter Scores: Here's How to Fix That

Having Said That ... CX and UX Are Still One and the Same

As mentioned in the beginning, the terminology in this field is very dynamic. While this article (and others) demonstrates you can reasonably separate CX and UX, in practice it is more target-oriented to consider them as one and the same discipline. They are both rooted in the same philosophy and have a shared set of methodologies and processes.

Rather than separating these two areas, we should see them as two facets of the same approach of accommodating people in their pursuit to accomplish something. It’s a human-centered approach that relies on empathy to learn about and cater to the needs of people. Researching stated and unstated needs of people, identifying jobs to be done, crafting personas, creating journey maps, iteratively creating and empirically testing design solutions: these are all elements of one and the same discipline.

This viewpoint also helps answering the popular question of what is more important, CX or UX. CX describing the holistic reaction of people during their touchpoints with a company that has to offer something is undoubtedly important. Yet, as we've established, customer experience is the sum of individual user experiences. The chain of CX is only as strong as the individual UX links — you need both and therefore both are critical.

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