Asking if customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) are the same will usually illicit a few different responses. Some would be in total agreement that they are, and others will be utterly confused. Why? Because there is an inherent belief that there is no difference between the two. If users are customers, then they must be the same, right? Wrong.

CX and UX are quite distinct. Companies who understand the distinction between the two are better equipped to provide the best possible experience in relation to their brand and products.

To clear up some confusion, let’s start by looking at the definition of each term.

What Is User Experience?

According to ISO 9241-210, the user experience is a person’s perceptions (per perceived perceptions) and responses before, during and after using a product or service. The UX is specific to how an end-user interacts with a company product; a website, software, app, print publication, etc. The design of the product and its interface unite to create the user experience, which can be either positive or negative, based on their interaction. Creating a design that is simple, elegant and easy to use can be classified as a positive UX.

The user interface (UI) is recognized as an integral part of the design; however, the UX is different from the UI.

Nielsen Norman Group (NN/G) points to a movie review website as an example. The UI for film discovery might be perfect, however, the UX can be perceived as poor for a user seeking information about small releases if it’s only database-rich with major studio movies.

Further complications arise as UX is often confused with usability. NN/G defines usability as a quality attribute of the UI, highlighting whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant and so forth.

Related Article: UX Is a Continuous Investment for Profitable Companies. Here's Why

What Is Customer Experience?

The customer experience encapsulates all the channels and products a consumer interacts with and how they feel about the brand overall. CX also includes the customer’s cognitive and behavioral reactions that digital touch points incite.

The customer experience can relate to a company’s product, marketing tactics, customer service or even its pricing. In the most basic term, it’s a customer's perception of their relationship with an organization or their brand.

In practice, professionals focusing on CX will perform the following activities:

  • Research and mapping out customer journeys.
  • Using research to better understand the customers' habits (both likes and dislikes).
  • Working to understand the customer experience and the company’s relationship with the customer.
  • Delivering a good customer experience by offering exceptional service and support.

A good CX team continually assesses all touch points along the customer journey to create and deliver a dynamic customer experience. CX design is a focal point of this process.

Related Article: What Is Customer Experience Management?

Why the Differences Matter: The 3 levels

As you can see, the terms “user experience” and “customer experience” refer to very different situations. However, throughout the many levels of customer engagement, each is critical to the overall experience. Every interaction, no matter when it takes place, directly determines the decisions the customer will make along the way. Each level represents an opportunity for a company to make a positive impact on the overall experience.

Learning Opportunities

CX can be categorized across three levels including: single-interaction, journey and relationship. Let’s explore these levels and attributes more closely for a deeper understanding:

Single-Interaction Level

The single-interaction level reflects the experience the person has using a single device to perform a specific task.

  • The focus of this interaction is at the UX level as it is commonly identified as the user experience.
  • Companies seek to design a simple interaction; performing a small task on the website or an application.
  • Most UX designers work at the interaction level.
  • Note of importance: Although UX and CX are considered digital, virtual impacts can be felt from the brick-and-mortar experience as physical channels are present at the interaction level; examples include including customer support on the phone and the transaction with a teller at a bank.

Journey Level

The journey level captures the person’s experience as he/she works to accomplish a goal. This level can include multiple interaction channels or devices.

  • It’s an end-to-end process of the customer while completing their goal.
  • Achievement includes customer interaction with multiple devices and brand-owned channels.
  • Companies offer omni-channel approach to customers for a seamless experience.

Relationship Level

The relationship level refers to all the interactions between the person and the company throughout the relationship.

  • Brands focus on the entire customer lifetime experience with the brand instead of just a snapshot.
  • The complete customer experience is reviewed and augmented.

UX and CX: A Team Effort

The overall customer experience would not be complete without the user experience. Alluded to earlier, there are distinctions between the two, but the CX and UX must be in unison for the customer to experience the best journey. Understanding the vitality of the relationship between CX and UX, companies will enjoy continued success. A good UX improves overall CX. With UX, companies should strive to make user interactions accessible (usually through a multi-device experience) and easy. Users gain a sense of satisfaction for the overall experience.

Take, for instance, a modern shopping experience. Potential customers often begin their journey by browsing the store’s website and social media. If the UX is good, they will take the next step in their journey by visiting the in-person store. As this journey continues, attention to UX will improve the overall CX as long as a company understands the customer journey and how it plays a part in the larger digital ecosystem. 

The goal of any CX experience for a company should be consistent interaction that paves the way for a pleasant experience.

Related Article: Building a Gold Standard for Consumer Trust

UX and CX Are Critical, Together

True success can only be measured through a symbiotic relationship between CX and UX. If one is overlooked, companies will experience glaring pain points with both users and customers. Nurturing the customer's journey helps the company to build loyalty and brand equity. Every touch point is an opportunity to enhance the overall shopping experience through clarity and simplicity.

Companies want to provide a great experience when anyone interacts with their product. Yes, a good CX enhances brand loyalty, but UX must align with business optimization strategies. In lieu of focusing on the importance of any one single touch point, the entire journey must be the sole focus.

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