The Relationship Between User Experience And Customer Experience

In the past I’ve heard talks or read articles where user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) are used interchangeably to describe some process of designing and implementing an enhanced service environment for the end user/customer/community member. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using them interchangeably for most audiences, but it may be informative for our own understanding to get a sense of how they are differentiated and how they relate to each other. Perhaps we can to establish the uniqueness of each term, although some of you may decide it’s just a matter of semantics. Read up on and it and come to your own conclusions.

A good starting point is this interview with Samantha Starmer, Manager, eCommerce Experience at REI published at UX Magazine. You can read the transcript or watch a video of the interview. The interviewer asks an interesting question of Starmer: How does REI define ‘user experience’ and its relationship to customer experience (CX)? Here is Starmer’s response:

I think that it’s an interesting question, when you talk about user experience and customer experience. User experience, in general, we’re thinking about people using something, people interacting with something. Right now, most specifically, that’s the website and any mobile applications or mobile sites, but that’s really part of a larger umbrella around the full customer experience, which would include interactions with a store employee, using the product, using our services, taking a class, that kind of thing.

Seems fairly clear. UX is a subset of CX. You want to design a good user experience for the library catalog, or what happens at the reference or circulation desk of your library. Each one of these can be thought of as a unique experience that requires its own design – and thinking about what we want that experience to be about and then put into place the elements that facilitate that experience (e.g., expedient; product excellence; accurate one-stop problem resolution, etc). Taken together these unique and somewhat different experiences create the total experience for the community member. That requires us to create the UX with the overall CX in mind, and then make sure the organization consistently achieves the UX at all possible touchpoints. If we do that well, we’ve created a better library experience. You can read an additional interview in which UX and CX are discussed, also from UX Magazine, with Harley Manning, Vice President, Research Director for Customer Experince at Forrester Research. Manning also points to CX as a broader set of concerns, while UX is described as “focusing on narrow concerns.”

I suppose the term that I’ve been using for CX is “totality“. Again, what we call it may not be as critical as making it happen – and making it happen is a challenge. That’s one of the messages in this good post, also about customer experience. Over at the blog The Conversation, Adam Richardson has started a series of posts about customer experience. In this first one he explains what customer experience is (and much of will sound familiar to those with an understanding of user experience). He finds it hard to define:

How we can really improve something if we can’t even define it? This is the first in a series of posts looking at customer experience — what it encompasses, how to structure it, how to approach and improve it.

But he comes to the conclusion that:

It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.

I think that comment does a great job of pointing out to those of us in the library field that our interaction with members of the user community is more than just a single transaction at a service desk. We need to be thinking in terms of the customer experience, and what’s happening at every touchpoint during that person’s journey through the library experience we deliver. For more of Richardson’s posts on customer experience see this one that’s all about touchpoints.

So, have these customer experience readings changed my own perspectives on UX and CX? I think so. Moving forward I will still use the term user experience to refer to that total library experience we want to design and deliver. In my presentations on UX I would be more likely to introduce the term “customer experience” and point out how each term adds to our knowledge about and conversation on designing better libraries.

Two New Reads For Design Thinkers

I recently came across two worthwhile readings to share on the subject of design thinking.

The first is an interview with Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with one of the commentors who stated that the interview is “a great overview of design thinking”, I do believe that those exploring the field would gain something from Brown’s comments about design in general and design thinking specifically to help them shape their perspective on what design thinking is and how it could be of help to a librarian. Brown, as always, shares a few good insights on design thinking. I particularly like his perspective on design being about “big” ideas and the importance of totality:

When Brown talks about ‘big’, he isn’t talking about size, or scale, or depth. It’s the totality of experiences that he—and ‘design thinking’—refers to…it’s “much more complex thing than any single object”, Brown insists. It’s about solving the problem of distributing clean water in poor countries, coming up with more efficient ways to direct human traffic in buildings, realizing untapped channels of communication in trade. Design is huge.

That gives you a taste of what you’ll find in this interview – and it’s a fairly fast read as well. Take a look.

Then I came across this other interesting post titled “Learning How to Use Design Thinking.” It appeared at InnovationManagement, and reports on a workshop that took place in Sweden in which 70 attendees learned how to apply design thinking to specific problems. This is more of an overview, as Dan Buzzini, Design Director at IDEO, explains how design thinking is an innovation tool. Two things to look for in this summary of the workshop are the reflections of the workshop participants – interesting to read what they thought was the most valuable part of the learning experience – and the link to a good video that demonstrates how IDEO helped a bank improve a self-service experience. It’s definitely worth watching.

Finally, here’s a link to an article about the engineering firm Arup. Titled “Working on Tomorrow’s World” it describes how Arup tackles incredibly difficult challenges related to designing and building future cities and their related structures. It’s a good read about a firm that has developed a successful approach to innovation. What caught my attention was the part about “hybrid thinking”. It’s described as:

Quite often, problem-solving innovation is created by “happy” clashes between different disciplines. Arup is a firm of engineers, designers, accountants, architects, marketing professionals and graphic designers. Engineers tackle architectural problems, designers try to answer engineering questions and technologists join forces with mathematicians to enable new angles to be explored. It’s what’s known as hybrid thinking.

Is it the same as design thinking? Despite some similarities (e.g., bringing together teams of diverse individuals to “deep dive” problems) Arup sees it as being slightly different:

Young doesn’t like to call it design thinking, a label that, he says, is simply “a discussion of semantics, a bit of a distraction”, but it’s clear Arup is infected with a childlike questioning of the status quo. It’s what drives creativity right to the edges of the company.

Perhaps it is just a case of semantics. What’s important is that both approaches start with the essential step of asking the right questions:

Arup’s culture is about stepping back, he says, and asking, “Is that the right question?” It’s not a case of “What are we building?”, but “What are we building it for?” He adds: “Out of that tension something else often pops out that wasn’t considered.” Innovation starts with a question.

If you come across a good read on design thinking I hope you’ll share it with me, and I’ll share it with DBL readers.