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.

7 thoughts on “The Relationship Between User Experience And Customer Experience”

  1. I’m really glad you posted this! Beforehand I hadn’t even considered it, and would have probably gone on thinking of UX and CX as precisely the same thing.

    You wrote that UX is a subset of CX. My initial impression is that CX is a subset of UX. For instance, in the cycle of buying a widget, the experience of purchasing the widget is a customer experience. The majority of the time enjoying the widget is user experience (but, IMO, not really CX). Continuing technical support or otherwise contacting the manufacturer/retailer would be CX again. Am I misconstruing what these terms mean?

    I also don’t know precisely how one would apply my impression of UX/CX to libraries. Just thought I’d throw it out there. Thanks!

  2. I think you’ve got it right Brad. In your example the UX comes when the person uses the widget. All the other parts of the experience cycle – identifying the widget, looking it up on the website, ordering it – and all the way through seeking support if needed – make up the CX. So the UX is one part of the larger – total – experience. In the past I’ve referred to CX as the “totality” of the UX, so I think it is useful to be able to think of it in terms of UX and CX. In a library setting, a virtual reference transaction could be the UX, but the process built around it – getting to the site, figuring out what to do, the follow up – all part of the total experience. So it won’t matter how good that unique UX is if the CX in a failure. I’m still figuring all this out. Thanks for your comment.

  3. This is an interesting post – it caused me to see two different concepts as parts of the same –

    I always thought of the UX as something owned by those developers in the back room – the guys that make the web site work.

    And I always thought of the CX as something owned by those people in the front room – the ones in marketing, sales and service, who interact with customers all day long.

    But the two are inexticably linked. There are some customers that choose to engage purely on line – and work of the back-room developers becomes very much front room stuff.

    Interesting – thanks for helping me to see it differently!

  4. Great Post! But I think the discussion reveals a product- centric conception of both UX and CX. Ideally, CX begins with an organization understanding high value customer needs and then using that understanding to guide development of products, services and brand messaging that addresses those needs. If your company is operating in a truly customer centric way, the focus is less on functional silos and more on delighting, growing and retaining valuable customers.

  5. In B2B or industrial markets, the customer and the user may be completely different people.
    When they are the same people CX, UX hits the same confusion that value-in-use and Quality In Use seem to hit – they can have different frames of reference – one about business and money, and the other about design. These need bringing together somehow.

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