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Customer Experience & User Experience: Where they Meet

Author: Richard Alvarez, UX Practice Lead, Saggezza  

This blog, co-written with Aparajito Sengupta (Senior UX Architect, Infostretch), draws on their joint experience in the CX and UX environments. 

Ask the average person if the customer experience and user experience are the same in a digital product or app, and you are likely to get either a blank look or a reluctant nodding of the head. You would then expect the question to get a definitive yes or no answer in the tech world, but there is a common misconception among most that there is essentially no difference between the two.  

However, when you look under the hood of both customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX), they reveal several differences in not only what they are designed to do, but also how they behave as a business optimization concept for end user engagement. And while user experience is part of the whole customer experience, companies aiming to deliver great products need to understand both journeys for their target customers. 

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into the two and attempt to answer some of the more frequent questions that they inevitably generate.  

What is User Experience?

According to ISO 9241-210, UX can be defined as “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, service or product,” which boils down to the “emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.” 

In the simplest terms, UX is how the end-user interacts with the company, its services, and its products in a single channel, be it digital, print, or traditional media. In fact, a great experience is when it meets the customers’ exact needs with such simplicity and elegance that it’s a joy to either use or own that product. 

It should be noted at this point that although the user interface (UI) is an integral part of the design, the UX is different from the UI.  

Nielsen Norman Group (NN/G) explains this difference with an example of a movie review website. Consider a website with movie reviews. Even if the UI for finding a film is perfect, the UX will be inadequate for people who want information about a minor independent release if the underlying database only contains movies from the major studios. 

In addition, UX is also commonly confused with usability. NN/G defines usability as a quality attribute of the UI, covering whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth. Again, this is important, which means that total user experience is an even broader concept.  

What is Customer Experience? 

CX is an umbrella concept that includes all the channels and products where a customer interacts with the brand and how the customer feels about the brand.  

In most cases, this is related to cognitive, effective, sensory and behavioural responses that occur along the various touchpoints in the product lifecycle. These responses can be measured during what is known as the consumption process – which includes pre-purchase, consumption and post-purchase stages – and all are directly linked to the cumulative impact on the customer during the course of these multiple touchpoints.  

For example, the customer experience for a MedTech product will include a wearable device, a companion mobile app and a web dashboard. If any of these products fail to provide the end user with the experience that they want (or were expecting), then the overall CX will be impacted.  

For that reason alone, an organization seeking to optimize the users’ experience with their brands should primarily focus on the CX design. As we noted above, the user experience typically is a journey with many touchpoints, and a good CX design team considers and optimizes all those touchpoints.  

Typically, CX refers to how users perceive a product, system or service. From a company perspective, these can be slotted into the following buckets: 

  • Customer service 
  • Advertising 
  • Brand reputation 
  • Sales process 
  • Fairness of pricing 
  • Product delivery 
  • Even each individual product’s UX 

The goal of a CX consultant is to dovetail business strategies with the actual customer’s overall experience … keeping the customer’s overall happiness in mind at all times. 

Varying Scopes and Why they Matter 

While the terms “customer experience” and “user experience” have a quite different context in terms of how the customer perceives and use the product, the essential takeaway is that when it comes to providing the best experience to the end-users, there are multiple levels. Unsurprisingly, each of them is equally critical for the overall experience. 

NN/G looks at CX across three distinct levels: single-interaction, journey and relationship.  

When you factor in that the interactions between a person and a brand can occur over a period of years (which, in some cases, might be a lifetime), then it becomes clear that you need to look at all aspects of that experience and how it impacts that person’s decision making. For the purposes of this blog, we shall assume that the products under consideration are mainly digital. 

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

This is the level that is most commonly identified as the user experience. The focus of this interaction is mainly at the UX level, which means the aim is to design an interaction such as performing a small task on the website or an application. For the record, most UX designers work at the interaction level.  

However, contrary to widespread belief in the connected society that this level is limited to only digital channels, there are notable examples of physical channels at the interaction level – for example, customer phone support and an in-person transaction with a bank teller. 

The journey level captures the person’s experience as they work to accomplish a goal. It is highly likely that multiple interaction channels or devices will be utilized in completing this task(s). 

The journey level is the end-to-end process of a customer while completing their goal. To achieve their goal, the customer may interact with multiple devices and channels of a particular brand. Understanding this omni-channel approach is important to companies and their customers.  

Delivering an excellent journey-level experience is often difficult for companies since it requires considerable effort to integrate various channels and coordinate different elements for interaction-level design. In addition, companies might experience a few challenges; delivering consistent messaging across channels, omnichannel experience, brand continuity (cohesive look, feel, and tone of choice across interactions), and, most importantly, integrating the back-end technology to allow customers to move effectively between channels with continuity and seamless experience. 

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

This is the complete customer experience level. Here, brands focus on the customer’s lifetime experience with the brand instead of a single interaction or a journey. And this is a holistic level where all interactions and journeys between the customer and the brand are considered and optimized.  

For example, a software company would design their product in such a way that not only does it attract people to try it and purchase it, but it is also easier to troubleshoot, update and uninstall (in the rare case when customers want to). If you think about what products Apple offers its customers, the relationship level is at the core of everything they do.  

How do CX and UX Work Together? 

As we have said before, user experience is an essential part of the overall customer experience. Since the goal of both is customer satisfaction, both CX and UX work hand-in-hand to deliver the best possible experience to the customer. 

Companies benefit when they understand how vital the relationship between the CX and UX is to their overall success. A recent Forrester research report said that customers tend to pay more when they have a good relationship with a company with an amazing product, citing the fact that people were willing to pay up to 4.5 times more for a great customer experience as opposed to a poor one. That puts the onus on making sure that all avenues are covered from day one.  

The fact is any improvements to UX benefits the overall CX.  

Aggregating customer feedback can be leveraged to improve on the UX, since the brands can quickly improve product and customer experience based on the input from end users. Understanding that customer touchpoints with a company’s brand aren’t just limited to a single channel is therefore vital. Successful organizations understand this and optimize the brand experience across the digital landscape in a way that is natural and seamless for their customers. 

For example, a modern shopping experience might begin online with search, move to social media, then a visit to store either online or in-person, before a buying decision is made. At every touchpoint on this journey, brands want the shopping experience to be simple, clear, and joyful. UX works to improve the overall CX by making improvement to a single channel experience with an understanding of the customer journey and the part it plays in the larger digital ecosystem. 

UX and CX are Critical for Success 

Customer and user experience are critical to brand reputation and customer satisfaction. Organizations that fail in paying attention to either will experience setbacks in their overall business’ success. 

A good CX will enhance brand loyalty. However, UX must dovetail with business optimization strategies, and, in addition, deliver the subjective interactions that will influence the entire journey and not just a single point in time. While CX is an umbrella under which companies can add both UX and UI, it is essential to realize that all three are equally crucial to the overall success of a product, system or service. A happy user is a happy customer and that, in turn, makes for happy organizations. 

Richard Alvarez began his career at Microsoft, during which he wrote his first book on Adobe Flash, which was published by New Riders. He has worked with multiple start-up companies, which has taught him that the digital space is constantly evolving. Prior to joining Saggezza, Richard helped form Method Engine’s philosophy of strategic design. He worked as lead IT at a small creative agency. During that time, he was key in creating technical solutions, based on consumer driven best practices.

Aparajito Sengupta, Senior Manager of UX at Infostretch, has spent 15 years as an art director, designer, visualizer and user experience manager, developing a keen eye for detail. Since 2011, he’s applied those skills at Infostretch, perfecting the intersection between usability and aesthetics to determine the best experience across all platforms and media.

Saggezza is a proven technology and consulting partner that delivers personalized, high-value solutions to accelerate business growth.

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