Customer Experience or User Experience?

I’ve heard both Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) used to describe how someone’s life is changed, for the better or for the worse, because of the goods or services that an organisation provides.  This article goes into my understanding of those terms – how they’re similar and different.  I don’t think that either is perfect, but pulling together an awareness of all the meanings from both could end up with the important stuff getting done well.

Customer Experience

My understanding of this term, from people like Rebecca Brown, is an end-to-end view of a (potential) customer’s interactions with an organisation.  This is everything from physical shops, contact centres, online shops, the product itself, the packaging etc. it comes in, handling complaints – everything.

The idea is that you start with the customer and work outwards, rather than starting with your organisation and work towards the customer.  It will include things like customer journey maps, as a way to cross silos and departments within your organisation.

What does a customer do?

The problem I have with the term CX is illustrated by the times when I don’t feel like a customer, but I do feel like a user or something else.  This might sound odd, so I will try to put some structure to this that might be helpful.  I can think of three roles that must be played by someone on the customer side of the customer / supplier relationship:

  1. Make the relevant decision or decisions;
  2. Transfer money to the supplier;
  3. Use the goods or services.

If I go to the supermarket because I need some toothpaste, I do all three of these.  I decide to buy some toothpaste and choose from the range of toothpastes, I hand over the money / swipe my card, and eventually use that toothpaste.  For this kind of thing, CX makes a lot of sense.  However, there are situations where I don’t play all the roles, and CX makes less sense to me.

A sign near the escalators at a Danish railway station saying (in English and Danish): No Balloons.
Apparently, customers at this Danish railway station have also carried balloons. It’s intriguing to think what problem this caused.

At work we use software tools for the things you’d expect – version control, work tracking, booking holiday etc.  If you look at the roles involved in these:

  1. The head of software development makes the decision that we need a tool and which tool to pick.  My colleagues and I might make recommendations, but ultimately the decision belongs to the head of development.  (In the RACI analysis, my colleagues and I are responsible, but the head of development is accountable.)
  2. Someone in finance makes sure the vendor gets paid.
  3. I use it (as do other people).

I don’t feel like a customer, but I do feel like a user.  This dynamic is behind the fact that internal tools or tools used at work often aren’t as nice to use as those we’re used to in our personal lives – the end user has no freedom to choose an alternative, and this lack of competition allows for a poor status quo. (The tools we use where I work are, by and large, fine.)

A different example is when I use the government portal to tax my car:

  1. Politicians have decided that anyone who drives a car on public roads in my country must tax it.  You could say it was my decision to buy the car that triggered the interaction, but I could easily imagine a system where car owners contribute to government income by paying so much per mile or kilometre driven, rather than by simply owning the car.  You could also say it was partly my decision to elect the politicians in the first place.  This is true but the link between my vote and having to tax my car is too tenuous for me.  So, I shall say that politicians have decided that I must tax my car.
  2. I pay the money for taxing the car.
  3. I use the portal.

I accept that I’m using what’s effectively an online shop to buy something.  (In Ye Olden Days you would get a physical paper tax disc to put in your car, so you could think of the transaction as swapping money for a paper disc).  But I feel I’m a citizen rather than a customer, mostly because I’m doing my duty as set out by my country’s government.

Or what about when I search for something on e.g. Google?

  1. I decide to search for something, and what to search for.
  2. I don’t pay for using the search engine.  No-one does directly, but indirectly Google’s advertisers are subsidising it.  In non-monetary terms I realise that I’m contributing personal data to Google, which it finds very valuable, but I don’t feel as if I’m directly exchanging my personal data to get a search result.
  3. I use the search engine.

Again, I don’t feel like a customer, but I do feel like a user.  (Maybe I should feel like the product, given that it’s data about me that’s being fed into the big data universe that Google maintains and rents to advertisers.)

User Experience

UX could help for the times when I feel like a user but not a customer.  The problem with UX is that it can be linked with or confused with UI.  (For instance, someone might call themselves a UX Designer when they’re more like a UI Designer – both are important jobs, but they’re not the same.) 

So UX runs the risk of being too narrowly focussed and missing the end-to-end experience.  This isn’t the only understanding of the term – people like Paul Boag advocate for the most expansive meaning of the term UX.  For example, he was the person who introduced me to customer journey maps.

Another problem with UX is that when the user is also the customer, using UX rather than CX means you don’t have as sharp a focus on the fact that the person struggling to use your stuff is also the person who ultimately pays your wages.  This helps to concentrate the mind, and to get over the tendency to write off the user’s concerns as the annoying bleating of an unobservant idiot with no initiative or attention span.  (Not that I think you ever think in those terms – I exaggerate for effect.)

What’s important?

I don’t think that the term is the important thing.  I think that doing your job well is, and part of this is meeting the needs of the people who use your stuff, pay for it, and decide to use it.

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