CX and UX: Similar, but Definitely Different

Ask the average person if the customer experience and user experience are the same, and you will likely get either a tacit agreement or a confused shrug. This confusion can be directly linked to a common misconception that the two are essentially the same.

When you look under the hood of both customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX), then it’s crystal clear that they are similar, but different. Not only in what they are designed to do, but also how they behave as a business optimization strategy for end-user engagement.

To put it bluntly, companies aiming to deliver great products must understand both journeys to succeed.

UX Is How We Interact

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.” To put it into plain English, UX is how the end user interacts with the company, its services, and its products in a single channel — be that digital, print, or traditional media.

A great experience meets the customer’s exact needs with simplicity and elegance, giving the customer a feeling of satisfaction. On the flip side, this hides the requirement to understand what makes that experience great. And while the user interface (UI) is an integral part of the design, the UX is different from the UI.

A great experience meets the customer’s exact needs with simplicity and elegance.

Nielsen Norman Group (NN/G) explains this difference with an example of a movie review website. That website will have reviews, some good and some bad. 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 major studios.

To make things slightly more complicated, UX is often confused with usability. This popular misconception just muddies the waters. In fact, 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. With usability in the mix, total user experience becomes an even broader concept.

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CX Is Where We Interact

So, if UX is about perceptions and emotions, then what is CX? The simple answer: CX is an umbrella concept that includes all the channels and products where a customer interacts with the brand, as well as how the customer feels about the brand.

For the most part, this is related to the cognitive, effective, sensory, and behavioral responses that occur along the various touchpoints in the product lifecycle. Companies usually measure these responses during what is known as the consumption process — the pre-purchase, consumption, and post-purchase stages, for instance.

CX is related to the cognitive, effective, sensory, and behavioral responses that occur in the product lifecycle.

All of these stages are directly linked to the cumulative impact on the customer over the course of these defined and multiple touchpoints.

For that reason alone, an organization seeking to optimize the users’ experience with their brands must focus on the CX design as a primary goal. The end-user experience typically is a journey with many touchpoints, so a good CX design team considers, assesses, and optimizes all those engagement opportunities.

CX refers to how users perceive a product, system, or service. From a company perspective, these can be slotted into customer service, advertising, brand reputation, sales process, pricing, and product delivery. That means there are defined goals to hit, mainly to dovetail business strategies with the actual customer’s overall experience — while always keeping the customer’s overall happiness in mind.

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Critical Concepts, Different Outcomes

Although the terms “customer experience” and “user experience” have vastly different outcomes in terms of how the customer perceives and uses the product, there are multiple levels of engagement and customer interaction. Each of these is equally critical for the overall experience.

For instance, NN/G thinks about CX across three distinct levels: single interaction, journey, and relationship.

Interactions between a person and a brand can occur over a period of years (which, in some cases, might be a lifetime). So it becomes clear that you need to look at all aspects of that experience and how it impacts a person’s decision making. In today’s connected society, those interactions are considered to be primarily digital.

We should never forget that the bricks-and-mortar experience may have a direct impact on the virtual.

The single interaction level reflects the experience the person has using a single device to perform a specific task. This level is the one most commonly identified as the actual user experience and is not limited to digital interactions. Granted, most UX and CX is digital, but we should never forget that the bricks-and-mortar experience may have a direct impact on the virtual.

The journey level captures the person’s experience as they work to accomplish a goal (possibly using multiple interaction channels or devices to do so). In the vast majority of cases, this level is the end-to-end process of a customer completing their goal. In today’s connected society, this is the nirvana of omnichannel engagement.

The caveat is that delivering a first-rate journey-level experience is often tricky for companies, mainly because it requires significant effort to both integrate the various channels and coordinate different elements for interaction-level design.

Companies might experience a few unseen challenges, which include but are not limited to consistent messaging, omnichannel expectations, brand continuity, and the integration of a back end that can allow customers to move effectively between channels.

The relationship level refers to all the interactions between the person and the company throughout (no surprises here) the life of the customer relationship. Essentially, this is the complete customer experience level. At this point, brands focus on the customer’s actual (and potential) lifetime experience with the brand instead of a single interaction or a journey.

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Improving the Experience by Working Together

As the goal of both is customer satisfaction, CX and UX must work together to deliver the best possible experience to the customer.

Companies will benefit when they understand how vital the relationship between CX and UX is to their overall success. Customers tend to pay more when they have a good relationship with a company with an amazing product. A recent Forrester report cites the fact that people are willing to pay up to 4.5 times more for a great customer experience than an average one.

People are willing to pay up to 4.5 times more for a great customer experience than an average one.

A good UX should improve overall CX. Aggregating customer feedback, for instance, 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.

This becomes even more important when you consider that an experience might begin online and migrate to a physical engagement.

Why UX and CX Matter

With customer and user experience so important to brand reputation and customer loyalty, companies that fail to deliver either one, the other, or (in some cases) both, will experience pain points and a decline in their overall success.

A good CX enhances brand loyalty, but the UX must align with business optimization strategies. Importantly, the latter must deliver the subjective interactions that will influence the entire journey, and not just a single point in time.

And while CX is an umbrella under which companies can add both UX and UI, it is critical to understand 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 is an emotional state that can be directly linked back to effective CX and UX.

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Richard Alvarez and Aparajito Sengupta
Richard Alvarez and Aparajito Sengupta
Richard Alvarez is UX Practice Lead at Saggezza, a technology and consulting partner. Richard 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. | Aparajito Sengupta is UI/UX Manager at Infostretch, a Silicon Valley digital engineering professional services firm. Aparajito 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.

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