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Customer Experience Vs. User Experience – What’s the Difference?

Customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) – these two terms mean fundamentally different (though complementary) things, yet are often used interchangeably by app, software and website owners as if they were one and the same thing.

The confusion comes from how we tend to define our clientele. Our users are our customers – so the user experience and customer experience must be equivalent, right?

Actually, no. UX and CX are distinct, and it’s important to understand this distinction if your users/customers are to enjoy the best possible overall experience of your product and your brand.

So let’s clear things up.

What Is User Experience?

The concept of user experience is specific to your product, i.e. your app, software, or website. As such, UX is concerned with the experience that a user/customer has when they interact with that product.

The design of your product and its interface – its usability, navigation, visual hierarchy, information architecture, etc. – combine to create a user experience that is either positive or negative for the product’s users.

Accordingly, UX design is the process of designing products that are intuitive, easy and enjoyable to use, and solve the problem(s) they are designed to solve in the most user-friendly manner possible.

UX is measured with metrics that revolve around the functionality and usability of your app, software, or website. For example:

  • Success rate – the percentage of users who complete a goal within your product or reach a stage you want them to reach
  • Error rate – the number of mistakes a user makes when completing a task
  • Task time – the amount of time it takes a user to complete a task
  • Clicks to completion – the number of clicks the user performs before completing a task
  • Abandonment rate – the percentage of users who abandon the task before it is completed

What Is Customer Experience?

Customer experience, on the other hand, is a much larger concept. CX is concerned with the experience that a user/customer has whenever they interact with your brand – not just your product.

As an app, software, or website owner, your product is not the totality of your brand and, therefore, not the totality of the customer experience. CX interactions occur across multiple touchpoints, including your advertising, social media channels, marketing materials, sales process, pricing, customer service and support, and your actual product.

As such, customer experience is something of an umbrella term, encompassing all channels and touchpoints, and is concerned with customers’ perceptions of the organization and its services as a whole, not just the usability and functionality of its products.

CX is measured with metrics that are concerned with the “big picture”. For example:

  • Overall satisfaction – how satisfied your customers are with their interactions with your company, its services, and products
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) – the willingness of customers to recommend your company and its product(s) to others.
  • Loyalty – the likelihood customers will continue using your product vs. a competitor’s  

The Importance of Good UX and Good CX

Customer Experience Vs. User Experience-01

As you will no doubt have deduced by this point, UX is a subset of CX. User experience is the experience your customers have with your product, whereas customer experience is the experience those users have with your brand as a whole.

Both are important to get right, for today, customer experience is the top brand differentiator, and user experience – whether good or bad – is an extremely influential element of the overall CX. According to PwC’s 2018 “Future of Customer Experience” study, nearly one-third (32%) of consumers said they would walk away from a brand they love after one single bad experience and 59% after several bad experiences. In addition, the study also found that customers are willing to pay as much as 16% more for a better experience.

Customer Experience Vs. User Experience-02

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Good UX design is important because users will decide within just a few seconds whether your app, software, or website is worth their time – i.e. whether it is easy to use, functional, enjoyable, navigable, and solves their problem – and whether or not they will be coming back for more.  

Good CX is important because it goes beyond the usability and functionality of your product, and serves as a key differentiator in a competitive market where consumers have a multitude of products that are likely similar to yours to choose from.

2 UX and CX Stories

It is possible, however, to have a good UX and a bad CX (and vice versa) – which is why it’s important to focus on both.

Let’s look at two hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the point.

Good UX and Bad CX

Let’s say John visited an online store to buy a new phone. The store had a great UX. The search engine was accurate and powerful, and the product comparison tool allowed him to pit his potential purchases against each other easily, drawing on readily-accessible product reviews from other customers. Using this high-functioning site, John quickly found the right phone for him. The checkout process was also seamless, multiple shipping options were available, and within just a few clicks, John made a quick payment and his new phone was on its way.

However, when he received his package, he quickly realised that the phone inside wasn’t the one he’d ordered. He immediately phoned customer support. After a long wait on hold, an agent eventually took his call. But the agent couldn’t trace his order number, and so told John that someone would phone him back within the hour with a solution. Two days later John finally receives the call. The “solution”? John must first send the phone back at his own expense before the company will replace it with the correct one he’d initially ordered. The whole process takes nearly two weeks.

Conclusion: Even though the UX of the e-commerce site was exemplary, John’s experience after placing his order was nothing short of disastrous. He poured out his grievances in the comments section of the site, and it’s very likely that John will completely forget how good the  UX was because the overall CX was so poor.

Bad UX and Good CX

Now let’s consider the flipside of the coin – when the overall CX is good but is let down by bad UX.

So, let’s say the next time John wanted to buy a new phone, haunted by bad memories of his previous experience with Company A, he decided to visit a different online store.

Company B’s e-commerce site, however, was seriously lacking in usability and functionality. There was no search engine, no product comparison tool, and no customer review section. In the end, John only used it because he found a good price for the phone he wanted.

But, history repeated itself, and Company B once again sent him the wrong phone. This time, however, when John called customer support, they were more than helpful and endeavoured to solve his problem immediately. With no questions asked, they sent John the correct phone the very next day, and the courier took away the wrong phone – free of charge – when delivering the new one. What’s more, Company B gave John a 25% discount coupon that he could apply to his next purchase, and wholeheartedly apologised for the mistake.

Conclusion: Even though the UX of Company B’s site left a lot to be desired, and the shop made a mistake, the overall CX was positive, and John is unlikely to leave negative feedback in the comments section of the site.

Final Thoughts

What’s important to note about the second story is that Company B only had a chance to redeem itself with good CX after a mistake was made. If the company had sent the right phone in the first place, John would have likely remained dissatisfied with his experience because the UX was so bad. As such, it’s possible for a company to have many customers who are generally unhappy with its UX – but, in a competitive online marketplace, a bad UX will catch up eventually.

The reason is that a brand may have the best advertising, social media presence, sales team, customer service, and returns policy in the world – but if customers’ actual interactions with the brand’s website, app, or software create barriers to completing desired tasks (such as buying phones), the overall CX fails.

As such, UX is one of the strongest influences on the whole CX – but both CX and UX play a crucial role in the ultimate success of a business. Failures in either area lead to a bad customer experience overall, and so companies must continuously optimise both if they are to remain competitive and delight their users/customers across every touchpoint.

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