Updated: Mar 11, 2019
User or customer?
There’s a question I often ask myself whenever I’m studying someone’s experience with a company: “Is it UX or CX?” Is there really any difference?
The answer became clear to me after my husband and I returned from our honeymoon travels recently. While the trip was great, if anything could go wrong, it usually did. From grounded flights to missing bags, to phantom hotel bookings, we had it all.
And in each situation, what made the experience agonizing or amusing, was how the customer experience and user experience worked together—or didn’t.
As CX continues to pick up steam, organizations are faced with the challenge of figuring out how the discipline fits into its existing strategy, especially with UX. While there are similarities in the objectives and audiences for both disciplines, they also have unique purposes.
Yet that doesn’t mean the two shouldn’t work together. In this post I’ll share just a few real-life examples from my trip to illustrate the difference between the user experience, the customer experience, and how they can (or should) work together.
User or customer?
Any confusion about the differences between the UX and CX disciplines, makes a lot more sense when you look at how we define the user and the customer.
The customer can sometimes be a user, and the user can sometimes be a customer. But sometimes a user is just a user and not a customer and sometimes a customer isn’t a user. Clear as mud, right?
Fortunately for you (and not so fortunately for me and my husband) I got a first-hand lesson in the difference during our trip. Let me take you through our first travel snafu to illustrate the differences between being a user and a customer.
I was a user when…
The night before our flight I pulled up United’s website to check the status of our flight and check in. During the check in process, the site mentioned they have a handy app that would speed up the process and allow me to store our electronic boarding passes. Great! I downloaded it and followed the prompts to complete the check in process.
So far, my experience with United was great. Until…
I was a customer
The morning of our flight we arrived (early) to find the United terminal surprisingly crowded. It was so packed that we had to go outside to make our way to the appropriate ticket counter to check our bags.
The lines stacked up, and passengers were getting antsy—and angry. There must’ve been thousands of people waiting in line, but only a handful of agents scattered across dozens of counters, and not a single one of them was helping passengers.
No updates were given. No communication or even attempt to interact with passengers was made, leaving an anxious group of travelers to check their watches and worry about missed connections and lost bags.
When we finally made it to the desk, we were told that their “computers were down” and they’d have to give us a manual boarding pass. Oh, and those bags they just checked for us? We’d have to pick them up and re-check them when we changed planes in New York before heading off to our international destination.
By now, that great user experience with United’s app was the furthest thing from my mind. The lack of information and horrible customer service, combined with what we later learned was a nationwide computer outage (which also grounded every flight in the U.S.) had me renouncing my 20 year allegiance to United.
The difference between UX and CX
My travel adventures are a great way to illustrate how UX and CX work together and how they’re different. While one aspect of my experience was enjoyable and helpful (using the app and website), everything else wasn’t so great.
This can work in reverse, too. My overall opinion of United might be just as damaged if the app and website failed to get me the information I needed, or was difficult to use—even if the rest of my trip went perfectly smooth.
One way to help identify the differences between the two disciplines is with the professionals that practice them.
UX professionals are focused on making a product easy and enjoyable to use. They want users to be able to achieve or complete a desired goal or task, and feel great about the experience. The products they work on can range from websites, apps, and even non-digital formats like physical forms or marketing materials.
CX professionals are responsible for the experience a customer has across every touchpoint with their brand. This includes interactions via phone, in person, and anything digital as well. The customer experience includes UX. These professionals are focused on making sure the entire experience is positive and enjoyable. They ensure the needs and goals of the business are aligned with what real customers want and need.
Integrating UX and CX
If you look at my flight check in process as a whole, it’s easy to lump my user experience in with my experience as a customer. And while they clearly work together, they’re not the same thing. But does that mean we should look at them completely separately?
Currently many companies seem to think they should remain separate. According to Forrester Research, many companies see the value of both UX and CX, but they keep the disciplines separate. In a 2014 survey, they found that 38% of companies had specific teams to handle UX and CX, but they were separate. The UX teams tended to be aligned with the technology side of the business, and CX with marketing. Only 13% of companies surveyed combined the UX and CX efforts under the same umbrella. But is that the best strategy for modern companies?
As mobile continues to become the platform of choice for consumers, businesses are increasingly focused on creating a seamless omnichannel customer experience. That means the service offered through traditional channels like call centers and brick-and-mortar customer service, need to be just as effective and enjoyable as a sleek, new app or site—and vice versa.
Ignore the UX of your app or site, and risk losing 90% of your users—and potential customers. And if your customer service is lacking in any way, you can expect around 68% of your customers switching to a competitor with better service.
Are UX and CX different? Absolutely. Should they be considered completely separate and exclusive disciplines? Not if you want to win the loyalty of your users and customers.
I started out with a great user experience with United, but customer service threatened to end my relationship with them completely. The two are inextricably linked, and neither will fully succeed without the other.
My story does have a happy ending, however. After grounded flights, nearly missed connections, and lost bags, we ended up receiving fantastic service on the last leg of our flight. Amazing what an empathetic employee and a few glasses of champagne can repair, at least for now. But United isn’t off the hook with me just yet. They’re officially in the penalty box. One more crummy experience—UX or the overall CX—and I’ll likely be finding a new airline.
The lesson to be learned here, is that any one component of the customer experience can make, break, or even repair a company’s relationship with its customers. No matter how your company has UX and CX organized, consistently working together will ensure a seamless omnichannel customer experience that fosters loyalty and trust from users and customers alike.
About Jennifer Winter
Jennifer is a Marketing Content Writer for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new angles and articles, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.