User Experience vs. Customer Experience

The following is a Best of 360Connext post.

Customer experience is always a little tricky to explain. It’s just so darn big. What doesn’t it cover (not much) and who is responsible (good question). Often, customer experience is translated into user experience – the front-end digital experience of users.

They are not the same, but they are not that different. Which comes first? Here is how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

User Experience on Top!

Digital experience provides some easy and accessible ways to connect with customers, gain real-time feedback and allow for innovation.

1. Web site analytics show more about user behavior, which is typically more reliable than what they tell you.

Watching where users drop off, where they linger and where they ACT can point your entire organization in the right direction.

2. Users visiting your site will be there with a purpose. Asking for feedback in that critical moment will allow you to collect responses both immediate and emotional.

In the heat of the moment of disappointment, or the happiness of a successful mission, customers will provide real-time feedback reflecting what they REALLY feel, not just which box is easiest to check on the survey.

3. A/B testing and experience innovations can show you what customers really want.

Ever since the dawn of the digital era, we’ve been experimenting. We test messages and see which one works better. We experiment with design and gain knowledge on what resonates. It’s so much easier to do this with user experience than any other channel or touchpoint.

Paying attention to reactions and analytics can absolutely inform your customer experience. But what about trends? There is an ongoing debate about how user interface design is based on current trends (as well as guessing at future ones), and therefore is always at risk of being overshadowed. Consider what happened to MySpace, Netscape and others of yesteryore. The problem, as I see it, is that too often, user experience is not based on an overall mission. It is based on what works in the moment. 

Customer Experience For The Win!

Customer experience is about understanding how customers interact with your organization at any touchpoint, and providing the best possible experience you can.

1. Customer experience must be tied to brand promise.

The brand promise, often touted in marketing messages, is what drives the experience. If you are promising one thing (convenience) and delivering another (pain), then customers will likely desert you.

2. Mobile, digital and all other touchpoints should reflect the overall experience.

Real Simple, which promises “life made easier, everyday” prominently on the magazine and web site, created a user experience to reflect that mantra. The digital experience is one where it’s easy to find things, full of surprises, and offering choices for how users can consume the content. The site even includes the “Daily Thought,” fitting right into the everyday promise.

3. Customer experience is still about trends, but anchored in mission.

Yes, experience must change to reflect the times. Car culture changed casual dining forever. The digital era ushered in distance shopping, learning and more. Mobile and social engagement allows for convenience and immediacy not available in the past. BUT…reflecting just the changes in how customers interact with their environments won’t serve an organization long-term. The experience must be anchored in a bigger mission. started off selling books, but it was never about the books. Now, they tout their revolutionary experience in commercials. Not a book in sight.

So which came first, and what are the benefits of focusing on one experience over the other? There aren’t hard and fast rules around this, as we are still learning every day. Humans are so weird. We like something on Facebook and then can’t pick out the logo again to save our lives. We swear we won’t be one of “those people” who use a cell phone/ tweet/ email over calling. Then we fall in line. Life moves very quickly, so taking advantage of the pace of user experience feedback is critical. Trends and fast-paced innovation only works, however, if the bigger picture of customer experience is in focus.

Photo credits: PerformanceSolutions and Josgrove523 via Creative Commons license

Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a global consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

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I have worked as a UX designer for 8 years and recently made the leap to a CX role. The work is completely different, but I believe the overall philosophies and some methodologies are the same. 

Referencing the Forrester CX disciplines, both roles require customer understanding, design, measurement and governance. UX and CX both have culture elements too, but only CX can define the strategy and overall company culture. 

At one point I believed strongly in have having a UX strategy, but I now realize that only CX can define a strategy that the business can follow. UX can use that strategy to design persuasive elements (I know dark UX, boo!) that support business objectives and most importantly the experience. CX defines the experience, UX reinforces that experience in design.

If you ask me can CX exist without UX, the answer is yes. Should CX exist without UX? This quote is my answer.

"Nearly every customer experience is fueled by technology, and customers frequently form their perceptions of a company based solely on their interactions with IT systems."

Is that a soapbox I am standing on? Whoops!


Lots of good points in this (and from comments). However, I must take issue with the point "A/B testing and experience innovations can show you what customers really want". This really isn't the case, or very accurate. All it shows is which of the two AB options is more popular. AB testing provides no opportunity for customers to express what THEY want, but rather which they select from two options presented to them.


Many a times, the digital channel is the closest and the most easily accessible channel to users and their 1st point of engagement. A good UX can ensure timely & real feedback not only on the digital channels but also on physical channels too. 


Personal observation: Free-form text fields on online surveys & questionnaires are often the complaint box for non-online pain points in the business. 


John Treck
John Treck

User experience is the most important. If they like it you will automatically get new costumers!

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jeanniecw moderator

 @sanideos Excellent point about the free-form text field - it also provides enough "space" for customers to be honest. Humans struggle with delivering bad news - even if it's true and necessary. The free-form text box can allow for honesty that is important to hear. Thanks - great points!

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jeanniecw moderator

 @John Treck If you have a web-based business, then, yes, it is a direct line to customers. But many organizations have experiences offline, for the most part. The user experience and customer experience must support one another, IMHO.

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