Last fall I wrote an article for UX Magazine about the shift from user experience (UX) to customer experience (CX).

In a nutshell, I explained how the field of customer experience has risen to prominence over the past several years due to forces like technology commoditization, digital disruption, and social media. Now I want to go deeper by explaining some of the key differences between these two established fields.

Difference #1: Scope

UX professionals typically focus on the design and development of digital interfaces—today that translates primarily into websites, tablet apps, and mobile apps. And, as the name “UX” implies, UX practitioners typically refer to the people who interact with those interfaces as “users.”

To belabor the obvious, CX professionals hardly ever mention “users”—they talk about “customers” instead. They focus on the interactions that customers have at every stage of the customer journey: discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, get support, leave, and re-engage. CX practitioners are interested not only in digital touch points, but also in marketing communications, product packaging, checkout counters, receipts, face-to-face conversations with sales reps, and phone calls to customer service.

That’s why at Forrester Research, we define CX as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. We’re not talking about some subset of customer interactions. We’re talking about all of them.

Difference #2: Educational & Professional Background

UX professionals typically hail from one of three primary backgrounds: behavioral sciences (into which I’d lump fields like anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science), design, or technology. Degrees and/or professional experience in these fields prepare UX professionals for tasks like determining what types of products and services people need, designing the appropriate interactions, and bringing them to life.

This background is also relevant for a career in customer experience. After all, non-digital interactions need to be defined, designed, and implemented, too. And yet surprisingly few of today’s CX professionals can claim a UX background. That’s probably because in addition to designing customer interactions, CX professionals must also engage in what we lovingly refer to as customer experience management. This translates into myriad tasks that collectively look much more like massive organizational change management than anything that resembles traditional UX work.

Change management requires one of two qualities: authority or influence. Because most customer experience professionals don’t have overarching organizational authority (yet)—and perhaps because influence is more effective in the long run, anyway—most companies appoint candidates to CX positions based on the quality of their existing internal relationships, not on pedigree.

In Forrester’s recent analysis of 177 chief customer officers, we found that 55% were internal hires. And the most common backgrounds for these professionals included marketing, operations, sales, service, and strategy. Notably missing from that list? UX.

Difference #3: Tools & Methodologies

If you’re a regular reader of UX Mag, you probably don’t need me to get into the details of UX tools and methodologies. You know this like the back of your hand. So let me instead focus on the tools and methodologies of customer experience. Forrester’s CX maturity model describes six disciplines that companies need to master in order to create and sustain high quality customer experiences.

The first three disciplines help companies define the right customer experience—the experience that will meet (or exceed) the needs of customers and that will support the business and brand. Those disciplines are strategy, customer understanding, and design.

Strategy: When business people talk about strategy, they’re often referring to a roadmap or plan of some sort. But a CX strategy is a description of the experience that a company intends to deliver. For example, Holiday Inn defined a CX strategy dubbed The Social Hub. It set the stage for an innovative lobby experience that was rooted in the hotel’s key brand attributes (purposeful, inclusive, social, and familiar) and in the activities that its guests wanted to do (eat and drink, relax, and have fun). The heart of the Social Hub strategy states: “We give our guests flexible options so they can be themselves. That way they don’t have to leave the hotel to get what they want. They can find it at the Holiday Inn.”

Customer Understanding: A company’s CX strategy is only effective if it’s rooted in a clear and accurate understanding of who its customers are, how they’re interacting with the company today, and what they want and need from the company tomorrow. CX professionals sometimes employ research methodologies—like ethnographic research and usability studies—that are familiar in UX land. In addition, CX professionals use surveys and focus groups to solicit customer feedback; dig into analytics and big data; mine social media, phone calls, email, and chats to determine customer sentiment; and tap into the knowledge of frontline and backstage employees.

Design: This is the same mindset and problem-solving process that UX professionals apply every day in their jobs. Here, it’s just applied to a wider range of customer interactions. For example, Mayo Clinic prototyped new outpatient exam rooms with foam core and cardboard, and service design agency live|work redesigned call center interactions for Gjensidige, Norway’s largest insurance company.

Again, the three disciplines above help CX professionals create the right experience. The second set of disciplines helps companies manage those experiences effectively. Those disciplines are measurement, governance, and culture.

Measurement: CX professionals use three types of metrics to determine the business impact of customer interactions. First, we’ve got perception metrics: these tell a company what their customers think and feel about their interactions. Then, we’ve got descriptive metrics: this is the operational piece that tells a company what really happened.

For example, a customer might think that they were on hold for “forever,” and the descriptive metric shows that she was really on hold for two and half minutes. In tandem, these two metrics enable CX professionals to set benchmarks for CX quality. Finally, we layer on outcome metrics, which indicate what customers will do as a result of their experience, like purchase again or recommend to a friend. In total, these three metrics enable CX professionals to build financial models that tell them what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what kind of business benefits they can expect from making specific improvements.

Governance: We typically talk about two types of CX governance: reactive and proactive. Reactive governance involves listening to customers talk about their problems, prioritizing their issues, fixing the ones that will have the biggest impact, and then closing the loop (telling customers what’s been done to make their lives better). Proactive governance involves making sure that CX problems don’t get introduced in the first place. For example, FedEx employees who want to introduce a new project, process, or technology must fill out a form to identify which touch points their proposed initiative will impact and how. This helps to keep problems from bubbling up to customers as an unintended consequence of other initiatives.

Culture: Culture is about driving customer-centricity into an organization’s DNA, and there are three primary levers you can pull to make this happen. The first is hiring. Companies need to hire people who have an innate desire to serve customers. When hiring new call center agents, American Express doesn’t look for call center or financial services experience, instead it looks for applicants from cruise lines, retail stores, and restaurants. The second lever is socializiation, which translates into activities like training, storytelling, and rituals that celebrate customer-centric attitudes and behavior. The third lever is rewards. This includes informal rewards, like movie tickets and recognition at company meetings. It also includes formal rewards, like bonuses and promotions based on performance against CX metrics.


So what does all of this mean for you, dear reader? I know that many UX professionals don’t give a hoot about CX. They’d rather immerse themselves in the details of the latest technology, or geek out over typefaces and Photoshop shortcuts, or surround themselves with thousands of Post-It notes from their latest ethnographic research study. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. (Honestly, there are lots of days when I’m right there with you.) But maybe, somewhere, there’s a UX professional who’s looking for something a little different. And to you, I say: Consider the field of CX. You’d be an awesome fit.

Hear more from Kerry at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum East, June 25-26 in NYC.


Image of diver courtesy Shutterstock


I find it interesting that CXers would employ "tools" like ethnography (a behavioral science methodology used by UX/UCD practitioners), but don't typically claim a background in behavioral science. Are CXers without a behavioral science or HCI/HCD background employing these user research methods or pulling from them after being executed by another team member? It feels like the issue I'me having here is that we are trying to compress a methodology that encompasses multiple backgrounds and probably the collaboration of multiple team members nicely within a single title when maybe it would be better understood as a department/offering/team. Also I find the notion that UXers don't give a hoot about CX as bordering on offensive. While we do have certain archetypes that could be used to somewhat collectively uncover our motivations, what we have in this article is a stereotype, something UXers with a HCDE/behavioral science background know as a cardinal sin when speaking to the needs or motivations of a certain group. Additionally the description of the UX professinal at the end of the article more closely relates to UI designers, and the two are not mutually inclusive. Thoughts?

I just published an article today on the similarities between the CX and UX design process. The article draws interesting comparisons between customer experience and user experience in a variety of ways. They certainly have their differences, but I think there are more similarities.

Thanks for the article Kerry! I was happy to read an expert pointing out the existing gap on the CX job market (a gap that needs to be filled by more UXers). It's horribly incredible to listen how much talk about good experience happens inside a company but how little (sadly) it is understood on how to achieve it (with UX!!). As an UX professional, I decided to undertake the challenge of playing a CX role at a big corporation in order to better understand the other side of the equation (from inside). I must say it has been a very interesting adventure! I think it is important for us to keep UX strategy, service design, product design, and experience management, all under the same perspective. This is the way how we'll help business become more human and at the same time the way we'll help ourselves become more successful in business contexts.

Good start to an interesting conversation . . .now what about Digital Experience? Or digital experience strategy vs. digital strategy?!

There are some major barriers between CX and UX:

- UX barely exists on CX landscape. (I see this as the major barrier) CX is not much aware or do not want to be aware about what is UX. UX is not usually included into CX Toolbox.

- Different Scope: Classic UX scope is experience of user interaction with Product/ System/ Service. (From ISO definition of UX).

If you ask an UX practitioner about CX, the typical answer might be: "We also should take customers into account. Customers are users, who pay. We also should treat users as future customers. "

CX works on a higher company or brand level. CX is: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” (Forrester definition of CX, 2010)

Interesting that in its earlier days its earlier years CX had a broader scope, that also included UX-related levels: "... customer's cross-channel exposure, interaction and transaction with a company, product, brand or service (Bernd Schmitt, 2003) The current trend is that scope of CX have narroved, leaving levels of product and service experience ( namely UX) out of CX scope.

Candidates in the UX universe for moving up into more CX-related positions in large organizations are UX strategists, UX managers and UX professionals honoring business thinking in their work. Candidates in the CX community are those being sensitive to design thinking, the experiential value of products and services, and what it means to run a 21st century organization. Still a long way to go for both to achieve the CX and UX symbiosis.

All customers are users but not all users are customers, and in some cases you have customers AND users as part of the same business model. In many instances CX is just UX with a monetary conversion point added to the experience journey. I find it hard to believe that CX is the next step in the evolution of UX, since the two fields will eventually co-exist. Customer EXPERIENCE has existed since the dawn of time. It is only with the introduction of the element of digital interaction that USER experience has been added, and customer experience is just currently adjusting to that.
The "little" UX (digital interactions) might be a subset of Customer Experience which again is just a subset of "BIG" UX that includes experiences across all (digital and analogue) channels and touchpoints. Let's keep our minds open.

A informative article, rather a eye-opener about the implied difference between UX and CX. However, I would beg to differ on your comments in the end at your conclusion. I've been in this industry a couple of years, and the with the kind of teams I have worked with(internationally) - customer experience is not considered separate, as UX people with work with the same strategies to build a customer facing product. We can't just look into latest technology, photoshop shorrtcuts and stuff like that to build on a good user experience (UX)

Could service design fit the bill? Design that focuses on orchestrating the system rather than the details of a particular touchpoint. I've been referring to this UX and CX gap as SX, or service experience.