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A Deep Dive Into Customer Experience

by Kerry Bodine
6 min read
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Many of the tools in your UX kit can be put to work in customer experience, which looks at how customers perceive every interaction with a company.

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

post authorKerry Bodine

Kerry Bodine,

Kerry is a vice president and principal analyst in Forrester's customer experience research practice and the co-author of Forrester's book, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business. Follow her on Twitter: @kerrybodine.


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