UX and CX: Same Language; Different Dialects

by Jared M. Spool

The Difference is in Their Origin Stories

Some people will tell you that the difference between the customer experience and the user experience is whether we’re talking pre-sales or post-sales. These people believe the CX is what happens before the product or service is purchased. The UX is everything that happens after the purchase.

Other people will tell you that UX is a subset of CX. These people believe the UX only includes when users are interacting with a digital product or service. The CX is the overarching experience, including any non-digital activities users engage in.

And still other people will tell you that CX is a subset of UX. These people believe CX only embodies the experience paying customers have, while UX includes everyone, whether they made the purchase decision or not.

If senior leadership believes one of these differences, they’ll use that belief structure to dispense responsibilities throughout the organization’s CX and UX teams. However, none of these beliefs seem to determine what makes successful CX and UX teams.

We’ve looked closely at high-performance CX and UX teams in dozens of organizations. What we learned was they uniformly work towards an identical goal. They all want the organization to deliver the best experience for anyone who interacts with their organization’s products or services.

The difference between the CX and UX team is not their mission, but their origin. Because of that difference, they achieve the goal quite differently.

The Origin Story of CX

The modern customer experience team has its roots in the 1960s Mad Men era. In those early days of advertising, everyone thought a great tagline and jingle was all that they needed to persuade customers to purchase.

Then pioneering marketers discovered that not all customers are identical. People who live by themselves do not purchase the same products as people with children. People who live in cities do not buy the same products as people who live in rural areas. The science of market segmentation was born.

As marketers refined their knowledge, they moved beyond simple demographics to other factors, such as attitudinal psychographics. It wasn’t just about where a customer lived, but their attitudes towards things in their life.

Marketers started collecting more data. Market research transformed into marketing analytics.

In the early 2000s, voice of the customer research became popular. This research worked to identify how to satisfy the needs of customers.

The birth of social media showed marketers that their most effective marketing tool was a great experience. When someone had a great experience, they told all their friends. Word-of-mouth advertising was more powerful than any other medium.

CX was then popularized by industry analysts, most notably at the firm Forrester Research. Executives and senior marketing leaders went to Forrester’s conferences and heard stories of companies benefiting from great product and service experiences. To get these benefits, they created teams to spearhead their organization’s own CX efforts.

The Origin Story of UX

The modern user experience team has its roots in 1960s human factors and ergonomics. In the early days of complex technology, like airplane cockpits and nuclear power plant control systems, we realized that human error was costly. If we could design systems that eliminated errors, we could save lives.

When the personal computer appeared, products needed to become “user friendly.” Usability became a focus for products.

In 1993, Don Norman coined the term user experience. As the web made information available, UX teams took on the job of providing great information architecture, interactions, and visuals in their designs. The focus on apps broadened the scope of UX teams.

The UX team was there to collaborate with product developers and deliver better-designed experiences.. This ensured their products and services provided the most value.

Blurring the Boundary at the Moment of Purchase

From the beginning, CX’s mission was to market and sell products or services. CX teams know they can only succeed if the organization delivers the best experiences possible for their users. And while UX’s origins are focused on delivering those great experience, they can only do that if people buy the product.

There used to be a boundary at the moment of purchase separating CX and UX. What evolved into CX was responsible for everything that happened up until that moment. What evolved into UX focused on everything after that moment.

But that distinction is no longer helpful. That boundary is now blurred.

CX teams are concerned with the design of their products and the experience it delivers. They can’t succeed if they focus only on what happens before the sale.

UX teams are concerned with ensuring their products demo well and have the right features to sell. They can’t succeed if they focus only on what happens after the sale.

Same Language, Different Dialects

Because of the vastly different origins of CX and UX teams, they approach their common goal from very different perspectives with very different skills and tools. It’s as if they’re speaking the same language, but with very different dialects, almost to the point of not understanding what the other is trying to say.

CX has its roots in marketing analytics. CX teams are very comfortable with large sample sizes from surveys and analytical data. They love quantitative models. They are at home with what customers say they like and need.

Meanwhile, UX has its roots in behavioral science, primarily cognitive science and ethnography. UX teams work well with small sample sizes. They love qualitative methods. They focus on how people behave with the product.

CX and UX teams are trying to accomplish the same thing, using different sets of skills. For example, they both try to encapsulate user differences with personas.

But CX personas are very different from UX personas. The former is more about segmentation differences, while the latter is more about behavioral differences. This creates confusion when teams aren’t careful in understanding their origins.

Shifting from Roles to Skills

Some organizations let an unhealthy turf battle form between the CX and UX teams. Effective senior leadership prevents this turf battle by integrating skill sets.

Both CX and UX are critical to the success of an organization that desires to become a market leader. Product and service teams need insights that both the CX and UX perspectives provide.

In the most effective teams, the senior leadership moves the culture from roles to skills. Instead of trying to assign different responsibilities to separated CX and UX teams, they focus on creating a single team with both CX and UX skills and knowledge.

Creating an integrated team, with both the skills of large-sample quantitative analytical modeling and small-sample qualitative ethnographic studies, provides a powerful combination. Integrated teams have a wider toolset to apply to complex challenges.

Integrated teams provide a deeper understanding of what users truly need from the organization, who, in turn, deliver better-designed products and services. After all, that’s the ultimate goal of both CX and UX efforts.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

How to Win Stakeholders & Influence Decisions program

Gain the power skills you need to grow your influence on critical product decisions.

Get mentored and coached by Jared Spool in a 16-week program.

Learn more about our How to Win Stakeholders & Influence Decisions program today!