Our latest POV on how customer experience drives everything from concept and creative to design and technology

The Blurring Lines of CX and UX

I hear a lot of talk these days about UX (user experience) being a subset of CX (customer experience), because UX is traditionally only about creating digital products. Or I hear from the other side that UX means everything, and encompasses CX. But as the physical and digital worlds continue to merge in an ever more blended fashion, so too must UX and CX.

I have to admit that I never thought of UX as digital-only. To me “user” is a really bad label, but it’s easy to say, and amorphous enough to apply to anyone. So in my experience UX means: customer experience, employee experience, business partner experience, and so on, depending on the problem to solve. (I remember a story of a usability test, where one participant said, “I’m a chooser, not a user.”) But in my dominantly digital world, “user” became part of my common language. And even though I’ve argued for dropping the term and just saying “Experience Design,” it really didn’t change my perceptions or nomenclature much.

Having been in the design industry since before the terms UX or CX even gained prominence, I’m skilled at many activities that would be considered decidedly CX or Service Design or Industrial Design by current schools of thought. However, I would never have considered it not to just be good “UX”—meaning big-picture UX where the “U” means “You” (customer, employee, business partner, enterprise). You are physical. You are digital. You are social. You are mobile. You are B2C. You are B2B.

But to be truthful, CX and Service Design encompass much more than what most Information Architects and UXers get to take a crack at. We might see the bigger problem from within the lens of working on a digital product, but our task is often not allowed to be so big picture. Jared Spool’s article about “Stumbling into Service Design” illustrates that point well. But it goes even further. I’ve “stumbled” into Organizational Change Planning, Organizational Design and Six Sigma as well. Now that more and more companies realize they need to become customer-centric Digital Businesses in order to remain relevant in the future, we’ll all be stumbling into one another more often.

Indeed, it is very difficult to remain focused inside our little sphere of UX, when we see that the true source of the problems we are solving far outreach the perceived UX/UI issue. And many of you may mirror my pain and frustration at seeing a huge strategic deficit at the heart of your little “UX” project, but are limited in ability to affect the organizational and business process changes that are really needed to sustain the solution you’re designing.

But there’s hope in that UX and CX are coming together by necessity, much as CIOs and CMOs arerealizing they must do so as well. It requires both the UX and CX communities to understand each other. Our methods are very similar, and our goals are exactly the same. Find out what customers (users) really need, smooth their friction, and design the blended digital and physical experiences (or omnichannel experiences) that bring them value and make them want to be loyal to your brand. Both communities endeavor to create customer-centric thinking.