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What’s the difference between CX and UX?

7 min read
The terms CX and UX are often confused or used interchangeably. Here we define each one and explain the differences between them.

CX vs UX

UX, CX. Are they two sides of the same coin, or a couple of unrelated terms that get lumped in together by mistake? The answer may be a little of both.

Usability experts Nielsen Norman Group point out that the original sense of UX was equivalent to what’s now called CX, and that the term UX has evolved to describe a more specific and functional kind of interaction. They have described CX as UX over long periods of time.

Whatever the terms might have meant to begin with, we can now draw a clear distinction between CX (customer experience) and UX (user experience) and point towards how they fit together to create successful outcomes.

What is CX?

Customer experience is the way a customer perceives a relationship with a brand or organisation, incorporating everything from first impressions and reputation to becoming a customer and making repeat purchases. It’s a long-term, macro-level phenomenon that happens on a cumulative basis and is the sum of many parts.

What is UX?

User experience describes an end-user’s thoughts, feelings and impressions when they go through a specific interaction. In contrast to CX, it usually refers to self-contained, stand-alone tasks and environments such as filling and submitting a form, buying an item or setting up an electronic device.

So is UX part of CX?

Yes and no.

You might do UX as part of a CX program, for example in designing a questionnaire or survey form that you will use to collect customer feedback, or laying out a store floorplan so that it is accessible to all customers. In this situation, UX is a focused and specific part of a wider CX action plan.

From this point of view, CX extends beyond UX. That’s because it is concerned with your brand as a whole, not just the customer’s engagement with specific products and services you have designed. As Rafał Warniełło explains;

..your product is not the totality of your brand and, therefore, not the totality of the customer experience.

On the other hand, UX extends beyond CX because it is used in a much wider range of settings than a business-customer relationship. Public organisations, government, schools and infrastructure are all areas where UX is used to improve the quality of experiences for citizens, visitors, patients, students and many more groups. It can make far-reaching differences on a massive scale – for example, by helping parents make better-informed school choices for their children.

Who benefits?

CX, as the name implies, is all about the interaction between a customer and a business. Its purpose is to make a transactional relationship as mutually beneficial and sustainable as possible so that a customer keeps returning because their needs are being met. The customer benefits from good service and a feeling of trust, while the business benefits from repeated sales and an enhancement of their brand.

In other words, there are two sets of interests being served.

UX on the other hand tends to be focused exclusively on the end user, whether or not their experience translates into business benefits. (Often it does, but this will tend to happen as a by-product of good UX rather than a conscious goal.) UX advocates for the end user within a business or organisation.

In both cases, there will be a need to strike a balance between the needs of the user and the needs of the organisation.


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UX and CX goals

Both UX and CX share the goal of improving experiences, whether by improving strategy, changing culture or adopting user-focused design methods.

Part of the job of a UX professional or a CX professional is to identify which parts of an experience are causing frustration in users, blocking the achievement of goals or generating negative emotions and opinions.

They will then go to work on designing solutions to those problems, whether at a CX level (for example through training and development of staff) or a UX level (such as re-ordering a booking flow or checkout process on a product website to reduce customer drop-offs).

However, UX and CX focus on different sets of goals.

UX goals:

  • Help users to complete tasks successfully and with a sense of satisfaction
  • Make interactions as easy and accessible as possible for all users

CX goals:

  • Help customers to have consistently good experiences whenever they interact
  • Offer an experience that outperforms competitors and provides a point of differentiation (since customers will pay more for a good experience)
  • Nurture customer loyalty and brand advocacy
  • Build brand equity

UX and CX in practice

The activities involved in CX and UX overlap significantly, as well as showing some obvious differences.

UX activities might include:

  • Designing a platform for single interactions, such as a website, phone service or digital tool
  • Undertaking product research and developing user personas
  • Creating specifications and prototypes
  • Testing and iterating versions of designs using feedback from end users
  • Using best practices and expert knowledge from broader experience (known as UX patterns) to create experiences that are as usable and frictionless as possible
  • Working with product owners, product managers, coders and visual designers to champion the end-user at every stage of development

CX activities are likely to be broader. As well as the UX practices above, CX professionals will:

  • Research and map out customer journeys incorporating multiple interaction points across an omnichannel space
  • Use market research and voice of the customer approaches to achieve a deep understanding of customer emotions, expectations, aversions and drivers
  • Study customer experience on a relationship level, covering the cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints, impressions and interactions
  • Work with all levels of an organisation to understand business and customer goals
  • Develop high levels of customer service, customer support, communication and transparency in order to deliver a good customer experience
  • Work to influence company culture, encouraging a customer-first mindset in all staff members

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