For example, late last year, a well-respected, awesome colleague and friend gave a presentation to our local leadership about the importance of customer centricity. He’s an effective, engaging communicator; his presentation assets are top shelf; and his presentation hit it out of the park. However, what was interesting—and slightly dismaying—was that, as impactful as his presentation certainly was, a large part of his content communicated many of the same ideas that I and other UX Practice Leads at Slalom have been talking about for years. Indeed, he even included some elements—such as quotes, pictures, and statistics—that were identical to those in earlier presentations that the UX practice had delivered. But for some reason, our message hadn’t been resonating as well.
Having been the UX Practice Lead in the New York office for about two years at that time, I was ashamed to admit that I was still struggling to get leadership to see my UX team as being responsible for more than user interface (UI) research and design. Timing played a role—our team was still young and growing quickly and organically, which tends to keep business development focused on specific practices. But I need to acknowledge that part of the problem was certainly my failure to communicate what we do effectively. As I mentioned earlier, great UX strategy work was happening within the company at that time, but teams other than our UX teams were doing much of it.
My colleague who gave that very successful presentation was part of what was then called the Customer Insights and Innovations (CI&I) practice. As the name implies, CI&I focuses primarily on customer experience, which, as a leader from another Slalom office explained, focuses more on the end-to-end experience rather than the user interface.
That’s where all of this started to feel a bit too familiar. Neils Anhalt captured this feeling well in his presentation “User Experience vs. Customer Experience: Same, Same but Different,” describing the likely dialogues between two consultants and Mike, the CEO of a large company:
Consultant 1: “Hi, I am your User Experience Consultant.”
Mike: “Ah, great! I will schedule a meeting for you with my Internet guy. Perhaps he is interested.”
Consultant 2: “Hi, I am your Customer Experience Consultant.”
Mike: “Ah, great! You can give me advice on how to earn more money with my customers?”
User Experience Versus Customer Experience: A Trending Topic
My recent experience is part and parcel of what many of us have seen happening throughout our industry over the past few years. There is no shortage of articles on the Web debating user experience versus customer experience. This debate is well-trodden ground. Back in November, Jon Innes talked about this here on UXmatters. Leisa Reichelt has a nice take on this issue that you can read about on her blog. My friends at UserZoom talk about it. And you can read other blog posts here and here. There’s even one that has a “UX vs CX” graph. And this is just a small sampling of the many articles that discuss the names of and distinctions between these two practices.
I’m particularly drawn to the way Kerry Bodine defines these differences, writing for her Forrester blog:
“User experience primarily focuses on the design and development of digital interactions. Today, this typically means Web sites, mobile phones, and tablets, but UX can also include touchpoints like kiosks, desktop software, or interactive voice response systems.
“Customer experience focuses on the design, implementation, and management of interactions that happen across the entire customer journey. This includes the interactions that take place as customers discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, get support, reengage, and leave.”
I think Kerry has captured the current zeitgeist.
If you call yourself a UX Strategist, do you agree with these definitions? While I can certainly understand the distinctions that Kerry has delineated between user experience and customer experience, I struggle in trying to accept her or anyone else’s definitions as the definitive definitions. Not because I disagree with them, but because I think I’m experiencing what I’ve seen happen to many of us in this industry: Somehow, many of the people that we work with have the idea that what we’ve been doing and talking about as part of user experience for years is suddenly something new or different. And worse, their conception of user experience is just UI, so they believe that business-centric, strategic work is not user experience.
The Struggle to Define Ourselves
I’ve branded myself primarily as working in the UX space for a long time now. But the work that I’ve been doing and want to do more of increasingly falls under customer experience, as Kerry has defined it. So, in reading her definition, it just feels weird to consider—let alone acknowledge—that much of the work that I’ve been doing throughout my career belongs to the CX world. In the spirit of brevity, I’ll avoid going down the path of discussing the many other terms that we’re hearing a lot about—such as product design, service design, design thinking, and experience design. I’ll just stick with user experience versus customer experience because, as of this writing, these two remain the terms that are most commercially used and well understood outside our industry.
User experience has continually faced issues regarding its nomenclature and identification in many circles, but my focus in this column is on UX strategy. The challenge is that, for every strategic, C-level, end-to-end, experience-driven project in which we’re engaged, we still do as much or more work in core UX research and design functions like field research, usability testing, wireframing, and prototyping. Of course, this makes sense because we need to do this critical research and design work to assess, plan, and realize a business strategy.
Maybe there’s an irony in UX strategy that I’ve been missing: That, outside the UX industry, associating the word user with the word strategy seems, at best, oxymoronic. That being a user is not about being a whole person, but more about a state in which a person interacts with something digital. When people raise their head from their devices, that’s when they become sentient beings called customers, who are more important to a business. Kudos to Jeff, who posted the first response to my previous column, which touched on this issue. He hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
“You’ve chosen to define yourself as a UX Strategist—or as an Experience Strategist. Strategy, as a profession, looks to be even more nebulous and hard to pin down than user experience. So combining the two is going to make for a tough job.”
Yep, Jeff got that right.