They’re both critical to business success. They both involve a blend of design thinking, strategic planning, project management and technology acumen. They both even have an “X” in their acronym. So why, people like Tobias Komischke would like to know, do the worlds of customer experience and user experience seem to exist as islands unto themselves?
“You look at content that’s published to the web, and you will see a lot of CX publications that have never mentioned UX. You look at conferences: there are distinct UX conferences and distinct CX conferences, and they don’t seem to connect at all,” says Komischke, who teaches UX design at Rutgers University and is a UX Fellow at tech company Infragistics.
“You look at companies and you have people labeled as CX and they are part of sales marketing — outward-facing,” he continued. “And then you have people that are labeled UX, doing very similar but not the same things. They might be in product management, or product development, but they’re inward-facing. You have to wonder, do they not have anything in common?”
The answer, of course, is yes, but the need to build bridges between the two disciplines and foster more collaboration is arguably more important than ever before. UX, for instance, has often been associated with work in developing applications that will be easily adopted and engaged by employees or customers. CX may cover a broader spectrum across marketing, sales and service, but with many experiences now intended to be digital-first, UX and CX may become increasingly intertwined.
How UX has evolved over time
Arnie Guha, a partner at consulting firm Phase 5 and the leader of its User Experience Strategy and Design practice, noted that times have changed at lot since organizations realized they needed to make the interfaces and other aspects of tools created by engineers more accessible to those on the front lines.
“Chances are, you don’t really think of yourself as a user anymore. You think of yourself as a customer.” Guha told 360 Magazine. “You might have thought of yourself as a kind of a power user of online banking, when using that was very specialized and very new. But that has disappeared. unfortunately, tech companies sometimes haven’t quite come around to accepting that.”
Guha suggested that, while many organizations have tried to launch new digital experiences to continue serving customers remotely, they will need to strike a balance between automation and human mediation. Even younger demographics like Gen Z have shown a preference for talking to people in certain circumstances, he pointed out, which is where CX will have to be multifaceted and dynamic. At the other end of the spectrum, he said organizations will look at UX practices to prepare for their entry into more immersive digital experiences such as the metaverse.
The differing needs across digital and in-person experiences means the lines won’t completely blur, said Tyler Klein, User Experience Practice Lead at Robots and Pencils.
“In both cases, human-centered design thinking lies at the heart of it, and many of the underlying tools and techniques are the same. However, the scope, nature and definition of success of the work are very different,” he said. “CX and UX teams utilize these tools in very different ways and with different team mixes. As such there are benefits to keeping these teams’ cooperative, but separate.”
Where should UX and CX fit into organizational hierarchies?
Even if they don’t all report into the same department, however, Klein recommended UX and CX roles be “matrixed.” At an organizational level, in other words, he said these roles should have their own discipline-focused leadership, and at a project delivery level should report through a project stakeholder.
“For product development, the UX designer would report through the product management. For CX, that’s likely a marketing stakeholder,” he said. At a discipline level, CX/UX may ladder up to a common lead—CXO—that ensure continuity between product and customer engagement.”
Robb Wilson, founder, principal designer and chief technologist of conversational platform OneReach.ai, put it more bluntly.
“The answer is CX and UX should be at the highest levels of the company, and product and IT won’t really exist, the same way that ‘computer departments’ used to be in every company but no longer exist,” he said. “Attaching things to these departments is attaching things to an expired ideas.”
Komischke wasn’t as sure. He said higher educational institutions like universities have a role to play in ensuring those studying UX develop a better understanding of CX principles — and vice-versa — before graduates enter the industry. This can only benefit organizations, he said, because each discipline offers value.
“CX people are more quantitative, I think, you know, in how they tend to look at the data from surveys of large groups and conduct their analysis,” he said. “UX people are more qualitative — they do more with small numbers of people, but they go very deep.”
Guha agreed, but added that the ultimate focus needs to be on business outcomes that relate to how customers behave, and adapting accordingly.
“There are two prompts traditionally: the one is the interrogatory and the other is the observational or the behavioral, if you will,” he said. “We are seeing a big paradigm shift from being heavily loaded on the interrogatory side with focus group surveys and so on over to a purely observational, behavioral side. The fact is, you need both.”
There might be a temptation to overlook or cut back on UX based on the capabilities in many CX platforms. That’s a huge mistake, according to Wilson.
“Building strong, unified experiences requires looking across the user journey as a whole—the tools, the connections between them, the organizational structures required to support—and with that understanding, finding ways to reduce the experience down to its essence,” he said. “All of this chips away at the customer’s experience and brand loyalty, and place a heavier burden on internal customer support teams.”
UX and CX teams should also work in concert to add more intelligence to experiences, including those that include both digital and in-person components. He gave the example of self-checkout kiosks — they are “unsmart” in that they don’t use any customer data or recommend other products or assist with shipping items instead of making customers come back.
“Off the shelf, generic experiences won’t cut it in a world where the experience is the most defining success factor,” he said. “A highly consultative experience is different from the convenient and fast experience.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.