The design and user research community is all abuzz with the “customer experience” and its importance as a complement to user experience. What do the two terms mean and can businesses win by taking both areas seriously? That’s what this blog post will explore.
Before we dig deeper, let’s define our terms.
Customer experience vs. user experience
Customer experience encompasses your customer’s, or prospective customer’s, entire experience of your brand. It spans the complete conversion funnel from how they discovered your business, to the moment they landed on the website, their trials and tribulations when using it, their purchase experience, all efforts by your business to re-engage them (e.g. marketing emails, ads and retargeting), and how they experience coming back to purchase a second time. Any help or support team interaction is part of the customer experience, too. And when that customer walks into the brick and mortar location of your business after purchasing online — even that is part of the customer experience.
User experience speaks to a critical segment of the world of interactions described above: it refers to your prospective customer’s relationship with digital interfaces. How that prospective customer, or user, experiences and behaves within your brand’s website, mobile site or software — that’s user experience.
So which one deserves more focus? How should a business ensure both customer experience and user experience are top-notch? And why is this an important distinction?
User experience foreshadows the customer experience
Simon Sinek gives an interesting TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action, and I’ll save you 18 minutes by summarizing what is arguably the top takeaway: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
He gives the example of Apple and discusses why they’ve been so successful selling portable music devices when no other computer company has had much luck in that marketplace from a revenue perspective. He posits the iPod sells because Apple believes that technology should be incredibly simple to interact with, and more importantly, we believe it too. We buy iPods because we share that philosophy, and not because we think Apple, a computer company, is the best qualified firm to design and manufacture portable music players.
In the same way, the user experience your business offers online says a lot about:
1. What your business believes.
2. What the customer can expect from your business now and always.
Customers take cues from the web experience you show them — important cues about what it will be like to continue interacting with your company, to buy from your company once or many times, and to get technical or customer support from your company.
In this way, your website’s (or mobile site’s) user experience isn’t just a subcategory of the larger, more relevant beast called “customer experience.” It’s a piece of the customer experience, yes, but your potential customers view your user experience as litmus test that foreshadows what the larger customer experience will be like.
Moreover, your potential customer is highly likely to be a web user first. That means you have a chance to win them over with your user experience and earn the opportunity to give them a larger tour of the “customer experience” mansion. It’s also a chance to lose them in the foyer if the user experience doesn’t stand up to the challenge.
We can all name high-profile companies who have focused on the customer experience and won. Their customers are more likely to be evangelists and more likely to return and purchase again year after year. They also build a tougher skin for the occasional bad service experience when loyalty has been established.
REI, Trader Joe’s, MailChimp — these are businesses that have scored big on the philosophy that an excellent customer experience at every turn and every interaction with the company is of paramount importance.
If you transact a significant chunk of your business on the web, that customer experience begins online and user experience is central. To win your prospects over and deliver stellar user experience, of course, requires testing. You have to ask them, methodically, scientifically, to tell you by the numbers whether your website or mobile site is doing its job and whether they’d recommend it to a friend.
When you’re ready to start testing, sign up for a free trial of Loop11 and your first usability testing project is on us.