Why Customer Experience Trumps User Experience

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users.¬†Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users.

Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Our first contender: user experience
Digital experience provides some simple and convenient ways to connect with customers, gain real-time feedback and allow for innovation. Consider the following:

1. Website analytics highlight user behavior, which is usually more factual than what they tell you. Watching where users drop off, where they linger and where they act can put your entire organization on the right path.

2. Users visiting your site are there with a purpose in mind. Inviting feedback in that critical moment allows you to collect emotional and immediate responses. In the heat of a disappointing moment or the happiness of a successful mission, customers will provide real-time feedback reflecting what they REALLY feel, not just the option on the survey that best suits their reaction.

3. Customers can show you what they really want through A/B testing and experience innovations. Ever since the dawn of the digital era, we’ve been testing and experimenting. We test context and see what works better. We experiment with design and gain knowledge on what resonates with customers. It’s so much easier to do this with user experience than any other channel or touchpoint.

Remaining mindful of reactions and analytics can absolutely inform your customer experience. But what about trends? There’s an ongoing debate about how user interface design is based on current trends (as well as guessing at future ones), and therefore is always at risk of being overshadowed. Consider what happened to MySpace, Netscape and others of yesteryore. The problem, as I see it: Too often, user experience is based on what works in the moment rather than the overall mission.

Customer experience takes the lead!
Customer experience is about understanding how customers interact with your organization at any touchpoint. Here are some tips to providing the best experience possible for your customers.

1. Customer experience must be tied to brand promise. The brand promise, often touted in marketing context, is what drives the experience. If you’re promising one thing (convenience) and delivering another (pain), then customers will likely desert you.

2. Mobile, digital and all other touchpoints should reflect the overall experience. Real Simple, which promises “life made easier, everyday” prominently on its print magazine and website, created a user experience to reflect that mantra. The digital experience is one where it’s easy to find things, full of surprises and offers choices for how users can consume the content. The site even includes “Today’s Thought,” fitting right into the everyday promise.

3. Customer experience is still about trends, but anchored in mission. Yes, experience must change to reflect the times. Car culture changed casual dining forever. The digital era ushered in global shopping, education and more. Mobile and social engagement allows for convenience and immediacy not available in the past. However, reflecting just the changes in how customers interact with their environments won’t serve an organization long term. The experience must be anchored in a bigger mission. Amazon.com started off selling books, but it was never about the books. Now it touts its revolutionary e-commerce experience in commercials. Not a book in sight.

So which came first, and what are the benefits of focusing on one experience over the other?
There aren’t hard-and-fast rules around this, as we’re still learning every day. Humans are so weird. We like something on Facebook and then can’t recognize the logo again to save our lives. We swear we won’t be one of “those people” who use a text message/tweet/email over calling, then we fall in line. Life moves very quickly, so taking advantage of the pace of user experience feedback is critical.

Trends and fast-paced innovation only work, however, if the bigger picture of customer experience is in focus.

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