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Don’t separate the user experience from the customer experience

As a business leader, you know the customer experience (CX) is incredibly important to your business. According to a 2017 Gartner survey, the majority of marketers say they are already competing “mainly on the basis of CX.”

Most people understand that the customer experience includes the customer’s many contacts with a business—a service call, visit to the retail store and online shopping experience. The user experience is generally seen as the customer’s contact with an interface such as a cable box, in-store kiosk, mobile app or website.

In a recent article by user experience expert Jared Spool entitled “UX and CX: Same Language; Different Dialects,” he brought to light the problem of separating the customer experience and the user experience. He notes that too often organizations separate who is responsible for evaluating and improving the customer experience from those who are responsible for the user experience.

Additionally, in almost all instances an organization’s digital product is part of a customer’s experience. This means that separating these intertwined experiences is silly. Siloing the resources used to improve the customer’s collective experience hurts both them and your business.

Identifying the bigger problem

Too often organizations forget that customers experience an organization as a whole. Every touchpoint builds a story that drives how they feel, purchase and recommend. That means the whole organization needs to be rowing the boat in the same direction. Often we see organizational issues that are impeding a great customer experience.

We see this play out with Voice+Code’s clients often. We’re called in to fix a “user experience issue” that is, in fact, an organizational problem. Here’s a common example: The business is disappointed that their marketing website isn’t performing as anticipated. For marketing websites, and regardless of what the business has defined as “success” for the website, the problem with the customer/user experience tends to be a combination of two related issues.

First, the website visitor doesn’t understand what the company does and what value the company can bring to them. This is almost always because the business lacks a defined vision for how it provides value to its customers, has competing or disorganized silos of products and services, or a combination of the two. The website visitor can’t figure out how the company provides value because the company doesn’t know itself.

A second common problem for marketing websites is a website visitor’s lack of engagement with website content. All too often, the company has failed to identify content that its customers or potential customers find valuable at different points throughout their interactions with the company, which could span a long period of time and include multiple online and offline touchpoints. When the company only looks at the user journey—the interaction in the digital space—they fail to see the bird’s-eye customer journey, which is a complex series of interactions.

Other digital products also reveal organizational challenges. For example, a close examination of a software as a service (SaaS) product reveals not only a confusing task flow but also poorly trained customer service representatives. A dealer portal reveals a flawed process where several groups fail to communicate effectively.

When user experience and customer experience groups are siloed, important experience improvements are often brushed aside for the immediate gratification of more tangible and relatively easy solutions, like changing a digital product’s visual design or modifying an e-commerce site’s checkout flow. But what actually needs to happen is a systemic change within the business to improve the customer experience—a much more difficult task.

Working together toward improvement

Truly improving the customer experience requires that at a minimum two different areas of the organization need to work together: the people in charge of improving the user experience and the people in charge of improving the customer experience. Together, they can share information, a cohesive vision and solve organizational challenges in the right order.

Here are three ways to approach improvement:

Fix the root cause of the problem. In many cases, this will be a combination of digital and non-digital changes that need to happen in order to improve the overall customer experience.

Evaluate how you’re providing value to your customers and how digital plays into that experience. This helps prevent your organization from creating digital products and features just for the sake of building them. Every digital product has a strategy that fits into a broader vision.

Evaluate and evolve the business by identifying and solving for customer experience issues and finding new ways to better serve your customers. Listen to customers’ current needs and be a step ahead of your competition in anticipating new ones.

A final point

Don’t separate UX and CX. Regardless of how you refer to them—customers or users—they are all people interacting with your brand. Get the most out of the time and money you put into user research to examine and improve the entire customer experience. Fixing the digital experience is only part of the equation; improving the overall customer experience is the true return on investment.

Heidi Trost is a usability expert, user experience researcher, speaker and founder at Voice+Code in New York City.

About Heidi Trost