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Customer experience vs. user experience: What's the difference?

Customer and user experiences sound similar, but they serve different purposes. Together, they can improve organizations' relationships with customers.

While the terms user and customer might be interchangeable for many organizations, customer experience and user experience do not mean the same.

Customer experience focuses more on people -- mainly an organization's customers or prospects -- while user experience focuses more on products and services. Despite their differences, organizations need both customer and user experience strategies to retain happy, loyal customers and ensure their products deliver what's promised.

What is customer experience?

The customer experience, or CX, encompasses all the ways a person can interact with an organization -- including marketing, sales, customer service and success teams. Overall, organizations want to ensure their customers have positive experiences, which include successful marketing campaigns or proper support if issues arise.

Ultimately, UX is part of CX.

CX encompasses the entire customer journey, which is a map that organizations can follow to understand all touchpoints where customers can interact with them. These touchpoints include the following:

  • Awareness -- the customer discovers the brand.
  • Consideration -- the customer compares one brand to one or more competitors.
  • Purchase/decision -- the customer buys a product or service.
  • Retention -- the organization continues to engage with customers to ensure they continue to buy its products or services.
  • Advocacy -- customers share their experiences with the brand in online reviews, on social media or with friends and family.

What is user experience?

User experience, or UX, is narrower than CX. It specifically applies to how a user interacts with a product or service, like a website, software or app. However, when UX was first coined as a term, its definition was closer to CX and focused on all aspects of a user's interactions with an organization. Over time, CX took on this definition, while UX came to focus on a person using an organization's product or service.

Ultimately, UX is part of CX. However, while anyone in a customer-facing position plays a role in CX, UX is more the domain of designers, product developers, engineers and other product-facing positions.

An image of two circles; one circle is smaller -- representing UX -- and fits inside a larger circle, representing CX.
UX falls under CX in the post-purchase stages of the customer journey.

4 differences between customer experience and user experience

The key differences between CX and UX include the following:

  • Goals. CX's goal is to ensure organizations can find and retain customers while offering them positive experiences throughout their journeys, while UX's goal is to ensure users can easily use and access a company's website, product or service.
  • Audience. CX teams focus on the organization's target audience, which includes all its current and potential customers. UX teams focus on existing customers, who actively use the brand's products or services.
  • Metrics. CX leaders measure CX success with metrics like customer satisfaction scores, customer lifetime value, retention rates and net promoter scores. UX teams measure UX with metrics like page load speeds and adoption rates.
  • Job roles. CX teams comprise marketers, sales representatives, customer service agents and other roles in customer-facing positions. UX teams include designers, engineers and other product team members. CX focuses more on the customer, while UX focuses on the product or service.

How CX and UX work together

Overall, CX and UX have a shared purpose: to ensure a brand's customers have a positive experience. To glean the most success from both strategies, CX and UX teams can collaborate and share customer feedback to see what works and what doesn't within the customer journey. CX teams could also make a point to include UX teams in the customer journey during the purchase and post-sale phases.

Together, CX and UX teams can identify pain points that customers experience when they interact with the business or its products, and aim to create a seamless, positive experience for all.

Michaela Goss is the senior site editor for TechTarget's customer experience and content management sites. She joined TechTarget as a writer and editor in 2018.

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