Untangling Customer Experience, User Experience & Customer Service.

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At Orange Silicon Valley (OSV), the Customer Experience (CX) team is composed of individuals with cross-functional skills focusing on customer experience, user experience, and more generally any topics where value creation is intrinsically correlated with good design.

Over time, we noticed from our numerous interactions with internal stakeholders and external parties, that we often had different understandings about the concepts behind the term Customer Experience. One particular question kept coming up and often was the starting point of long-winded debates: What is the difference between Customer Experience (CX), User Experience (UX) and Customer Service (CS)?

The goal of this post is to clarify these important business concepts, which get used interchangeably, while trying to avoid falling into a semantic rabbit hole. Our team comes from diverse horizons, and we are aware that the state of the business can be very different outside of Silicon Valley. That being said, some of the insights highlighted here remain relatively universal across geography and industries.


Customer Service


Let’s start with Customer Service (CS), (also sometimes referred to as Customer Support or Customer Care). Customer Service is generally something customers use when things go wrong. People often associate CS with call centers. Due to technological innovation, there are now many  channels to provide customer service beyond call centers, including online user community forums, real-time online chats, mobile message-based services, virtual assistants and bots, and interactive voice response services.

The metrics around CS are often centered around time management and problem resolution: number of support tickets, number of escalations, average waiting time, average time of resolution, satisfaction score of solution offered, time to resolution, and so on.

A few pioneering companies have decided to change the metrics that lead their CS department. These companies judge CS on resolution success rate, service satisfaction, or the number of positive results beyond expectations. They push the envelope beyond customer expectations. They call it Customer Success.

“These companies push the envelope beyond customer expectations. They call it ‘Customer Success’.”

Zappos was renowned for designing its customer service to deliver a “Wow” experience. For instance, by allowing reps to stay on the phone with clients as much as needed. Zappos was so proud of the quality of their customer success that it became a key aspect of their business differentiation – they even engineered a bump in the road at the product level so that more users could experience a “wow” customer success experience. They created the “school of Wow” to share those learnings with other professionals through workshops.

As most consumers out there can intuitively tell based on their own experience, you can probably see how Customer Support is a critical part of a great Customer Experience.


User Experience


Next, let’s look at User Experience (UX). User experience is the result of rather tactical actions (nuts and bolts) and often centered around a specific product. UX is shaped by painstakingly crafting every element of the product such as information architecture, interaction design, usability, and content and visual designs. More concretely, in digital products, UX will mainly materialize as particular arrangements of assets on a screen, and the flow of screens as the user goes through the product while trying to accomplish specific tasks.

“UX is shaped by painstakingly crafting every element of the product such as information architecture, interaction design, usability, and content and visual designs.”

Designers are generally the experts that companies rely on for designing and building great User Experiences. UX is also the generic term the professional world uses to refer to the set of skills designers leverage to build these experiences. Product managers also play an important role by supporting UX designers in making sure that user experience goals are not sacrificed against business or technical goals.

The metrics around UX are often the ones that product teams usually deal with: conversion rates, success rate, error rate, bounce rate, abandonment rate, time to complete a task, clicks to completion, and so forth.

With the recent changes in user behaviors and the high level of expectations from users of digital products, it has become clear  that User Experience is a critical part of the overall Customer Experience.


Customer Experience


Customer Experience (CX) is the sum total of everything that the customer reads, sees, hears, speaks with, interacts with, touches and feels related to your company and the value it is delivering to them through its products and services. CX is anything that they experience in the true sense of that word “experience”, placed into one holistic view for present customers, but also for past and future customers.

“CX is anything that they experience in the true sense of that word “experience”, placed into one holistic view for present customers but also for past  and future customers.”

CX has the greatest scope of all three. It is natural then that the metrics around CX are the ones we usually observe when requesting quantitative feedback on a company strategy at a macro level: Net Promoter Score, Customer Satisfaction, Brand Equity, and Customer Lifetime Value.

Customer Experience is a very large umbrella that covers many of these outward facing experiential “touchpoints”.Therefore, CX is the result of contributions coming from a large variety of functional departments within the organization. As we alluded to in the CS and UX definitions, both Customer Service and User experience are critical aspects of the overall Customer Experience.

However, they are not sufficient to ensure a consistent focus on subpar customer experience. It is necessary to promote a company culture with a particular customer-centric and empathetic mindset supported by an organizational design that enables employees to make decisions aligned with this mindset.


CX is a mindset

orchestraCustomer Experience is by essence an outcome that is discussed at a high level in the organization and is intrinsically strategic rather than tactical. To some extent, each department of an organization will make design decisions that will eventually ripple down to the customer at one point: product, marketing, operations, support, sales, retail. We usually say that CX is the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

One caveat of this approach is that we make Customer Experience prone to the tragedy of the commons: when something is everybody’s job, it is effectively nobody’s job. Nobody is actually accountable to do the work, and everybody can rationalize that they thought someone else would do it. When everyone has other tasks to do that they believe is important, they’ll be more likely to assume someone else will take care of the group responsibility. Because of this, we are increasingly observing centralized Customer Experience departments being created to coordinate efforts and take ownership of this strategic topic.

“When something is everybody’s job, it is effectively nobody’s job.”

Action items

More than ever, it is important for CEOs and COOs to make sure that their organization is aligned and organized to address both the strategic and the operational ends:

  • By creating executive ownership through a centralized Customer Experience department that can defend resource allocation dedicated to improving CX at the highest level of the organization through the downstream business units.

  • By creating shared accountability through organizing and creating alignment across functions – including support (HR, customer service, business operations, sales), design, product, and marketing – around the shared goal of achieving high-quality Customer Experience. This can be achieved by integrating the adequate CX metrics, objectives and resources at the operational level to support this goal.
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Gregory Veran Written by:

Gregory Veran is a jack-of-all-trade in the team: his experiences and technical skills span across engineering, business, UX design, analytics and operations. He enjoys collaborating at all levels, from framing the strategic vision, through designing concepts and experiments, to implementing code. He has an avid thirst for learning and experimenting, which led him to quickly embrace a Lean and Agile mindset. His latest experiment is Captain Feedback bot and website. On his free time you can find him exploring trails on his mountain bike, playing beach-volley or, cooking typical French comfort food. He holds a MS in industrial engineering from Ecole Centrale and an MBA from UC Berkeley Haas.