I recently bought myself a treadmill and to ease the pain, decided I deserved some new running shoes to go with it. The more I invest in this dreaded thing, I said to myself, the more I'll use it. If you are going to torture yourself, you should at least be comfortable, right?
During my hunt for said shoes, I came across an article which compared the Customer Experience (CX) of Nike's and Adidas' websites and gave a verdict on the superior offering (spoiler: Nike).
It's worth noting that this article was inspired after I read a blog post on a very large and reputable consultancy site where the author blended CX and UX together. This organisation very often provide excellent CX content and are usually on point with their analysis. But on this occasion, they seemed to have missed the boat. The author compared new website features of two shoe brands - these are not examples of CX rather User Experience (UX), and the distinction is an important one.
What's the difference?
UX is best thought of as a subset of CX. Put simply, UX is a customer's interaction with a brand, most often a digital product such as a website, app, or piece of software. CX, on the other hand, is much broader. It encompasses the totality of one's experience with the brand and includes what happens across each of the various touchpoints. The good folks at Marketing Entourage illustrate the difference nicely in the following diagrams:
The way we measure the success of UX or CX is separate but related. For example, with UX we may focus on clicks, page views, or time spent on a particular page: things that are more easily quantifiable. CX metrics tend to be more qualitative, measuring aspects such as customer satisfaction, or the likelihood of recommending a brand to friend. UX is all about usability; CX is about how you feel about the brand, not just in the moment but long after you have paid and taken delivery of the product.
Apple is often considered the gold standard of CX because Steve Jobs was one of the first people to recognise its importance. For Jobs, buying an Apple product wasn't just about buying a piece of nice tech – he wanted customers to create an emotional connection with the brand. Apple has worked hard to give its rabidly loyal customer base a top-notch experience throughout their entire customer journey. The Apple Store, virtual app store, Genius Bar assistance, and products themselves – right down to the packaging, are all designed to foster a strong attachment to the brand. And have you ever watched the keynote? With its hushed dark interiors, cavernous stage, earnest presenters, and adoring fans it’s cult-like.
So whereas CX is the feeling I get when I think of Apple as a whole, UX is a specific moment I have at a given touchpoint. If I am browsing the Apple website for a new MacBook, the speed and ease in which I can find, choose, and even order my new laptop is the UX. But what happens next – the delivery, life of the item, and subsequent emotional connection, that's CX. Possessing all the qualities that are required for great CX is a rarity. In fact, it's so rare that here at Fifth Quadrant, we consider brands that do, such as Apple, to be "unicorns". See the diagram below for the kinds of properties and approaches that are necessary:
Amazon is another example. Is it a coincidence that two of the world's most valuable brands are so focused on CX? If Amazon only cared about their UX, then the buying process could still be great. But shipping, quality control, and sophisticated retargeting might go out the window. This leads us to...
Why it matters
Distinguishing between UX and CX matters because it allows us to more clearly identify issues a brand is having and rectify them. To improve CX, it's important to first understand the problem. If it's a simple tweak of UX, that may be much simpler than overhauling the brand's CX. And in some cases, attempting to revamp CX may overlook those niggling UX-based problems.
Having a great UX doesn't necessarily mean you have good CX and vice versa. For example, let's imagine you want to book at hotel room somewhere. You visit the hotel's site, which is elegant and well-designed. With a few swift clicks, you have booked a fabulous looking room overlooking a lovely Italian courtyard. When you arrive, it's not quite what you expected. The air conditioner in your room is broken, the hotel is unclean, and that picturesque courtyard is strewn with litter. Great UX, shocking CX. Or maybe you download an app, and it's hard to use and confusing. You post a complaint on the developer's Twitter page, and within an hour they have contacted you and compensated you in some way. Poor UX, fantastic CX.
Getting it all right has never been more important
With the rise of the omnichannel, brands are today facing the challenge of ensuring a consistently good experience across all the various touchpoints. On top of that, customers are becoming increasingly vocal about their experiences, and taking to social media to advocate for or vilify brands.
So how to get it right? One way is for brands to create personas of customers and map the various customer journeys that will take place, identifying recurring pain points. It could well be that certain types of customers are stumbling at the same point in the UX. Or perhaps the overall feeling created by the CX isn't quite right. To be successful, brands need to avoid a siloed approach in which the website designers are separated from the product or marketing teams. They should all be included in mapping the customers' journey and participate in moulding the experience into a cohesive whole. Returning to Apple, this is something they do so well. Unboxing an Apple product somehow feels the same as using one, or walking into the store. This is only possible after taking a bird's eye view of the whole process and then figuring out how to get there.
“One of the things I’ve always found”, Jobs said at the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, “is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
The shoes make the man
Looking for running shoes was my whole catalyst for writing this. In the end, I went with the latest Nikes. The UX of the site was excellent: there were ample photos, videos, and making my selection was a frictionless experience. But Nike didn't stop there, I received accurate shipping notifications, took delivery of the shoes in a timely fashion and now wearing them, I can report they are of excellent quality. Running on the treadmill is still agony, but sadly, the greatest UX and CX in the world won't change that.