Customer Experience vs User Experience

Although customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX) sound similar, the concepts differ. User experience is a distinct part of the customer experience, but the terms are not interchangeable. Any business must understand both journeys for their customers. How is the customer experience for their existing and potential customers and how is the user experience? Understanding both will allow businesses to understand their overall impact on their customer and what can be improved. Here’s a look at customer experience vs user experience.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience can be seen as the big circle that encompasses the entirety of a customer’s interaction with your business. Customer experience involves every single interaction a customer has with your brand. So, that includes when they engage with your product or service, call up customer service, email someone in your company, and think about your brand in general. 

You can think of it as ways users perceive your customer service, advertising, brand reputation, sales process, fairness and competitiveness of pricing, product delivery, and their individual user experience with your product or service. 

Let’s go into a little scenario of what ‘good’ customer experience can look like. For example, if your company sells rubber ducks, your customer may Google ‘birthday rubber duck’ and your website pops up. They navigate your site, which is easy to use. Then select the duck they want and easily put it in their shopping cart. You have a 3-for-2 offer and that makes them feel you’re offering good value for money; they buy two more ducks because, after all, they saw a Parisian themed rubber duck they liked the look of, and surely they can find a third? You have different ways to pay, including PayPal, so that makes it easy and secure. They have their address saved in PayPal so that makes checking out faster. They receive a friendly automated email giving them their order details. They received the rubber duck within two days. They decide to call customer service asking if you can do custom ducks. The phone interaction is friendly and helpful and they can do custom orders. Everything about this customer’s experience has been positive. If someone, weeks later, asks the best place to buy a rubber duck, they’re highly likely to recommend your company. Nothing about their experience has been negative.

Getting back on track, you can measure customer experience in terms of ‘overall experience,’ ‘how likely a customer is to return,’ ‘how likely a customer is to recommend your product or service to others’ and so on–the big picture concepts and feelings associated with your brand. In the rubber duck scenario, the big picture looks good. In simple terms, you want your big picture to look good too.

User experience, on the other hand, is part of the broader customer experience (more on this concept in a bit) but in terms of the overall feel of a product, customer experience encompasses the entire journey.

As in the rubber duck example, good customer experience means that your customer had a pleasant interaction with your company. When they interacted with your company, they felt you were professional and helpful. Every person they spoke to or interacted with contributed to that overall impression. Good customer experience also means that there’s a general feeling of positivity about the overall experience, your company, and everything associated with it.

What is user experience?

User experience, more specifically, is the way people interact with your product and the experience they gain from that interaction. Generally, when we refer to user experience these days, we are talking about digital user experience such as a user’s experience with your website, app, or software (or all three). The user experience overall deals with the design of your interface. How usable is it? What is the architecture, navigation, comprehension, learnability, visual hierarchy like? Can a user navigate your website, app, or software with ease?

You can measure user experience using metrics such as success rate, error rate, bounce rate, time to task completion, and clicks to completion. We have written an article about website performance metrics here.

Good user experience means that customers and potential customers can find your information quickly and easily; they can complete their desired task effortlessly and they can navigate your site’s pages smoothly without lag.

In our rubber duck scenario, the customer had a great user experience too. The eCommerce site met the customer’s needs and the customer walked away happy. All of the elements combined to make the experience positive. 

For other businesses, your website is often the first point of contact for a customer. It starts their brand journey. It tells them who you are, what you are about, what you value, how professional you are, and all sorts of subconscious impressions and information. If your website’s user experience is poor, it may mean they never take the time to visit your business if you have a physical location and/or they may never purchase a single product from you, especially if you’re an eCommerce business. 

How customer experience and user experience work together–and what happens if they don’t

Let’s imagine the rubber duck scenario again, but let’s say that the experience was the opposite of the happy, positive one earlier. Your customer goes on your website. Your search bar doesn’t work well and they can’t find what they want. The catalogue of the ducks only displays five results per page and there are 100 pages to navigate. The checkout process is cumbersome. They have to create an account, log into their email, click a link to confirm, sign in to the website, fill in their information, and the site takes only a limited number of debit and credit cards (no online payments). The company doesn’t send an automatic email after the order; it takes about two days to confirm that an order has been placed. Then, it takes twelve days for the duck to arrive and when the customer tries to call customer service five days in (because there’s no expectation set for shipment time), the customer service phone number is buried on the website and not easy to find. When they try Googling ‘your company’ plus ‘customer service phone number’, the results still don’t come up. Eventually, they find a number (after about twenty full minutes of searching) but they are on hold for ten minutes before someone answers. The person on the phone line is rude. They say that the shipment will take five days more. Your rep hangs up whilst the customer is speaking. After checking their order email, the customer realizes that the 3-for-2 offer wasn’t applied to their bill and they ring up again (on hold for fifteen minutes this time). They are told to mail in a form. They ask for help finding the form and the rep reluctantly helps them find it through a complicated pathway on your website. The customer prints the form and they fill it in. Then, a few days later they get an email saying their form was rejected for missing information. Now, they’re back on the phone again, trying to get their problem resolved.

Do you think this customer will come back? Most likely not. But what’s worse is every time someone asks about their Parisian rubber duck, they’re likely to launch into a story about how awful their customer journey was and how they’d never recommend this company ever again. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful and can sink your company faster than you can blink (figuratively, of course). 

Even if the rubber duck website navigation had been easier and the company had great user experience but a terrible customer experience, the result is still the same. You have to have both to give an overall good impression. 

Along those same lines, you may have the most amazing advertising, brand recognition, sales team, customer service representatives, and organizational structure, which are all imperative for great customer experience, but if you have a terrible web design, mobile app, software and other user experience issues, then you will not leave a favorable impression. A bad website, app, or software design creates barriers to what your user wants to do.

UX and CX must marry to make your customers happy. Customers interpret all of their interactions with your brand and conclude if they are satisfied or not. But even if this disaster scenario describes your company (or it’s somewhat true), it’s not impossible to rebuild your brand and start afresh.

Personal experience: a case study

In my personal experience, when ordering through Amazon itself, I’ve had an excellent experience. I once accidentally ordered a DVD of a book I meant to order. Amazon gave me a refund, no questions asked, and let me keep the DVD too! What great customer service.

However, whenever I’ve ordered through third-party sellers on Amazon, that customer experience is not quite so friendly. Then I’ve run into the scenario of having trouble finding a way to contact Amazon and get my issue resolved. Many times, when I’ve ordered from overseas companies, instead of being able to refund my item I’ve been given two unsatisfactory options: a) send the product back at my own expense or b) receive a 30% refund and keep the product.

In both scenarios, the user experience is the same. Whether you order online or on the app, products are easy to find and the website and app are easy to navigate. But, whether you’re ordering through an Amazon warehouse, or an international company is less easy to discern and that’s where the bad customer experience comes in. Same company and two pathways to customer experience. Does that mean I never order from Amazon? Of course not, but I’m definitely more careful now after having three bad customer experiences. And I certainly wouldn’t buy products from those companies again. 

My experience clearly will be a drop in the multi-billion dollar bucket for Amazon. On the one hand, if it’s their product they provide excellent UX and CX, but that isn’t true for their platform overall where they allow third-party sellers too. 

Amazon is a giant, but if a customer received these two separate customer experiences in a smaller company, you’d simply lose business. Not only that, but you may also create people who speak against your business. 96% of unhappy customers won’t tell the company they’re unhappy with, but they will tell up to fifteen people. Imagine the impact that can have for an SME. 

The stats speak for themselves. 52% of customers think that companies need to take action regarding feedback to improve customer experience. Offering excellent customer experience is ranked number one in important concerns to customers. And a customer who has had a positive experience offers 6-14x the value of a detractor and companies who excel at customer experience grow in the market 5-8% above market.

How do you improve your CX?

First, improve your UX. UX on your digital platforms is vital to your customer’s experience. 

Second, provide easy channels for customer feedback. Put they helpline, email address, feedback form, phone number, and so on in an easy-to-find place.

Third, if you get a complaint, respond to it. Thank the customer for letting you know. Figure out how to resolve that complaint and turn that customer experience around. Customers want to feel heard. They want to feel valued. They are happy to let you make their experience more positive. Offer them a coupon. Offer them a freebie. Do something to acknowledge that they’ve not had a great time and you plan to improve.

Fourth, understand the difference between user experience and customer experience and how they work together, like a solid marriage.

The Takeaways

Failures in customer experience or user experience can impact your success as a business; conversely, a good user and customer experience can bring your business in the right direction, creating company promoters who will create more value for your company long-term. Consider both CX and UX when developing your brand and honing your products or services. 

Do you need help with creating the best user experience?

While we can’t train your sales team to handle your customer service calls, we can create a seamless user experience. Key Medium is an expert in branding, SEO, and UX. Ensuring your UX is the best it can be can build your business and brand awareness exponentially. Good customer experience has been shown to increase profits by 125% since loyal customers are worth 10x more than a new customer.


Elaine, an SEO Specialist and Content Writer

Elaine Frieman holds a Master’s Degree and is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.