What is ‘Customer Experience (CX)’, and how does it differ to XD, Service Design and UX…

Customer Experience is a hot topic. It appears it’s the talk of the town. But what does it actually mean, and how does it differ to XD, Service Design and UX. This article will help explain.

As a starter, could you summarise what is meant by XD, Service Design, CX and UX?

User Experience (UX): UX, as a term, has been around since the mid 90s (with Don Norman as a key influencer). Today, UX typically refers to how we best design intuitive, engaging and usable features and functionality (aligned to needs of relevant users) across digital touch-points such as responsive websites, native apps and business systems. UX is about the low-level detail in context of a specific project. Back in the mid-90s, UX referred to the design of any experience no matter the touchpoint, but since then technology has became part of daily life meaning UX – rightly or wrongly – has become associated with the digital world only. This is why CX and Service Design have gained traction to rebalance this.

Customer Experience (CX): CX (also known as Experience Strategy) is used to help businesses and organisations shape their vision and strategy to represent a complete end-to-end view of all connections that someone has with them across all touchpoints (digital and non-digital), aligned to human behaviours and emotions. Once the vision has been documented (typically via a Customer Experience Map) this then helps drive the prioritisation of what propositions and products (e.g. native apps, responsive sites, systems) need to be improved or created, and provides a foundation with clear context as to why these projects exist and working towards.

Service Design: Based on the CX work, this may have identified an underserved human need or where a business or organisation has identified an area for improvement. A service is ultimately the internal visualisation of how they will operate to make the customer experience a reality at every identified touchpoint (covering both digital and non-digital) across different departments, teams, processes and technology plug-ins. Used to identify risk before go-live and ensure consistency in the end-to-end customer experiences.

Experience Design: We use this as an umbrella term to describe all the above. We ultimately help businesses and organisations (including the health sector) design great experiences, no matter where they are in their maturity. It’s a case of understanding where they are and what they want to achieve in helping them realise their potential. Whether that’s an established business or organisation, a new start-up or somewhere in-between.

All the above are pretty closely link, but it is important to differentiate simply because each one has a different thought process and range of activities / outcomes / artefacts.


Is CX the next in a long line of industry buzzwords?

Absolutely not. It’s a concept that challenges businesses to do something, which whilst sounding simple, is difficult; put their understanding of their customers or patients, the interactions they have and internal processes, at the heart of everything they do.

It’s something which should have been in the mainstream consciousness for a number of years, however it’s mainly been, until recently, the domain of industry leaders such as Apple, Google and Amazon, where customer experience and design-thinking sits at the their at the heart of their culture, without compromise pushing the boundaries to align human behaviours and emotions.

The basis upon which competitive advantage is gained and maintained has irrevocably shifted. Long after an interaction with a company, a customer may have forgotten the price of a product. What they won’t have forgotten is how the experience made them feel – delighted, frustrated, or anything in between.


Give me your elevator pitch of what CX really means?

CX (or Experience Strategy) provides a vision for the complete end-to-end experience across all touchpoints. It is about aligning to human behaviours & emotions to deliver simple, frictionless, engaging, innovative and consistent experiences and moments encompasses both digital and/or human interactions, for example how a consumer seamlessly starts a journey via a desktop, moves to the mobile app before completing in-store and potentially phoning the call centre to raise a query following purchase.

How do you ensure the customer receives a seamless, delightful, engaging and consistent experience no matter how they interact with your brand or where they start/exit/rejoin their journey? What do you want your brand to stand for and how should it be represented? Is your tone-of-voice targeted at the right people who you want to be your customers? All these are questions that CX can help support and answer.

CX is the means by which a business understands their customers, their needs and wants, observing their human behaviours, their emotions, the context of the moment, why they want to engage at each touchpoint and what they consider valuable. It informs how businesses should engage with their customers on a much more informed basis at the right time.

This granular understanding of the interaction between the customers and the business is key to shifting organisations to adopting truly customer-centric strategies.

If part of the CX vision was based on a key customer engagement via a mobile app, then a project team would be assembled to build this app (via a team of PMs, developers, UX designers, automated testers, and product owners). The UX designer would have the specific focus of researching and designing to provide the best possible experience on the app, in terms of usability and intuitive features/functionality UX operates within the context of, but in isolation of, CX. CX activities help greater inform the context of the UX activity for a given project.


What are the key artefacts and activities completed within CX?

Formative Research: Conducting qualitative and quantitative research to specifically understand more about customer behaviours, emotions and how/why they would want to interact with a brand across many moments and touchpoints (both online and offline). Within CX, this is usually more in-depth and innovative because you want a great deal of rich insights across an end-to-end view, and providing a reliable foundation because it will fundamentally support, validate and inform a new proposition and/or long-term vision.

Customer Experience Mapping: Also known as a ‘Customer Journey’, is where create a high-level holistic view to highlight the entire customer moment, plotting customer’s behaviours, the emotions they’ll be feeling at different stages, the interaction type (whether digital and/or human), any personal drivers to complete the task, a summary of key interactions with the brand and relevant milestones, and how they’ll be served throughout.

Prototyping (both digital and physical): The Experience Map helps to visualise the behaviours and emotions of users, and how this aligns to an overall end-to-end experience. The next stage is to conceptualise, via a prototype, where we make the vision more tangible and shape an innovative experience. Prototypes are not simply mock-ups of digital experiences, but they could also be more physical such as an in-store terminal made from cardboard.

Role-playing: Service Designs are a great way to highlight how internal teams are required to work together to deliver the identified experience to improve customer engagement and innovation. Role-playing exercises are about bringing these practices to life (supported by the prototypes created) and ensure they work in the real world, and then change accordingly. It helps to provide a clear view of what role is expected of key internal employees to deliver great experiences, but also for them to provide a voice to shape processes, which enhances adoption and contribution to delivering successful outcomes.


Is CX the realm of startups / disrupters? What are the considerations more ‘traditional’ companies need to address, organisationally and technically?

No – but there is more evidence of it in startups / disruptors, primarily because these are businesses which have been formed with absolute focus on the customer because without a brand then all they have is the experience to build trust and engagement. Focussing on the customer informs the strategic decisions which shape the decisions for organisational growth. This is where innovation and disruption truly flourishes.

The challenge for established businesses is how to look to ‘retrofit’ CX into both strategy and the day to day operational running of businesses. Without question it’s incredibly challenging, Often businesses are siloed, which means the view of customer journeys and the touch points within those journeys is inherently siloed. Successful CX strategies demand truly cross functional interaction.

Those businesses looking to invest in CX should start to look at dedicated CX teams, which cut across the traditional ‘verticals’ in businesses. No small undertaking, granted – particularly when UX has only just (after many years) become recognised as organisationally important

A key importance for businesses going forward is ensuring one function (such as a CX team) has responsibility for ownership of the complete customer experience, with strong support and input from design, product, marketing and exec teams.


And finally… what are the top three reasons CX can’t be ignored?

1. Businesses need to deliver clear and consistent experiences across digital and/or human processes, to provide a great service no matter how someone chooses to interact with a brand.

2. Understanding customers is critical to informing customer-led strategic decision making.

3. In the face of disruption, businesses need to be prepared to react. Understanding customers enables business to recognise and exploit areas for innovation and opportunity.

In recent months we’ve started to shift conversations with our clients towards understanding and shaping their complete end-to-end experience – beyond delivering usable and intuitive solutions within isolated programmes of work.

Let’s talk.


Get in touch with our Head of XD, Andy Wilby, to discuss more about how we can help your businesses or organisation reimagine the experiences with your customers or citizens, across digital and non-digital touch-points.

Andy Wilby | Head of Experience Design

07595 878876


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