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UX & CX Should Work Together for a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

User Experience and Customer Experience sound almost identical, yet they refer to different aspects of the way humans interact with brands. They can also refer to different (and sometimes siloed) groups within an organization. That said, at the heart of both is obviously the term “experience”, which is what ties them together. Our work has shown that there are synergistic opportunities to be found in managing UX & CX holistically to create a customer-centric competitive advantage.

Google defines User Experience as “the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.” The usability* of a digital application or tool is what determines whether it is in fact easy and/or pleasing. Thus the User Experience might also be described as the feeling a person has during and/or after conducting a transaction with some form of technology, i.e. the machine-human interface. It could be frustrating, tedious, challenging, or it could be easy, intuitive, and fast, for example.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Customer Experience “encompasses every aspect of a company’s offering—the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability.” Within this definition, you may notice some commonalities with the User Experience description above. It seems that terms like “product and service features” and “ease of use” could be part of either. However, as Customer Experience “encompasses every aspect”, it tends to keep going beyond UX. In other words, good CX must have good UX, but good UX alone is not enough to deliver a good CX.

Increasingly, the customer experience is becoming more digitized, and machines are becoming more human-like. Consider the shift to self-checkouts, contactless delivery, robo-advisors, and even 3-D printing. Pandemic protocols and the resulting cultural shift have accelerated this digital transformation over the last couple of years in particular. Many touchpoints within the customer journey have transformed from human-first to digital-first, building a case for the integration of digital across all departments in an organization rather than maintaining digital as a stand-alone group.

“Organizations shouldn't have separate digital departments anymore. Digital underpins and enables everything now.”

- Arnie Guha, PhD, Phase 5 Partner

And so UX design is now more likely to impact several steps along the journey from awareness to purchase and ultimately customer loyalty and advocacy.

That said, not every touchpoint in your customer journey should be a machine-human interface. As our study entitled State of the US Small Business Banking Experience showed, “banking transactions are increasingly handled through digital channels, but a personal touch remains important”, and tends to have a substantive positive impact on the customer experience. Of course with the pandemic, more consumers have been required to shift to digital banking, but this move has pushed some people outside of their comfort zone. In our study of COVID-19 and the Changing Financial Consumer, the data showed that respondents aged 55+ are 10-20% less comfortable with this shift, especially with specific transactions that involve showing identification, or getting financial advice.

These findings highlight the importance of understanding your customers’ wants, needs, and pain points as they relate to your product and/or service. In addition, they highlight how important it is to understand that these wants, needs, and pain points may be different by customer segment. A balance of human touch and automation is required, but the optimal mix is highly dependent on the type of business and/or transaction, as well as the individual customer.

Making research and analysis a part of the design process helps organizations identify what matters most in the experience, and to whom, so that limited resources can be applied wisely, and risks to both finances and brands can be minimized. At a macro level, research can be used to inform Customer Journey Mapping, which would include every exposure to and interaction with a brand from beginning to end (or more ideally from beginning to customer loyalty and advocacy). Data-driven insights enable an organization to make intelligent choices based on what customers actually care about. Check out 7 Benefits of Customer Journey Mapping by Phase 5 Partner Steve Hansen to learn more about the process.

At a more micro level, research and analysis can also inform the innovation process and improve UX design for any stage within the journey. The same logic applies here. Using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, an organization can evaluate the probable impact on customer satisfaction of one user interface vs. another, or of choosing one type of service feature vs. another, for example. Online or in-person usability testing can further identify UX pain points that might not be apparent through surveys, but that could positively change direction during the design process. Learn more about a data-driven approach to innovation in this 2021 PDMA presentation by Steve Hansen.

To reiterate, an optimal CX increasingly needs great UX, and as 360 Magazine argues, any organizational walls between the two should be removed for the best experience overall. But not every touchpoint within the CX will require tech / automation. It’s essential to understand customer needs so that digital interfaces are used optimally, and so that the entire customer journey meets expectations and drives loyalty.

“To win today, you need to be flexible and fast. You need to invest in agile deployments, cross-silo collaboration, cross functional teams empowered to drive change, and bold leadership to drive real change.”

- Andreas Noe, Phase 5 Founding Partner

We encourage you to check out this 60 second video The Future of UX & CX featuring Phase 5 Partner Arnie Guha, who leads our Experience Strategy and Design Practice. He has followed the evolution of UX & CX closely over the last 20+ years, and has helped numerous clients develop their competitive advantage through his consultation. In this brief video, he summarizes how the human element is what unites UX & CX, despite them being different components of an organization’s service delivery and strategy.

To discuss how you can better integrate and improve your UX & CX for a sustainable competitive advantage, contact us. We can help your organization on its journey to customer-centricity.

*How is usability measured? Our Future of the Interface paper outlines 4 key metrics to understanding performance.

Written by Stephan Sigaud

Stephan Sigaud, MBA, is Phase 5’s EVP of Marketing. Stephan is passionate about partnering with clients to address their challenges and opportunities around customer centricity. Stephan has more than 25 years’ experience in Market Research and Customer Loyalty and Experience and is a Board Director of the Insights Association. He has also been volunteering with the Customer Experience Professionals Association (as past Chair of the CXPA Toronto Network) and the Canadian Marketing Association (as member of the Leaders Network and past co-Chair of the CMA CX Council).