What is 'Customer Experience (CX)' and what does it actually mean....

Customer Experience is a hot topic. It appears it’s the talk of the town. But as many have passed before it, I’m not necessarily convinced people truly understand what it means (although that doesn’t necessarily stop them dropping it into discussions – me included!!).

With that in mind, I spent some time discussing Customer Experience (or CX for those in the know…) with our Head of Experience Design, Andy Wilby. The intention? To demystify CX.

Is Customer Experience, or 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. The irony of course is that we’ve all most likely benefited from incredibly well designed end-to-end customer experiences, without challenging the status quo of our own environments.

The basis upon which competitive advantage is gained and maintained has irrevocably shifted. To compete on price isn’t efficient or maintainable. 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.

Did you know, here at Answer Digital we have a dedicated Experience Design (XD) service? Called 'XD by AD', we work with companies of all sizes offering dedicated UX, CX & Service Design and Design Sprint expertise to help design great experiences and moments across digital and non-digital touch-points.

Experience great experiences. Read more about XD by AD >

Give me your elevator pitch of what CX really means?

CX is about fully understanding the complete end-to-end customer journey – aligned to human behaviours & emotions – to deliver a simple, frictionless, engaging, innovative and consistent experience that is focused on delivering for moments across multiple touchpoints. It 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.

User Experience (UX) has been a hot topic for a while now. How does CX differ from UX?

Firstly, I must emphasise that UX is not ‘over’! UX can, will and should have a place in businesses as the digital evolution continues. Simply put, where CX focuses on the ‘macro’ or holistic view of the relationship between a business and it’s customers or a trust and it’s patients, UX focuses on the micro, project specific deliverables.

A business may decide to review it’s complete end-to-end experience, covering external interactions performed by the customer and the role of internal functions to support (call centres, in-store, internal office teams processing refunds etc). The CX strategy will be to identify and innovate an improved system, experience or process, with a clear focus of priority based on customer research and business benefit.

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. As such, UX can, in the absence of CX practices, still deliver absolute value for businesses within project deliverables. The two skill sets compliment each other when implemented successfully.

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 indepth and innovative because you want a great deal of rich insights across an end-to-end view, compared to research within UX that is very focused on the specific project (such as building a native app).

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. Read more about why it's important to differentiate between User Journeys and Customer Journeys

Service Blueprinting: We document the process/structure of the internal workings that highlight how a business will deliver and operate to achieve the wanted experience and service identified in the experience map. It is data visualisation of how a company works. It will ensure consistency in customer experiences. Stress testing the operational model to identify weaknesses / areas for improvement.

It covers ‘Frontstage’ actions that occur directly in view of the customer (covering human-to-human or human-to-computer), ‘Backstage’ actions to highlight the internal processes and roles of teams/employees (cross-departmentally, if required) to make the frontstage action a reality, and any ‘Support processes’ that must occur for the above to take place and to ensure the process runs smoothly and efficiently (including where Tech is required, such as linking to a 3rd party credit check company to complete an application).

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.

Why is CX emerging as a strategic focus? What are the drivers for the shift?

To reflect on my earlier point, customers are inherently transient. Achieving sustainable competitive advantage, and therefore customer retention, is becoming increasingly difficult. Differentiating factors between businesses are going to come down to the quality in customer experiences offered, and how these are perceived by customers.

Customers expectations are shifting in line with the constant evolution in offerings from the likes of Amazon. Businesses are being forced to look at themselves and how they interact and maintain relationships with their customers. The simple fact is that it’s more cost effective to retain customers than it is to acquire or win back customers. The best way to do this is through innovative customer experience.

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.

What is the difference between CX and Service Design?

CX and Service Design is interchangeably used to describe the same process of understanding the complete end-to-end view and deliver an improved service and experience.

Service Design, as a term, has been around for 10+ years but it’s only been within the last 24 months that I’ve noticed real traction in businesses focusing on the customer experience or designing an improved service. Adoption will absolutely continue to grow as businesses see demonstrable benefits through delivering great experiences, and they start to clearly identify the differences between CX and UX.

Within Answer Digital we refer to both CX and Service Design. The main reason being we work with both public and private organisations, so referring to customers within healthcare doesn’t feel right. We work with trusts to help embed Service Design practices and activities, where a core focus is on improving internal services and processes – both digital and non-digital – to ultimately improve patient-care. The same artefacts and processes are undertaken whether it be CX or Service Design.

Given it’s moniker, is CX a B2C concept?

No. Absolutely not. The expectations customers have in the B2C and B2B worlds are converging, there is no question. Customers expect them to be understood, and to benefit from personalised interactions which deliver value for them.

There is no industry or sector in which CX wouldn’t be applicable. It’s agnostic of the digital environment. It’s about how you engage with the customer at the right time, and in the right way.

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.

Read more about our Propositional Development offering, where CX plays a key part >

Read more about why it's important to differentiate between User Journeys and Customer Journeys >

Let's catch-up to discuss more...

If you want to hear more about how our Experience Design expertise (whether that be CX/Service Design or UX) can help your business to deliver great experiences for your customers, then contact our Principal Experience Design Designer, Andy Wilby, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 07595 878876.

Read more about our independent Experience Design consultancy service called 'XD by AD'

About the Author...

Rich heads Answer Digital Retail, delivering world class solutions to clients including Costcutter Supermarkets Group, FCUK, Arcadia and Ramsden International. Richard has a passion for retail and the transformational impact technology is having on customer experiences.