What is Customer Experience (CX)?

Before I delve into explaining, it's important to start by setting some context. For this, I'm going to go back to the mid 80s where pinstripe suits were in fashion, mobile phones were the size of bricks and Kylie & Jason were about to get married in Neighbours.

The term UX was actually around too, thanks to Don Norman and his book 'The design of everyday things'. But back then UX referred to complete experience, designing for the psychology of humans no matter the touchpoint. But since the rise of digital products in early / mid 2000s, UX started to become – rightly or wrongly – synonymous with the digital world of making technology usable, at a low-level.

Firstly, what is XD, CX, Service Design and UX?

EXPERIENCE DESIGN (XD): Experience Design (XD) is commonly used as an umbrella term that summarises the designing of any experience, across any touchpoint, for any person (including both staff and customers).

The 3 core elements of Experience Design:

EXPERIENCE STRATEGY: Focusing on the longer term vision of how you want to engage with customers (or citizens and patients) – across both digital and physical touchpoints – based on their behaviours, emotions, environment, triggers, and goals, helping to inform new propositions. It's about the understanding of humans. The key focus is around formative research, where the outcome is represented through an Experience Map (AKA Customer Journey) and a strategy for improving existing services or creating new propositions. A PoC is also typically created to bring to life a key area of the vision. Read more on our 'XD by AD' website, our dedicated Experience Design consultancy.

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE (CX) & SERVICE DESIGN: CX & Service Design are intrinsically linked. CX is about fully understanding the complete end-to-end journey a customer goes through across all digital and physical touchpoints, at any point of an engagement. The key artefact is an Experience Map, which may have already been completed with an Experience Strategy phase. Service Design is how businesses and organisations shape, design and implement the service to deliver the aspirational customer experience identified (shown within the Experience Map). The key artefact is a Service Blueprint, which is the internal visualisation of how a company will function to offer the required service at every step of the customer interaction (based on the Experience Map), across different departments, teams, actions. processes and technology. Creating clarity and consistency. Read more on our 'XD by AD' website.

USER EXPERIENCE (UX) DESIGN: Based on the low level user needs, it’s now about designing the relevant usable digital touchpoints/products (such as native apps, responsive websites, B2B applications and/or internal systems). Conducting regular formative research, design and evaluative research activities, all in context of the specific digital touchpoint. The improvements of existing, or design of new, digital products should be in context of the overall service. Within UX, we typically use the term 'User' to describe people who engage with digital products at a granular level (such as navigating from page to another within a website), whereas 'Customer' aligns to the high-level focus of people and their behaviours. Read more on our 'XD by AD' website.


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Why not just use UX instead of CX?

A lot has changed since the mid 80s (obviously!)! UX primarily started out with the focus of designing for humans, before being – rightly or wrongly – synonymous with designing for lower level interactions for a given isolated digital touchpoint for the last 20 years or so. But for the last couple of years, there has been a much greater focus from businesses and organisations engaging with their customers (or citizens and patients) realising it isn't just about how to make a mobile app as usable as possible. It's about the complete end-to-end customer experience (CX) – across both digital and physical touchpoints – focusing on designing for people with an appreciation of their behaviours, emotions and environment.

Businesses and organisations are at various levels of maturity for how well they know their customers, how best to design services for humans and their digital offering. As a result, this is why I believe the term UX shouldn't be used just like it was intended back in the 1980s.

For private businesses and public sector organisations (such as the NHS) deciding what to focus on is reliant on what and where the current pain points are in the overall journey and the overall future vision in 2-3 years. Some businesses and organisations may have a large internal UX team designing great digital products but the senior management may lack a validated medium & long term vision of how they need to evolve to stay relevant and grow. Whereas other businesses and organisations may have a good idea of where they need to be in the future but don't have the resources to understand how to make this is a reality and design the right services and products.


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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.

How do CX and Service Design align?

CX and Service Design are intrinsically linked. A great customer experience is the result of a well designed service, end-to-end across all relevant 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 someone 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 and consistent experience no matter how they interact or where they start/exit/rejoin their journey? What does the businesses or organisation stand for and how should it be represented? Is the tone of voice targeted at the right people who you want to be your customers? Are members of staff clear on their responsibilities and what's being asked of them when engaging with customers? How well is the business prepared to scale, and do they clearly understand the associated risks? 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.

There are – and have been for a while – many project teams within the same business and organisation working in silo from each other creating various different websites, apps and systems. This has resulted in a number of issues, including: inconsistent experiences, lack of attention in designing a great service across physical touchpoints, and limited understanding in designing for the behaviours and goals of humans.

The app may be very usable but if there is no clear alignment to the overall service being offered and the future vision then it's going to fall short. A great customer experience is much more than just a usable app or website for the end user.


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

No, however there is more evidence of it within 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. Also, any new successful proposition is more than just creating a nice app. They're fundamentally driven by underserved human needs. A great example of this is Uber, and how they're transformed the way we engage with taxis firms.

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

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

1. Businesses and organisations need to design clear and consistent experiences across digital and physical touchpoints, to provide a great service no matter how someone chooses to engage (whether digital, face-to-face or phone).

2. Understanding customers is critical to informing customer-led strategic decision making, and designing for people as humans.

3. In the face of disruption, businesses need to be prepared to react. Truly understanding the behaviours, emotions and goals of people enables business to recognise and exploit areas for innovation and opportunity.

You may also be interested in...

Why it's important to differentiate between User Journeys and Customer Journeys

The benefits of User Flows and why they remain an important artefact to create

How our Experience Design team are shaping the future of payments

About the Author

Andy Wilby has been an Experience Design professional for over 14 years, responsible for solving key business problems of all sizes. Companies he's worked for include HSBC, Aviva, NHS, Bupa, Co-op and Government agencies to name a few. Previous to joining Answer Digital, he was a Lead UX at Aviva for a 45-strong team of designers. His passion is working with clients to help solve complicated problems through simple experiences, marrying business and customer needs.

If you want to hear more about how our Experience Design expertise 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.

XD by AD: Our Experience Design consultancy

'XD by AD' works with businesses and organisation of all sizes offering dedicated UX, Service Design, Experience Strategy 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 >


About the Author...

Andy has been an Experience Design professional for over 13 years, responsible for solving problems within UX, Service Design and Design Sprint roles. Companies he's worked for include HSBC, Aviva, NHS, Bupa, Co-op and Government agencies to name a few. Previous to joining Answer Digital, he was a Lead UX at Aviva for a 45-strong team of designers. His passion is working with clients to help solve complicated problems through beautifully simple experiences marrying business and customer needs.