Understanding the difference between the user and customer experience

Posted by Carol Strachan on 28 February 2017
Filed under: design, experience, user, UX

The difference between the user and customer experience is well documented so to avoid repetition, I thought I’d try and look at this from a website agency point of view. 

We’re often asked by clients to design a website that takes the user on a logical journey throughout their site, enabling them to meet their goal, whatever that is; purchasing a product or service, downloading a white paper, signing up for a newsletter or donating to their favourite cause. During the initial stages of our InSite programme, we take time to understand who the client's ‘user’ is, their motivations, perceptions, influencers and so on creating profiles that form the foundation of the new website, intranet or extranet.

It’s usually at this point we’re asked by our clients to distinguish between delivering a ‘positive customer experience’ and the role the user experience plays.

In terms of digital development, we see the 'user' as an online visitor who interacts with your brand, product or service over a number of digital channels using a variety of devices. The 'experience' is defined by how well that user can switch from channel to channel while still receiving the same positive experience throughout.  When they interact with you through your website, their experience is influenced by how they are affected by the site's usability, largely born out of a logical architecture, clear navigation, inspiring visual appeal, how personalised the content is and how quickly the user becomes familiar with using it. A positive experience doesn't end there however; when they leave the site subliminal, re targeted, tailored marketing messages will make sure your brand is relevant and upper most in their mind.

But the user experience is just a part of the entire customer experience.

For example, a customer is looking to buy a new car so they use their mobile to Google a local dealer of their preferred make. A search list is brought up and they decide to click on a local dealer's promoted ad, visiting their (responsive) website where they learn more. Able to find the information required in a few simple clicks they decide to visit the showroom for a test drive and engage with a salesman about the cars features and finance options.  They go away, ponder some more and decide to find out what other customer's are saying about the car and the dealer by visiting review sites and social pages. 

After reading some positive reviews, they re-visit the dealers website where they receive relevant content about the make of car they're interested in, hot new features, new finance options all personalised to their preferences. They make up their minds to buy the car, visit the showroom and purchase the car receiving an (automated) thank you email followed by (automated) monthly newsworthy emails keeping them informed.  The car is delivered on time, the handover is smooth and enjoyable and the customer paid the exact price they were quoted without any hidden extras.  A great after-sales service contributes to an overall positive experience that's taken place via a number of online and offline interactions. 

Overall, the key takeaway is that while the online user experience plays an important role, to create a positive CUSTOMER experience the customer's exposure to your brand from start to finish involving both offline and online interaction must be as streamlined, relevant and connected as possible.