CX and the dehumanization of a profession
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
"CX i.e. Customer Experience sells better than UX for User Experience. It just sounds better to clients because it's about customers. And CX is, after all, everything, not just UX, but all touchpoints and the whole experience on the customer journey!" It sounds like this when the topic "CX vs. UX" comes up in conversations, when articles or comments are written about CX. However, we are not talking merely about a "renaming" of a topic, but of a domain that is taken over from a completely different domain. Regardless of whether it is a marketing, sales or management consultant, CX sounds like sales, campaigns and trends. Unfortunately, boundaries are being crossed here that cannot give us pause as experts in human-centered design. The basic problem with this approach is that everyone is reduced to the role of the customer. But every customer is a user, but not every user is a customer. So UX cannot be part of CX, but the other way around... Customers are just a specific role of a user (= a specified user) and UX in the sense of HCD, i.e. Human-centered Design, is the holistic design for systems, interactions, information, touchpoints, services and even processes. Even the employee of a company is also a user in a specific role! And no - UX is not only about "software", but about everything that is created by people for people as users.
To reduce human-centered design exclusively to software or digital is a short-sighted and outmoded interpretation. International standardization is much more advanced here and treats that term holistically, the definition doesn’t elaborate whether the system is only digital or only an analog one, the same applies to products or services. Whenever people interact with a thing, software, system or through a service with another person, similar psychological aspects come into play that must be considered in the design. As a consequence, UX is likewise a holistic concept. The X in UX is defined as all the reactions and perceptions a user has with a product, system, and service.... and also explicitly addresses expectations, as well as brand, past experiences, emotions, etc. However, if CX is placed above everything else as a bracket, this means that the holistic aspect of human-centered design is removed... which in turn means: the same principles no longer apply! It would be acceptable to mislead people in CX, to expose people to higher levels of stress, to design services that are neither unambiguous, consistent, interpretable, controllable, or error robust (to name just a few of these principles). But these principles are always valid! They are the holistic principles of human-centered design. If the human is replaced by the customer and only seen as a "payer", this is nothing more than the dehumanization of "human-centered design".
However, it is true that not every user is also a customer - for example, the user of a pacifier is a child but the customer is a parent. In this case, that parent is not the user of the pacifier, but the user of the system that sells the pacifier. This underlines that you cannot be a customer without also being a user. In this particular case, two systems need to be designed. A product for the subordinate user group and a service for the higher-level user group, which have completely different requirements and must be designed at different times. As long as there is no "pacifier" product, no customer journey is required for parents. If one were to follow the assumption that CX would be the superordinate, most general bracket, CX would not (only) have to create the "point of contact" for the person who has the money (= and should therefore become a customer), but also for the child. - But the child will not be able to be the customer and has hardly any sales-related needs, but rather very special requirements in terms of material, form and use. This makes this product particularly delicate. Whoever designs the pacifier must know exactly who will use it in the future in which way. And since the areas of marketing or sales today often take over the product and service design and assert themselves on the subject of CX, a marketing agency, for example, would have to take care of the material, shape and handling of this sophisticated product. In our opinion, "We ask what customers want and fulfill these wishes" is by no means sufficient for this product development. Because a baby can't articulate its requirements, and even for adults the need behind their wishes is not necessarily clear.
Conscientious attention to roles is critical to a fundamental understanding of the people and their requirements using a system or offering. As a result of the above approach, this would mean that the pacifier is not designed for the baby, but for the parents, as the work on UX starts well before the production cycle, CX after. No matter how you spin it, CX as the most comprehensive concept theoretically or practically doesn't work. The idea that customers of an offering are always also its users doesn't work at all in the example of the pacifier and can be seen as a refuted argument of the proponents of "CX is the big picture".
In this context, it is particularly important to note that there are international standards that stand not only for high quality, but also for safety in dealing with products, services and systems. In Human Centered Design, there are precise rules of the game that CX providers from non-specialist domains do not want to adhere to because they do not accept or even know these standards.
Customer centricity is not enough
But what if a company wants to be customer-centric? Customer centricity is an important concept and has been established as an essential part of ISO 9001. However, in this case we are talking about a quality and documentation system. The problem arises when we bring together this general paradigm of customer centricity with the approach of human centered design and "CX". After all, HCD imposes further and quite stronger quality criteria on "customer centricity". Alas, unfortunately we have people in our industry who neither know nor ever want to find these strategic and design qualities important, because it is enough to act "customer-centric" by saying "CX" to it – However, then this is a trivialization of the task and not a simplification. Here 2 domains are mixed, which illuminate different perspectives and have different qualifications as the basis for their work. We probably agree that all people involved (users, customers, stakeholders) must always be involved in the conception of analog and digital products and services. The problem here is that the currently practiced focus on customer centricity usually does not achieve quality - conversion as a business requirement - users as a necessary accessory - employees as a side show. CX as a buzzword is occupied by customer-oriented domains such as marketing or sales without the necessary basic training (e.g. ergonomics, etc.). Sales psychology alone is not enough. It is precisely the abbreviation that makes this claim problematic because it gives false security or claims to power without responsibilities. And especially in the case of simplification, it is necessary to pay even closer attention to the statement "CX" and in the worst case the wrong perception is cemented in the market.
The correct approach is to use UX or better HCD as a wrapper around all other aspects. First and foremost, there is always the human being, then his or her role as user, customer or employee.
Misleading term inflation
Since the question is currently being discussed more often and more broadly, we would also like to take up an example of a renowned company that has published an article precisely on the topic of UX vs. CX. The following view is taken up in many discussions and could fuel the current uncertainty as to which domains are responsible, which is why we have selected this article.
Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) is a research and consulting firm that focuses on experience measurement. It is important to mention that they are only marginally concerned with the design that leads to this experience. However, since the question is also relevant in this context, NNG had argued in a post that CX and UX are coessential. CX could be viewed purely as the evolution in language, so both could be used equally. However, this view ignores two perspectives: On the one hand, there are international standards for Human Centered Design and thus for UX, which also define terminology and process steps in a binding and clear manner. To say that terms are subject to natural change creates arbitrariness and is a gateway for misunderstandings - as can currently be observed. Standards are the basis for consistent quality and are extremely necessary in many industries when, as here, physical, and mental health are also at stake. An overlap of the terms is also not constructive since the term "customer" - as already described above - can mean completely different needs or different users. Thus, it can in no way be used synonymously.
On the other hand, users of a product enter a relationship with a company at a fairly late stage - i.e., only when they are interested or finally when they make a purchase. Of course, it needs to be clarified what "relationship" actually means. Since it is not each individual person but the needs of a representative group that serve as the basis for the design of systems, services and products, the segmentation of UX and CX makes perfect sense. UX addresses the overall design leading to the experience of users, CX adds another specific level of communication after completion of a service or product. This could possibly be the reason why NNG fails to explain these connections at the end and does not give a conclusive answer in their article. However, NNG also segments the relationship between a person and a company into 3 levels. UX is divided into the single interaction level, journey level and relationship level. Only the relationship level can be described as CX. The first two levels - in this case the entire conception and design - lie with UX. All of these steps must be designed before the relationship level, i.e., the pure customer relationship is reached in external communication. In their model, only marketing and sales activities are meant. This could lead to the assumption that the offerings of marketing and sales agencies are synonymous with UX, e.g., that designing flyers is CX. If these domains take over CX, this will mean, exaggeratedly, that in the future the operation of machines would also be designed by communication design. Unfortunately, this misleading classification would result in a confusion of professions.
There are more users than customers
Nevertheless, there is an intersection and a level of cooperation between marketing or sales and Human Centered Design (UX / CX). HCD ascertains the needs of the various users and designs the interactions and touchpoints according to human-centered principles. First the product users, then the customers, who act in a completely different context. Just as in product design HCD works in the technical domain as a representative of the users, with engineers, programming, and industrial design, they work with marketing and sales to support human-centered communication and customer relations. Because a lot of what would be allowed in marketing and sales is not allowed in human-centered design. There are different professions that must work together as a team. This in turn could be the reason why many agencies now hire user experience experts to handle this task. UX as well as CX are interrelated parts of human centered design and are used by user experience designers for different roles at different times. From this perspective, NNG's statement is too short-sighted when they say that CX and UX are synonymous, because it could be inferred that, for example, interior designers already place the furniture, although the house is not even planned yet. And it goes even further: the entirety of CX as a superordinate model for the design of systems, touchpoints or all relationships between people and companies, falls apart in the LOB /B2B area, when customers and users are usually really completely different people. A systematic approach to HCD also works for these users... but the interaction/journey/relationship narrative does not work at all for this context.
In summary, we note that it is misleading to use the term CX to describe the most general, comprehensive level of a person's relationships with different products, processes, services, or with systems, because then outsiders interpret that CX is "more comprehensive" than anything else - which it precisely is not. They tend to think (and this has happened a lot lately) that CX doesn't have to follow rules and ethical considerations, that CX doesn't have to be human-centric (because it's already "customer-centric"). So it's all a matter of context. And yes, CX is very important in certain contexts - namely when users are in that specific "customer" role. But the big picture is not CX, it's the human-centered design approach with the most holistic understanding of services, systems, products, etc. Simply saying "but by CX we mean this" is not helpful at all, but dangerous! It dilutes the professional field and the tasks of professionals from the environment of human-centered design & UX, it leaves essential design tasks to a community that neither knows its principles nor the relevant standards or methods. It must be clear to all of us that before someone can become a customer, a lot has to happen to research, innovate, verify, create, design, develop, validate.... and these are all parts of human-centered design!