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Understanding Your Audience: Customer Experience vs User Experience

28/03/2022
A 7 minute read

Many companies collect customer feedback, but as a client recently asked me – what can we be doing to understand more about those people who have not yet become fully-fledged customers?

User experience (UX) research is one of the best ways to achieve this, acting as the perfect foil to more traditional customer experience (CX) feedback.

In this post, I’ll share a few ideas on how you can gain more insights into prospective customers and their experience of your company in the much earlier stages of the overall customer journey. 

Customer experience (CX) versus user experience (UX) – what’s the difference? 

While CX and UX are both ultimately about creating excellent customer experiences, there are a few differences in how we might think about these two practices.

Customer experience is focused on the quality of experience had by a user who has become a customer (the clue was kind of in the name…). With that, CX is more about the post-transaction experience: satisfaction with the product or services purchased, aftersales support, and the cumulative experience of interacting with a company over time and over, potentially, multiple transactions. 

User experience has a broader scope, encompassing the experience of anyone that interacts with your website or brand, regardless of whether they ultimately do business with you or not. This is obviously an important aspect of the customer lifecycle to pay attention to, given this is where your prospective customers and untapped revenue generation opportunities exist. With CX being more occupied with the post-transaction experience, UX takes a much wider view, looking at overall user journeys, as well as a consumer’s initial interactions, perceptions or even instinctual emotional reactions to your company.  

UX can help you focus on the bigger picture of prospective customers’ needs and behaviours 

Recent research by Harvard Business Review shows companies are most commonly using very structured methods to understand their audiences, with customer surveys (91%), social media listening (82%) and website contact forms (79%) being the most widely adopted methods of capturing feedback.

But, despite being commonly used, businesses also felt these were not the most effective methods for gaining an understanding of what it’s like to be a customer of the organisation. The methods which were felt to be most effective are those which are more exploratory and useful in understanding the wider context of customer needs and motivations: one-on-one interviews, observing user behaviour and product testing – all of which sit right in the UX research sweet spot! 

How UX can help you understand the entire customer journey 

Knowing all of that, here are a couple of examples of how you can deploy UX research to gain insights into your potential customers and overall audience:

  1. Those all-important first impressions 

We all know first impressions count, and UX research has some nifty tools to help you understand what instant reactions customers and targets have when exposed to your company.

This is especially useful for highlighting anything that is acting as a real turn-off or confusing your potential customers. As a recent example: we showed 100 consumers the homepage of an automotive company; after viewing it for five seconds, we asked people what they thought this website did. Over 40% of people surveyed believed the website was that of an insurance company, revealing a fundamental mismatch in the website’s messaging and the audience perception. 

CX and UX - First impressions testing example by Swoon Editions - Evolved Search

A quick UX test like this can easily highlight where the perceptions gap is, making it a great option for whenever you are refreshing your website content or design. It’s also particularly useful in capturing insights into specific audiences. For example, checking your website messaging resonates with women, those with families or any other group you are looking to target (though for this to be effective you do need to be super clear on the audience you’re targeting).

Other UX options for understanding how your proposition lands with your prospective audience include preference tests (getting your audience to critique several versions of specific content/design and let you know which one they like best) and prototype testing (getting feedback from your core audiences to inform decisions while you’re in the design and ideation process).

Truly, a wealth of UX test choices are at your disposal! 

  1. Watch and learn 

Clients often tell me they have spent ages poring over videos of recorded sessions of people using their websites. While this is a good way of spotting errors or sparking ideas for what issues might be affecting users, the fatal flaw with this is you are left wondering “WHY!?” without any commentary or insight into the user’s thought process, it’s difficult to understand what they’re trying to achieve on the website and why they are clicking on certain things. 

CX and UX - what's the difference? Image shows example of Watch and Learn testing - Evolved Search

This is where ‘think aloud’ user testing can be extremely beneficial. This involves giving users a series of fact-finding missions to complete on your website (for example, if you’re John Lewis you might ask people to find a coffee machine for a maximum budget of £400 that can be delivered by next Wednesday).

Users then record themselves going through each mission – with the narration they provide adding crucial insights into what they see on the page, how they find products and what they do when something doesn’t work as they expected.

A client I recently did this with admitted watching the videos was a moment of pure cringe, given it revealed the scale of problems facing users, but this is also why it’s one of the most impactful, and popular, types of UX testing you can do.

Your audience isn’t necessarily you, so you’ll be surprised at how differently your potential customers perceive the site and what they pick up on that you don’t notice at all. 

  1. Speak directly to your audiences 

One-on-one interviews and surveys are some of the typical tools in CX research, but they can easily be repurposed with a UX slant.

Unlike think-aloud testing – which a user will typically do alone – having an experienced research interviewer speak directly to your customers means they can probe much more deeply into different facets of the overall user journey.

This might mean spending time discussing the circumstances and motivations that led them to your company, their thoughts on your competitors, how they search for solutions like yours via Google, and so much more. It can also involve a thorough inspection of your website to watch how users flow between pages and uncover the pain points that exist, giving you great feedback directly related to your website in particular. 

CX and UX research - image shows an example of audience research by Swoon Editions - Evolved Search

Surveys can also be repurposed to capture more UX insight. Most of us will have been emailed a survey to complete from a website a few days after making a purchase, but collecting feedback immediately after purchasing or having a pop-up survey for those who abandon their shopping basket are two ways to capture insights from people at the point they are engaging with your company.

The amount of feedback you capture from an exercise like this is staggering: a recent survey we designed and analysed for a client captured over 1,200 responses in a week. The majority of feedback came from people who were first-time customers, and it highlighted over 30 different things on the website that had nearly stopped users from purchasing – creating one big list of issues to prioritise and fix in the overall user experience! 

CX and UX – the best of friends! 

All companies should be focusing on both CX and UX – one doesn’t trump the other.

Together, CX and UX insights will help you understand your customer and prospects’ experience of your brand, whatever level of interaction they have with you. But, to get closer to those target audiences, UX research offers a whole range of tools and methods that can help you optimise the entire user journey in line with those all-important prospective customers.  

Do you have a strategy in place around UX?

Get in touch with our expert team who can help you better leverage UX research to get into the minds of your potential customers. 

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