Let’s Park The Semantics Of ‘Customer Experience’ Or ‘User Experience’

Human resources, CRM and social media concept - officer choose person represented by icon.

Is it “customer experience” or “user experience”? What’s the difference? In this opinion piece Michelle Gilmore, Design Director and Founder at Neoteny examines the distinction between the two.

I’ve been asked a seemingly simple question one too many times of late, it comes in a few varieties:

  1. ‘What’s the difference between user and customer experience?’
  2. ‘Should we call our team user of customer experience?’
  3. ‘Should I be a user and customer experience designer?’
  4. ‘Do I need a user or customer experience designer for this project/in my team?’


My answer is varied also, it has short and long form versions, some direct and others resembling late night rants, depending on my frame of mind at the time. Here’s my position on this trending and therefore concerning topic of discussion…

At an academic level, the distinction is clear:

  • Customer experience – refers to the response that a direct consumer of a product or service has during or after an interaction
  • User experience – refers to the response that any user (internal or external) of a product or service has during or after an interaction

The difference is customer experience refers to only customers. User experience is inclusive of all users, be they customers, internal staff members and/or third parties.

The difference is not one to be made at a job title level – if you’re (a designer or product manager) only advocating for the customer, you’re forgetting about the people who will actually development, maintain and evolve the product or service. Dangerous at best.

The difference is not to be made at a business unit level – a customer experience unit creates the same problems that any internal facing vertical silo does, customers don’t live alone, without interaction with brands, their assets and staff. Customers live out in the world, just like you and I and they interact with you and your staff. Thinking about them in isolation to the internal operations of the business is just naive and inefficient.

We used customer experience because we needed to get organisations to think about the customer and make their experiences a priority. They have not only done that, they’ve over corrected and now think that a customer experience department or philosophy will save them or give them a competitive advantage. It won’t.

  • How about we park the semantics and get on with created and improving on great products and services for those who own, work within and use them?
  • How about we use an evidence and objective approach to make decisions and include all user types throughout product and service development stages?
  • How about we start to be taken seriously by the business world because we can show results, rather than get caught up in label debates?


Latest News

Blue 449 Launches New Campaign For Chivas  “Success Is A Blend”
  • Campaigns
  • Media

Blue 449 Launches New Campaign For Chivas “Success Is A Blend”

Blue 449 has launched a new paid media campaign called Success is a Blend for Chivas Regal, the original luxury blended Scotch whisky. This through the line campaign celebrates the belief that blended is better, in life and in Scotch. Chivas’ faith in blending was instilled by founding brothers, James and John Chivas, who pioneered […]

The Australian Unveils Fourth Edition Of The Deal For Emerging Female Leaders
  • Media

The Australian Unveils Fourth Edition Of The Deal For Emerging Female Leaders

The Australian has today published its fourth annual edition of The Deal focused on emerging female leaders, in association with Chief Executive Women (CEW). The issue showcases successful women while asking some challenging questions. The Deal editor Helen Trinca said: “Women have achieved so much, even if there is more to do, and there is […]

Shake The Cage Cup Submissions Open
  • Media

Shake The Cage Cup Submissions Open

Didn't have much like on the recent Melbourne Cup? Well, why not turn your attention to the Shake The Cage Cup instead?