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User Experience: Part of a Much Larger Whole

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Too many consultancies and agencies equate Customer Experience Management (CEM) with User Experience. They are not the same.

User Experience, or "Usability," is focused on the interface discipline of CEM. It is used primarily in reference to the analysis, design, and/or development of human-to-technology interfaces. Some examples:

  • Visual, navigation and informational Web design
  • Interactive applications with decision trees (e.g., register, search)
  • Easy-to-use interfaces for complex technical systems
  • Product designs for devices (wireless, PDA, iPod)
  • Information and visual design within devices (game, DVR, computer)

User Experience is an important part of CEM, but like Experiential Marketing, it's a part of a much larger whole. User Experience architects focus on creating functional, intuitive interfaces (online or systems applications and technological devices) that enable customer interaction and transaction. CEM practitioners focus on the comprehensive interaction of customers in both online and offline channels.

Contrary to popular belief, User Experience is both an art and a science that requires a complex array of skills. Individuals who "do" usability can't possibly embody all those skills—although if you find any rare individuals who do, you should pay them a mint!

Dave Rogers of gotomedia recently wrote an excellent item about this in the gotoreport. Many of us will connect with Dave's frustration. To complement his article, here's just a sampling of the functional roles that might found on a more complex user experience project:

  • Business owner/manager
  • Business specialist(s) (e.g., marketing, merchandising, departmental)
  • Business analyst
  • Product manager
  • Project manager
  • Information architect
  • Content manager
  • Taxonomist
  • Creative director
  • Interactive designer
  • Graphic/visual designer
  • Product designer
  • Production artist
  • Writer
  • Programmers (interactive: Flash, Javascript, XML, AJAX, etc.)
  • Programmers (systems: complex array of custom and out-of-the-box systems)
  • Usability analyst(s)
  • Testing manager(s)
  • Testers (unit, system, client, platform, users)


While it might be natural for any individual to assume 2-5 of those roles, many of you feel the pain of being asked to manage many—or all—of the roles outlined above on your own, or within a limited internal team.

My advice to you: Keep educating your company about the nature of user experience with articles like this one. Be sure to tangibly demonstrate the results and forge ahead! Fortunately (job security) and unfortunately (you may have no life!), this isn't likely to get much easier.

The demand for user experience professionals is likely to increase. Here's why:

  1. Electronic channels are being integrated into traditional channels with increased frequency. As a result, usability professionals are instrumental in helping us become more proficient and creative about how we use them.

    From increased integration of coupons, kiosks, wireless promotion... we'll see more folks with traditional usability expertise being drawn into the broader CEM discussions. For example, the kiosk design team may be included in discussions on how to optimize kiosk use with in-store placement and visual positioning.

  2. Companies are beginning to apply more concentration on creating a more "seamless" customer experience across channels. Collectively, this will force an increased demand for individuals with expertise in mapping out comprehensive experiences and designing interactions. This is a much-needed skill that must be applied within, and across, traditional channels in order to effectively track and streamline the larger customer experience.

  3. User experience resources are accustomed to a customer-centric design bias (vs. business centric bias). They are therefore more familiar with behavioral customer dynamics—in addition to channel dynamics—and greatly suited to helping design interactions from a customer-centric perspective.

  4. A growing awareness within companies for the need for user experience staff will drive increased hiring capability. This is already visible in the job market today, as increasing numbers of user-experience job descriptions present themselves. The ongoing challenge will be to get the position descriptions correct. As Dave points out in his article, most companies expect way too much from a single resource.

As consumers continue to adopt new technology, and use technologically driven channels for interaction and transaction, user experience (human-to-technology) competency will continue to be a critical factor in driving effective customer experience. This is especially true as technology continues to evolve and devices begin to mature and converge, generating entirely new products and services for consumers.

Usability, as a part of CEM, will work to ensure technologically driven customer interfaces meet customer need, while additional attention will be focused by CEM practitioners on streamlining, synchronizing, and improving holistic customer experiences across online and offline channels.


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Leigh Duncan Durst (leigh at livepath dot net) is a 20-year veteran of marketing, e-commerce, and business and the founder of Live Path (www.livepath.net).

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