UX vs. CX: What’s the Dif? Part 2

Nov 20, 2015

In honor of World Usability Day, which happened on November 12, we’d like to demystify two extremely important and oft-confusing acronyms—CX and UX. Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX), while related, focus on different aspects of service delivery.

The New Landscape

Venn diagram shows that User Experience (U X) is a part of Customer Experience (C X).

We first discussed this issue in the summer of 2014, in our UX vs. CX article, but a lot has changed in this space across government in the past year or so.

  • The White House has taken a number of steps to improve government customer service, including:
    • Issuing a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal to deliver world-class customer services to citizens by making it faster and easier for individuals and businesses to complete transactions and have a positive experience with government;
    • Standing up a new Social and Behavioral Sciences Team to translate findings and methods from the social and behavioral sciences into improvements in federal policies and programs;
    • Creating the U.S. Digital Service to use the best of product design and engineering practices to transform the way government works.
  • Though the DigitalGov UX program (and its roots as the First Fridays Usability Program) has sadly gone away, GSA’s 18F team is helping agencies adopt agile design and testing methods to speed delivery and improve customer interactions with government. (The program may have ended, but the usability case studies and Usability Starter Kit are still very much alive!)
  • Finally, the government UX and CX communities continue to grow. The UX community now has almost 800 people, and the CX community has grown to over 500 members since it launched in April 2015.

Exploring the Terms

Like the pronunciation of “gif” [1] —you should be skeptical of anyone who is TOO confident about the “right” or “only” definition of CX vs. UX. Though it can be a great conversation-starter, it’s usually most helpful to talk specifically about how organizations implement these two disciplines to improve customer service.

UX can mean many things—sometimes narrow in terms of tools, sometimes broader to mean all audience-related info and services. The UX community includes user researchers, designers, marketers, content creators, and strategists. Common discussion topics include accessibility, UI design, research techniques, tools, and the endless search for precedent (Has anyone successfully used heatmapping? Do we have a case study about the value of user testing?)

CX is generally broader—often synonymous with service design, and frequently involves more general user research activities like journey mapping and personas, but often not product-specific ones like usability tests. CX is an emerging discipline, particularly in government, with many agencies in the early stages of implementing program- or agency-wide customer experience initiatives. Several agencies now have a Chief Customer Officer, responsible for the overall experience the public has with agency programs and services.

Defining the Disciplines

Dictionary entry for the word, experience.


Every agency across the federal government has embraced UX and CX in different ways. At some agencies, user-centeredness is the currency in which people work, and everyone wants more of it. There is a growing interest in “user research.” Service design, or CX, looks at the entire experience, and narrows to UX when discussing UI elements. But even when the talk is more about research activities than spending time classifying these activities, they’re all about user-centricity, no matter which term you use.

For example, at GSA, our Customer Team helps program offices learn to approach their work from a customer perspective. Over the past year, GSA hired a Chief Customer Officer and staffed up a Customer Team that has worked with teams across GSA to study and re-engineer countless programs and processes to improve the experience. One notable accomplishment includes journey-mapping the employee onboarding experience, to ensure new employees have everything they need to start their career off right.

Get Involved!

CX and UX are everywhere in government now. However you define them, agencies are making huge strides to improve our products and services, making it easier for citizens and businesses to work with us. Both the UX and CX communities offer content and training to help you improve the customer experience at your agency. Check out these resources:

How has your agency embraced CX and UX? Tell us in the comments.

Thanks to members of the UX and the CX communities for their contributions to this article.


  1. CNN, By Doug Gross. n.d. “It’s Settled! Creator Tells Us How to Pronounce ‘GIF.’” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/22/tech/web/pronounce-gif/