Defining Digital: Differentiating Between CX and UX

Mandy Dols
September 12, 2023
5 min read
This blog post was also contributed to by Lead Content Strategist Theresa Sintetos.

The 2021 Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government took the conversation around Customer Experience (CX) in the Federal space to a new level, building on initiatives such as the creation of the USDS and officially establishing CX and specific CX initiatives as a priority across government agencies. On August 23rd, the Digital Services Coalition brought together a panel of experts in a virtual discussion titled “Defining Digital: UX vs CX” to recount their journey so far and dig into what CX really means in a government context, whether it’s important to differentiate it from UX, how we can measure impact, and anticipated trends for the near future.

UX vs. CX in the Federal Space

In a commercial context, CX typically refers to the experience a purchaser of a product or service has through their interactions with a company. In the government context, this definition extends to anyone who has a need to interact with a government entity and any touchpoint they may interact with.

“In government, we aren't talking about the experience of someone who's buying something. You know, the customers of a [government] organization are those whose needs the organization is trying to satisfy through maintaining, building, or updating products and service, that are not for sale, but their services and products that are really kind of entitled for people paying public through taxes,” said Lashanda Hodge, COE at GSA, Managing Director CX and Contact Center,  during the panel discussion hosted on August 23.  

“The definition that we generally use in government is the sum of all the interactions that customers have with an organization and the services they provide or enable – again, that enablement is really because it goes through a network of providers – as they try to accomplish their own individual goals.”

This mandate requires federal agency leaders to expand their focus with CX to seamlessly deliver services in both physical and digital contexts and requires agencies to expand their scope beyond just individual digital touchpoints to consider the public user’s entire journey.

Are CX and UX Interchangeable?

While historically many government projects focused on UX, or a single digital touchpoint, as we discussed, this focus is expanding to encompass the full customer experience (CX). The panel discussed why clear terminology is important for alignment and expectation setting, as well as understanding of the scope of responsibility and authority.  

“When we look at definitions, are they really important? When you go from one organization to the next, you are going to get different definitions of the same things. What is important is that those teams in those groups that are partnering and working together have a base definition to work from so that they can perform the activities and do the work that they need to do to accomplish what needs to be done,” said David South, UX Strategy Lead at Mediabarn.  

“What is the goal? What's the point? What are we trying to accomplish? And that's really the most important thing about design, that and really having the discussion, figuring out who are the most important people involved. So, whether you're using the word customer or user, what's the goal? Who are you trying to improve that experience for? What are the outcomes that you're driving towards?” said Mandy Dols, Lead UX Researcher for Softrams.

How Should We Measure Outcomes?

Expanding the definition of who the customer is in a government context also merits a shift in how success and progress are measured. Government agencies are not looking at your typical profit and sales metrics of the commercial space.

During the discussion, panelists brought up the need to develop new frameworks to track agency CX efforts and measure their success.  Indicators of reduced burden to be measured could include:  

  • Reduced cost (spending of government funds)
  • Reduced time spent by members of the public and government employees  
  • Decreased effort to complete a process  
  • Decreased stress and frustration

Any attempts agencies make to increase value to the customer by improving the customer journey across touch points are in service of the greater goal of creating public trust and helping people achieve their purpose with ease.  

“[Trust] is supposed to be kind of like the gold standard. But I think there's so many factors that go into trust, and it's a little bit of a lagging indicator, and so I thought, when we started to work around burden, that is something that can contribute to trust, and it's easier to measure and assess,” said Hodge when asked about measurement.

Hodge goes on to provide an example that she cites often of obtaining housing vouchers versus obtaining housing and emphasized that getting a voucher doesn’t mean that someone has successfully found somewhere to live. Whatever measures CX practitioners track, they should be carefully aligned to desired outcomes.  

Continuing the Conversation

The Digital Services Coalition is continuing this important conversation past the virtual panel held on August 23, to an in-person workshop on Sept 13. Where participants will help draft a working definition, success metrics, and evaluation concepts for both terms.  

For in-person attendance - the workshop is being hosted at:  

2200 Clarendon Blvd, #1401

Arlington, VA 22201

Please arrive by 1:30pm ET

For both in-person and virtual participation sign-up for the workshop here:

Sign up for our newsletter to join our impact-driven mission.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.