Is user experience (UX) customer service, or a form of customer service?

I recently suggested to an anthropology and sociology student that they consider UX as a potential career industry. Here’s how it has played out.

Back in January, I noticed this student on my LinkedIn “who you might know” feed and wanted to connect with the intention of inquiry where he plans to go in his career, simply out of curiosity. I honestly thought that anthropology and sociology were very strong backgrounds from which to build a career in user experience. So, I did connect.

I sent a message to my new LinkedIn friend to inquire about his plans. I was very clear that I was curious how he planned to use his degree. Surprisingly, he replied. His response was impressive — it was clear he had really thought about what he wanted to do. For him, his years in customer service made sociology a natural fit, stating that he excelled at identifying needs and helping people discover things they may need in the future. His plans, overall, were to become a customer service consultant or a recruiter.

I was really impressed. His response was solid, with just the right amount of aspiration, ambition, and room for evolution. Someone like that could benefit the UX industry in so many ways, because they have users [customers] at heart and allow that to drive their direction. He was goal oriented, focused, and approaching his career with directed agility. I wanted to reveal an industry he hadn’t considered, because it could potentially change his entire career path.

In response, I wrote the following:

“I work in an industry called User Experience. I personally don’t have psychology or sociology training, but I find those fascinating, for similar reasons to what you’ve listed.

I think you should consider branding your skills, knowledge, and passion to include user experience. I’m personally finding that the UX industry is huge in certain parts of the country, and it’s only growing.

I’m also seeing a merge from the digital design and development realm into more of the business intelligence, customer service focused realm. You don’t have to be a designer or developer to be in UX, you just have to love making things right for customers.

In the case of website design and development, UX practitioners are responsible for making sure the customer is central to the design process; the user always comes first. And, when things have already been built or implemented (websites, IVR call systems, etc), UX gets to troubleshoot and optimize those channels to increase customer satisfaction, which is obviously tied to business goals and revenue.”

I hadn’t heard from my new friend till I received another LinkedIn message yesterday. It was refreshing to know that this guy had not dismissed the idea of UX, and actually continued to pursue more understanding of UX as it relates to where he had planned to go.

His response was prefaced with the desire to understand better how UX and sociology can work together. His research has lead him to understand the technical side of things, progressing from front-end and back-end to the final result. He is right, in that much of the user experience optimizing may involve the technical and creative side of things. However, there are people who identify and plan ways to optimize that increase business ROI before the site or project is handed to designers and developers.

In closing, he asked:

“So would you say UX is a form of customer service or is it customer service?”

Man. What a great question. This has been one of my favorite conversations regarding UX yet. I thought about it over the last day or so and finally replied. Here’s what I said:

“Great question! I’d say UX is a form of customer service. In UX, the users of something are key to goals of the project, product, service, or task. That means that you could cover the gamut of customer experience, from before they encounter the product or service (when it is being designed for them) all the way to after they’ve tried it and formed an opinion based on their experience. You could fit in anywhere in that process if you have users (customers) at heart.

I believe UX can be addressed everywhere you look. And I also believe that UX is in direct support of customer satisfaction.

If a customer walks up to the Kmart service desk, some aspect of their shopping, buying, and searching tasks will be revealed in their request for assistance. Where UX is probably different [from in store customer service] is in the scope of things that can be addressed, which includes a more creative process than [traditional] customer service typically covers. Trying to fix the interactions online, for instance, is more than likely out of a customer service associate’s hands. Or even the ease of reaching items on the shelf (though that probably encroaches into the merchandising field).

I’m really glad you’ve been curious enough to look into UX in relation to customer service. The more you understand about UX, the better you can think through creative solutions to customer service problems…. and the more of an asset you could become to a company.”

I wanted to share this experience with my readers because it has inspired me. I appreciate genuine interest and curiosity in user experience and love to understand how UX intertwines into things we are already familiar with. I also hope to possibly make a small impact in what should be an amazing career for this future graduate. Sharing information, and the passion that allows the discovery of information, is core to my purpose.