An interview with OutSystems Strategic Product Manager, Menno Cramer

Back in 2014, Forbes published an article about customer experience titled, “Customer Experience is the New Battleground,” setting the stage for a regular cadence of similarly-titled stories from then until now. Each new iteration touts the latest shiny digital experience as being the new battleground for winning and keeping customers.

But the term “customer experience” (CX) is relatively new, and it is often used synonymously with “user experience” (UX). With the trend in the app dev industry toward platforms that aggregate development efforts regardless of the endpoint (employee, partner, or customer), we thought it time to revisit the terminology and make some sense of it, at least from an OutSystems perspective.

We caught up with OutSystems Strategic Product Manager, Menno Cramer, a veteran of low-code who also holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Design, and asked him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say about the history of CX and UX and what the terms mean in today’s low-code development vernacular.

Q. Let’s start with Customer Experience 101. If I’m a developer suddenly tasked with developing the front-end for a new employee app, where do I start?

Cramer: The genesis of modern-day design theory started with Don Norman and his book, “The Design of Everyday Things,” published in 1988. It wasn’t industry specific; he talked about door handles and building architecture a lot. Norman didn’t apply his ideas to consumer electronics until he went to work for Apple as a “User Experience Architect.” It was his belief that people didn’t make mistakes while using products (for example, pulling on a door handle when you should have pushed); products that were used improperly were the fault of the designer who either didn’t design them correctly or who failed to document their proper use.

A good starting point for anyone interested in designing for a good user experience would be Norman’s book. However, it’s a good source only for the philosophy of design. It’s not going to teach you how to build app screens or educate you on ISO standards. Where you used to only need to know a couple of programming languages to make a good living developing software, now it involves a series of steps requiring expertise that no single person can be expected to master. If you are already a developer, you probably focus on a specific area, so trying to suddenly “pick up” a field of study as broad as user experience design is going to be very difficult.

From a “where does UX live in the software development lifecycle today” standpoint, it is seen more as the design and prototyping phases of the development process, coming just after the research phase and before UI.

But, this is getting into the weeds, probably more than you want for this discussion. The core of UX is really about cracking the nut of this question: How I can help someone successfully complete a task? The customer experience is about how they feel about it when they are done.

Q. This sounds like the “user experience” is a process, while the “customer experience” is a feeling.

Cramer: [smiling 72%] Yes and no. It depends on whether you are talking about designing for “user experience” or about someone using the product and their experience while doing it. To be good at the former, you have to understand the latter, which is a little bit of “chicken or egg” because how can you know how someone feels about using something until you have built it?

Imagine you want to order from Uber Eats for the first time, and I tell you I had a really bad experience with them yesterday—the order was late or whatever. My experience would affect how you perceive the service, their brand, and your willingness to try it.

None of that had anything to do with how their mobile app was built, but it would influence whether I try it, probably with a negative connotation already coloring my experience. Any additional issue I have while interacting with the brand will compound this negative impression, while a positive first overall experience will likely only serve to balance out my feelings about it.

If you, as a designer, do UX properly, you shouldn’t be thinking only about the product. You should also be thinking about users holistically, taking into account not just the moment in time when they are using your app, but all of their recent experiences leading up to using the app. Maybe my bad perception of Uber Eats was based on the act that I hadn’t had lunch, so Uber Eats was a convenient option for meal delivery while I kept working, and I was really counting on it. Maybe I had a headache. Maybe I like green and hate yellow. It doesn’t matter. We’re all human beings with our own quirks, and you need to design for them to successfully achieve their task, goal, or desire.

Q. Then what’s the difference between a “user” experience and a “customer” experience” when it’s not about the design process?

Cramer: Okay, we just talked about how you have to design an app with all of these different human characteristics in mind. Let’s say then that you, as an app developer—along with your team—have done this, and it’s time to test out how well you did it.

Let’s assume you developed a rideshare service app. Again, it’s something most of us have some familiarity with. Put yourself in the mind of a person using it now. To get the car to come pick you up, you have to open your smartphone rideshare app and enter your requirements (the size of the vehicle, the time to be picked up, and so on). A well-designed app will quickly let you know that your request was received and confirmed.

Now you’re waiting for the car to show up, and maybe you end up having to look for it because you’re on a one-way street. After you’ve found and got in, you look around and notice the interior of the car. Is it clean? Does it smell good? If you’re lucky, you got one of those drivers you see pictures of on Instagram who provides snacks. Maybe the driver, aware of various food allergies, didn’t include nut-based snacks. How thoughtful.

You’re still in the car, and the driver is doing everything possible to get you where you’re going, quickly, but safely. Finally, you get there, and you pay for the ride via the app (hopefully the transaction processes quickly and you give the driver a nice tip). You get out, and the car pulls away.

Thinking back on the whole experience, perhaps the app was a little slow to identify nearby drivers due to spotty Wi-Fi. Your first thought is, “Well that wasn’t great,” and you give it two stars. Maybe the driver was too chatty, so you might rate that experience three stars; although the car was clean—smelled like coconut and reminded you of that quiet little weekend at São Miguel—and overall was very roomy, so you give that experience five stars.

There were probably a dozen different, individual “user” experiences there—a dozen unique interaction points. When you put data scientists together with UX designers, you look at these points and their analytics: behavior flow, ease of use, login attempts, session length, time spent on a particular screen, or total time spent in the app. You factor these into your goals, which could be to keep users in an app, as in the case of something like a streaming music app. In the case of the rideshare app, you probably want users to get in and out of your app, or at least certain parts of your app, as quickly as possible since they are likely busy at work or are trying to get ready to go somewhere.

The “customer” experience is the sum of all of these smaller user experiences the designers so painstakingly created together. That’s the definition at least. Putting a total score on it is much more difficult.

That wraps up part one of this question-and-answer session about customer experience and user experience. For the second part of this interview, click here

In the meantime, why don’t you check out the OutSystems platform's personal edition? It’s free. Always will be.