Why it's important to differentiate between Customer Journeys and User Journeys

Hands-up, I've done it numerous times in the past. I've referred to a 'User' incorrectly instead of a 'Customer', and vice-versa. I suppose the first question people ask is "What's the difference?", followed by something along the lines of "Who cares, surely it's just semantics... isn't it?"

Part of the problem is simply semantics, but there are certain scenarios when there is a real need to clearly define the difference between a 'User' and a 'Customer' because failure to do so can impact the understanding of their environment, behaviours and thought process.

A key example of this is when we start to create journeys of how we expect someone to complete a particular task, event or moment across a range of screens, devices or human touchpoints across a varying timescale. Within the world of Customer Experience (read our blog about 'What is CX') and User Experience (UX), we should always look to clearly distinguish between a Customer Journey and a User Journey.

Customer Journeys - used in CX

A customer journey – or ‘Experience Map’ to give it its specific title – is where we start to understand (via various types of quantitative and qualitative research) and plot a customer's complete involvement in how they interact with the product or service across many digital and human touchpoints (e.g. from researching a product on a desktop, to buying via their mobile and phoning a call centre to make a claim).

Via a high-level holistic view, we highlight the entire moment, plotting customer’s behaviours, the emotions they'll be feeling at different stages, the interaction type (whether digital and/or human), any personal drivers to complete the task, a summary of key interactions with the brand and relevant milestones, and how they'll be served once they've purchased a product.

Customer journeys shouldn't include specifics about the low-level detail of the various screens they'll navigate through to complete a specific task. This is defined through user journeys.

These journeys/maps conceptualise how someone is going to interact with the proposed product/service, and ultimately start to understand what would trigger this engagement. This is a living document and remains relevant right through the project.

Did you know, here at Answer Digital we have a dedicated Experience Design (XD) service? Called 'XD by AD', we work with companies of all sizes offering dedicated UX, CX & Service Design and Design Sprint expertise to help design great experiences and moments across digital and non-digital touch-points.

Experience great experiences. Read more about XD by AD >

User Journeys - used in UX

A user journey is where we start to document the details of how we want people to complete a specific key task within a specific situation, such as documenting the steps in how a user can get a car insurance quote by entering some personal details. These user journeys detail the objectives of each page/step, key features & functionality to aid completion of the page, design hypothesis, user assumptions being made (which we then validate at a later stage with users, if not already done so - read our UX blog on different ways to conduct evaluative research), any technical considerations, brief sketch of the page and ideally a reference to relevant user stories.

You'll create many user journeys within a project because these are isolated diagrams that purely focus on how to complete one specific key task identified. Of course there are times when you need to consider the impact of how a user navigates seamlessly from one task to another but this isn't the role of a user journey. That role is performed by User Flows (created before user journeys), which helps to represent a key summary of the flow between all pages in completing the large amount of varying tasks.

User journeys are typically defined and created before wireframing, and are ideally informed following formative research

Once user journeys have been created, these help speed up the wireframe creation phase because we would have already gone through the thought process of understanding the main objective of the page, the key tasks someone is looking to complete, key features & functionality wanted by the users and what user stories should be reflected.

We work with clients across Health, Retail, Payments and Finance, where customer journeys/experience maps help shape and visualise the proposition, whilst the user journeys play a key role within the project to define the experience and help deliver a truly customer-centric solution.

More CX and UX blogs

What is Customer Experience (CX)

Read more about our Propositional Development offering, where CX plays a key part >

How our Experience Design team are shaping the future of payments

Proving success by defining benchmarks

The different ways to gather evaluative feedback

Let's catch-up to discuss more...

If you want to hear more about how our Experience Design expertise (whether that be CX/Service Design or UX) can help your business to deliver great experiences for your customers, then contact our Principal Experience Design Designer, Andy Wilby, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 07595 878876.

About the Author...

Andy has been an Experience Design professional for over 13 years, responsible for solving problems within UX, Service Design and Design Sprint roles. Companies he's worked for include HSBC, Aviva, NHS, Bupa, Co-op and Government agencies to name a few. Previous to joining Answer Digital, he was a Lead UX at Aviva for a 45-strong team of designers. His passion is working with clients to help solve complicated problems through beautifully simple experiences marrying business and customer needs.