Customer Journeys vs User Journeys: Why it's important to differentiate

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 physical touchpoints, within a varying timescale. Within the world of Customer Experience ('What is CX') and User Experience (UX), we should always look to clearly distinguish between a Customer Journey and a User Journey.


Customer Journeys vs User Journeys

Customer Journeys – used within Customer Experience (CX)

A customer journey – otherwise known as an ‘Experience Map’ – is used within the context of CX, which is about designing for the behaviours, emotions and environment of humans across digital and physical touchpoints. An Experience Map is typically created to represent a complete end-to-end view of all connections that someone has with a business or organisation, across all relevant touchpoints.

The Experience Map is a holistic view, specifically focusing on:

  • Plotting the customer’s behaviours
  • Their environment
  • The emotions they'll be feeling at different stages
  • The different goals they have
  • The interaction type – whether digital and/or physical
  • Any triggers to complete the goal
  • And how they'll be served at key milestones across the end-to-end experience

This information is typically based on formative research and the deep understanding of your customers, highlighting what they need (and why) and the current underserved need in the existing offering end-to-end experience.

Once you know the behaviours of the targeted customers and what they need – and have defined the complete end-to-end view of the existing offering – the Experience Map should also reference any proposed improvements or new propositions in connecting with customers to meet the identified underserved need. Based on the severity of the underserved need – aligned to the relevant touchpoints – this will help form prioritisation of what areas of the end-to-end experience should be improved first.

Customer journeys shouldn't include specifics about the low-level detail of the various screens a customer would navigate through to complete a specific task. This is the low level detailed for a specific touchpoint, defined through User Journeys as part of UX activities within a specific project.


Customer Journeys vs User Journeys

User Journeys – used in User Experience (UX)

User Journeys are used specifically within UX. User journeys are created to represent the low level detail of how we're proposing users navigate each page/step within the completion of identified common tasks, in relation to a specific product (such as a responsive website, native app, business system). 

This low-level detail within a user journey includes:

  • Documenting objectives of each page/step
  • Key features & functionality to aid task completion
  • Design hypothesis
  • User assumptions being made (which are then validated at a later stage)
  • Any technical considerations
  • Brief sketch of the page
  • 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) – read more about 'The benefits of User Flows' – which helps to represent a key summary of the flow between all pages in completing the large amount of varying tasks within the context of one product.

User journeys (and flows) 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.

You may also be interested in...

What is Customer Experience (CX)

The benefits of User Flows and why they remain an important artefact to create

How our Experience Design team are shaping the future of payments

About the Author

Andy Wilby has been an Experience Design professional for over 14 years, responsible for solving key business problems of all sizes. 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 simple experiences, marrying business and customer needs.

If you want to hear more about how our Experience Design expertise 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.

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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.