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The Key Differences Between a Customer Journey and a Workflow

Workflows and customer journeys provide the foundation for effective automation. Both of these help you streamline your internal processes, and create more cohesive, personalized customer experiences. As the Implementation Manager at GreenRope, a cloud-based complete CRM platform, one of the most common questions I hear is, “What is the difference between a workflow and a customer journey?” 

While the two can accomplish similar goals, there are some key differences that are important when deciding when to use each tool. Understanding these differences helps you better plan your automation strategy.

What is a Workflow? 

A workflow is a sequence of actions and/or activities that happen in a pre-defined sequence. A workflow consists of any number of automated touchpoints, such as:

  • Assigning a follow up
  • Updating contact data in a contact record
  • Starting, pausing, or stopping a journey
  • Charging a contact’s credit card on file
  • Sending emails and/or alerts
  • Delivering SMS/MMS messages
  • Emailing documents

A workflow is the recipe for automation. You have a plethora of ingredients you can use to create the perfect meal. 

What is a Customer Journey?

A customer journey is the path your contacts take throughout the buyer’s lifecycle. A customer journey is designed to take your contacts from point A to point B in your funnel. You can look at the customer journey as a whole, and then as micro-journeys, which are personalized paths based on customer demographic data and behavior. A customer journey consists of the following: 

  • Actions: Sending an email, triggering a workflow, adding a person to a particular segment/group, or removing them from a segment and/or group.
  • Decisions: Using true/false logic to help determine the next step in the customer journey.
  • Delays: Waiting for something to happen before determining the next action.
  • Stops: Ending the journey is important for proper tracking. The end of a journey is just as important as the beginning. 

Decisions are what really set a journey apart from any other automation. Your decision points determine what happens next in a customer journey. Some examples of common decision point use cases include: 

  • If a person read/clicked on the previous email
  • If a person confirmed a signup form submission
  • If a user field is or contains specific data
  • If a person is a member of a specific group/segment
  • If a person visited a specific tracked webpage
  • If a person answered a survey

These are just some of the most common decision points that are available to you within a journey. Depending on whether each is true or false sends the contact on a completely different path, which is why it’s such a versatile tool. Each true/false decision point helps customize the customer experience.

Customer journeys are designed for customer facing processes, while workflows are created to define your internal processes.

Below are 6 differences between the two that will help you determine when to use a workflow and when to use a customer journey. 

6 Key Differences between Customer Journeys & Workflows

Key Difference #1: Guideline vs. Process

A customer journey explains the possible paths a lead or customer can take. It is more of a guideline, rather than a strict process. 

A workflow defines a preset process that happens consistently whenever that workflow is triggered. 

Key Difference #2: Customer-facing vs. Internal

A customer journey is a customer-facing tool used to deliver better customer experiences.

A workflow defines and streamlines internal processes. 

Key Difference #3: Varied Path vs. Linear

A customer journey has twists and turns depending on demographic or behavioral data.

A workflow process is linear and proceeds in a sequence determined by actions or pre-defined business rules. 

Key Difference #4: Triggering Processes vs. Assigning Actions

A customer journey does not assign specific tasks to people. Instead, it can trigger workflows, which in turn can trigger specific processes. 

A workflow assigns specific actions, such as a follow up, to specific people within your organization. 

Key Difference #5: Marketing & Sales vs. Operations

Customer journeys are primarily designed by marketers and by sales for lead nurturing efforts. 

Workflows are used across all departments and include a number of different use cases from sending invoices, quotes, updating contact data, assigning activities, and more. 

Key Difference #6: Path vs. Actions

A customer journey is tailored to a particular customer. It cannot on its own accomplish much of what a workflow can. Instead, a workflow can be triggered to further personalize and streamline the customer journey.

A workflow can be effective on its own as a standalone process, or can make up part of the customer journey. The two are not interchangeable.

While customer journeys and workflows are both critical elements of automation, there are fundamental differences between the two. It is important to understand these differences, so you strategize your automation effectively. 


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