In this “Tools of the Trade” series, I focus on commonly used customer experience tools and practices. The series kicked off with empathy mapping, a common yet often misused and misunderstood customer experience (CX) tool that is often confused with personas. Empathy maps are a visual representation of a customer’s thoughts and feelings that make up the customer journey. Customer personas, on the other hand, are intended to be data-informed “stand-ins” for your customer as you consider various aspects of the customer journey. They are one of the most important CX practices that give a voice to your customer when they are not in the room.
The underlying purpose of customer personas is to provide an understanding of customers’ concerns and motivations by putting the company squarely in the shoes of the customer. Unlike empathy maps, where there is a little wiggle room on the use of data, personas should always be based on real customer data and contain detailed representations of different segments of a target audience.
That said, there are no hard and fast rules for what a customer persona should look like. If you saddle up to Google, you’ll find a plethora of guidelines and templates for what to include. Here is an example of a customer persona we created; one we’ve named “Andy.”
Figure 1: Customer Persona Sample
To really nail the effectiveness of your customer personas, there are a few things you should consider:
- MAKE THEM ACTIONABLE
Strong personas are action-oriented. They should also feel relatable, like there is a real human behind the persona. When we created “Andy,” there was a tick list we walked through to achieve what felt like a real person— with real considerations, concerns, and needs.
- Picture them. Give them a name, a photo, and basic demographics— noting that some personal details are more relevant in B2C than B2B.
- Unpack their behavior. Include behavioral drivers such as a customer’s goals and the overall customer journey with your company and its products or services.
- Consider the obstacles. Often, there are pain points or concerns a certain customer may encounter when interacting with your company. Include them so you can start to understand how each segment of customer will react in various situations.
- Mind their mindset. Customers routinely come in with a mindset— with certain expectations and preconceived notions about your company and your products or services. How do you deliver with or against this mindset?
- USE REAL DATA
The best customer personas are based on, or leverage, real-life-relevant, and appropriately sourced data. A persona based on real data is most apt to be accepted for longer-term use and business ROI. You could use something like average revenue for a customer segment or spend or segmentation data, including your competitive set.
- CREATE ENTERPRISE LEVEL PERSONAS
Your organization will almost always have more than one customer type. Identify which ones are core today and potential tomorrow, and then create both. They can be at a segment level, but also an enterprise level. However, it’s essential to make sure they provide enough depth to integrate across key aspects of the business, to ensure it is actionable for various internal teams. This will also ensure everyone is speaking about the same customer type, in the same way.
- KNOW HOW YOU WILL USE IT
Consider how the customer persona will be used. Then, add in the stuff that is appropriate to address those needs. Keep the seemingly irrelevant data details in case you need them later to understand a different part of the customer persona for other parts of your organization. For example, brand marketing may be interested in personality traits for advertising needs, while digital marketing will focus more on media consumption. R&D or innovation teams will look at data related to buyer challenges and shopper data.
- BRING THE CUSTOMER TO THE TABLE
When it comes to customer experience work, it is not usual to hear of organizations leaving a space or “a seat at a table” for their customers. Take it a step further; bring your customer personas into conversations, especially when the personas have a name. Bring a photo or a sign as a reminder— and, as appropriate, refer to them. “What would Andy say?” or “Is this something Andy would like?”
Personas can be basic, or they can be complicated (or somewhere in between). But they should always be a part of your customer experience toolkit. Without them, the CX program risks lacking focus. Next up in the Toolkit series is the well-known and much-loved journey mapping.