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Clearing up confusion about personas and how they impact customer journey design

5th Apr 2019

Having robust customer personas is of even greater importance today because customer journeys are getting increasingly complex. So what do you need to know about personas?

Over the past few years I have had numerous conversations with people about the importance of personas. Many people have told me they don’t really believe in personas and see them as a bit of fluffy fiction, dreamt up by their marketing colleagues sitting around in a morning workshop being ‘creative’.

I want to dispel this myth. Personas, if done properly are based on hard cold facts and are composed of research on how your customers interact with you. 

So, I thought it was about time someone clarified some of the confusion that exist around personas and the value they can bring to a business.

So what is a persona?

A persona is the representation of a known cluster of needs, wants, expectations, attitudes, goals, frustrations, motivations and behaviours.  They focus on the human or psychological factors, the things that make people ‘tick’, while also containing some demographic and sociographic information.

They are presented as a single person, couple or family unit brought to life, but represent the synthesis of multiple forms of qualitative and quantitative research about actual customers & how they interact with an organisation.

Personas also take into account the context of the interaction. For example, if I visit a Starbucks, I might be one persona when grabbing my coffee before work & a totally different persona when meeting up with friends there on a weekend. This is because my needs, expectations and behaviours for this experience differ greatly depending on the context of the interaction.

What they are not….

Many people confuse customer segments with personas. Segments are predominantly concerned with demographic information such as age, gender, location, housing and sociographic information such as buying preferences, disposable income, savings, lifestyle and channel /technology usage. So, if we use my Starbucks example, I would only be one segment rather that the two personas I clearly am.

Personas are not based on internal assumptions or biases ‘we just instinctively know our customer’. You need to check your assumptions and biases against the actual experience of your customers by doing research.

They are not a one-off exercise, because your customers and their expectations change over time so your personas will also need to change – it is an iterative process.

And finally, personas are a tool not an exact science. Yes, there is some degree of subjectivity in them, but you mitigate and minimise this by triangulating and validating your research.

How can customer personas help businesses?

Personas bring a human element into the design process. They are a useful way of communicating internally and helping to making clear the motivations that support customer decisions and the experiences that they expect.

They can help you articulate your customers’ needs concisely generating empathy internally for your customers and encourage the adoption of an ‘outside-in’ customer centric perspective.

Because you gain a greater knowledge about your customer’s needs, expectation and behaviours your marketing campaigns can be more effectively targeted leading to a greater ROMI.

Personas can be used with ‘what if?’ scenarios helping you to predict likely behaviours when you are designing products, propositions and experiences.

And they provide focus, because as you can’t design optimal experiences for everyone. Differing personas have different needs and expectations. Yes of course sometimes personas will have common collective needs e.g. buying a book on Amazon, but often the same journey differs depending on the persona they are designed for.

How personas impact customer journeys

Strong and robust personas are the first critical step in creating improved customer experiences. Personas are the building blocks on which customer journeys are developed. The best customer journeys are created by meeting the needs for specific personas, otherwise these journeys risk being too generic and not really meeting anybody’s needs or expectations well. 

So, here are just a few examples of how the same journey would differ depending on the persona they are designed for:

1. Getting help with my mobile phone settings is very different for someone who is:

  • 19 who is brought up with technology and are digitally savvy.
  • 75 who isn’t that comfortable with technology and fears they may do something wrong.

2. Booking a holiday is very different for someone going on a:

  • Honeymoon who wants the trip to be as special, romantic, & magical as possible.
  • Family holiday where the key concerns are available facilities to entertain their children, because if my children are happy, I’m happy.

3. Buying a private health care procedure, the motivations for doing this would be very different for a:

  • Working person needs to get treatment scheduled around their business commitments.
  • Retiree who needs to get their treatment done more quickly than on the NHS to improve their quality of life.

4. In a business-to-business environment you may want to look at your personas by:

  • Size of business.
  • Market position.  
  • Seniority of contact.    
  • New or existing customer.   
  • Job role - Decision maker/buyer or user of goods/services.   

Creating a persona in three stages

Whenever I’m working on creating personas, I go through a three-stage process.

Stage 1

I review an organisation’s existing research especially their voice of the customer research to understand what customers are currently saying about their experiences and interactions with an organisation. 

I also spend time with frontline staff (retail staff, contact centre staff and field engineers) as they are a good proxy for the customer since they are dealing with them on a daily basis. They have a deep understanding of the types of differing customers they deal with, what their expectations are, how they behave and the causes of these behaviours.

Stage 2

I undertake ethnographic research conducting qualitative research because what customers say they do and what they actually do are often not the same thing. This research could include some of the following methods: observing customers in store, at home or in a business setting; one on one face-to-face interviews, focus groups, call listening, online diaries, persona immersions and telephone interviews.

Equipped with this knowledge and insight I create an initial draft persona taking into account all the information I have gathered in both stages.

Stage 3

I test my draft persona by undertaking some quantitative research with those customers matching the persona profile to either validate or refute the draft developed. You need to get about 50+ responses for each persona you have designed. Then I use the outputs from the research to further refine the personas. This helps to build confidence within the business that the proposed personas are solid and are a strong basis on which to build customer journeys and lifecycles.

In conclusion, having robust personas are of even greater importance today because customer journeys are getting increasingly more complex and spanning an ever increasing number of touchpoints. By truly understanding the customers you are designing for, you can create better experiences, products and services that will truly engage them and meet their emotional needs.


Replies (2)

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By LinkedIn Group Member
05th Apr 2019 11:38

This comment posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Gail Meintjies:

This is a great read! I can understand why personas and segments may be confused at times. Segments refer to age and lifestyle among others, and personas incorporate behavior and expectations. Even in some of the examples used in this article, you can see where they may overlap slightly. The age and lifestyle of an elderly person setting up a phone compared to the same of a younger person, would also influence their behavior and expectations.
Really was insightful this, especially the three steps set out clearly on how to put these personas together.

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
08th Apr 2019 12:27

I tend to disagree: its precisely the complexity that means you must not depend on categorisations like this beyond the qualitative. as for clusters, having worked with agglomeration schedules and cluster-factor analysis I can assure you this is not a science. Critically, a dependency on stats like this, omits the importance of interpretation (what could we do), behaviour in the real world (we do X and what happens), and where things are heading. I suggest reviewing Cynefin and Vectors. IMHO

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