Meet Sasha “New MBA” Cruz.
She’s 26 years old, a recent graduate from a top MBA program and about to move across the country for a new position in her high-tech company. And while Sasha’s situation – and her wants, needs and expectations – are real, Sasha isn’t. Because Sasha is a persona.
As a persona, she serves as a stand-in for those customers like her who share common traits and attitudes. Essentially, Sasha’s serving as a “straw model” for a customer segment, where one set of characteristics represents the bigger group. And while she represents a segment, she is a ‘behavioral archetype’ of an individual customer distilled into the description of a person.
Sasha is on my mind, because I’ll be using her to help guide the team of customer experience executives and managers I’ll be working with over the next 2 days in one of the journey mapping workshops we run. And let’s be clear – Sasha is a critical participant in this workshop. Her role is pivotal; to make the target customer clear and easy for everyone to visualize, and help raise understanding to a new level.
The power of personas
Widely used in UX (User Experience) design for years, personas have been an increasingly important part of CX (customer experience) design over the last decade. Essentially, personas have become a standard for customer and user-centered design processes of all kinds – across multiple industries and for a wide-range of objectives, and with good reason.
Simply put, personas drive decisions that take customers' views into account, leading to better customer experiences. They do this by creating a deep understanding of and empathy for customers that so many well-meaning organizations lack.
Not just for journey mapping
Though we’ve been using persona as a design and journey mapping tool for over a decade, their flexibility and power as a driver of insights continues. Just in the last year or so, we’ve helped develop personas for companies in the financial services, retail, construction, software and consumer products industries (among others).
And these personas have been created for a wide range of applications, including journey mapping but always tied to it. We’ve used them to help build sales strategies and improve the employee onboarding process, to improve internal systems and processes and boost customer retention.
Here are a few examples of how organizations have leveraged them to get closer to their customers:
|Client||Persona Description||Business Goals|
|Global Hardware Company||Systems Architects||Drive Sales/Account Penetration|
|Global Software Company||Prospective Employees||Improve New Hire Onboarding|
|National Bank||SMB’s (Small and Medium Size Business Owners)||Business Lines of Credit|
|Regional Credit Union||Retail Banking Customers||New Account Opening|
|Leading Clothing Retailer and Manufacturer||Retail Buyers||Increase Engagement|
Five persona success factors
Creating personas that drive real empathy and insights isn’t easy, nor is it inexpensive. So if you’re going to invest in persona development, make sure the effort is a success. While the list of success factors is a long one, these five are a good place to start
- Represent Real People. Personas serve as a straw model for a customer segment, where one set of characteristics represents the bigger group. At the same time, they need to be distilled into the description of “real” people, and vividly portrayed in ways that connect with readers.
- Conduct in-depth research. In the State of Buyer Personas 2015 survey, Tony Zambito noted that only 15 percent of respondents used in-depth qualitative research to build their personas. The fact is, without rich, meaningful, research-driven insights your personas run the risk of being one-dimensional at best – and flat out misleading at worst.
- Use segmentation or transactional data to inform/validate persona. We’ll often validate persona data with other data sources. Though most persona content is driven by interviews or focus groups and qualitative in nature, the ability to add select telemetry or transactional data can help inform and validate your personas.
- Ensure they are used. Personas are good at many things. One is creating a ‘bridge of understanding’ between silos such as line of business, CX and design teams and IT. But to drive results, they must be integrated into the process at key steps, and used to inform, check and validate decision making.
- Leverage your personas. Many organizations that invest in persona development do so in the context of a particular initiative or project. When that project’s done, the personas are shelved. This is a mistake, as a single well-designed persona can be leveraged across an organization for multiple initiatives. For example – a mobile experience persona can also inform other channels she uses.
The truth is, it’s hard to see your firm as your customers do. When the “lights go on” the results are significant, and measurable. That’s because personas help break down the ‘perceptual wall’ of inside out vs. outside in by helping organizations overcome their very natural tendency to look at the world from their internal perspective.
Bottom line, customer experience personas help you better meet customer needs. And the better you get at that… well, you know the answer. It’s good.