Experience Toolkit: The Power of Persona

Imagine with me for a minute that you're on a charge to make your company, or your product, or your web site increasingly customer centric. So you have a company-wide kickoff to rally passion around the customer.

"We need to better serve our customer and be more customer centered," says Joe the CEO. "To do this we're going to..."

…and Joe then rattles off a list of initiatives like retooling the customer database, increasing call center resolution by 6%, reducing churn by 20% and redesigning the self-service web site.

I can't tell you how many of these meetings I've been in. While they’re often informative, they fall flat in rallying the troops because in the end, they're about tasks, not about the customer. They fail to unite individuals around real people and a common set of goals that will help service those people, and instead focus individuals on operational activity.

To rally an organization around the customer, it’s a good idea to make some introductions. In an increasingly complex world of demographic, psychographic and ethnographic research, it’s no longer safe to assume that your employees actually know your customers. When rallying the troops, getting back to basics and keeping it simple can be powerful. One of the best ways to do this is to harness the power of persona.

My friend, Kelly Goto has been preaching the power of persona for more than a decade, specifically highlighting power of their use pertaining to web design. Kelly and I frequently work together, and for years we've been harnessing customer personas to develop a clear picture of the type of audience we're designing for. They work for web sites, products, brick and mortar store experiences, marketing campaigns … you name it. The results are great – and they’re effective in uniting diverse work teams around a set of customer-centric objectives. All tasks and activities are then tooled around customer goals.

So what's a persona?

A persona is essentially a representative profile, which summarizes a key demographic target. It is usually accompanied by a photograph of a representative customer who is given a "real name" and assigned some basic demographic data (such as age, marital status, tangible occupation and income) as well as relevant information pertaining to personal behavior. Personas represent the "real face" of a customer and make it easier to unite groups of people around the customer base. There are usually a number of customer personas for any given project.

The use of personas, along with the method of validating our designs with real customers in an iterative manner across the design lifecycle is a powerful way to unite and rally staff members around customers and guide activities (design, production, laungh) effectively. .
Taking personas a next step we also recommend the development of "customer scenarios." These describe, in further detail, the needs, behaviors, preferences and requirements that will fuel the development of customer experience. Customer scenarios essentially describe the optimal experience the customer should have, and can be used to drive the development process - and as a reality check during testing. They're highly effective for uniting the diverse teams charged with developing customer experience. Here's an abbreviated sample from Kelly's best-selling book, "Web Re-Design: Workflow that Works.":

One company that has done a great job of utilizing customer personas for “telling the story” of its customers is Best Buy. There are a ton of articles describing how the stores have been retooled to meet the needs of customers like "Barry", "Buzz" and "Jill". The early results are in and highly promising. We'll talk a little more about how this is going, and how it is changing the business - and customer relationships in a tangible way in future posts.

Email snaffu

Hmmm, blogger's image attachment isn't working this morning, for some reason. This is my first image-free post.

My cup runneth over: I've had so many rich experiences lately I'm bursting with ideas and things to write about ... yet still no time to write.

Three days after returning from my honeymoon in Tahiti, I got a contract on my house ... This was a real blessing after the market changed from a seller's market to a buyer's market here in the DC area. Now, after just one week, the new owners are already chomping at the bit to close.

SO! while I'm still reeling from my beautiful wedding and 15 days of honeymoooning, I find myself neck deep in boxes! But that's not why I'm writing this.

Wouldn't you know it: Smack dab in the middle of our over-the-water bungalow bliss, I discovered that my email server went down on Live Path. Ironic that this is probably the first time in a decade that I haven't checked email every day. While it's back up and running now, it was unfortunately, out of commission for several days.

So, for all of you who tried to contact me: I'm missing some email. If you got bounceback, feel free to try again - and please accept my apologies!

Back to my packing and my short work hiatus. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenneger, "I'll be back."




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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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Web Redesign: Workflow that Works