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User Experience

For the Love of Money (aka Customers)

By: Tallwave



During a recent two-day persona workshop, I saw the depth of our client’s knowledge and empathy for their customers. I saw how their culture was built around providing compassionate customer service and how they expect their customer service representatives to go beyond the expectations of their customers. As I sat in the workshop watching the care with which they treated their customers, I even mentioned to a co-worker, “Wow, they really love their customers.” Wondering what industry? Insurance.

Yeah, I was surprised too. Maybe we shouldn’t have been, though. After all, they’ve been in the business for over 100 years.


But this client understood how caring for their customers is a powerful force and can be a major differentiator in their extremely competitive landscape. They also recognized that their customer personas couldn’t be made-up caricatures with a collection of guesstimated attributes that “sound right.” Nor could they be anecdotal assumptions collected from an inner circle of stakeholders who “know their clients” but rarely talk to actual customers. It’s why we were working with them to build actionable personas around the real attributes from their customer’s lifestyle, needs, desires and goals. All fueled by surveys, CRM data, analytics and, yes, real conversations with customers.

And yet, relying on data alone is problematic, though, because it would eliminate the other part of the equation: empathy. In other words, understanding the spectrum of your customer’s feelings, good and bad. It’s why an integral part of a comprehensive persona workshop is an empathy map exercise, which seeks to put to paper what a person thinks, feels, hears, sees, says and does. The exercise doesn’t take long, but it serves to bring your persona to life in a way that no data set ever could.


Just as the empathy mapping exercise is relatively straightforward, the reality is that the production of generic personas isn’t rocket science. The difficulty in doing them right is mostly due to a lack of time, resources and the roadmap to do them right.

The result is generic personas that are all too similar to the “portrait cartoons” drawn by street artists in that they barely look like us and typically end up forgotten or worse, in the trash. Beyond taking time to produce, attempting to leverage these generic personas can waste more time and be detrimental to both your strategy and execution.


So how do you do them right? It starts with who you bring to the table when you set out to create them in the first place. Sales and customer service representatives top the list of people you’ll want to invite to a persona workshop. These teams interact with your customers more than any other department within your organization. But the reality is, far more of your employees interact with your customers than sales and customer service alone. We suggest inviting individuals within the billing department, service technicians, event marketing team members and perhaps third-party vendors — anyone who speaks or communicates with customers. Utilizing a diverse mix of participants will help create more accurate and deeper personas. And yet, oftentimes, members of the executive team are the typical participants, and they may be either too far removed from customers to provide detailed knowledge or have such strong opinions (or defensiveness about previous decisions) that they are unable to be objective.

The result can be vague statements about your theoretical customer, like one that I recently saw in a client persona that said, “This person loves rollerblading”. Rollerblading? How this quality helped inform their strategy or execution I’ll never know (note, they were not selling rollerblades). Effective marketing, especially in a data-driven environment and a hyper-competitive landscape, requires objective research to uncover the needs of your actual customers to come up with actionable statements that guide your decisions in trying to capture their attention.


When done right, a persona will bring customers to life, especially for individuals in non-customer-facing, supporting roles. A persona can help keep customers from becoming an account number. Most personas are given a name, an image, a small narrative and attributes that define a particular audience segment. Promoting personas internally keeps customers top of mind as each member carries out their role and responsibilities. And yet, it’s important to note that it’s not a script for your marketing plan. It won’t tell you what to say, write or which medium to double down on.

It’s more of a filter with which you can make better decisions. It can remind you that they’re just as likely to be using their phone to occupy their kid's attention than to search for the best gift for the holidays. Or that the best part of their day is getting an answer when they need it, not getting all the answers to all of their questions. The clarity of who they are helps to avoid targeting everyone and forces an approach centered on buying triggers and attributes of the customer.

At the end of the day, the result should be that you find yourself using your personas as you make decisions. That’s when you know you’ve done one right.


Let’s go back to the two-day workshop I mentioned earlier. After two days of sticky notes, thoughtful discussions, exercises and the synthesis of the data that mattered, we delivered four personas, causing the client to say, “We know them now!”. The funny thing is that the information, data and knowledge had come from the client and they just needed the right people, with the right approach, to develop the right kind of persona.

And what’s the right kind of persona? One that you actually use.

To see how our research-informed and reality-based personas have created a strong foundation for our next step, building customer journeys, click here. If you want to create valuable personas, start with knowing and caring for your customers, or email us today at info@tallwave.com, or call 1-855-384-6564. It’ll make all the difference.


Written by Tallwave

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