Better customer experiences drive repeat business—but how do you deliver a great experience without knowing your customers first? For many companies, the first step to providing a more seamless and personalized experience at scale is to create customer personas.
Vision Critical is no exception. Our customer experience team recently embarked on an exercise to create our own personas. Our goal was to develop a consistent approach and common language to identify and understand our customers across the organization. Rather than making assumptions based on the roles of our customers in their respective organizations, we wanted to dig deeper and create richer, more nuanced personas.
Our approach involved four main phases. First, we drafted personas based on what we knew from our subject matter experts (SMEs) in product marketing and customer experience (CX). We then validated those drafts with additional SMEs and operational leaders likely to be impacted by the persona work. We engaged our executives to further validate our direction. Finally, we engaged our customer-facing teams using our insight community.
Our experience provided some eye-opening lessons for developing customer personas. Based on our conversations with our own customers, we know that building personas is something that many companies are also embarking on. If you’re creating your own personas, these takeaways might help you as you start the process.
1. Be inclusive
Your understanding of customers must be company-wide—every employee and every part of the business must use same the language. Just as being customer-obsessed means getting everyone on the same page and empowering each employee to own a customer interaction, your personas must be infused across all parts of your business.
To ensure this happens at Vision Critical, we included many different departments early in the process. SMEs and groups that would have an interest met with CX project leads to chat informally. From there, these discussions validated a direction and raised questions about what to include.
We encountered no resistance because people across the company were in fact hungry for consistency and a common language. People readily saw the benefits of having these personas.
2. Be collaborative
For persona building to be useful, your organization needs to really understand what needs this exercise will address.
"We involved the necessary stakeholders in the creation process and used our own employee insight community in the validation process."
At Vision Critical, we didn’t just ask people if like the idea of personas and went away to build them in isolation. Rather, we involved the necessary stakeholders in the creation process and used our own employee insight community in the validation process. We were able to increase understanding of personas and their purpose, as well as gather the necessary feedback to fully create them: What part of the draft personas worked? What was missing? Are there potential barriers to adoption we might encounter? Engaging with stakeholders and SMEs internally was crucial to answering these important questions.
3. Share the results broadly
Building on the collaborative development process, we shared our results broadly throughout Vision Critical.
We created a central place everyone was compelled to go to solicit feedback: our insight community. We knew documents locked away on network drives or static web pages wouldn’t get many eyeballs, so sharing information in a more centralized location was important. We also used PowerPoints to share concepts and early drafts in initial meetings.
Once we had some base-level feedback, we posted to the Stakeholder Hub of our insight community. This approach means everyone could access the personas in a common place, and things could be changed quickly if we need to based on feedback, such as images associated with personas. Stakeholders could comment on posts with any questions or ideas. In our Hub, we created a collection and used metadata tags to differentiate buyer personas (those involved in buying our platform but are not necessarily involved in the day-to-day use of it) from customer personas.
Don’t let perfectionism lead to procrastination. We learned that developing customer personas is a journey, not a destination.
As you learn and get feedback from your stakeholders, your artifacts and documents will adapt and evolve quickly. It’s not about getting personas perfectly—that just slows down collaboration and sharing. Our research found that although personas are valuable, it’s not always immediately obvious how an individual employee can apply it to their job right away. Employees need guidance on how and when to leverage the various personas for strategy, communications and content. To that end, we’re planning on using these personas more visible in our customer journey mapping.
5. Plan to operationalize
Part of helping employees understand how the customer personas apply to their work is finding ways to make them useful across all the interactions your customers experience with your brand.
At this point, your personas cross over into user roles. Since you may have more complex brand experiences across multiple products and touchpoints, leveraging the personas effectively becomes more challenging.
We’ve just started to tackle this phase by mapping persona names to roles in our CRM, our customer community called Sparq Next and our customers’ roles in their own insight community (Sparq user roles). Because more of our customer interactions are driven through Sparq 3, we need to be able to customize experiences and content for those interactions that are tailored to a persona. Doing so will involve working with our product development team, our CX team (who owns our customer community), marketing and sales team (which own content and messaging) and our business technology team (who owns systems like billing and CRM).
Operationalizing personas across all these groups is essential to delivering consistent, and eventually, individualized content experiences.
Personas have a long, ever changing life
Persona building is a necessary exercise for brands looking to deliver personalized consumer experiences. For them to be effective, personas must be created with the input of every stakeholder, including your employees and customers. Having our own insight communities was invaluable for Vision Critical’s persona development, and since maintaining them is a ongoing process, we’ll continue to share what we’re learning with you.
If you have any questions about building personas, leave a comment, and we’ll do our best to answer them.