The Layman’s Guide to Creating a Customer Persona [Part 2]

Part 1 of The Layman’s Guide to Creating a Customer Persona has been an introduction to the concept of personas and answers all of the most fundamental questions pertaining to the subject. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend that you do first, before proceeding with this here article. Part 1 contains a number of subtle points, whose proper understanding is key to being able to develop and use a customer persona efficiently. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and move on to the practical part, shall we?

Just to sum up what’s been already said, before you launch any promotional campaign, a new product or an app, you need to know who are your communication efforts addressed to. In other words, who are you trying to convince to buy from you.

In order to hit the bull’s-eye with your target market, you need to display a deep understanding of your ideal client’s motivations, emotions, experiences, worries, etc. A customer persona works best when it’s based on actual research done on people. Its efficiency falters when it’s constructed solely of made up information, which may be not pertinent to the issue at hand. Thus, you need to make every effort to collect at least some real data.

As a business, your task is to create products for people who are probably unlike you. This is called user-centered thinking, and a customer persona is a way to step into your ideal client’s shoes to better understand and empathize with him. Like I said in Part 1, there’s no single sequence that’s considered correct and that you must stick to when developing a customer persona. Described below is a logical process, where you start with no data and end up with a ready to share document containing a synthesized client avatar.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to give credit to Schlomo Goltz, who’s used the method discussed here while working at Cooper Design Studio and written about it extensively.

Determine who your customers are

In this preliminary stage of creating a customer persona you need to sift through your potential clients to determine who’s most relevant to your current project. Take a look at the matrix below, which should help you to establish the traits of your ideal customer persona interview subjects.

Customer Persona Matrix

By assigning values to the factors listed above you’ll be able to figure out what people will you have to interview in detail. Now, if your company isn’t a business rookie, you probably already have some sort of a user/client database containing demographics details – that would be a good start.

If, however, you’re just getting started, consider emailing a survey or use live chat to collect data about your existing clients. As I said, being able to work with any real data is more productive in the long run than trying to come up with all the information on your own. Another way to get to know your ideal customer better would be to find out more about your competition and/or similar product users.

Connect with your customers

Time to run into the wild. Needless to say, you shouldn’t harass your interviewees. Be prepared that it will take some time to develop a customer persona if you want to do it properly. The data collection process should be unobtrusive and incentivised, if possible. In the very least, you should present the whole purpose of bothering your respondents as beneficial to them in the long run.

What you have to realize is that this step will impact the effectiveness of customer personas you’re going to develop. You’ll need to find enough adequate people to have a good representation of your client segment. 5-30 participants per role is the usual recommendation. Pay attention to the emergence of trends and patterns. If you see a trend, build on it to gain deeper understanding of your subjects.

Note, that interviewing as many people as possible may not be productive, as you may unearth relevant patterns a lot earlier, and new conversations will not add more understanding to your ideal client profiles.

Extract the data

The most obvious way to learn about the users’ needs or fears is by interviewing or observing them. While designing the survey, keep in mind what exactly do you want to learn. Conducting an interview with a customer persona prospect isn’t just about collecting raw data.

Think of what pieces of information are you missing in your product or app development process. What details would help you make the best decisions? What is the design team curious about? You have to build a common frame of reference regarding the users’ goals and needs.

The purpose of an interview is to gain as thorough understanding of customers as possible. Getting ALL the answers will be impossible but the ones you’ll obtain will have to help you extrapolate and answer more questions on your own.

A customer persona is supposed to be as close to an archetypal user sitting at the product development table as possible. Thus, getting the essence of their perspective by asking the right questions is crucial at the stage of an interview. A customer persona will have to become a voice in the discussion about the product you’re developing.

Regardless of the project you’re collecting the data for, try to ask questions that are:

  • primarily open-ended
  • encourage respondents to show more than tell
  • if possible, induce particular stories / applications of the product / anything you can’t directly observe

Build up an understanding of your customers

The majority of time in the customer persona development process is usually spent collecting the data. It can be beneficial to have an interview partner, who can pick up bits of information you will miss. In order to elicit the most detailed and accurate answers, the location of an interview should be the natural habitat of the person answering questions.

Your task is to gain empathy via direct, unfiltered interaction. If you’re unable to interview the ideal client prospects directly, you can consider talking to people who have had contact with them (provisional personas).

Interpret the data

I’m going to be honest with you, this is the most arduous stage of creating a customer persona. The job is to compare a number of variables across many respondents and make sense of the collected data by finding patterns.

Each participant with the same role has to be ranked against a number of attributes of behavior and attitude in order to find out who has similar scores. After you’re finished with ranking, discover common traits among the interviewees. Each group of similar respondents would act as a customer persona.

Personas aren’t simply equivalent to roles, as roles are defined by performed tasks and don’t imply how people feel about them or how they go about executing them. Roles are good for grouping and analysis but are not customer personas. You need to remember to compare participants who have the same role.

You can showcase most of the observed behaviors on a spectrum (a scale). For example: low to high / seldom to often, etc. An even number, like 4, helps to avoid a neutral score like 3/5, which provides little value for creating a customer persona. Assign a score on each of the spectra to every respondent. Don’t force it, however. Go for open-ended question if necessary.

To determine the number of spectra you’ll use, go over the responses to the interview questions and note different behaviors or attitudes. Usually, 5-20 would be a good fit for a role. In any case, think of motivations and goals, frequency and duration of tasks and attitudes towards them.

Place participants on the spectra. At this stage, mutual relations are more important that the actual position on a spectrum. Once you’ve allocated all the respondents, identify patterns. The task isn’t easy but start by finding two people with the same score on various spectra. Such people should be represented by the same persona. Then go for another pair (or more people) with various joint locations on spectra and you’ll have another customer persona.

These are the patterns you’re supposed to be looking for. Patterns are imperfect, so they won’t appear on each and every spectrum. They just have to match on a majority of them. Ideally, you should aim for multiple personas within a single role.

Develop a customer persona

Now that you have grouped research participants into customer personas, it’s time to figure out how to present the details. As I said in Part 1, there’s no single template to follow. While you’re in the process, include certain dominant traits and features that you might have recorded or noticed during interviews

Necessary elements of any good customer persona are: name, demographics, descriptive title, photo, quote, a day-in-the-life narrative, both, clear and unspoken end goals. Make sure you neatly summarize the data from research. The particular project will dictate certain elements to be highlighted in the document.

One of the goal of creating a customer persona is sharing the results in an easily digestible way with others. More isn’t always better. A rule of thumb is to stick to a single page. Focus on the most important findings, as other team members probably won’t have time to read more anyway.

Include needs and wants, responsibilities, motivations, attitudes, pain points (i.e. problems, frustrations and road-blocks), notable behavior, and design imperatives (i.e. things that a design must do to satisfy the user).

If you’re still unsure how should the data be presented, you can take a look at this customer persona template.

Using live chat to collect data

Before I’ll proceed to conclusions, allow me to make one extra point. As I emphasized on a number of occasions, creating a customer persona based on actual collected data is much better than relying solely on imagined details.

Utilizing live chat to gather information may be an excellent solution for web-based businesses with steady visitor counts. Among the undeniable advantages of using chat software as a support tool in the process of creating a customer persona are:

  • saving time and money
  • being able to provide respondents with instant incentive, like a discount code
  • conducting multiple interviews simultaneously
  • sharing any applicable media instantly (interview prompts like photos, videos or even the entire questionnaire)
  • allowing more flexibility to interviewees in terms of time and place for answering your questions
  • asking people questions in the general chat window

Obviously, live chat is a peculiar medium and also a lot would depend on who and how cooperative your audience is. Some businesses may not have a budget and time for setting up direct interviews and this may be a great way for them to collect real data.

If you’d decide to go for it, consider announcing interviews in advance and focus on proper design of the questionnaire to fit the medium you’re going to use. Some people may feel happy about an opportunity to improve business they identify with in the long run.

Conclusions

Ok, so you read all of this and you’re saying to yourself ‘man, I can’t do it, it’s too much hassle’. Well, creating customer personas isn’t easy but it’s beneficial for your business. If you have a smaller budget you can always start with some marketing data which you probably have in one form or another and just work your way from then on.

Remember that using completely made up characters, not based on any actual data isn’t very productive, so make an effort to collect at least some real information. Regardless of whether you’re going to try and replicate the process described above verbatim or go for some simplified version of it, remember that most of the mechanisms discussed in my two part guide still apply.

It’s crucial that you study all the points and understand the essence of customer personas and how to use them first, instead of rushing straight for interviews. Once you’ve been using your client avatars for some time, revisit them to see if they still hold true and update if necessary.