How “3-Dimensional” Customer Personas Radically Improve CX Design

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Michael Hinshaw 3-D Customer Personas
Customer experience design professionals have recognized the power of customer persona for years. Unlike customer or audience segments—used primarily for marketing, sales activities and data management—personas are fictional characters used to design things that real customers will actually use, and yes, even love.

Whether defining target customers for a startup, user interface (UX or UI) design, or as the foundation for customer experience design, research-based personas represent groups of customers or users that might have similar wants and needs, or interact with your organization in similar ways.

Traditionally, customer personas are created with two broad categories of data: Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC), and Voice-of-the-Business (VoB). In our work, we add another layer to develop “3 Dimensional” personas—bringing together these two data sources as well as what we call Voice-of-Analytics (VoA), to create richer personas that help identify the trends, behaviors and patterns that will truly bring any given persona to life.



Voice-of-the-Business (VoB): What Your Company Knows About the Customer

The goal of VoB data is to learn what you already know—or can know—about your customers. Every business has some understanding of its customers, in some part of their organization. Gathered through a combination of sources (internal interviews, feedback loops from front-line staff, persona mapping workshops, etc.) VoB data is based on developing collective knowledge about what exists today. We’re continually surprised by how few organizations intentionally mine their existing understanding of customers, because when you get down to the right levels, people really do know their customers pretty well.

Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC): What Customers Tell Us They Want and Need, and Why

The VoC lens is a key step in the evolution of customer understanding, telling us what customers say, which (importantly) reflects what they believe. VoC data sources or ‘customer listening posts’ is a pretty broad category of tools and practices, which includes traditional NPS, CSAT and other surveys, unstructured data mining (e.g. call center recordings, emails, chat transcripts), social media monitoring and more. And since customer experience is essentially a ‘mental construct,’ VoC is a critical lens that allows you to hear what your customers believe. For example, if somebody says an experience was difficult, by definition, for that customer, it was. If somebody believes it was fantastic, it was.

Voice-of-Analytics (VoA): Data That Shows Us What the Customer Actually Does

We all know that the number and scope of digital interactions are continuing to expand. And from an analytics and customer understanding perspective, this is a wonderful thing. Because each of these interactions generates data about what your customers actually do. Coming from your operational systems, VoA data is observable. For example, by linking VoA and VoC data, we have the ability to learn—at a persona(l) level—that what customers say doesn’t always align with what they do. That doesn’t mean they’re not being ‘truthful,’ because they are being truthful about their recollection of an experience. It’s just that as humans, our belief systems don’t always govern the ways we act and our memories are subject to reconstruction. In other words, we’re imperfect creatures.

A Truly 3-Dimensional View of Your Customer

When it comes to understanding customer groups, organizations doing the minimum tend to know traditional segmentation. While great for marketing and sales, it isn’t enough to fulfill today’s customer demand for personalized experiences—experiences that are directly aligned to what we as individuals want and need. The things is, meaningfully personalized experiences don’t just happen. They’re planned…and designed.

A 3-Dimensional view gives you the ability to see and know your customers across broader segments and deeper audience types. And the best way to get there is align your understanding of your customer along each of the three axes of a 3-D persona.



  • Bring Voice-of-the-Business data into the mix so you understand everything your people know about your customers.
  • Conduct Voice-of-the-Customer research to learn what your customers believe to be true.
  • Integrate Voice of Analytics, to understand what your customers actually do.

And then use these inputs to build a 3-D Persona. They will help correct misconceptions about your customers, curtail design debates, and help your organization prioritize problems to solve. Most importantly, a 3-D Persona will deeply inform experience design across any channel and for any customer, resulting in more relevant and useful experiences and solutions.

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