Using Personas to Define Customer Service

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It was once famously said, “if you build it, he will come.” This might have been the case in the movie, but it’s not always the truth in real life, especially when we’re talking about customer service.

It’s very easy to seize on a trend or even attack a perceived gap in customer service, be it self-service, chatbots, or artificial intelligence. This might be driven by a research giant’s bold predictions. Competitors could be offering customer service in manners your company does not. And there is the ever-present pressure of rising customer expectations. All of this combines to make it easy to jump in and build new engagement and solution channels for your customers encountering problems.

But what if you do all the work to offer these new customer service options and they aren’t being used despite this mountain of reasons that led you down the path? What could be happening?

Is it possible you failed to consider the persona angle?

Personas defined

Personas first appeared in the areas of product design in the 1990’s. They serve as one or more fictional representations of prospects or customers. Personas have a “biography” that represents their goals and desires but also their challenges and limitations. These traits help guide the development of products and services that would be interesting and useful to them, therefore ensuring greater success of the product or service.

Personas are built by examining the existing customer base for its traits (supplementing data with interviews and surveys) and by interviewing prospects when a new product or service for a different target market is being considered. Required qualities include behavior patterns, skills, attitudes, environmental details. Fun fictional personal details are often added to add depth and to make them more relatable (including names and pictures).

Personas in customer service

Using personas in customer service does not vary much from personas in use in product design. There just might be some additional details to add that aren’t captured from the product design perspective because the nuances of service can be slightly different.

For example: language. Customers might be more proficient in another language, and if service provided via telephone, chat, and the knowledge base isn’t available in a language used by a majority of customers, they would struggle to solve their issues. If they are struggling with issues, that means lower customer satisfaction which would lead to lower customer retention and no positive referrals.

Another example: access to and familiarity with technology. Someone from the “Boomer” generation might prefer to telephone customer service rather than visit a website, whereas a “Millenial” or “Generation Z” customer might expect service anytime, anywhere in a mobile-optimized experience.

The key here is understanding how the expectations and challenges of each persona impact what channels and methods are available in customer service. There will be overlap in how traits of personas drive what types of customer services to offer–all customers might be fine with telephone-based customer service, but some might rank it more highly than others. The trick is to ensure that when looking at the available options through the eyes of each persona, there is no lack of options they would likely use and be successful with.

Some caveats

If your personas aren’t carefully crafted, they can do as much harm as good. There are three things to consider as you develop them.

First, be careful about stereotypes. They are easy to embrace and sew into the fabric of your personas, leading your persona development astray. Did you notice how I did that in my example of different generational expectations and use of technology above? Without performing the research to determine the true behavior patterns, skills, attitudes, and environmental details specific to customer service, you will build it based on a flawed persona and they will come … but they won’t engage with your customer service team in a manner that is comfortable and effortless that delivers an answer.

Another thing to bear in mind is personas, like all aspects of business, don’t remain static. It might be a slow progression, but just like the human beings they represent, they will evolve over time. Both changes in attitudes by customers as well as changes in your products and services will drive this. Periodically check in on the real customers they represent–both through your own customer service-oriented research as well as what is being maintained by your product design team.

Lastly, don’t overdo it. You don’t need a multitude of personas. The best practice here is two or three at most that represent the bulk of your customers.

Persona-targeted customer service

Do you have service options that see minimal use? Do you find that despite what seems like great service, satisfaction ratings are mediocre at best and customers struggle to find answers?

It’s possible your service options don’t match the expectations of your customers and you need to develop personas to look at customer service from their perspective. Just as with designing products and services, those same traits that make the product or service interesting and useful impact what they expect from customer service and how quickly and easily they find solutions.

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