Using personas to drive better customer service


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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

It’s done. Your customer service team has completed a six-month project to develop, test, and deploy state-of-the-art technology that was billed as the answer to drastically reducing call volume while delivering higher-quality service to customers faster. The go-live day is promoted to customers via email and a countdown timer on the main customer service landing page adds to the build-up. Everyone is excited by the profound effect this will have on customer service.

Day one … and there’s no noticeable change. That’s okay, this is going to take some time. A week goes by, then a month. Six months in and there’s some change, but nowhere near expectations. What happened?

It’s easy to jump on a new technology trend in customer service. Competitors could be delivering more advanced forms of customer service. A research company might be offering bold predictions for the future of customer service. And the ever-present pressure of rising customer expectations might play a part. Any one of these influences is enough to embark on building new customer service engagement and solution channels. But if you go to all the work to offer these new options and they aren’t being used despite ample evidence it should succeed, there might be a simple reason for its failure: customer personas weren’t considered.

Defining personas

Product design created the concept of personas in the 1990’s. They act as one or more fictional stand-ins for prospects or customers. Well-crafted personas have a story or “biography” that represents their goals and desires as well as challenges and limitations. These traits help guide the development of products and services that would be interesting and useful to them, ensuring greater success of the product or service.

Personas are constructed by examining the existing customer base for its traits (supplementing that information with research through additional conversations and surveys) and by interviewing prospects when a new product or service for a new target market is being considered. Qualities include behavior patterns, skills, attitudes, and environmental details–profession, hobbies, lifestyle, etc.–that influence their behavior. Fun fictional personal details are often added to add depth and to make them more relatable (such as giving them names and a picture).

Using personas in customer service

Persona usage in customer service doesn’t vary much from use in product design. Capturing some additional details unique to how particular personas might seek customer service are the key consideration.

For example: language. Customers might be more comfortable with one language over another. If service provided via telephone, chat, and the knowledge base isn’t available in a language used by some margin of customers, they would struggle to solve their issues. And if they struggle, that could lead to reduced customer satisfaction, lower customer retention, and no positive referrals.

Another example: access to and comfort with technology. A customer or prospect from the “Baby Boomer” generation probably has a computer and mobile phone, but they might prefer to contact contact customer service by telephone rather than visit a website. A “Millennial” or “Generation Z” customer might reach for their mobile phone first and expect an always-available, mobile-optimized customer service experience.

The key is understanding how the expectations and challenges of each persona impact what channels and methods should be available in customer service. There will be overlap in how traits of personas drive what types of customer service options to offer–all customers might be fine with telephone-based customer service, but as a preferred channel, it may be ranked differently by different personas. 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 cautions

If personas aren’t carefully crafted, they can do as much harm as good. Consider these three things as they are developed.

First, be careful about stereotyping. It’s easy to assume traits, leading persona development astray. Recall the example above of different generational expectations and their use of technology. Without performing the research to determine each generation’s true behavior patterns, skills, attitudes, and environmental details as they relate to customer service, solutions would be built based on flawed personas. Customers may use those channels, but that engagement with customer service won’t be in a manner that is comfortable and effortless for them.

Another thing to bear in mind is personas, like all aspects of business, don’t remain static. Just like the human beings they represent, they will slowly evolve over time. Shifting attitudes by customers as well as changes in products and services will drive this. Continually perform the research–both driven by customer service as well as the product design team–to ensure personas continue to represent real customers.

Finally, be careful to not overdo it. A multitude of personas is not necessary. The best practice here is to identify two or three personas to represent the bulk of target customers.

Persona-targeted customer service

Do you have customer service channels that are minimally used? Despite what seems like great service options, are customer satisfaction ratings mediocre at best? Does it seem like customers struggle to find help? These are all possible indicators service options don’t match the expectations of customers.

It’s time to use personas to build a customer service experience that better aligns to customer expectations. Just as designing products and services with target personas in mind, those same factors that make the product or service interesting and useful impact what they anticipate from customer service and how quickly and easily they will find solutions.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


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