February 10, 2015

Getting to Know Your Customer as a User Persona

Have you ever noticed how adverts for charitable organisations are designed to increase the likelihood of you parting ways with some of your cash for the cause they champion?

There you are, sitting in front of your TV, when suddenly the face of a little girl appears on the screen.

A grave-sounding voice lets you know her name (Ann), her age (she’s 7-years-old), how many siblings she has (two younger sisters), her parents’ jobs (both unemployed) and the exact number of kilometres she has to walk to go to school each day (probably more than you do in an entire week).

In a short amount of time you’ve learnt more about little Ann then you’ll probably ever know about your next-door neighbour.

When you pick up the phone and make a donation, you’re basing your decision completely on your feelings towards Ann and your hope that her life becomes a little bit brighter thanks to your generosity.

Why personality goes a long way

Other people’s personality is powerful factor in stirring our thoughts and emotions. The people you most likely spend a large time thinking about at work are your target audience and, unless you personally conducted usability testing, you’ve rarely had the chance to get to know them very well.

Yet, agile development methodologies place a lot of importance on clients and customers. Scrum, for example, demands that both are at the centre of attention when designing a product and that your system includes an open and active channel to collect their feedback and opinions about your product.

Developing such channels is a challenging task, whether your aim is to write requirements or design tests. However there is no escaping the fact that agile methods give customers an active role and in verifying and validating what your team develops at the end of every sprint.

Unfortunately, busy development teams often ignore this basic tenet of agile and fail to involve their end-customers in any part of the process, except possibly at the very end.

This situation is akin to working blindly. You are creating a product that will be enjoyed by people of whom you know nearly nothing about, except the vague impressions you have about them in your mind.

Just like what happened in the case of little Ann, it’s time you learn who your customers are by appointing one as an ambassador of your target customer group and get to know him or her very well. Only then can you start designing a product that is truly intended for your customers, rather for your image of them.

Creating user personas is a powerful technique lifted from marketing that helps the entire project team gain a better insight into what customer want. In this article, you’ll find out more about how to harness user personas to understand the needs of your customers more effectively.

A portrait of the customer as user persona

Creating a user persona involves a great deal of work if you want to produce one that is a realistic reflection of your end-customers.

You cannot conjure a user persona out of thin air, but systematically build it from the ground up by examining the details collected from traditional data-gathering tools such as interviews and questionnaires.

Using this information you can start piecing bit by bit the basic details about your typical customer. Their age, demographics, educational levels and interests are all important aspects you have to consider and can be easily confirmed by carrying out market research.

You don’t have to limit yourself to a single persona either. You can create a whole constellation of them in order to design a system which caters for the needs of a more varied group.

Getting up close and personal

Crafting a believable user persona requires imagination, however logic is also needed to make them realistic and make them effective ‘partners’ in your team.

Thinking behaviour that is logical for the age of your user persona, for example, is a crucial element when writing down the requirements of a system.

An older user persona might spend more time logged into the system to complete a given task (like reading an article), so the system has to accommodate a potentially larger number of people who are using it at the same time.

Likewise, an older user persona would prefer a cleaner, simpler interface which dispenses with ‘frills’ in favour of a larger focus on emphasizes core functionality.

This process can help the team define the priorities that need to be followed in implementing the system and produces an end-result which fits better with the needs and expectations of the target group.

Using user personas in your team

User personas can also act as an ‘impartial judge’ when meetings on requirements development are heating up and going nowhere.

The question that is causing the impasse in the team can easily be ‘posed’ in relation to the user persona’s preferences. This helps the team members sidestep their own biases and think in a customer-centred way.

The team can also use personas to deduce the different behavioral patterns of their intended target groups and arrived at solution that integrate into their existing habits effortlessly.

User personas in other contexts

User personas can also be used in other contexts where a creative solution has to be delivered to a client or target customers.

Whether it is designing a social media marketing campaign or article writing or developing a teaching course, personas are a proven technique that helps you focus on creating deliverables that are tailored to your audience.

In creative work it is often the case that team members are trying to create a catch-all solution with the underlying hope that after launch it will stick with some customers.

This haphazard approach often results in a product which doesn’t appeal strongly to any given demographic, resulting in a low to moderate take-up that quickly flattens out.

Carefully crafted user personas on the other hand help you deliver a product that fits like a glove with the lifestyle choices of your target group and makes adoption of any solution that much easier.

When personas are defined, you can start gathering requirements for your product. Thanks to specialised software like ReQtest you can easily keep track of the requirements in your product backlog, assign them to specific sprints and team members, and make sure that nothing is overlooked during the whole process.

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