The Future of Successful Business Means Scaling Empathy – Part 1 – Customer Personas

by · October 9, 201218 comments

How many times have you heard someone profess the importance of being a more “human” business? That’s usually followed by a bevy of information about how social media is the key to that. I’d argue that social media is more the enabler. It amplifies and gives more prominence to something every business needs to implement more of to be successful. You need to understand  the importance of empathy.

em·pa·thy

[em-puh-thee]

noun

1.the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Instilling empathy into your business is about clearly understanding your customer. It’s about aligning the entire customer experience with the path of least friction. Can you craft a customer experience that makes them feel like it was tailor made for them? Many of the most popular brands have exhibited a clear understanding of the power of empathy and their ability to put it into action across key areas of their business.

Apple has built one of the most successful physical retail spaces in the world by implementing empathy in their retail experience. How they lay out their products for touching, the ever helpful Apple Genius, the ability to pay for your product anywhere in the store via mobile Point-of-Sale devices. The list goes on and on. Other companies like Starbucks and Zappos have thrived off of this approach in different areas. Zappos empowers their customer service reps with the tools they need to practice empathy each day.

Well trained, awesome employees are often the first great force of empathy, but what if your human capital is invested elsewhere or perhaps spread thin? How do can you scale empathy without stretching the human factor even further?

I believe it can be done by taking a more customer centric approach to the process, products and other customer touch points that already exist in your business.

Here are my 3 suggestions:

  1. Get to Know Your Customers Better by Developing Personas
  2. Reduce Friction by Applying Personas to Customer Touch Points
  3. Create Open Channels of Feedback and Review
Let’s first focus on developing personas.

Get to Know Your Customers Better by Developing Personas:

One of the most effective ways of putting yourself in the shoes of your customers is by developing customer personas. Personas are essentially a document that paints the profile of your customer and humanizes who it is your serving. Personas come from existing research, but even more importantly hands on experiences, customer conversations and your imagination. It combines them all and turns them into a vivid human profile.

The end result is not to create a persona based off “Johnny Regular”, an actual customer that you’ve shaken hands with numerous time. A persona may take partial inspiration from Johnny,  but the challenge is to take a step back and paint a more well-rounded picture of your average customer. Being too specific can often end in naming future business decisions off of a very narrow and specific person rather than a more broadly representative profile. Also, create a single persona for each of your customer segments.

Personas

Personas (Photo credit: CannedTuna)

There are lots of potential tidbits to include, but here are some things you should consider including:

Give Them a Name

Every human has a name. Give a name to your customer, one you can refer to throughout the rest of the process. For example, lets use the name “Charles Dillard”.  Referring to “Charles” instead of “our customer” makes the process feel more connected to an actual human being in comparison to just some data on paper.

Demographics

General demographic information. Pretty straight forward here.

  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Location
  • Job Position/Title
  • Income
  • Marital Status
  • Education
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Political Position

Habits/Lifestyle

Include what does this person do regularly that might be useful to consider. This is where your storytelling skills come in handy. Don’t just list out a bunch of data points. Try very hard to sound like you are describing the daily life of this person as almost to make them real. Ask questions like …

  • What is their average day like?
  • What might they do in their free time?
  • What media do they consume and how much (TV, movies, music, video games, books, magazines, etc)?

Social Media and Online

Considering a person’s online and social media related habits is more important than ever. Here are some questions to start answering:

  • Where and how do they find information (online/offline, search engines, reviews, white papers, videos, etc)?
  • How do they make decisions (online research, asking friends/family, colleagues form work, ratings and reviews, etc)?
  • Where are they most active online (games, ecommerce sites, social networks, Youtube)?
  • What devices do they use to access the internet and social media services?
  • What kind of content do they like (white papers, webinars, videos, blog posts, infographics, podcasts, etc) ?

Objectives/Problems

In my opinion, this is one of the most critical areas of a persona. This is an opportunity to really think about the needs and objectives of this person and subsequently map a list of ways your business can alleviate these problems or help them achieve their objectives. Here are a few examples of objectives/problems might include.

    • Has a busy, results driven boss that demands concise, easy to read reports be sent to him each week.
    • Wants a new tablet, but has a lot of photos and music on her old computer that he feels she lose access to in the switch.
    • He has arthritic hands which make it hard for him to open his medications in child proof containers.

Solutions

Simply put, whether through existing methods or new ones, how does your business propose help this customer solve their problem and achieve greatness. All ideas should be on the table. Explore their feasibility after, but get every idea you can. This is where the rubber meets the road and the magic happens

The Final Touch, The Face

Add the final touch to making Charles Dillard real by adding a photo to the persona. I usually refer the demographic information in the persona to find a stock photo that fits the age, gender, ethnicity and style that fits.

Additional Thoughts 

Personas are not an exact science, but the benefits of developing them and using them is immense. I’ve seen personas developed in a handful of different ways so there’s not just one right way to do them. Fellow SME author Ilana Rabinowitz previously wrote a useful piece on how to use Facebook to develop better personas.

What’s Next?

Great! You now have a customer persona or 3 in hand. These are completely worthless unless put into action. In part 2 of this post I’ll show you where and how you might put these into action. Specifically, where you can apply these insights to customer touch points that easily scale without stretching your human capital thin. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this process in the comments.

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About Adam Helweh

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.

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