Adding the Persona Touch

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Tina is the ideal customer, the one that 1-800-Flowers.com always dreamt of. It’s just a pity she doesn’t really exist. She’s nothing but a composite of various customer traits.

Lisa Hendrikson, on the other hand, is quite real. The vendor’s vice president of retention and customer experience, Hendrikson helped manufacture the “Tina” persona, created as someone for whom the online florist could construct the perfect customer experience: “the consistent gift buyer,” as she puts it. “She’s our best customer because she buys for more than just holidays.” 

1-800-Flowers.com is serious about Tina. In fact, a team spent almost a year conducting ethnographic research and studying customer attributes to develop her. Now that she’s been created, the focus is on introducing her throughout the organization. “Even product development and the loyalty program [are] seen through the Tina lens,” Hendrikson says. Each employee is now issued a Tina branding book, replete with details about her buying habits, product preferences, and favorite flowers. “Everyone’s got to know Tina,” Hendrikson says. 1-800-Flowers.com has even redesigned its corporate office to align with what Hendrikson calls Tina’s “warm” personality. 

Developing customer personas based on ethnographic research really isn’t anything new, says Jonathan Browne, a Forrester Research analyst specializing in customer experience. In fact, Forrester’s been tracking the trend for a decade. Browne notes, however, that persona-based decisions seem to be permeating organizations more than ever before. “They’re spreading beyond the applications they were once designed for,” he says. Their use had been mostly limited to basic Web design in the past, Browne says, but personas are now being employed to design interaction touch points such as contact center scripts and automated voice systems. 

Japan’s Asahi Breweries recently looked to personas to gather deep insight into the attitudes, aspirations, and motivations of those who drank super-dry beer. Browne says the research initiative allowed Asahi to capture “very vivid personas and portraits” of its preferred drinkers. 

Once a persona is created, Browne says, “the journey is hugely important”—a reference to the interaction map that companies often use to explore common routes-to-purchase. This can be particularly valuable for financial services, he says, and not just in determining whether customers complete their application forms. Applying what’s learned from the customer journey to the customer experience, he notes, “will have a huge impact on [her] satisfaction and ultimately their loyalty.”

A common theme at last autumn’s Gartner CRM Summit and Forrester Consumer Forum (FCF) was that the path to purchase involves more channels than it used to. As Harley Manning, a Forrester analyst, said in his FCF keynote address, understanding the multichannel individual requires “obsessing about your customers,” a commitment that can involve multichannel mapping and persona mark-ups.

One of Manning’s examples involved The Wall Street Journal, which he said has relied on persona development to decide on an approach to online content for its two main segments: paid subscribers and nonpaying visitors. 

As it turned out, persona creation revealed that one segment of the paper’s clientele is surprisingly multichannel, receiving the print newspaper for the morning commute, but then visiting WSJ.com upon reaching the office. That reality might have gone undiscovered without in-depth research and faith in personas. 

“Companies are getting more and more sophisticated about the ways they transmit and provide insight,” Browne says. The first generation of personas may have been restricted to what could fit on a sheet of paper, but for some the process has expanded and become more—well, organic: Browne cites one company that has gone so far as to decorate its meeting room to mimic the garden of one of its target personas. After all, there’s nothing like a conference call amid your customer’s cucumbers to remind you what growth is all about.  

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