Replacing personas with customer statements.

Personas, target users, demographics are useful, but often used incorrectly. Generic attributes that tell us what, but rarely tell us why.

For service-focused organizations — non-profits, universities and cultural attractions — understanding why the customer needs your help is vastly more important than knowing broad customer attributes.

If you feel like your team is struggling to innovate then customer statements can help.

The idea of customer statements (job stories, user stories) is not new, they borrow heavily from the work of Intercom, UX professionals, jobs to be done, Alan Klement and countless other peers. They are built upon our attempts and failures with personas and touchpoint maps. They have been shaped by client feedback, confusion and questions.

We are learning from and adapting all of this previous work to help our clients clearly define who is their best customer.

Personas v. customer statements.

Personas focus on details, customer statements focus on needs.

Let’s use an example from Jeff Welch at MercuryCSC whose post Why your focus on the “–ers” is missing the bigger opportunity described his feelings about being a surfer v. going surfing.

With traditional demographics or personas, we would have know Jeff as this:

An example of a typical persona.

And likely answered his need by telling him he should surf in our beach town.

But as Jeff has told us, he doesn’t identify as a surfer. He doesn’t fit into our limited demographic knowledge and will likely ignore our attempts to connect with him as only a surfer.

If we instead write a customer statement about Jeff — backed-up by research from other customers — his needs become much more clear:

Customer statements force our focus onto the problems / needs of the customer.

Customer statements don’t care about sex, age or income. Customer statements force our focus onto the problems / needs of the customer.

Once you have the customer statement, the path toward innovation becomes more defined.

Innovation that helps.

Let’s pretend we are the local tourism board and ‘Jeff’ is one of our customer statements. Even with just a few key phrases — ‘experience more than’ and ‘feel comfortable’ — we can see ways to solve the statement:

  • develop a list of ‘easy’ surf breaks
  • develop a list of comparable surf breaks from other areas — eg., Southern California, Mexico
  • create a break marker system to identify different areas / waves
  • connect him with an Airbnb host(s) that knows the area and likes to surf
  • make sure he knows the difference between our ‘surfer’ towns and our ‘surfing’ towns
  • have on-demand board rental kiosks
  • build board lockers at key beach / town crossover points
  • ask locals — who want to help visitors — to place an identifying sticker on their board

If we only knew Jeff’s demographics or had a broad persona, it would be difficult to create these ideas and even more difficult to test / verify them.

With the customer statement we can feel confident that we are improving the experience based upon common problems, helping ‘Jeff’ make a decision and ultimately answering a need.

Shared innovation.

Getting to this point takes a lot of work. Customer statements are not developed by one person, but rather an entire staff working from empathetic research about their customer. We also need to test our ideas with ‘Jeff’, develop other customer statements and educate our team on how to use them.

By replacing personas with customer statements your organization can create a shared understanding of why your customers are your customers.

With a shared understanding of why ‘Jeff’ is our customer, we can also start replacing our old approach with shared innovation.


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