Personas expose biases and build empathy

Personas are not hollow stereotypes. Persona building exposes biases that will sabotage your relationship with customers.

Padawan, unless you work in sales, service, or support, chances are you don’t interact directly with your customers. However, without direct contact and feedback from customers, your usual biases take over. This makes it hard to build empathy for the very people you are supposed to be serving. When you are isolated from your customers, you will fail to understand or address their needs. You become like the empire and only end up serving yourself.

People just like you build marketing campaigns, code websites, design user interfaces, and plan product features and rollouts. All of these tasks are ostensibly for the customer but most of the day isn’t spent thinking about how their choices might impact customers. Marketing directors are concerned about what the VP of marketing is thinking, developers are worried about how many hours a project will take, designers are concerned about their portfolio, and project managers are focused on having to work over the weekend. All of this is important, but not the point.

Personas can help keep you focused on the real customers. Personas are outlines of your most important customer segments and the attributes affecting how they interact with your business. How old are the customers, what are their tasks, goals, frustrations, what devices and operating systems are they using?  User interviews, contextual inquiry, analytics, and user testing can all help teams see first hand the customers you are trying to take care of and the issues that they face. When you and your teams participate in these activities to build personas, you are more likely to see how your own biases obstruct doing the right thing for the customer. Personas highlight how the customer is different from you and make you more aware of how the choices you are make are going to affect them.

The key is to understand the various ways your customers are not like you. Understanding these differences builds empathy. Empathy is strengthened the more it is practiced and it can only be practiced your and your teams get to hear and see your customers. Building personas is an essential part of being truly customer focused, banishing the empire, and moving away from the dark side of the force.


May the force be with you,

Shoji-Wan Kenobi



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