Why We Need to Bring Personas into Customer Service

There's a lot of emphasis in the sales and marketing realms on identifying customer personas. Marketing uses personas to aid in segmentation and to ensure that messages hit the mark. Personas help marketing bucketize groups of potential customers that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way. More than just fictional characters, personas include the attitudes, beliefs, and motivations that help marketers understand how to best deliver promotions to prospects. Examples of marketing personas would be the stay-at-home mom or millennial coffee-shop goer.

Although personas have been used in marketing for some time, only a handful of customer service organizations have thought about personas in a meaningful way. Today, they are the exception, not the rule. However, personas enable us to take customer service to another level, which is particularly important as we move so many in-person interactions to phone and digital engagements. The persona approach will be a key differentiator for customer service for the following three reasons:

  1. Using personas enables customer service to better optimize agent routing and matching at scale. Companies starting to use personas in customer service are finding greater customer satisfaction, lower agent burnout, and greater customer loyalty.
  2. Personas enable agents to more quickly shift to cross-sales or enhanced service roles by rapidly identifying offers or solutions that are most likely to appeal to customers. When we apply marketing personas to customer service, we get closer to the 360-degree view of the customer and make customer data more meaningful and prescriptive for service, marketing, and sales.
  3. Most important for right now, personas enable delivery of a much higher level of personalized interaction in digital or phone customer service, when humanizing interactions is critical. Agents know what kind of customer they're getting with their next call, and customers are more likely to be matched with the agents that best fit their profiles.

In starting to implement a persona-based view in service, there are a few steps to take. First, organizations need to look at their customer data and how existing personas from the marketing realm can be brought into service profiles. If that's not practical, they need to look at how service can start to identify and categorize its own personas from their unique perspective. Although most vendors' customer data platforms (CDPs) are primarily focused on marketing today, it's time for customer service leaders to be a part of those conversations.

In the absence of good data on incoming calls or cases, customer service can do its own data enrichment by asking customers a few questions (bots are a great way to rapidly do this) to identify a close persona match. While this might sound unrealistic in this era of distance and limited personal interactions, asking customers a few questions about themselves could drive a greater personal connection. While this might add 20 second to an interaction, most customers will see that the goal is to serve them better and get them to a resolution quicker.

Second, we need to be able to better profile agents to match them with incoming customer profiles. Although there are costly and complicated ways to do this, asking simple questions of agents in the onboarding and training process can help them self-identify with the customer personas they're best matched to serve. Giving agents input on the personas with which they're most likely to have a positive interaction empowers them. It also enables customer service leaders to hire to fill gaps from a customer perspective and to improve the quality of interactions for both agents and customers (boosting agent retention and reducing burnout). Letting agents know the types of callers with whom they will interact with, and even letting them know when it's not likely a good match for them (and they're taking one for the team) makes the experience more personal and positive for the agent as well.

As we move into a socially distanced holiday season, replacing in-person human interactions with digital and phone engagement is going to be a challenge for everyone. The good news is that it's an opportunity to bring new ideas about personalization and human interaction into the service process. Additionally, customers are open to companies being honest and straightforward about how they're trying to serve them better in a challenging environment. Although the technology might not be perfect or available to all, thinking about customer personas from a service perspective and bringing personas into service can drive greater quality of interactions and loyalty for both agents and customers.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal at Valoir (valoir.com), a technology industry analyst firm focused on the connection between people and technology in a modern digital workplace.