Oxytocin Organisation

Designing for the customer

User-Centred Design is not new, since the early days of Human-Computer Interaction there has been a requirement to understand who is using the software and what they are trying to achieve. A whole suite of vocabulary is used in the area, often meaning the same thing. 

The semantics matter how to describe who matters most:

  • Prospect – new, browsing, unknown 
  • Customer – existing, authenticated, known
  • User – new or existing, using a technology service

They are all correct, but I personally avoid using the term User, as it can limit thinking to only technology and designing should be for the whole experience. As many individuals have common goals they can be classified as ‘Actors’.

One thing that is common in most organisations is the lack of personas. They have previously created a segmentation model either themselves or with a media agency. Segmentation is concerned with size and value – exactly what you need for communication planning and media buying. There is usually a lot of detail around each segment – brands they like, where they live… everything except what they need and how they think. Senior marketers often look perplexed when I ask the persona question, either they say yes and start talking about segments or arrogantly say we’ve operated for years without them, we don’t have time for such fluffy things.

Personas are a different beast – one to aid functionality creation and prioritisation. Personas always have attitudes, behaviours and mental models. It’s not a case of segments or personas, organisations need both.

personas vs segments

Illustration 1: Personas vs Segmentation


Personas have negative reputations – deservedly so. Most of the time they’ve been created incorrectly and then failed to be of any real value. Often organisations and agencies go about trying to workshop persona creation – they are loaded with assumptions and hypothesis. But these can be a useful tool to engage multiple stakeholders from across the organisation to start thinking about the customer.

A good place to start is with your segmentation, asking the team to complete an Empathy Map. Filling these in with a good crib sheet with a number of questions is a useful exercise – it usually results in the team appreciating it’s their opinion (of the Actor). But their confidence fades fast, realising they cannot list all needs and pain points. Make a point about calling these ‘Pen Portraits’. That’s exactly what they are – written in pen, describing what we think we know, not based on fact.

In terms of a workshop allow 90 minutes in total to run the exercise. One of the most engaging parts can be naming each individual and describing them. I always ask the presenter to get into character. Sometimes it’s even fun. But this is where it gets serious. Select a few of the mandatory needs that have been described then step through the customer experience today, be that a website or contact centre, then ask the team to talk through how they intentionally ace that need. The lightbulb comes on for most, understanding they don’t fully appreciate what needs all customers have or how they fundamentally go about satisfying them.

Pain points are wonderful. They’re an opportunity for the organisation to help go about solving customer challenge whether directly related or not and therefore being of more use. 


Empathy map

Illustration 2: Empathy map diagram


When an organisation understands what is required for genuine personas to be created there’s less appetite. It all seems like too much – work, money, and effort. It’s a mindset issue – one where they have always been fine as a product organisation. All they had to do was understand the demographics of what to make and for whom. But as a service organisation, be that a straightforward B2B or retail customer eCommerce organisation, the job is the same – to know your customers and to satisfy their goals. I can never get to the bottom of why organisations don’t want to go about this task, excuses such as “Our customers are special and we won’t get time with them” to “We don’t have the budget for a 6-week piece of research”.

As a Service Designer it’s incredibly frustrating when an organisation intentionally does not want to design for their customers. They only have one objective – quick wins.

But all is not lost, the hypothesis from the empathy maps can be used to test how accurate they are. When running a co-create workshop (employees and customers together) a scoring sheet can be created for each segment to complete.

By creating a set of response scales from the newly created empathy map hypothesis, you can prove whether these pen portraits hold true. This method is far from perfect and does not provide the quality and level of insight gathered from a full study, but it does provide useful feedback to the organisation on how customer groups feel and think with the rationale, for how close they are. 

The Oxytocin Organisation is now available in Kindle and Paperback formats from Amazon

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