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How to Build a Customer Experience Persona

Developing CX Personas: The Step Before Journey Mapping

In my work consulting, training, and running workshops , one consistent theme I find is teams are super eager to begin the Customer Journey Mapping process.

I get it. Customer Journey Mapping can reveal — and help solve — a lot of problems in the customer journey. But in order to do so, those journey maps must be built on a foundation of a true picture of your customer.

Maybe you’ve heard leaders on your CX team say something along the lines of, “We know our customers.” But if you asked ten people across your organization, how many varying answers would you get?

A Customer Persona — and especially a CX-focused one — can help paint an accurate picture of your customer and communicate that across your organization, empowering your employees and leading to better outcomes across the board.

In this article, we’ll look at what a Customer Experience Persona is, how to create one, and how to use it when it’s done.

What is a CX Persona?

CX Personas are fictionalized archetypes representing your customer. They help everyone in your organization identify who this person really is, instead of relying on collective data that dehumanizes the customer.

In business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations, customer personas are typically about the main shopper or buyer of the product. In business-to-business (B2B) organizations, personas often focus on the professional role the customer has within the client organization, including their likely title and department.

A Customer Experience Persona typically consists of one page of both an image and high-level bullets about your customer. Sometimes they include quotes and additional information about the goals of your customer.

Ultimately, these help identify general truths about your customer including their:

  • Expectations
  • Motivations
  • Frustrations
  • Emotional Drivers

CX Personas vs Buyer Personas & Avatars

A CX Persona is not the same as a buyer persona (which is more focused around sales and marketing) nor is it the same as an avatar (which tends to be more focused on your ideal customer rather than your true customer).

Does your organization already use one of these other types of personas or avatars? If so, you can definitely refer back to these when developing your CX Persona — but don’t make a carbon copy and consider your work done.

Here’s a quick comparison between Buyer Personas/Avatars and CX Personas:

Buyer Personas/Avatars:

  • Tend to focus on demographic information like age, gender, & income level
  • Generally paint a picture of an ideal customer
  • Are centered around sales and marketing as they relate to the business

CX Personas:

  • Go beyond demographics to paint a more complete picture of your customer’s life
  • Paint a picture of your true current customer
  • Are centered around improving the customer journey and are written from the customer’s point of view

Customer Experience Personas are an incredible foundational tool to support building great customer journey maps. Which leads to the question…


How Do You Build a CX Persona?

When my team and I work with clients to build CX Personas, our work revolves around four main steps:

  1. Decide on the goal of the project
  2. Define and consider the specific points of interaction between the customer persona and your brand
  3. Build your persona using a common template
  4. Tap into the data available to you

Let’s look at each step in more detail.


1. Decide on the goals of the project

Before you begin building a persona, it’s key to know and agree upon what it will be used for.

No single Customer Journey Map is all-encompassing. Most organizations have many journeys, varying depending on the product/service, type of customer, or other context.

Even if you only have one core path for customers, that path can be micromapped — broken up into smaller journeys and mapped.

What do you want to do with the Persona you develop?

  • Is there a specific journey or group of touchpoints you want to address?
  • Maybe there are key outcomes you’re looking to achieve, like reduced cart abandonment, increased customer loyalty, or fewer support requests.
  • Do you have a known issue you’re trying to fix, or are you trying to uncover issues as you go?

Record these goals and communicate them with the team you’ll be working with to develop the CX Persona. As you move through the remaining steps, refer back to these regularly and ask: “Is the work we’re doing in service of these goals?”

If so, you can move forward confidently. If not, no problem — it’s simply a chance to recognize this and adjust along the way.


2. Define and consider the specific points of interaction between your customer persona and your brand.

Now that your goals have been defined and communicated, you can dive into specific touchpoints along the way.

Don’t worry about having all the answers at this point… After all, that’s what Customer Journey Mapping is for.

For now, think about:

  • The general type of customer you want to develop a persona for
  • The journey you want to map for this customer
  • The points of interaction for that customer within that journey

For example, let’s say a bank wants to create a customer persona for new homebuyers seeking a home mortgage, and the journey they want to focus on is specifically the initial inquiry process online.

Points of interaction in this example might include:

  • Finding an informational landing page via search engine
  • Reading about the process
  • Requesting an informational meeting
  • Confirming the meeting and getting it into their calendar
  • Having the meeting and getting questions answered
  • Leaving with more information and next steps

We’re not journey mapping (yet), so it’s okay if these points of interaction aren’t especially specific or precise.

A great activity to try at this stage is Customer Journey Storyboarding, which can help you identify key touchpoints in a simple, visual way.


Simply understanding and recording the general touchpoints that a customer will go through will help you paint a picture of what kinds of information will be most helpful when building your persona.


3. Use a common template to create all your CX Personas.

Wait a second — “All our personas?” Aren’t we just creating one?

Well, yes and no.

While we want to create one persona for one journey at a time, almost all organizations serve more than one persona.

Using a common template across CX Personas offers a few key benefits:

  • Subsequent personas become easier to create
  • Personas can more easily be compared and contrasted
  • The urge to include too much information (or too nuanced information) is limited

What should your template include?

This can vary depending on your customer, industry, and process, but common sections include:

  • A photo or image, along with a name or initials, as well as life information like family or education details
  • Their decision-making process, like what media or content they consume, as well as what influences them. Include emotional drivers to clarify the why behind their decisions.
  • Their challenges and celebrations – how they define wins and losses
  • Their emotional and attitudinal relationship to your industry
  • Quotes that help personify their real-life experiences
  • Their goals with your brand

Not sure how to fill out some of these sections? It’s time to do some digging.


4. Tap into the data available to you

It’s not uncommon that I hear “we don’t have enough data!” from clients. And while we’d all love to have oodles of informative, well-organized data at our disposal, the truth is any information we have gives us a suitable starting point.

Available data may include:

  • Demographic information (when applicable)
  • Customer feedback metrics like NPS, CSAT, and CES
  • Customer quotes
  • Internal information from customer-facing teams
  • …And wherever else you have information about customers.

What matters most is that you start with the data you have, then see what additional work or research can be done to supplement it.

While most usually think of data as quantitative, having a qualitative component can be a game-changer when it comes to developing Customer Personas. Numbers are great at explaining the What, but qualitative data is often better at explaining the Why, which is key to understanding the customer experience.

If you find you don’t have a lot of information that explains the Why, consider additional research like customer interviews or specifically designed surveys.


Here’s the key takeaway: Don’t make assumptions; use what you know.


Our Persona is Complete — How Do We Use It?

A completed CX Persona is a new tool for your team to use… but it does you no good left in the proverbial toolbox!

Here are a few ways to use your new persona to propel you to the next level:


1. Use it during Journey Mapping

Keep your CX Personas easily accessible. When it’s time to sit down with your team to build a Customer Journey Map, have the persona out so you can reference it directly.

As you build your journey map, check in often to ask:

  • Is this journey true to the information in our customer persona?
  • Is there information in our customer persona we can use to shed light on the goals, problems, and emotions our customer might be feeling at different points in the journey?
  • What opportunities are there to augment the journey to better serve this customer persona?

This is only a starting point — I encourage you to brainstorm other ways to integrate your personas into your Journey Mapping process!


2. Share it across your organization

Everyone in your organization has a role in delivering the customer experience, whether they’re customer-facing or not.

Don’t make the mistake of creating wonderful CX Personas and then keeping them hidden within the circle of your CX Team!

Sharing your completed personas can help:

  • Assure everyone in the organization is on the same page and “rowing in the same direction”
  • Empower employees to make informed decisions
  • Provide a guidepost to help employees know and communicate about customers


3. Use it as a Template to Create More Customer Experience Personas

I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating: Once you’ve created one CX Persona, you’ve got a template for all future personas.

Oftentimes I find that after running a Persona Development Workshop with an organization’s CX Leaders, it serves the dual purpose of building one persona while also giving them the tools to build future personas themselves.

If creating your first persona feels difficult, just remember: It almost always gets easier from here!


Ready to Build Your CX Persona?

We’ve got a new interactive Persona Development Workbook on the way in December of 2021. To get it as soon as it’s ready, sign up for Year of CX, our free library of resources to help you create fewer ruined days for customers.

About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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