Creating Personas


As the company grew, departments became more siloed. I started a group called the Customer Experience Data Insights Group that included a representative from our 5 main customer facing departments – product/development, marketing, merchandising, customer service, and operations.

Through our discussions, we began to see that each department had a different idea of who we thought the customer was and what s/he needed. We decided company-wide personas were a good solution to get us all on the same page.


Zero budget. None of the departments would contribute funds or resources beyond a few hours of employee time. But a few hours was all we needed to get started!!


As the UX Researcher at the company, I was the project lead. My team also included Lindsey Hoffman and Alex Rumman from Marketing, Juli Duffer from Product, Sarah Peters from Customer Service, Erin Crumley from Merchandising, and Aaron Peele from Operations/Logistics.


  1. Get the various departments to realize our assumptions about our customers were not aligned
  2. Create an environment that understood personas and would use them regularly
  3. Develop prototype personas that could be circulated quickly
  4. Refine prototype personas into data-driven personas

Process, Research Design

  • Define the problem and goals
  • Plan how to use “Eliciting Expert Opinions” methodology on internal stakeholders (we went with an Agile Retro/Focus Group blended meeting)
  • Educate departments about personas, how to use them, and how they are different than marketing segments
  • CX team “practice meeting” to see if the method works
  • Recruit participants (from 7 departments, mostly in-person)
  • Custom meeting agenda/research script to get participants in the head of their imaginary user
  • Affinity mapping, dot voting
  • Cluster ideas into Prototype Personas (we ended up with 4)
  • CX team validates assumptions of Prototype Personas with data

Key Findings

There was a huge gap between customer service (the CS team fielded 2000 inquiries a week) and the other departments. Marketing, Product, and Development were pretty much on the same page in thinking that the user is a 30-40 year old, fairly wealthy mother of young children who is extremely busy with her job and family duties. However, Customer Service had story after story of elderly or sick men and women who lived alone.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that this endeavor uncovered was that, as a company, we were not discerning the difference between our USERS and our CUSTOMERS. Users are people that use the website regardless of being a paying customer or final consumer of the product. Customers are people that decide to purchase and actually consume the product regardless of whether they use the website. We were failing to see that our product and service affected the entire household and not just the person placing the order or paying the bill.


We were able to draft Prototype Personas, but the CX team hit a wall when considering the wide variety of purchasing behavior across our 7 service areas. Since we wanted the personas to be used company-wide, the decisions we made would have lasting impacts on each department. Merchandising was very worried about not being represented well.

Soon after this stage, our company merged with Relay Foods and had significant layoffs and changes.  If I had it to do over again, I would have negotiated with Merchandising to leave out buying decisions from the Prototype Personas so that the people could be fleshed out and more data-driven. When we were ready, we could include data-driven merchandising and purchasing knowledge.

I also would have focused more on company-wide education about what was missing in our daily thoughts and understanding of our customers and users. For example,  we were struggling with pleasing our long-term, loyal customers while gathering new customers that seemed fickle and prone to cancellation. I would have liked each department to understand that our customer was more than the woman that was finalizing the purchase, that our mistakes have household-wide consequences, and that loyal customers/users have lives that are constantly evolving.  We will not always be servicing “a trend-setter mom with a 4 year old daughter” even if that was the picture we had hanging on the wall.

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