5 ways to (really) walk in your user personas’ shoes

Writing guides will always tell you to ‘walk in your users’ shoes’ – but what does that actually mean? Here are 5 examples of how we’ve learned to go beyond the data and really help our clients to show their users that they get them…

 5 ways to (really) walk in your user personas’ shoes

So you’ve spent time and resources creating detailed personas and identifying key milestones in the buying journey. You have a strong idea of your users’ socio-demographic data. You know all about the search terms they use, and you even know the best time to tweet them on a Thursday.

So far, so good. But the real challenge is to make your users and audience actually believe that you know what makes them tick – to turn that data into empathetic content. Here are 5 examples from our own experience which will help  show users you really understand them…

  1. Listen to complaints

    What better way to relate to your personas than to hear what they have to say?

    Listening in affects the content you create, and there are plenty of ways to see your users in action. Call centre transcripts (‘verbatims’), for example, let you see first-hand how your audience interacts with your brand on a day-to-day basis. It can also be beneficial to talk to the people who work in the call centres themselves – as they’re the interface with real users.

    This proved helpful for one utilities company whose users often complained about the Help FAQs on the website. When we talked to call centre agents, we found that a lot of people were asking the same question: ‘Why do I pay so much for my energy bills?’

    The answer, almost always, was that people pay for the energy they consume. The negative feedback on FAQs (eg in response to the question, ‘Did you find this question useful?’) was often just people venting because they didn’t like the answer they were given. Armed with this insight, the FAQ content could then be tweaked to help manage people’s expectations about billing. 
  2. Play users’ language back

    Another example of active online listening is to play back to users the language they use to talk about products and services. One computing company is known to modify its product descriptions to match the language used by super-users and fanboys and girls in tech forums.
  3. It’s all in the detail

    At times it’s easy to overlook small details that can make a big difference to people’s perception of your powers of empathy.

    Case in point: when one debt recovery charity put details of its helpline on its website, it forgot to mention that it was a freephone number. Just adding in that detail helped reassure users with money issues that the organisation really understood their situation.
  4. Navigational quick wins

    The more familiar you are with your website, the harder it is to remember what it’s like for someone who only uses it occasionally.

    One large charity found this out when it conducted a series of interviews with staff and volunteers, who are all required to wear a uniform. People repeatedly complained that it was incredibly difficult to navigate to the area of the intranet where they could order new kit and uniform. The web team was able to do a quick fix for this problem straight away by bringing this area up higher in the navigation as a quick link.
  5. The value of the anti-persona

    It’s important to find a good fit between your content and target audience. So when you receive traffic you don’t expect, how do you go about filtering it out?

    Imagine you run a fairly high-end clothes shop for customers with a reasonable amount to spend. Yet every Saturday your shop is overrun by groups of teenage girls who browse but never actually buy. They take up space in the changing rooms and distract the customers who are there to spend – and even risk putting them off making a purchase of their own.

    One tactic to deal with this we’ve seen is to develop an exclusionary or anti-persona – the polar opposite to your target audience. By speaking to this persona in such a way as to subtly filter them away from your content, you’ll be able to invest more time in your actual target audience. Knowing who your target audience isn’t helps you better understand who it is. Or should be.

    For example, one advisory travel body found that people kept coming to them for travel updates and timetables – and getting frustrated when they couldn’t find what they wanted. In the end the problem was resolved by adding a brief redirect message to the homepage.

See also our post, Anti-personas: what are they and do you need one?