Sometimes questions are more important than answers

What is customer profiling?

Customer profiling is a way to create a portrait of your customers to help you make design decisions concerning your service. Your customers are broken down into groups of customers sharing similar goals and characteristics and each group is given a representative with a photo, a name, and a description. A small group of customer profiles or ‘personas’ are then used to make key design decisions with, e.g. “which of these features will help Mary achieve her goals most easily?”


Customer profiles are a useful design tool

Customer profiles are ‘customer types’, which are generated to represent the typical users of a product or service, and are used to help the project team make customer centred decisions without confusing the scope of the project with personal opinion.

Also known as personas, customer profiles are created from an understanding of the typical audience generated from customer research, and focus on the different goals and scenarios the customers might find themselves in when interacting with a specific touch-point (website, catalogue, shop floor etc.). Unlike typical demographics or segmentation, differences in geography, income, status, etc. do not necessarily split customers into different groups. For example, when looking to buy the latest CD by The Kooks for a nephew, a 24-year-old single mother of three living in the south of England will use Amazon in the same way that a married 53-year-old senior executive living in the north of England would do. Their goal is the same, to buy a specific CD online quickly and easily.

When creating a profile the critical information needed for each user is their goals (why are they interacting with the touchpoint? – to buy a CD), their tasks (what will they be doing when they interact with the touchpoint – browse for The Kooks CDs, purchase the latest CD, arrange delivery to a different address?), and the touchpoint goals (to sell a CD, clearly show which of The Kooks CDs is the latest, cross and up-sell, etc.). For the example above, in a very loose manner, you might create a profile called Jane, who is 31, married, has three young children, is time-poor, and needs to buy The Kooks CD online, but doesn’t know who The Kooks are or what their latest CD is called. Jane will represent all the users who want to buy a specific product but are unsure of all the details.

Advantages of customer profiling

Most projects evolve from an idea and grow through the opinions of influential members of the project team. The trouble is that these influential members of the project team are rarely the end-user or customer. This often results in a product or service that doesn’t quite meet customer expectations or needs, and the interaction with it might be clumsy. Similarly, the decision-making process can be delayed due to a clash of different opinions, with no member of the project team able to make a definite agreement on whether X or Y is best for this project.

So when the project team is discussing the scope, or making design decisions, they can talk about whether Jane’s needs and expectations are being met, regardless of what the influential project team member might deem as a ‘cool’ piece of functionality.

Disadvantages of customer profiling

Traditional marketers often react negatively to the suggestion of customer profiling because it does not cater for the standard demographics that are traditionally used and taught. However, in this situation, it is important to explain that profiles are not designed to replace general marketing demographics, which are used for Macro marketing and advertising campaigns but are created for the specific touchpoint (website, kiosk, catalogue, etc.) as a design tool for the project team to make better decisions.


Customer profiling should be undertaken to provide information and inform the project team about the end-users and/or customers to allow project decisions to be made from the typical user’s perspective, or to assist the project team in making customer-centred design decisions, which will result in a product or service that better meets the customer’s needs and expectations, and is, therefore, more likely to succeed.

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Amy Hunter

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