The peril of the ‘Convenient Customer’
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

The peril of the ‘Convenient Customer’

Have you ever talked to colleagues about who your website users are and noticed how perfectly aligned to the organisation or current campaign they are?

I call this the “Convenient Customer”, the unintentional distortion of user profiles to align more closely with your organisation’s goals or preferences. These can be created with no research whatsoever, but often, sadly, they can evolve from well researched personas.

User personas

A user persona is a representation of a group of people who have a similar goal or task to complete, which is attained from research. We need to know, not only what they are trying to achieve, but why they are trying to achieve it. With this information assigned to your user persona, let’s call her Anne, when in meetings you do not have to talk about what you think the user needs, but what Anne needs.

Unfortunately, what happens is that your carefully crafted customer architypes, which are created to help you to look at your product, campaign, or project with an outside-in lens, evolve over time to better suit an internal viewpoint.

For example, your persona’s scenario has them using the same terminology that you use internally for your new service. So when you launch, the positioning and copy conveniently align to what your persona is searching for.

In this article we look at how to notice the convenient customer, and what you can do to revert back to user-centred personas.

The invisible (until it’s too late) risks of the convenient customers

The main risk of relying on user personas that are aligned more to your business than your customers, is that your user-centred ideas, decisions, and designs are not really user-centred at all, they are you-centred. At least if you know they are you-centred you can work with it, the trouble comes when you assume you’re being user-centred.

The worst case scenario is that you mis-align your product, causing it to be a failure in the market. Google Glass is an example where, for many factors, it failed, but ultimately because the intended general public audience was not ready for it and didn’t understand its purpose. I’d be intrigued to see the user personas for Google Glass!

Another issue is that, internally, the reputation of user-centred design or UX is damaged. Not from a failed launch, but because stakeholders notice the disparity between your personas and what they know are real-world user needs and requirements. From that point forward, there is a distrust in your process.

How to notice you are using Convenient Customers

If there is regularly minimal friction between your personas and your ideas, chances are you’ve created a convenient customer. True user perspective should keep you on your toes, create forks in the road, and question your service.

When I was a Project Manager there was a good saying, “if everything is going well, you’ve missed something”. And that is likely true when testing early versions of your designs against your user personas.

Of course, if you get your personas right, and follow a user-centred design process, when testing later versions of your designs you should be able to say, “if everything is going well, you’ve followed a user centred design process”!

How to fix convenient customers

The best thing to do, and this is a useful exercise in its own right, is to create the anti-customer profile. You are looking to develop a persona that represents the exact opposite of your customers – the pantomime villain.

This can be quite a fun exercise, by thinking about the various categories in a user persona, and then writing down all the things that would be opposite what you’d expect a customer to do or to be. You can also look at super hero villains, and pick which you think would be the worst user persona for your project.

The anti-customer is created to help you and your team to re-align with your real users. By seeing a world through the anti-customer, you are reminded of why you are doing what you do, and who you do it for. A glimpse into the dark underbelly (a bit dramatic!) of customers that wouldn’t use your service, and you don’t want to work with. With this exaggerated character in place, you can now work on your personas from a fresh perspective.

Of course, the sensible action is to go out and speak to and observe your target audience, preferably as they engage with your products and services, including your website. You’ll quickly see the real world, and how your personas might have gone astray from their original meaning.

Keep utilising your user profiles

User profiles, when created with the right intention and utilised to help you make project decisions efficiently, are a valuable tool that can be evolved as you learn more. However, beware of making changes that suit your company or project outlook, as this will render them pointless.

I am a big fan of user profiles, ever since reading Alan Cooper’s, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, which encourages the reader to move away from the average customer to create personas that are based on real user behaviour and focus on their goals, behaviours, and needs.

I’m aware that profiles and personas can get a bad rap, but from what I can tell, this is only when the intention and application of the work has been misused. I recommend some form of user persona for all digital projects, to keep an eye on the user view.

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