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VUI Design: Personas

In everyday usage, a persona is a character played by an actor. When we bring this term into the UX world, the most common meaning is a fictional character who represents a customer. This fictional person is based on demographic and psychological characteristics which drive customers in the real world. For example, consider the following two personas:

“Molly” is a 72 year old woman who is a frequent visitor of “Happy Crafter” Store. Her primary hobby is scrapbooking, but she is also interested in floral arrangement, organizing parties, and home décor. She visits “Happy Crafter” at least once a month, sometimes more often. She uses Facebook and Email to connect with her friends and family, but otherwise does not use online media. She calls the store often with questions about sales and inventory. This “Enthusiastic Nester” represents X% of “Happy Crafter” business and is a key segment for the store.

“Janel” is a 28 year old tech-savvy fiber artist. Her primary hobby is quilting, but she’s also interested in knitting and crochet. She spends a lot of time online blogging and shares her work using sites such as Ravelry and other forums. She has been known to yarn-bomb. She orders yarn online from Happy Crafter and other sources, and the internet is key to her yarn buying decisions. This “Fiber Influencer” is a key segment for the Fiber department and is especially important in decisions regarding the website.

Note the contrast in the behaviors between the two personas. They each tend to use different channels to interact with “Happy Crafter.” This could lead to different technology and design decisions for each segment. “Molly” may be best served by asking her to connect on Facebook, whereas “Janel” is much more likely to use social media share buttons on the website.

What does this have to do with IVR? Our two example personas were generic customer personas which could be used to drive marketing, website, or technology decisions. Callers to your call center are simply a specific subset of your entire customer base. Notice, in our examples above, “Molly” tends to call the store often. So, if you’re considering putting in an automated IVR store directory, your design decisions should target her persona and demographic, not “Janel’s.” Specifically, Molly is an older caller, so consider having your IVR recorded with a voice talent using a lower register, because hearing loss, which is common as we get older, tends to occur in higher registers first. She also likes hearing about sales, and purchasing home décor, so why not target her interests by playing her the ad of the week in the décor department while she’s waiting on hold?

Now, you may ask, what about that trend in the VUI design world to also name and “personify” the IVR itself? This was hot several years ago and reached its peak, as you may remember, when the “Amtrak Julie” persona got featured on Saturday Night Live. And there’s a reason it was featured on Saturday Night Live. Although humans DO interact with machines as if they are human beings, going over the top with friendly personal characteristics just comes off as fake. So, there’s no need to put a lot of time or energy into branding your IVR with a name, unique style, and wine preference. Instead, use persona to focus on who your callers are, with an emphasis on specific characteristics that matter to your design, and you’ll do just fine.

Note: Originally published on the blog of my employer,

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